Ahead of the April 26th 2011 polls when the people of Rivers state like their counterparts Nationwide, would troop out in their numbers to elect the State’s Chief Executive to head its affairs for the next four years. The decision to pen an article of this nature focusing on the antecedents and pedigree of the three main contenders in the gubernatorial race and what their candidature portends for the number one seat in the state is timely.
The three main contenders are Dr. Abiye Precious Sekibo of Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), Sir Celestine Ngozi Omehia of All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA) and of course the incumbent Governor and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Flag-bearer, Rt. Hon. Rotimi Chibuike Amaechi.
This attempt will try to unravel the past of these three great sons of Rivers State and who only some months ago were all PDP Chieftains. Incidentally, the trio were also key players in the administration of Sir Peter Odili, the erstwhile Executive Governor of Rivers State from 1999-2007. Dr Abiye Sekibo was the Secretary to the State Government (SSG) from 1999 to 2003 and later the Rivers State nominee on the Federal Executive Council as Minister of Transport from 2003; Rt. Hon. Chibuike Amaechi held sway as the Speaker and Head of the Legislative Arm of the Government from 1999-2007 with Sir Celestine Omehia as a member of the Kitchen Cabinet of the Odili’s Administration while it lasted. Ironically under the administration of Gov Ada-George, Chibuike Amaechi was the Special Assistant on Education to Gov Ada-George working directly under Sir Celestine Omehai who was then Commissioner for Education from February 1992 to November, 1993.
To appreciate this attempt it becomes imperative that Governance be defined and used as a guide to this discourse. Governance according to Wikipedia, the free encyclopaedia is the act of governing. It relates to decisions that define expectations, grant power, or verify performance. It consists of either a separate process or part of management or leadership processes. These processes and systems are typically administered by a government. Governance relates to consistent management, cohesive policies, guidance, processes and decision-rights for a given area of responsibility. For example, managing at a corporate level might involve evolving policies on privacy, on internal investment, and on the use of data. To distinguish the term governance from government; “governance” is what a “government” does. It might be a geo-political government (nation-state), a corporate government (business entity), a socio-political government (tribe, family etc.), or any number of different kinds of government, but governance is the physical exercise of management power and policy, while government is the instrument (usually collective) that does it. The term government is also used more abstractly as a synonym for governance, as in the Canadian motto, “Peace, Order and Good Government”.
In this case, this study will concern itself with governance in Rivers State and how these three great sons of Rivers State have either negatively or positively impacted on governance in Rivers State and what their candidatures portend to the State and her people and project what the verdict of the Rivers State shall be being the bearers of any of these trio being elected come April, 26th 2011.
I may not dwell much on the side of Dr. Abiye Sekibo, the ACN Gubernatorial candidate for the fact that during his stint as SSG to the Rivers State Government from 1999-2003 and Minister of Transport from 2003, not much was done by him to attract development of any kind to either his home town Okirika or the State. His candidature therefore evokes a lot of reactions from a lot of people depending on what side of the divide they belong to. To many, his name evokes insecurity and the modernisation of militancy in the State. This was fully played out during the Rivers state Truth and Reconciliation Commission headed by a great Jurist Justice Kayode Eso and sadly he has not made much effort in erasing this conception from the minds of most of his opponents. He must however be credited for touring and campaigning in all the 23 LGA’s in the state following his declaration as the Action Congress of Nigeria candidate and for ensuring that ACN fields candidates in all the elective offices in the State. How this action would metamorphose into votes come Election Day, remains to be seen particularly considering his new idea of security which he presented while presenting his manifesto to the people of Rivers State that he will make them sleep with their two eyes opened indicating he may resurrect the insecurity which Gov Amaechi have done much to stop. How he intends to make fellow human beings to be sleeping while their eyes are opened is a new subject for scholars!
For Sir Celestine Omehia the APGA Candidate who many regard as a gentleman per excellence, much can be said for this humane and amiable fellow. Although he is facing some financial challenges with a party lacking any substantial root in the State, he has his past records as one time Commissioner for Education and five months as Governor of Rivers State to stand him in good stead though in the eyes of the law he never served as Governor since the Supreme Court voided his election for being an illegal PDP Flag Bearer in the 2007 gubernatorial election in Rivers State. His new party APGA has only offices in about three or four Local Government Areas out of the 23 LGAs in Rivers State, how this can make anybody a Governor is to be determined by 26th April, 2011. Be that as it may, I will take time to look at the scenario when he held forte as the Chief Executive of Rivers State whether illegal or otherwise from May 29th, 2007 to October, 2007 and allow the reader to pass judgment.
During the eight years of the Odili’s Administration and the ill-fated period of Omehia’s tenure a good drive along most streets of the Port Harcourt city by then became an expensive exercise and a nightmare due to the giant potholes that were evident along most streets in Port Harcourt. There was massive infrastructural decay. Pupils and students were made to study under harsh condition at times sitting under the bare floor to study. The Hospitals were mere consulting institutions and the workforce zeal was at the lowest ebb.
According to records, Port Harcourt that Amaechi inherited from Omehia apart from having curfew as part of its life style, the city was more like a war zone or rather a jungle where the fittest determine the fate of the lesser animals. It sounds pretty surprising but not unexpected that the city of Port Harcourt, a once very glamorous city, was ranked among the three most dangerous cities in the world under the watch of Sir Celestine Omehia. The human resources unit of New York-based Marsh & McLennan Cos. had ranked Port Harcourt with Baghdad, Yemen’s capital of Sana’a and Khartoum in Sudan, as the world’s most dangerous cities. Going by the ranking published by Bloomberg, Port Harcourt ranked with Baghdad as one of the world’s most dangerous cities for foreign workers as criminal gangs and guerrillas seeking greater control of energy revenue step up attacks.
Mr. Ahamefula Ogbu a Journalist with Thisday Newspapers one of the leading Newspapers in Nigeria described one of the scenes in the State at this period in these words ‘Rambo could not have done better. With automatic rifles in their hands and hate, revenge and murder hanging around their necks, warring cultists took Port Harcourt, Rivers State, by storm yesterday for the second day running. Pandemonium broke out as residents ran for safety. It was sorrow, tears and blood. At the end of it all or, more aptly, at the interval, for no one knows the end yet15 persons had been dispatched to their early graves’ and true to this unsung prophet nobody knew the end as the next few days saw about eighty innocent souls wasted by an agitation uncommon to our people in the Niger Delta.
Okey Ndibe a respected opinion on national issues in Nigeria in his article during this period published in the Sahara Reporters one of the leading internet websites on Nigerian political activities titled ‘a blood soaked city’ described the happenings in Rivers State then in these words ‘That the once idyllic Port Harcourt was now a scarred place, a war zone, a city soaked in blood; the city under siege with thousands of citizens displaced; that its once quiescent boulevards and avenues were now ruled by marauding militiamen and by the fierce soldiers deployed to dislodge them. Sudden death by bullet was now a generalized hazard for the city’s trapped and hapless residents’.
Contributing, Chief Edwin Kiagbodo Clark an elder statesman and a onetime Federal Minister of Information in the first Republic advocated that the only solution to the lingering security crisis in Rivers State ‘I implored President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua not to dilly-dally in imposing a state of emergency on Rivers State, doing so would be tantamount to postponing the evil day’ He continued ‘Omehia was not fit to be governor of Rivers State in fact he is a major part of the problem and an unserious and insensitive personality; where is the seriousness in Omehia? If he is a serious governor or politician, why should he abandon Rivers State when the state was still boiling to go and take part in a birthday bash in Abuja for his godfather, Peter Odili? We can’t fold our hands as elders, and continue watching the situation degenerate.”
Then came Rt. Hon. Rotimi Chibuike Amaechi, the Flag-Bearer of PDP referred in some quarters as a developmental magician to rescue Rivers State and make the haven of development and peace it has become since then, a man whose drive and passion towards rebuilding Rivers State to an exemplary State in Africa is legendary. The ironic thing about the coming into power of Amaechi at a time when security had broken down in the state with no hope of being restored-a situation that led the duo of Dr. Abiye Sekibo and Sir Celestine Omehia flee the State and became more or less refugees in Abuja the National Capital of Nigeria- was that once security was restored, these same gentlemen started coming back to the state and chose the path of wresting power from the man who gave them the leeway to feel safe again. That is the irony of life and the politics of Rivers State.
To Rt. Hon. Chibuike Amaechi, governing Rivers State is more of a divine mission where tomorrow does not exist. He seems to be in a hurry to accomplish so many things within a short period. I will not like to bore the reader with the many projects the Governor has embarked upon as doing so will entail writing a book but I will in a summarised form highlight some in order to have the feeling of what this young visionary has done to building the new Rivers State of his dream. After constituting his Cabinet with men and women of integrity and seeing the decay in infrastructure in the State he commenced his task by initiating and signing into law, Road Maintenance and Rehabilitation Agency Bill No. 3 of 2008, Sustainable Development Amendment Bill No. 1 of 2008, procurement public bill, Saving Public Fund Bill and even bill excluding the office of the Governor from signing and awarding of contracts. With these bills, the Governor gives an insight of the type of governance he intends to bequeath to the State Governance imbedded in Accountability, service delivery orientated and government by the people and for the greater Rivers State. According to Rt. Hon. Amaechi, ‘in order to lay a strong foundation for positive change in governance in the State, the administration has taken it upon itself to initiate very critical bills on fiscal responsibility to the State House of Assembly and virtually all of which have been passed into law and assented to by me. The Executive arm of government so far has credit for having at least 60 per cent of all bills passed by the House of Assembly, saying that virtually all the bills were designed to deal with the age long problem of financial irresponsibility and rascality and as far as the existing laws on fiscal responsibility are concerned. Anyone in government who tries to have an over sight of the due process mechanism in the State would surely run into problems’.
With projects such as the multi-billion naira Rumuwoji (Mile One) Market, the New Niger Hospital, the 50-bed hospital located inside the Rivers State University of Science and Technology (RSUST), Eleme Junction Fly-Over which all located within the state capital and are already functional, pinning down the achievements of the Governor to one main project is like looking for a pin in a haystack the reason being that his strides cut across all sectors. In the area of education, the Amaechi-led Government has completely taken over the payment of salaries of primary school and junior school teachers, which was ab-initio the responsibility of the local government councils. It costs the state government N800 million monthly to pay the salaries of the primary school teachers. The government is building 350 primary schools each of which has 20 classrooms and will cost N3.1billion each. It is also building 23 secondary schools across the 23 local government councils in the state. It is on record most of these structures are completed. The Governor knew what his mission is, “We knew that the problem of the state was basically education, the state of our quality of education was abysmal and we knew that the quality can only improve if we take over primary education”, the governor emphasized, as he expressed concern over what local government councils were doing with the money meant for that”.
The government is currently running free primary education with free books and uniform with provisions of library and internet facilities for the primary schools. The government has acquired 150 hectres of land to relocate the premier University of Technology in Nigeria; the Rivers State University of Science and Technology (RSUST), to a bigger and better permanent site. The new site is expected to have facilities that will accommodate no fewer than 50,000 students. The Rivers State Government has been adjudged the best performing state in the Education sector within the South-South zone. In recognition of this the Federal Ministry of Education has rewarded the state with the sum of N70 million for its performance. Due Process procedure has been complied with in respect to the furnishing of the model primary schools as well as completed Health Centres, noting that they would be furnished soon.
Given the importance of the health sector in any given community, the Amaechi administration has completed about 100 out of the 150 health centres being built by the state government across the state at the cost of about N3billion. Each of the health centres will have ambulances and state-of-the-art medical equipment. About 200 medical doctors have being recruited to man these hospitals.
However, due to the threats of ocean surge and the loss of its lands to tidal waves and erosion, the state government decided to reclaim the lands first. The land reclamation exercise is going on in Buguma, Abalama. Also, Andoni while the land reclamation exercise in Opobo alone costs about N3billion. It is worthy of note that the land being reclaimed in Opobo is bigger than Opobo town itself that made Hon. Chief Dakuku Peterside the erstwhile Commissioner of Works and the next member representing Opobo/Nkoro/Andoni Federal Constituency in the 6th National Assembly to describe Gov Amaechi as the Founder of the new Opobo after the famous King Jaja of Opobo who founded the old Opobo based on the landmass Gov Amaechi has singlehandedly reclaimed for the people of Opobo.
Already, 376 communities across the state have been electrified. Based on his promise to consolidate on the power programmes of his predecessor, Governor Amaechi has ordered for additional equipments and contracted expert vendors for the completion of the moribund turbines such as Trans-Amadi Gas Turbine and Eleme Gas Turbine projects for effective power supply in the state. Also, additional feeder stations are being completed in places hitherto without power supply.
The former SSG Mr. Abe Magnus and the Senatorial Candidate of PDP in the South East senatorial zone expanding on the vision of this administration stated, “As part of its tenure strategy, this Government sees the whole of Rivers state as one big family in need of urgent attention. The onus is on us as a responsible government to ensure the provision of basic infrastructure in every community in the state irrespective of whether they have representation in the State Cabinet or not”.
President Goodluck Jonathan in one of his official visits to the State eulogized the Governor of Rivers State over his vision in the choice of projects that impacted positively on the people. President Jonathan hinted that the several road networks embarked upon by the Rivers State Government and the Monorail transport system planned by the government has significantly shown that the state is moving ahead, “beside the road network, I want to commend Governor Amaechi on the three major projects, the quality of Primary and Secondary Schools that we saw, as well as the Power Project that would aid Small Business Enterprises.
Amaechi’s Administration has hosted major events to sell Rivers State to the outside world than all the States in the Federation put together he hosted the ION Film Festival where the world best Film Producers were feted with the hospitality of Rivers State, he hosted Miss ECOWAS Pageant, Garden City Literary Festival, the recent concluded Guild of Editors, Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians (CWP), a trade delegation from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) on an enlighten mission for private companies within the South-South zone on how to access business opportunities available within the ECOWAS sub-region among many other major events hosted by the Rivers State Government.
The Deputy Speaker of Ugandan Parliament and Chairperson of CWP Hon Rebecca Kadaga, lauded the developmental efforts and policies of Governor Amaechi especially those geared towards improving the lot of children and women, saying that the issues already canvassed confirm that what the CWP was set to achieve are already in place in Rivers State.
In blazing the Town Hall Meeting trail in the state, he has eschewed the myth of a hidden agenda, by offering himself up for scrutiny, and by so doing showing transparency in government and according to the Chief of Field Office, UNICEF A field, Enugu, Mrs. Pelucy Ntambirweki, I am delight on the state government’s town hall meeting initiative as it promotes transparency, accountability and inclusiveness of the populace” in the State. The Governor of Rivers State, Rt Hon Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, said the town hall meetings and provision of needed projects and infrastructure were not geared towards popularising him but designed by government to be abreast of the views of the people of the state to achieve effective governance,
The Governor not impressed with all the kudos to him stated, “in fact, said it is the responsibility of government to provide social amenities for the people of the state, that it was wrong for the masses to dance and rejoice over the existence of a particular social infrastructure, that the people who voted them into power deserved the best.”
He stands as the only African Leader to have constructed sixty physical projects and donated the same to sixty communities in sixty days that earned him the name of a magician! His astute leadership in striving for financial transparency, accountability and inclusive governance has earned the State a lot of accolades, numerous awards and recognition by international bodies and corporations. 1. He emerged Leadership Newspaper’s Governor of the year 2009. 2. The Sun Newspaper Man of the Year Award in 2007. 3. The Compass Newspaper Award for Security in 2008. 4. Recipient of the prestigious 2010 Zik Prize for Good Governance based on his performance in the implementation of credible governance principles. This enviable award was bestowed on the Rivers State Governor for his ability to attract a B+/AA Fitch investment rating to the state, boost economic and structural development as well as enhance content development in all sectors of Rivers State. 5. Bestowed the ThisDay 2010 award “Change Makers in Governance Award” in recognition of the courageous measures implemented to bring about lasting changes and stability to the areas of governance in Rivers State. All this simply shows that he is a performer and an achiever and after a critical analysis of projects, policies and legislation brought about by the Amaechi administration, the need of supporting this visionary and great mind in the onerous task of governing a complex State like Rivers State become imperative.
Prince Tonye Princewill erstwhile AC gubernatorial candidate of Rivers State in 2007 and whose political credentials stands him as the only capable and credible aspirant that could have given Amaechi a run for his money buried his gubernatorial ambition in order to allow Gov Aamechi to complete and continue with his good deeds in Rivers State, according to him, “let it be my own sacrifice in order to move our State forward”.
To Chief Sgt Awuse one time gubernatorial candidate in the State and the acclaimed political bulldozer of Rivers State and one of the most viable, vibrant and strong rallying point of opposition in the State acknowledged the visionary leadership of Gov Amaechi and openly declared his support for his second term bid, urging all Rivers residents to Vote for Amaechi. According to Awuse, Amaechi’s achievements in three short years have clearly stood him out as the only and most qualified candidate for the Brick House.
To Professor Tam David West a nationalist and a respected statesman while addressing the mammoth crowd during the Bugma rally spoke glowingly of Amaechi’s achievement, he stated that anyone who claimed that Amaechi had not done anything in the state was “blinder than a bat”. He went on to say Amaechi’s opponents could be likened to “hamburgers without the beef” in other words they lacked the substance for leadership. He went on to add that he would support Amaechi with the “last drop of his pen and the last drop of his blood”. Singling out governor Fashola of Lagos state as another governor in the same league as Amaechi, he was quick to add that whereas Fashola had the privilege of building on legacies left by the Jakande and Tinubu administrations; Amaechi on the other hand started his administration from scratch. He received rapturous applause from the crowd when he stated emphatically that angel Gabriel had already sworn in Amaechi and that the election day is a mere formality similar to signing the dotted lines at a marriage, stating that any attempt to derail the process will be resisted and such as wont to do so will be bulldozed by the pen or by action.
Both traditional rulers and stakeholders from Kirike and Abuloma extractions of Okrika Kingdom of Rivers State where Dr. Abiye Sekibo hails from have on behalf of their people declared their total support for the re-election bid of Governor Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, in view of what they described as his five star performance as Governor of the state. The traditional rulers, who pledged their total support for the candidature of Governor Amaechi in two separate solidarity visits led by HRH Emmanuel Obudibo, the Amanyanabo of Ogoloma and Chief Dr Bernard Aprioku Okome, told him that their support stems from the genuine peace the governor has brought to Okrika Kingdom since 2008.
To Chief Hon. Bar Ezebuwo Nyesom Wike, the Director General of the Re-election Campaign of Gov Amaechi, “The State is in danger if Gov Amaechi fails to come back for a second tenure as most of the initiatives we have set up to take this State to a new height will be deconstructed”. Furthermore, he stated that the anti-people sentiments exhibited by the likes of Dr. Abiye Sekibo, who whilst presenting his manifesto to the people of the State, stated that one of the objectives of his government if elected will be to restore the land acquired so far for the Greater Port Harcourt City to their owners whereby aborting the development of a new City in the State; aborting the monorail project etc. such ideas according to Wike should never see the light of day if we don’t work hard.
This treatise cannot be concluded without hearing from two men who have worked closely with this great trio. Former Gov of Rivers State, Chief Rufus Ada-George who had Dr Peter Odili as his Deputy with Sir Celestine Omehia as his Commissioner for Education with Rt. Hon. Chibuike Amaechi as his Special Assistant while Dr Sekibo was one of the inner circle members of that Administration, “Look, Chief Eze if anybody should be in position to speak about these three sons of our State I should be the one because they have worked under me very closely. Yes, Gov Aamechi out of the three not minding the role that I have played in their lives was the only that considered it wise to inform me of his intention to govern the State. Though that is not the issue, the issue is that I was to appoint Amaechi as my Commissioner for Education in 1992 but this young man visited me and said, sir, I will prefer you to appoint my cousin, Sir Celestine Omehia who is older than me as a Commissioner instead of me as I still have age on my side since then my respect and love for this young man know no bounds. This step shows the selfless person that Amaechi is as I later appointed him my Special Assistant on Education. I have watched the three and if Rivers State people want a visionary, committed and focussed leader then Amaechi is their man”.
Another person is Engr Tele Ikuru who was the Commissioner for Housing and Urban Development under the administration of Sir Dr. Peter Odili and served as Deputy Governor both under the short lived administration of Sir Celestine Omehia and that of Rt. Hon. Chibuike Amaechi. He stated, “Eze, on a very serious note if anybody must speak and select for the people of Rivers State who their next Governor should be then I must be the person because I have not only worked closely with this trio but I have monitored them very closely as their friend. Dr. Seikbo was the SSG while I was the Commissioner for Housing, I have served both Sir Celestine Omehia and Gov Amaechi as their Deputy Governor and I can comfortably state that both Omehia and Sekibo does not have the liver to govern Rivers State at this period of our history. If we must move forward then give it to Amaechi”.
Let me conclude this piece by quoting a great Philosopher and the 2011 ANPP Presidential Candidate during the Presidential debate anchored by NN24, Mallam Ibrahim Shekarau, “Every Nigerian aspires to have good governance. There are six globally accepted standards of good governance which are agreed upon by the World Bank and the United Nations. Number One: Voice and Accountability; Number Two: Political Stability; Number Three: Effectiveness in Governance; Number Four: Regulatory Control; Number Five: Rule of Law and Number Six: Control of corruption so if you want good governance, my advice to you is look at these characteristics who among the candidates considering his past and antecedents can guarantee the satisfaction of these six standards of good governance whosoever it is between you and your Almighty God, vote for him”. In my summation therefore I urge you that whosoever among Dr. Abiye Sekibo. Sir Celestine Omehia and Rt. Hon. Chibuike Amaechi that you find worthy you vote for come April 26th 2011.
Soot: Can N’Delta Escape Doomsday?
A popular saying in Nigeria’s ‘Pidgin’ English states: ‘Monkey dey work, baboon dey chop’. It simply means that while the monkey (which is usually smaller in size than the baboon) is working very hard to eke out a living for itself, the baboon uses its larger figure to intimidate the monkey and survive from the proceeds of the monkey’s efforts. This, in a nutshell, explains the plight of the oil-rich Niger Delta region of Nigeria.
The import of this popular saying in the context of this discourse is that while the Niger Delta Region produces the crude oil, which has been the mainstay of the country for over sixty years, and also bears the brunt of oil exploration and exploitation activities, the northern part of the country, which views leadership of the country as its birthright, enjoys more from the proceeds of crude oil.
Much have been said and written by different people, including scholars, about the plight of the people of the Niger Delta in Nigeria, such that at some point, one may easily feel saturated, and possibly irritated, out of a feeling of over-information that now sounds hackneyed.
But the truth is that, from the point at which crude oil was first found in commercial quantity at Oloibiri, in present-day Bayelsa State, in Nigeria, till today, the life of the people in the Niger Delta region has never been the same. Rather than be a source of development to the people in all spheres as it is with the advanced climes, some of which do not have the quality of crude oil the region has, it has been a source of clear dehumanisation of the people.
The apparent euphoria that greeted the discovery of crude oil in the Niger Delta region of the country in anticipation of its implication in terms of what the people stand to benefit as host communities, at inception, soon gave way to nostalgic chronic acrimonious feelings as the days turned to weeks, months, years and now decades.
Perhaps what would amount to an inkling of what is now the fate of the people of the region today was the February 23, 1966 declaration of the Niger Delta Republic in what has become known as The Twelve-Day Revolution’ by the late Major Isaac Jasper Adaka Boro, nicknamed Boro.
Boro’s grouse was the exploitation of oil and gas resources in the Niger Delta areas which benefited mainly the Federal Government of Nigeria and, at the time, the Eastern Region with capital in Enugu, while nothing was given to the Niger Delta people. He believed that the people of the Niger Delta deserved a larger share of proceeds from the oil wealth.
Consequently, he formed the Niger Delta Volunteer Force (NDVF), an armed militia with members consisting mainly of his fellow Ijaw ethnic group. They declared the Niger Delta Republic on that day and fought with Federal forces for twelve days before being defeated. Boro and his comrades were jailed for treason.
They were, however, granted amnesty by the Federal regime of General Yakubu Gowon on the eve of the Nigerian Civil War in May 1967 on the condition that they fight for the Federal Government against the Biafrans. Boro, and some of his comrades, most prominently Owunaro, his second in command in the NDVF, subsequently enlisted in the Nigerian Army.
Boro was commissioned as a Major in the Nigerian Army. He fought on the side of the Federal Government, but was killed under mysterious circumstances in active service in 1968 at Ogu (Okrika) in Rivers State.
But the struggle Boro started has taken different dimensions in the Niger Delta ever since, with seemingly less impact as far as the Federal Government’s response to the demands of the region is concerned. It’s such that after over sixty years of oil exploration and exploitation in the region, all the people have to show is what amounts to deliberate and planned, but gradual destruction of their sources of livelihood, leading to a life of penury, underdevelopment, and currently a possible end to their lives through endemic illnesses such as cancer and like ailments warranted by their exposure to the ravaging soot in the region.
Soot is a mixture of very fine black or brown particles created by the product of incomplete combustion. It is primarily made up of carbon, but it can also contain trace amounts of metals, dust, and chemicals. It is different from charcoal and other by-products of combustion because it is so fine. These tiny particles may be under 2.5 micrometers in diameter which is smaller than dust, mold, and dirt particles.
Beyond artisanal refining, possible causes of the soot also include emissions from asphalt factories, indiscriminate burning of mixed waste, burning of tyres and vehicular emissions, according to a Report by a technical team set up by the Rivers State Government in 2019, to generate preliminary air quality data in Port Harcourt. However, none of these has so infested the region’s cloud with soot as illegal oil bunkering.
Experts say that the small size of soot is what makes it so dangerous for humans and pets, because it can easily be breathed deep into the small passageways of the lungs, which is why repeated exposure to soot is linked to respiratory illnesses, heart disease, and cancer. Soot is, therefore, more than just an unsightly nuisance. It is a danger that cannot be left in the home or environment.
In 2017, a reporter, Yomi Kazeem, wrote, “Across Nigeria’s oil-producing Niger-Delta region, environmental pollution has long been a part of daily lives. But while residents have become used to multiple oil spills which have damaged livelihoods and farmlands, they currently face a new kind of danger: rising black soot particles in the air. Since November, residents of oil industry hub city, Port Harcourt, are complaining about increased soot residue on surfaces in and out of their homes”.
Back then, Nigeria’s Ministry of Environment declared an air pollution emergency in the affected areas. The Ministry claimed that preliminary test samples of the soot indicated it was caused by incomplete combustion of hydrocarbons as well as asphalt processing and illegal artisanal refinery operations.
In a bid to curb the pollution, Kazeem stated, the Ministry shut down an asphalt processing plant operating in the area. The State Government has also sealed off a Chinese company in the city for what it tagged ‘aggravated air pollution, and breach of environmental laws’.
On their part, residents petitioned the United Nations Environment Programme to intervene by investigating the problem while they subtly protested the increased pollution on social media, through the “#StopTheSoothashtag”.
Since then, the best that has been heard about addressing the issue of soot in the Niger Delta had been what can be easily dismissed as subtle complaints on social media by few concerned individuals and organisations involved in environmental health pursuits. Thus, the quantity of particles forming soot that is emitted into the air on a daily basis has increased almost unabated.
For the Federal and State Governments, their efforts so far had been at best mere media hypes in a make-belief establishment of modular refineries in the Niger Delta, which the Federal Government also wants established in the north that does not produce oil, like it did in building refinery in Kaduna State, an act widely viewed as misplacement of priority as far as establishment of modular refineries as a solution to soot is concerned.
In 2013, scientists found out that dirty air caused more premature deaths than unsafe water, unsafe sanitation, and malnutrition in Africa. The obvious implication is that if the Niger Delta is increasingly infested with soot and genuine necessary steps are not taken to check it, the region will most likely go extinct in years to come. The form this will take, and how soon it will manifest are the questions that currently prop up in critical analyses.
During one of such analyses, an environmental toxicologist with the Department of Animal and Environmental Biology, University of Port Harcourt, Nigeria, Dr. Emmanuel Oriakpona, hinted that the most likely consequence of unchecked increase in soot infestation in the Niger Delta is loss of the region’s ecosystem and human health.
“We shall experience loss of our ecosystem and loss of our health. This is the summary of what will happen to us: major loss in our ecosystem. If you go to the mangroves and see the devastation by crude oil, and you also go and see what the people actually carrying out the refining process are going through, you’ll appreciate this better,” he said.
According to Dr. Oriakpona, the situation is worsened by the fact that there is an obvious collaboration between those involved in artisanal refining of crude oil and authorities vested with the responsibility of stopping it. The reason is that such authorities are rewarded with huge financial benefits accruable from the business. This is further buttressed by some key players in the illegal oil refining business whose locally made boats and products were at some points burnt by security agents who felt that their exploitation of the people involved in the illegal trade was challenged.
By: Soibi Max-Alalibo
News Reporting In Covid-19 Era
The request to give a talk on Reporting in Covid-19 Era serves as a form of uniting with my friends and colleagues after a long absence from the scene, to reminisce about newsroom experience and fun. Newsroom is a mad place that used to be stuffy with the acrid stench of tobacco, with no permanent seat for reporters. Sit wherever there is space and knock out your story.
Personally, I love being called a Reporter than an Editor. It is more dignifying to be addressed as Reporter because it is the foundation of journalism. Reporting is a craft; it is an art not easily acquired by many journalists. It is easier to write essays than reporting, where one uses the: who, when, where, what, and how to form an inverted pyramid.
There are other types of reporting that are different from newspapering. Formal and informal reports which are familiar with bureaucratic red tapism. Formal reports are schematic in layout: terms of reference, findings, conclusion, and recommendation.
Formal report takes the form of memo. News reporting is segmented, in other words, there are beats such as crime, court, assembly, sports, entertainment, airport, labour, seaport, and such like. They are specialized. These beats have their own languages, which the reporter is expected to master and speak effectively. Specialization leads to efficiency and greater output, but it also leads to boredom. Therefore, a good reporter is one who is versatile. He is a factotum because he can function in any beat. As a result, the chances of being bored in repeating one particular thing is minimal. There will be job enlargement and enrichment.
After having a cursory glance at reporting, let me also look at Covid-19. It is a family of viruses that can cause respiratory illness in human. On December 31, 2019, World Health Organization (WHO) was informed of cases of pneumonia of unknown cause in Wuhan City, China. A novel Coronavirus was identified as the cause by Chinese authorities on January 7, 2020 and was temporarily named “2019-ncov”.
We are all living witnesses to the devastating effects of the pandemic. It swept like wild -fire across the globe, and decimated the population. Economic activities were paralyzed. No sector was spared. Movements were halted, and people were forced into self-imprisonment. It was a period of improvised fasting without sufficient prayers due to scarcity of food. Covid-19 was a plague that defiled all known orthodox medications.
In order to check further ravages of the pandemic, certain measures were put in place such as social distancing, wearing of face mask, washing of hands regularly with soap, application of sanitizer, maintaining good hygiene, subjecting people to tests, isolating those who tested positive in camps, and quarantining travellers from other countries for a number of days.
There was hue and cry about the claim of China that the cause of the menacing pneumonia was not known. Donald Trump believed that it was a mischievous act for economic reason. The rivalry between U.S and China to dominate the economy of the world is awful. Fingers are pointing at Bill Gates for having conspirational relationship with China to cause the disaster so that he could come up with his antivirus to enrich himself. When eventually China manufactured drugs to combat the dreaded Covid-19, America cried foul!
Something is fishy. Coronavirus started in Wuhan yet there is no adverse effect in nearby Beijing and Shanghai, while countries in Europe and America are seriously affected.
The United States is not blaming China for fun, because not a single leader in China has tested positive. Shanghai, the city that runs China’s economy did not experience lockdown. While the world’s major economic and political centres are closed, Beijing and Shanghai are open. This gives the picture that the Coronavirus is a biochemical weapon.
I have laboured to say what reporting is all about, as well as Covid-19. Let me now look at reporting in Covid-19 Era. How can reporters stay safe while reporting about the plague? They have to obey the rules spelt out by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), coupled with the grace of God. It became imperative for newsrooms to make pandemic coverage a priority to inform and educate the public during these uncertain times.
The Covid-19 pandemic strongly impacted the journalism industry and affected the work of journalists. Many local newspapers have been severely affected by losses in advertising revenues. You know that if a paper is doing well, it is not only the rich editorial contents. It is mostly the number of pages sold, that makes the paper solvent. The editorial contents can sell all the copies printed, yet it is not enough to settle the bills. The cost of production per copy is more than the cost at the news stand. It is adverts that yield the revenue for its sustenance. Apart from the loss of revenues, journalists have been laid off, and some publications have folded.
Journalists across the globe faced unpredicted challenges to report the Coronavirus outbreak accurately and safely. These challenges led to the spread of misinformation, having cognizance of the physical and mental health of reporters fomented by social distancing. There was a revolution in online reporting.
Reporters need to look into the heart of the matter without fear or favour. They have the inalienable duty to inform and educate members of the public correctly without compromising their dignity.
The reporter is the newsmaker. People treat him the way he carries himself. He does not need to be arrogant, but confident of himself. He does not need to be over ornamented, but decent and smart, to earn respect.
He should seek the truth and reflect on his own power. Are we sure that the information being fed the public by NCDC is correct? How many laboratories do they have? How many positive cases have they confirmed? How many people are dead? There is the need for reporters to verify the authenticity of claims made by government officials. Unfortunately such verification was not possible because of lockdown. The reporter had to be contented with whatever information sifted out. There were elements of fraud by some countries who inflated the figures of confirmed cases in order to get more reliefs from WHO. It is a known fact that people were recruited to stay in isolation camps, giving wrong picture to the world, while enriching themselves through reliefs from the world body.
Nigerians received a rude shocker one fine morning when a minister alleged that billions of naira had been disbursed to them within seventy-two hours as relief package for Covid-19. It was the height of thievery. Uptil now, heaven has not fallen, while the money is resting coolly in individual pockets, to the detriment of hapless and helpless Nigerians.
As if that was not enough, what of people representing us in the National Assembly who allowed consignments meant for alleviation of the burden of the common man to crawl into their warehouse? While the people who elected them into power were famishing, and growing lean, they were eating like kings and developing robust cheeks.
Such fraudulent activities were condemned, but the condemnation was transient. The tempo should be sustained. Constant repetition of a thing will make it automatic. Those crooks should be tormented with follow-up stories. Reporters should summon the courage to seek accountability from leaders of Covid-19 relief fund or package. Now that the lockdown has been relaxed and the death figures remarkably reduced, reporters should heave a sigh of relief and make a departure from the seamy side to the lofty angle of Covid-19. It gave birth to the rise of online learning. The pandemic led to the closure of schools across the globe, and children resorted to learning online instead of classroom. It checked the activities of randy husbands who were forced to be at home. For fear of the contagious pandemic both men and women kept their distance. The level of promiscuity was drastically reduced. Children enjoyed the company of their fathers who were scarcely at home prior to the advent of the epidemic. Because of the lockdown which confined people, the major recreational activity was the act of procreation. Many wives were blessed with fruit of the womb.
Reporting has gone into coma in Covid-19 Era. It has to gain consciousness. Reporters should be resourceful. What game is WHO playing by trying to monopolize the discovery of the vaccine to combat the epidemic? Is the claim made by Madagascar that it has an answer to the menace of Covid-19 authentic? Reporters cannot afford to fold their hands and allow social media to misinform them.
There is the allegation that the vaccine government is coercing or cajoling people to take is not the panacea, because some people who obeyed the plea to take died as a result of its effect. Others claimed that the portion of their body where the vaccine was administered has become magnetic to metals.
According to the 2021 World Press Freedom Index by Reporters Without Borders, at the moment journalism is totally blocked or seriously impeded in 73 nations. Some governments have punished journalists for reporting pandemic figures that are contrary to the official figures as authorities try to cover up the true situation on the ground.
In other instances, governments have totally banned media from reporting on the pandemic and jailed others for exposing scandals related to theft of Covid-19 supplies.
Yet now, more than ever, the public has the right to factual, credible and timely information, and journalism, in the words of the Press Freedom Index, is the vaccine against disinformation…
Gentlemen of the Press, I urge you to seek the truth and report the Coronavirus outbreak accurately and safely.
Albert-Briggs is a veteran journalist in Port Harcourt.
By: Fitz Albert-Briggs
Failure Of Political Leadership In Nigeria
At the end of the Cold War, African civil society movements striving for more democratic governance began to challenge authoritarian regimes on the continent. Declining living conditions within African countries and the failure of authoritarian African leaders to deliver the promises of economic prosperity they made to encourage the acceptance of development aid fueled the push for change. International donors’ insistence on democratic reform as a precondition for aid gave impetus for Nigerian civil society to push for domestic accountability. Thus, domestic pressure for political pluralism and external pressure for representative governance have both played a role in the calls for democratic reform in Nigeria.
But despite some successes, corruption and socio-economic disparities within Nigerian democracy continue to run rampant. Since 1999, the democratic space has been dominated by political elites who consistently violate fundamental principles associated with a liberal democratic system, such as competitive elections, the rule of law, political freedom, and respect for human rights. The outcome of the 2019 Presidential Election further eroded public trust in the ability of the Independent national Electoral Commission (INEC) to organise competitive elections unfettered by the authoritarian influences of the ruling class. This challenge is an indicator of the systemic failure in Nigeria’s governance system. A continuation of the current system will only accelerate the erosion of public trust and democratic institutions. In contrast with the current system in which votes are attained through empty promises, bribery, voter intimidation, and violence, Nigeria needs a governance system that will enhance the education of its voters and the capability of its leaders.
Statistically, Nigeria has consistently ranked low in the world, areas such as government’s effectiveness, political stability and the presence of violence and terrorism, rule of law, and control of corruption. Nigeria was perceived in 2020 as a highly corrupt country with a score of 25/100 while its corruption ranking increased from 146 in 2019 to 149 in 2020 out of 180 countries surveyed. While President Muhammadu Buhari won the 2015 election on his promise to fight insecurity and corruption, his promises went unfulfilled; Boko Haram continues to unleash unspeakable violence on civilians while the fight against corruption is counterproductive.
At the core of Nigeria’s systemic failure is the crisis of governance which manifests in the declining capacity of the state to cope with a range of internal political and social upheavals. There is an expectation for political leaders to recognise systemic risks such as terrorist attacks, herder-farmer conflict and police brutality and put in place the necessary infrastructure to gather relevant data for problem solving. But the insufficiency of political savvy required to navigate the challenges that Nigeria faces has unleashed unrest across the nation and exacerbated existing tensions. The #EndSARS Protests against police brutality in 2020 is one of the manifestations of bad governance.
The spiral of violence in northern Nigeria in which armed bandits engage in deadly planned attacks on communities, leading to widespread population displacement, has become another grave security challenge that has sharpened regional polarisation. Because some public servants are usually unaware of the insecurities faced by ordinary Nigerians, they lack the frame of reference to make laws that address the priorities of citizens. The crisis of governance is accentuated by a democratic culture that accords less importance to the knowledge and competence that political leaders can bring to public office. These systemic challenges have bred an atmosphere of cynicism and mistrust between citizens and political leaders at all levels of government.
Political elites in Nigeria also exploit poverty and illiteracy to mobilise voters with food items such as rice, seasoning and money. The rice is usually packaged strategically with the image of political candidates and the parties they represent. The assumption is that people are more likely to vote for a politician who influences them with food than one who only brings messages of hope. The practice of using food to mobilise voters is commonly described as “stomach infrastructure” politics. The term stomach infrastructure arose from the 2015 election in Ekiti State when gubernatorial candidate Ayodele Fayose mobilised voters with food items and defeated his opponent, Dr Kayode Fayemi. It is undeniable that the Nigerian political culture rewards incompetent leaders over reform-minded leaders who demonstrate the intellectualism and problem-solving capabilities needed to adequately address systemic issues of poverty and inequality.
Jason Brennan describes the practice of incentivising people to be irrational and ignorant with their votes as the unintended consequence of democracy. Brennan believes specific expertise is required to tackle socio-economic issues, so political power should be apportioned based on expert knowledge. As Brennan suggests, Nigeria lacks a system of governance in which leadership is based on capability. Rather, the political system in Nigeria is dominated by individuals who gain power through nepotism rather than competence, influence voters with food rather than vision, and consolidate power through intimidation or by incentivising constituents with material gifts which they frame as ”empowerment” to keep them subservient and loyal political followers. By implication, the failure of governance in Nigeria is arguably the result of incompetent leadership.
Nigeria needs a new model of governance in which political leadership is based on the knowledge and competence of both political leaders and the electorate. One solution is to establish what Brennan refers to as ‘epistocracy’, which is a system of governance in which the votes of politically informed citizens should count more than the less informed. For Justin Klocksiem, epistocracy represents a political system in which political power rests exclusively on highly educated citizens. This idea drew its philosophical influence from John Stuart Mill, who believed that the eligibility to vote should be accorded to individuals who satisfy certain educational criteria. The notion that educational attainment should be the prerequisite for the electorate to choose their leaders as proposed by Brennan, Klocksiem and Mill is an important proposition that should be taken seriously.
However, one cannot ignore that such thinking originates from societies where civic education is high and the electorate can make informed choices about leadership. In Nigeria, the majority of citizens are uneducated on political issues. Simultaneously, those who are highly educated are increasingly becoming indifferent to political participation; they have lost faith in the power of their votes and the integrity of the political system. For an epistocratic system to work in Nigeria there must be significant improvements in literacy levels so that citizens are educated about the issues and can use their knowledge to make informed decisions about Nigeria’s political future.
It is important to mention that Nigeria’s political elites have exploited illiteracy to reinforce ethnic, religious, and political divisions between groups that impede democratic ideals. Since the resultant effect of epistocracy is to instill knowledge, raise consciousness and self-awareness within a polity anchored on the failed system of democracy, decisions that promote the education of uninformed voters are the rationale for an epistocratic system of governance. The Constitution must ensure that only citizens who can formulate policies and make informed decisions in the public’s best interest can run for public office. When the Constitution dictates the standard of epistocratic governance, informed citizens will be better equipped to champion political leadership or determine the qualifications of their leaders. Epistocratic governance will be the alternative to Nigeria’s current dysfunctional democratic system while retaining the aspects of liberal democracy that maintain checks and balances.
We are not, however, oblivious that implementing such an epistocratic system of governance in Nigeria potentially contributes to more inequality given its highly undemocratic and exclusive nature. Our argument takes into consideration the contextual realities of poverty and illiteracy and the realisation that poor and illiterate constituents have less power to evaluate the credibility of public servants or hold them accountable. The benefits of electing epistocratic leaders are that many citizens would desire to be educated in preparation for leadership. The more educated the population the more likely it is that political leaders will be held accountable. However, the kind of education that is needed to significantly transform the governance landscape in Nigeria is civic education.
We propose three policies to promote epistocratic governance in Nigeria. First, aspiring leaders must demonstrate the intellectual pedigree to translate knowledge into effective, transparent, and accountable governance that leads to national prosperity. As Rotimi Fawole notes, the bar should be higher for those aspiring to executive or legislative office “to improve the ideas that are put forward and the intellectual rigor applied to the discussions that underpin our statehood.”
Second, the government must increase access to education through government-sponsored initiatives that integrate civic education into school curriculums. Currently, little opportunity exists for young Nigerians, particularly those in underfunded public education systems, to learn about their civic roles at the local, state, national, and international levels, including how to emerge as participating citizens through academics.
However, I think 2023 will be interesting for the future of the country, if the government should engage the support of local NGOs to promote civic education across Nigeria in culturally appropriate ways. The NGOs should be empowered to define the legal concept of citizenship and summarise specific civil rights enshrined in the Constitution into a Charter of Rights and Responsibilities modelled after the Canadian Charter. The Charter should include value positions essential to an effective democracy, such as the rights of citizens, social justice, good governance and rule of law. It can then be commissioned as a resource for civics education in Nigeria.
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