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Editorial

Press Freedom And The FOI Bill

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Last Tuesday, the United Nations led more than 18,000 publications, 15,000 online sites, well over 3,000 media organizations, and hundreds of journalists’ associations in more than 120 countries across the globe to mark the 2011 edition of the World Press Freedom Day.  On May 3, 20 years ago on the African soil in Namibia, stakeholders rose from a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO)-facilitated conference, with the Windhoek Declaration, a statement of clear principles calling for free, independent and pluralistic media as a springboard for peace, transparency in leadership, democracy, good governance and development throughout the world.

Since then, every May 3, lovers and advocates for press freedom hold symbolic events with the core mission to defend and promote press freedom, quality journalism and editorial integrity while urging governments and owners of private capital in the media to ensure greater respect for freedom of expression and association in the society. With this year’s theme, “21st Century Media: New Frontiers, New Barriers”, the UN had sponsored events in cities across the world to highlight the “unprecedented opportunities” offered free expression by the internet, new media, social networking sites and information and communication technologies (ICTs).

From a book fair in Egypt, to a march in Timor-Leste, and from an exhibition of photographs and blog entries in Moldova, to a conference in Ecuador and a training session for journalists in Nigeria, the UN used the WPFD platform to stress the obligation of states to uphold freedom of expression, information and association, curb the “disturbing” lack of concern for journalists’ protection in a changing media landscape, and tasked states to exhibit responsibility, and check abuses of press freedom.

At an event in Washington, DC, United States, UNESCO Director-General, Ms Irina Bokova, stressed that freedom of expression remains as important as ever in the digital age, serving as a basis for democracy and human dignity everywhere. A joint statement she signed with UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, expressed delight that now, “more and more people are able to share information and exchange views, within and across national borders”, because of the emergence of the internet and the free access and voice it has given to everyone, adding that, “this is a blessing for creativity, for healthy societies, for including everyone in new forms of dialogue”.  However, they also warned that new threats are arising alongside the new media technologies, with increasingly high-handed “measures to block, filter and censor information emerging every day”.

For the trio, this calls for action to defend the integrity and safety of all reporters. All principles of freedom of expression must be respected, and journalists, including citizen journalists, must be protected.  “Over the last decade, more than 500 journalists have lost their lives in the pursuit of their profession. Sixty killings were reported worldwide in 2010 alone, and every week brings more reports of journalists and bloggers suffering from intimidation and violence”, they said.

During an event to mark May 3 in New York, the UN General Assembly paid tribute to the reporters who have lost their lives in the course of their work, and called for better protection of media professionals. “We are constantly striving to promote the fundamental values of the United Nations Charter, and in doing so, we hope that our global village will continue to show unity and resolve in stating that no one, no journalist, no citizen, should be harassed, threatened or killed, as they attempt to do their work”, the assembly’s acting President, Ambassador Zahir Tanin of Afghanistan, said, noting that “there can be no international security and development unless human rights are respected, and those who violate them punished”.

At a similar event organised by World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) and the World Editors Forum (WEF), in Istanbul, Turkey, Erik Bjerager, president of WEF said, “freedom of expression is freedom to criticize, to disagree, to raise doubt and to question. This does not weaken a nation, it makes a nation stronger. Therefore, journalists should not be harassed, detained, imprisoned or murdered. They should be thanked for their criticism, their disagreement, their doubts and their questions”.

The Tide shares these sentiments. This is why at a moment like this, it is important to draw attention to the many challenges journalists face, including those highlighted by these stakeholders. We agree that governments must uphold the tenets of freedom of expression, information and association as a critical driver of democracy and development. To this end, the Federal Government must ensure that a potent Right of Information Law that meets the aspirations of Nigerians is implemented to give citizens unfettered access to information and public records as active participants in the democratic process and national development.

It is unfortunate that Liberia beat Nigeria last October as the first African country to adopt a freedom of information law. The conference committee of the National Assembly must conclude work on the harmonisation of the FOI Bill and hasten so as to tramsit same to President Goodluck Jonathan for assent before May 29. While doing so, we insist that all extraneous and draconian clauses in the FOI Bill must be expunged, because once operational, the FOI Law is expected to give journalists the leverage to perform their professional duties creditably. It will encourage investigative journalism and make more public records available for scrutiny.

While we reckon that the Nigerian media have been relatively free, we note pockets of self-censorship, harassment of journalists by some public officials, especially security details, intimidation and violence against journalists, and urge society to realise that the only way to move the nation forward is to respect the sanctity and independence of the media.

The Tide also calls for improved cross-sector funding for the media. This will enable increased investment in new media development and better training for journalists to adapt the new information and communication technologies. We think the theme of this year’s WPFD is apt because majority of Nigerian journalists lack the capacity to deploy the new media tools to enhance their performance. This is, therefore, the time to move  to the next level in journalistic practice, if we must catch up with the rest of the world.

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Editorial

For A Greater Rivers Utd FC

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About a fortnight ago, the Rivers State Government announced that one of the state-sponsored football
teams, Rivers United Football Club, Port Harcourt, would thenceforth, be under the Office of the state Governor, Chief Nyesom Wike. In addition, the governor appointed his Special Adviser on Real Madrid Football Academy, Barrister Christopher Green, as the sole administrator of the club.
Rivers United FC, the flagship of football club in the state and fondly called the ‘Pride of Rivers’, and campaigning in the top flight of the Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL), transmuted from the structures of Sharks and Dolphins FCs in 2016, barely a year after Governor Wike came into power in the state.
Since becoming the amalgam of the former two heavyweight sides of the state, the current administration has tried to transform the club into one of the leading lights in club football in the country. In fact, the club has enjoyed unprecedented patronage, especially motivation, support and prompt payment of emoluments from the government. Governor Wike has severally demonstrated his willingness to ensure that the club lacked nothing in the bid to win and bring laurels to the state and beyond.
Only recently, the club joined the exclusive list of very few football clubs in the country that have enjoyed the luxury of travelling for domestic matches in ultra modern air-conditioned and branded luxury buses, a gesture that was also extended to their sister club, Rivers Angels FC. Unfortunately, Rivers United seems not to have reciprocated the immeasurable commitment, passion and magnanimity which the government under Governor Wike has showered without let on them.
The club under its former identities, even under less patronage, had tried to hold their own in the domestic scene, winning the league in 1999 as Eagle Cement, and in 2004 and 2011 as Dolphins Football Club, while also lifting the FA/Federation Cup trophies on four occasions in 2001, 2004, 2006 and 2007.
These victories, however, seem to have become a distant memory, which has made it desirable and pertinent for the club under its current identity to earn and celebrate glory imminently, if only to bring joy to the sports loving people of Rivers State and as effective recompense for the investment of Governor Wike on the club.
After failing to make the cut in the CAF Confederations Cup competition last season, losing on penalties in the last qualifying stage to Enyimba International FC in a derby match up, Rivers United is back on the continent, campaigning in the nascent 2021 CAF Champions League season, a step up from last year’s competition.
That is why The Tide believes that the decision to place the club under the Office of the Governor could not have come at a better time. More so, the appointment of Barrister Christopher Green, a versatile and experienced sports technocrat, would help drive the club to achieving their potentials.
It is expected, therefore, that, with the development, the club would enjoy closer supervision and response time from the governor. Also, the apparent proximity to their Number One fan and supporter would certainly galvanise the team and officials into going the extra mile.
Having an impeccable sports enthusiast as a Chief Supporter, one who truly understands the dynamics of sports, particularly football, has become an added impetus for not only Rivers United but the whole sector in the state. Indeed, Governor Wike has proven to be a sports apostle par excellence.
It is on record that his commitment to excellence, willingness to invest in sports development and promotion, and readiness to reward achievers in every sector, particularly sports men and women, are second to none. No wonder he was found a worthy recipient of the prestigious Power of Sports – Africa (PoS –Africa) award by the Association of International Sports Press (AIPs) in 2019. The establishment of Real Madrid Football Academy, Port Harcourt is also a testimony of Governor Wike’s commitment to the round leather game.
We are gladdened that this new move would be a tonic to the club, and some of the red tape that, perhaps, had slowed down delivery to the club and reaction to matters that affect them would now be a thing of the past.
For the players, technical crew and backroom staff of Rivers United FC, now is the time for a re-wakening: they must be ready to give their all for success. The opportunity to rise and achieve glory via the total support of the governor should not be allowed to yield naught. Rather, now is the time to take up the challenge and work hard. Nothing should be allowed to distract them from the tasks facing them both in domestic competitions and the continental scene. The yearnings of the teeming football loving Rivers people and the current administration must be fulfilled. In fact, the club should look up to the performance of some clubs in the top European Leagues which do not settle for second best owing to the quality of support they get from their benefactors.
Furthermore, we expect the new sole administrator to hit the ground running by reaching out and exchanging notes with the Sports Ministry under which the club has been all the while. He must be open to new ideas while bringing his wealth of experience to bear on the new assignment.
Interestingly, in his first outing, Rivers United achieved a rare away victory in the first leg preliminary round of the 2021 CAF Champions League game against Young Africans FC of Tanzania. Last Sunday at the Adokiye Amiesimaka Stadium, Port Harcourt, Rivers United did the double over Young Africans, again, edging them out via a lone goal. With the victory, Rivers United qualified for the next stage of the competition, where they must survive Al Hilal of Sudan to make the money spinning group stage of Champions League. All hands, therefore, must be on deck to ensure that the club builds on the morale and confidence boosting performance towards achieving the ultimate goal.
Rivers United, with the goodwill and backing of Governor Wike, should not only gird their loins and go for glory in all fronts, now is the time for a sustained dominance of national competitions and beyond, beginning with this season’s League and Cup and CAF Champions League glory. That is the only way to justify the humongous investment the governor has made to reposition the club for greater heights, and amass the much-needed laurels for the government and people of Rivers State, and indeed, Nigerians.

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Editorial

Trans-Kalabari Road Kidnap: Not Path To Go

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The recent abduction of Lubrik Construction Company’s expatriate staff working on Trans-Kalabari Road by unknown miscreants is deplorable and profoundly distasteful. According to reports, three policemen assigned to the employees were viciously exterminated. The sad incident, said to have occurred on Thursday, September 9, along Sama Road, in Asari-Toru Local Government Area of Rivers State, is painfully bewildering. It is absolutely the product of disordered minds to ward off the Kalabari people from benefiting from the generosity of Governor Nyesom Wike.
Unfortunately, such an action could be considered at a moment when the governor is trying harder to ensure that progress takes place in every nook and cranny of the state. Several projects are underway in communities across the state with little or no abduction claims. Why Kalabari land? The Kalabaris are known to be peace-loving, who know how to protect what is theirs. Why did they let this happen to such an extensive project as this, which bears direct impact on their lives?
We denounce the kidnapping and appeal to the police, including all Kalabari leaders, elders and the youth, to go after those answerable for this reprehensible and senseless enterprise. The Kalabaris should remember that they patiently waited for 15 years to witness the actualisation of the road project and must hold on to it pertinaciously. Henceforth, youths from the area should be mobilised to secure all government projects in Kalabari Kingdom, specifically the Trans-Kalabari Road, to preserve it from brigands.
Before the onset of the Wike government, Rivers State had long endured abandoned projects, both at conceptual and advanced stages. The Trans-Kalabari Road had been a neglected project from the time of Dr. Peter Odili when it was awarded for the first time for N9billion. The project was deceased even before it was perfectly visualised.
Former Governor Rotimi Amaechi also signalled a N21billion contract for the same road in December, 2012, and committed to mobilise the contractor to the location by January, 2013. That also didn’t take effect. Yet, this was the same government that used about a whopping N40billion on a white elephant project (the Rivers Monorail) which remains blight for the past six years and deserted even before he left office in May, 2015.
However, in March, 2021, the present government declared a contract for the development of Phase 1 of the project at N13.6billion. On June 24, 2021, Wike eventually flagged off the road with a span of 14 months. The road will link six communities and would be reinforced by an irrevocable standing payment request of N1billion that would be paid to the contractor monthly.
At the initiation of the project, the Chief Executive of the state pleaded with the Kalabaris to give up everything that might imperil the realisation of the initial phase of the venture. The governor spoke at the flag-off of the road at the Degema Waterfront, saying, “Do not allow saboteurs to come and kidnap the contractors and sabotage the road. If I hear that the contractors are being harassed, then it is you”.
Thankfully, the ongoing work has offered an end to the relentless promises that previous governments had made to the people about the execution of the contract. Sadly, the governor’s impassioned appeal was never taken to heart. This untoward incident could prolong the culminating date of the project, thereby, undermining the confidence of the sons and daughters of Kalabari, who look forward to the realisation of the historical undertaking.
While we demand the prompt and outright release of the expatriate, we regard the hard-featured occurrence as a huge challenge to establish reciprocity and tranquillity within all the Kalabari project communities. We strongly advise all adversaries of the Kalabari people and Rivers State to stay clear from all project locations and amenities. Law enforcement and stakeholders of the Kalabari Kingdom should enhance their endeavours to emancipate the expatriate worker.
In 2019, three Lebanese expatriate workers from the Raffoul Nigeria Limited were kidnapped in Andoni. Governor Wike immediately reacted by issuing a 72-hour ultimatum to some traditional rulers and the chairman of Andoni Local Government Council at the time to ensure the release of the engineers working on the Andoni Unity Road or be stripped. The threat paid off, as attempts were stepped up, and the men regained their freedom. We call on the governor to apply a corresponding measure in the Trans-Kalabari Road abduction saga. 
Chairmen of the three local government councils of Asari-Toru, Akuku-Toru and Degema have to work collectively to bring off the freedom of the abducted worker and not stick around, expecting the governor to prompt them to act. They need to take steps to protect contractors and workers labouring on projects in their communities. As chief executives and security officers of their respective councils, they must make certain that contractors are not seized under their watch.
Contractors and workers at construction sites must rely less on the government to assure their security. They need to discover ways to secure themselves against delinquents and portentous gangsters. The first step is to broach a security scheme that will provide a policy for an emergency and ensure that all their workers realise how to react and whom to call. Installing surveillance cameras can help monitor the site as a whole and protect lives and equipment.
Wike has always prognosticated a proclivity to move further projects to Kalabariland. But, the activities of kidnappers in the area can dissuade him. The Kalabari people should see themselves too sophisticated to tolerate brigandage in their midst. Hence, they must close ranks to bring an end to the actions of miscreants who aim to see that the development of the area is nixed. Given that the criminals did not emerge from the sky, they have to be detected.

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Editorial

That Desecration Of NDA

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The contumelious assault on the headquarters of the Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA), Kaduna, by gunmen in the early hours of Tuesday, August 24, is possibly the most menacing sign that the Federal Government may have lost total control of the ungraceful security predicament faced by Nigerians. With this tragic incident and many others counting, obviously, the North-West may have increasingly evolved into the new terror epicentre, as the Boko Haram/ISWAP terrorism ostensibly dies down in the North-East.
According to media reports, the gunmen took advantage of a chasm in the NDA’s perimeter fencing and stormed the location along Airport Road, Afaka. They gained access to the residential area where two senior officers (Lieutenant Commander Awolor Wulah and Flight Lieutenant Chinecherem Okoronkwo) were shot dead. They also abducted another officer, Major Christopher Datong. The NDA is just steps away from the Federal Forestry Mechanization College, Afaka, where a gang of bandits kidnapped 39 students last March.
Indeed, the NDA, an institution that engenders young men and women to become gallant military personnel, should not come under an invasion of that dimension so easily. The onslaught was a rude reproach to the military, and by extension Nigeria. The Armed Forces ought to have carefully studied earlier raids and taken steps to safeguard their men and institutions. That this did not happen was indicative of imprudence on their part.
The inability to repel or capture the assailants highlights the shortcomings of our security system and demonstrates how daring terrorists or bandits are. Are there moles inside the Army? How would bandits attack a military institution without any effort or considerable resistance? We are asking because there has always been lingering suspicion that people are undermining the endeavours of our military, particularly in the ongoing anti-insurgency and banditry war.
While we vehemently denounce the incursion and call for the perpetrators to be apprehended and prosecuted, we urge that every effort be made to salvage the kidnapped major in the attack. The military must note that the continuous assaults on their men and formations are not only disconcerting, but hazardous as they erode the confidence of Nigerians in their ability to keep them safe. Something has to be done about that. These relentless attacks should be considered acts of terrorism and properly addressed.
In the aftermath of the NDA ambuscade, the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), Lt-Gen Lucky Irabor, assured Nigerians of updates on the search and rescue of the abducted officer, and added that “the Armed Forces of Nigeria will continue operations to ensure that all those involved in the dastardly act are brought to justice”. Much as Irabor’s words may be soothing, we believe more can be done to reassure Nigerians that the military is in firm control.
It was reported that the Defence Headquarters (DHQ) was investigating the unfortunate attack. It is a step in the right direction. But characteristic of the government, it should not take eternity to conclude. We call for a thorough inquiry and all those found to have pitched in to the success of the onslaught either through their actions or inactions must face the law. Also, the findings should be released to the public to instil trust in the inquisition.
Nigerians have consistently been experiencing fear and anguish. Most people are afraid of the road these days. Anytime they have to travel, their hearts are always tucked in their mouths. It was no surprise that in 2020, our nation was considered the third most terrorized country in the world for the sixth year in a row. Sadly, and most ignominiously, the authorities have never been perturbed by such unenviable rankings.
Millions of scared Nigerians are wondering what truly is going on. What is happening to our once mighty Nigerian Armed Forces, which were able to keep the nation one during the Civil War between 1967 and 1970, and return peace to war-torn Liberia, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Mali and even Libya? Why can the once dominant military power in Africa no longer defend itself from ordinary armed thugs on motorbikes that have clearly become a new frontier for terrorism?
Could it be the insatiable greed of the leaders? Could it be that top military officers have been compromised or put in jeopardy and are politicking with issues as sensitive as security? Have our soldiers lost the will to fight gallantly? Or are their weapons obsolete and can no longer withstand the sophisticated projectiles of their enemy? Or could it be that the military is no more as potent as it used to be back in the day? Those critical questions deserve responses.
What is most perplexing is that the security of our country is degenerating vis-a-vis the ever-increasing military allocations. Official figures indicate that more than N5trillion of our annual budgets have been spent on the military for our defence in the past six years. Allocations to the police and other security agencies not inclusive. All seems to have gone down the drain without a corresponding output.
These bandits have to be regarded as terrorists and treated as such. Lately, they have become very unsparing and appear a step ahead of our security agents. Therefore, they should be handled ruthlessly. Those behind the attacks must be fished out. The criminals must be properly defined, chased after, and apprehended, including their patrons. This can be accomplished by the military intelligence.
There is no doubt that the NDA attack is a special message that the bandits are sending to Nigerians to prepare for more deadly onslaughts. So, the security agencies must brace up. This is to say the least, very hair-raising, and the Federal Government must sit up to protect, not only the military establishments, but the country in totality. Hence, there is a pressing need for a change in our security architecture.
All patriotic Nigerians should be troubled by the attacks on the NDA and other military establishments as they undermine the sovereignty of the country. As a result, security agencies are expected to grow with renewed fervour to tackle this failing condition in the nation. Insecurity is the biggest challenge every government has to deal with, and should not be treated lightly. Additional tactics must, therefore, be deployed to hammer away terror and banditry in the land.

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