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Grappling With Challenges Of Effective Water Supply

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Too much water everywhere, none to drink is a popular aphorism associated with Rivers State because of its strategic natural disposition as a state bordered by the Atlantic. It is a notion critics have also used to underscore the increasing challenges and difficulties in the provision and effective distribution of water in Port Harcourt and its environs. But   this  fact  has equally remained a major concern.

Most rural communities in the state that depend on local streams and natural vegetations as a major source of water supply are now stripped of their natural water sources because of increasing pollution occasioned by the activities of oil companies. Experts state that most of the common diseases afflicting the people are water- borne, arising from the contamination of the natural environment.

Essential as water is to the daily living of the people, analysts pick holes in the quest for its utility in the state, describing it as lacking in articulation and implementation. Interestingly, successive governments in Rivers State had always made efforts at addressing the challenges of water supply in the state through the Ministry of Water Resources and related agencies, such as the Rivers State Water Board.          But analysts, insight into the operations of the Rivers Water sector indicates that such efforts over the years, are yet to transform into a sustainable result as most residents of Port Harcourt depend on water vendors as a major source of water supply, without bordering about hygienic condition of the water, or the source of the vendors’ supply.             Recently, the Rivers State House of Assembly Committee on Water Resources, led by its Chairman, Hon Martins Amaewhule, embarked on a facility visit at the Rivers State Water Board, an agency saddled with the responsibility of providing water for the city of Port Harcourt and its environs.

The committee, during the visit, not only observed a palpable decay in existing infrastructure at the board but also noted a low rate of public awareness over the activities of the board.

Addressing the technical team of the Ministry of Water Resources and the Water Board, led by the Hon Commissioner for Water Resources, Ms Patricia Simon-Hart, the committee called for the resuscitation of facilities at the board to boost operations in response to its fundamental obligations. The committee also tasked the ministry  implementation of policies on water distribution network in the new design on urban renewal  in Port Harcourt, which covers the new extension of the city, called the ‘Greater Port Harcourt’.

Speaking on the issue, the Rivers State Commissioner for Water Resources, Ms Simon-Hart reassured government commitment to the provision of adequate water in the state.

The commissioner, however, acknowledged that the ministry and the board were facing some challenges that obstruct effective service delivery, and implementation of project design on water supply and distribution in the state.

The commissioner said the many road construction projects being embarked upon in the city cause damages to the existing pipes and disconnect people from using available water.

Apart from Port Harcourt, the commissioner said, the Rivers State Government has also embarked on a rural water scheme.

Some of the rural water projects are already in use at Deken, Yeghe and Terabor in Gokana Local Government where water pumping stations are built by the Rivers State Government.

The commissioner said government plans to extend the project to other local government areas of the state. In spite of the challenges, the commissioner expressed strong convictions over the possibilities of a longer-term improvement and sustainability in the water sector.

In her views, “this prospect can be engendered through private sector participation to augment the capital intensive nature of water generation and distribution”.

The Rivers State Water Board, saddled with the primary duties of generating and distributing water in Port Harcourt and its metropolis is evidently laced with grave challenges.

Its statutory responsibilities spelt out in the edit that established it in 1989, appears to have been punctured by the interplay of politics which whittles down its independence and relevance.

The edict stipulates direct funding and a sitting board, but such nexus of operation are lacking in the activities of the board. Apart from coping with the interplay of politics and bureaucratic bottlenecks, the board also faces teething challenges, such as lack of power supply and rehabilitation and full utilisation of existing infrastructure.

According to the acting General Manager of the Rivers State Water Board, Martins Mmeo “a major problem of the board is the high cost of running the equipment with diesel to power the pumping stations”. He said the board needed assistance in power generation for the running of equipment at minimal cost. Contrary to the assumption that the board was moribund, the acting general manager said the board was pumping water, but some areas, like Elekahia and others in the city cannot access it because the underground pipes have been damaged.

Drawing from a World Bank interventionist scheme on water supply, which Rivers State was a beneficiary, the general manager said; “the board has facilities worth N4.5 billion on ground but cannot be effectively put to use because of lack of regular maintenance and irregular power supply”.

He said most of the facilities acquired through the World Bank scheme for the rehabilitation of existing infrastructures, such as boreholes, water pipes surface pipes and overhead tanks, were in good condition and can be made to work.

On the damages done to existing water pipes, the general manager, who is a member of the technical committee on Greater Port Harcourt, called for the provision of emergency service lane in every road project, to accommodate the right of passage of water pipes, electricity poles, and telephone, ambulances and fire-fighting trucks.

This, he said, would sustain the drive for effective water supply and service delivery in the state. “There is need for a new policy for water to generate its own revenue in the state, water is paid for all over the world. If facilities are upgraded and in effective use, Port Harcourt, and indeed, Rivers State will be better off”, he said.

The water sector, recently received a boost in the 2012 budget of the Rivers State Government. The allocation of a whopping N10.9 billion to the water sector offers a lifeline to the supervising Ministry of Water Resources and the Water Board in response to their statutory obligations.

To forestall the experience of the past, critics have called for a discreet utilisation of the budgeting provision to address the problems of water supply, through stakeholders interface and oversight function by the relevance committees in the legislature.

In line with the new Rivers policy on water supply, the Special Adviser to the Rivers State Governor on Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), Desire Bobmanuel, has said that Health and water supply will top the MDGs strategic priorities in Rivers State in 2012. Speaking during an inspection of the ongoing construction of new hostel block at the state School of Nursing, the special adviser corroborated the views of experts that “most diseases complained about in Rivers State are water borne”.

He said the MDGs office in Rivers State has already commenced an interface scheme on water supply, and assured that the scheme will assist in addressing the problem of water supply in the state.

The scheme, according to him, is done in partnership with the Water Board, and the acting General Manager of the Board, Martins Mmeo is the head of the team overseeing the MDGs’ water projects in Kalaibiama, Degema, Tombia, Abua and Andoni.

Recently, the Greater Port Harcourt Development Authority also signed an agreement with a foreign firm, Paterson Candy International on the construction of a temporary water project in the phase I of the new city at the cost of N709 million. The project, according to the Administrator of Greater Port Harcourt Development Authority, Dame Aleruchi Cookey-Gam, is to check indiscriminate sinking of boreholes in the new city extension as well as provide water for at least 5 years for the institutions located in the area.

The extent to which these policies will go to address the problems of water supply in the state, however, depends on time, determination and will and projection.

 

Taneh Beemene

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How Fake News Hurts Newsroom Relationship

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It used to be so easy. A reporter brings a story and the excited editor goes through it and simply publishes it, confident that the claims are correct.
Very often, impressed editors offered some morale boosting rewards – a bottle of wine, lunch, dinner or cash. And even more. Trust was mutual.
Not anymore. With the prevalence of fake news, most editors, also known as gatekeepers, no longer trust the frontline soldiers and would use every available binocular to search for the truth.
Analysts have said that it is difficult to blame the editors for being more careful, considering the many cases of gaffes, brazen lies, fake news and wrong information the conventional media embarrass themselves with, on daily basis.
Few weeks ago, an influential media house published a story quoting the World Health Organisation (WHO) as saying that 146 million Africans die of tobacco-related diseases every year. The editor so trusted the reporter and did not ask how many Africans would have been left after just two or three years of such harvest. The reporter had, on her own, added three zeroes to her copy.
Not long ago, a media house published a story quoting a state governor as pouring encomiums on his estranged predecessor at a birthday ceremony. Very harmless story. Easy pick for every editor. But trouble started immediately the story went out. It was fake. No such ceremony took place. The reporter just imagined it.
Last year, a report announced the opening of airports after the COVID-19 lockdown. Eager prospective passengers rushed to book tickets only to be turned back. What they read was false. Fake. The reporter just deceived everyone.
The craze for fake news has indeed taken over today’s media space, with both the social and traditional media struggling to outdo each other in the spread of hoaxes.
The instances are just everywhere. Aside from the fake news, photos or videos are purposefully created and spread to confuse and misinform. Photos or videos are also manipulated to deceive, while old pictures are often shared as new.
In some cases, photos from other shores are shared in the Nigerian space, ostensibly to create the impression that they are local scenes.
Umaru Pate, a professor of Mass Communication and Vice Chancellor, Federal University, Kashere, says the trend is “dangerous, unethical, provocative and subversive to peace and societal serenity’’.
“Fake news misinforms and misdirects society with severe consequences on individual and national systems. It heightens tension, builds fear and mistrust among people.’’
Information Minister Lai Mohammed, has equally deplored the trend, declaring recently that fake news could “threaten and destroy’’ the country. He has also launched a campaign against it.
The minister recently observed that every news manager was faced with the challenge of managing fake news, and expressed the fear that the purveyors could push the country into crises.
Dr Sylvester Usman, a university teacher, has echoed similar worry.
“Fake news will make media practice lose its appeal; it will challenge the credibility which is the base of journalism practice,” he said.
He challenged editors to rise up against the bastardisation of journalism by the new media, and emphasised the resuscitation of investigative journalism to tackle national challenges and help government plan better.
But as the scourge rages on, analysts have continued to wonder why the tendency to lie appears more common in the information age.
Mr Emeka Madunagu, publisher and editor-in-chief of Metrostar, an online publication, says fake news prevail because journalists pursue traffic, rather than accuracy.
Madunagu, former editor, Saturday Punch, advised media managers to equip newsrooms with gadgets and technologies that could detect and remove fake news and images.
Prof. Pate believes that fake news is partly caused by the absence, or late arrival, of official information, which creates a vacuum filled by rumours and imaginations.
According to him, desperate politicians, ethnic jingoists, foreign interests and mischief makers have also taken advantage of the explosion in social media platforms – Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Google, Nairaline and WhatsApp – to spew fake news and hate messages which inflict confusion into the society.
While urging media houses to focus more on investigative reporting, he cautioned against selective reporting and the promotion of prejudicial stereotypes about groups and individuals based on incomplete facts, mischief and ignorance.
Analysts have also called for more training to boost research capacities among media professionals so as to minimise shallow reporting and episodic attitudes in news coverage and programme production.
They have also cautioned the media against promoting statements of politicians, ethnic champions, religious zealots and other interested parties without critical inquiry about specific social conflicts.
“Such groups are usually prone to spreading fake news against perceived rivals,” Alhaji Aminu Mohammed, one such analyst, says.
While urging media gatekeepers and news content managers to be more critical, the analysts have pointed out that publishing fake news could confer legitimacy, credibility and massive reach to such fakery and confuse the audience about truth and falsehood.
Worried by the effects of such misinformation, many Nigerians have always wondered if it is possible to quickly spot fake news to avoid being misled.
Mr Dapo Olorunyomi, publisher of Premiums Times, believes that the best way out is to establish a fact-check unit in every Newsroom.
Olorunyomi, whose outfit has established a channel “Dubawa”, through which it trains media practitioners on fact-checking, emphasises the need to build wide contacts and use the internet to carry out a fact-check on every story to determine its integrity before publishing or airing same.
He also suggests the need for readers, listeners or viewers to check multiple sources, and try to establish trusted brands over time.
Madunagu has a more proactive approach to the menace.
“When a reporter comes with a sensitive story, I will calm him down and ask him to relax.
“When he relaxes, I will debrief him. In the course of doing that, I will try to see whether he brought himself into the story. There are times I did that and the reporter told me to kill the story. It means he was not so sure of the exciting claims he penned down,” he said.
He said that the situation is serious and warned editors against rushing to publish any “beautiful scoop” filed by reporters who are out there on the field.
“Editors should not totally trust reporters. These days, I don’t.
“Editors must have phone numbers of other Editors. These days, hunger is pervasive; for little money, people can tell lies. They can write anything. So, one must be very careful. When editors are handling sensitive stories, they must be very careful,” he said.
Most editors agree with Madunagu and believe that Nigeria will be the better for it if editors in traditional mediums, who determine information the public is served, strive for reliable information which is crucial to her growth.
But even as the editors strive for accurate information, some have noted the challenges of ownership influence, social malpractices and corruption, media professionals acting as judges or advocates for hidden interests, and cases of senior editorial staff acting as consultants to politicians and religious groups.
The existence of cartels among reporters covering specific beats has also been noted as another factor responsible for the adulteration of what is reported. Very often, the cartels form “gangs’’ that decide what information to publish with pecuniary interests threading through the discussions.
Analysts say that such “unholy fraternity’’ has often led to the “burial’’ of some hard truths that would have been useful in the nation’s search for greatness.
Another challenge is the “copy-me’’ syndrome, a practice where reporters receive reports of events they did not cover, from colleagues, and publish same, not minding if what they had been “copied’’ is fake news.
Not a few reporters have lost their jobs to this scary practice, yet it still persists.
Unfortunately for editors in most media houses, the heat is usually extended to them with no one concerned about their pleas or claims to innocence.
Such sweeping sanctions, analysts say, have forced editors to suspect every story with some “dodging” sensitive reports they believe have the potential to create trouble.
Madunagu captured it more succinctly.
“These days, I use every binocular to check the veracity of every story. I won’t want to take medicine for what should not be my headache.”
Unfortunately for the reporters, most editors today have similar fears over their copies. Such fears rule most newsrooms today.

By: Ephraims Sheyin
Sheyin writes for the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN).

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HIV/AIDS, Covid-19: Challenges And Way Forward

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Since the declaration of the Coronavirus, also known as Covid-19 as a pandemic in January 2020 by the World Health Organisation (WHO), the ailment has taken the front burner of medical interventions the world over. This has greatly relegated attention to the HIV/AIDS epidemic which had hitherto been a thorn in the flesh of the world, to the background. Subsequently, experts in various fora have categorically stated that Covid-19 has come to stay, just as its compatriot, HIV/AIDS.
The result is that virtually all forms of attention, including resources, have been shifted from HIV/AIDS intervention to Covid-19 since the outbreak of the virus, despite the fact that HIV/AIDS is still claiming lives globally.
Sad still, current evidence suggest that People Living With HIV(PLWHIV) have higher risk of becoming seriously ill from Covid-19, especially those of them who are not on treatment, or virtually suppressed, and may be at an even greater risk, according to the Project Manager, Rivers State Agency for the Control of AIDS (RIVSACA), Dr Naaziga Francis, in an interview.
Covid-19 is having a serious impact on the most vulnerable communities, not just in Nigeria, but globally, especially the hard-to-reach rural communities, and this may threaten the progress of work done on HIV and other health related ailments.
Experts say there is a fall in HIV testing, as well as patients with tuberculosis (TB) suspected to have HIV who are supposed to be referred to the next step of diagnosis and treatment. Malaria diagnosis as well as antenatal care visit has also declined.
Buttressing this, the Director, Cross River State SACA, Isere Obten, said, “ in terms of accessing HIV services, it is low, health workers are focusing on Covid-19, especially with the vaccine in place.
 “In terms of resources, it’s been zero release (of funds) as most international donors are chanelling their funds to Covid-19″, he said.
Adding his voice, the Executive Director of Global Fund, Peter Sands, said, ‘’No country is immune to the spiraling economic costs of the (Covid 19) pandemic. Prolonged economic shocks leave deep scares, which have profound effects on people’s health in years to come”.
There’s little doubt that from the foregoing, this calls for concerted efforts from stakeholders within the HIV space to check the current trend of lesser attention to the epidemic. 
Towards this end, the South-South Zonal Coordinator of the National Agency for the Control of AIDS (NACA), Dr. Uduak Daniel, during the just-concluded HIV Media Roundtable in Port- Harcourt, called on the media to be more strategic in reporting HIV issues. 
“It will require them to be involved in the field at both the state and local government levels to propagate the activities of HIV/AIDS-related issues in order to curtail the contact and spread of the disease,” she said.
On his part, the Director, Public Enlightenment, Ministry of Information and Communications, Rivers State, Mr. Celestine Ogolo, who represented the State Commissioner for Information and Communications, Pastor Paulinus Nsirim, insisted that the media must continue with its role of agenda-setting in drawing attention to government on critical areas of need and reducing the high prevalence rate of HIV in the South-South zone. 
“The media must not allow Covid-19 take off the shine of the work in HIV/AIDS”, he stated.
However, all of these efforts may come to naught if government at all levels does not take it upon itself to identify and support such efforts. This is why the Federal and State Governments, particularly, including donor agencies, as a matter of necessity, should make release of funds for effective HIV/AIDs response in Nigeria a priority.
For people living with HIV/AIDS, the authorities may need to ensure that they have, at least, a 30-day supply of ART in their homes. They could even have necessary drugs for up to six months to avoid exposure to COVID-19 during visits to health facilities.
The onus also lies on the implementing partners to continue with their interventions as part of their corporate social responsibility to society. 
While this is being done for HIV/AIDS, there’s also the need to observe the protocols of regular washing of hands, wearing nose mask, and observance of social distancing as preventive measures to Covid-19. 
Society should, indeed, still know and be concerned that HIV/AIDS is still in existence and claiming lives, hence practices capable of spreading the virus should be avoided.
Igbiks is of the Rivers State Ministry of Information and Communications.

By: Martha Igbiks

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NUJ: Gleanings Of PH National Confab

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Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital, recently served as the host city for the Third National Conference of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ).
Declaring the two-day event open at the Obi Wali International Conference Centre, Port Harcourt, Rivers State Governor, Chief Nyesom Wike, said he considered the theme of the Conference “The Media, Insecurity And National Unity” very apt in view of the perilous security challenges that have continued to plague the country unabated which he believed would address the issues of insecurity in Nigeria and positively impact on the nation’s unity.
Represented by his Deputy, Dr Ipalibo Harry Banigo, the Governor said that the country was threatened as a result of self-destructive tendencies like ethnic chauvinism, religious intolerance, brazen disregard for the rule of law and nepotism and that it appeared the Federal Government of Nigeria was fanning these embers of disunity through its perceived actions and inactions.
“For instance, how could we explain a situation where almost all the heads of security agencies as well as critical national institutions are headed by people from a particular ethnic nationality and religious faith in a country which prides itself as a secular state and believes in federal character when it comes to the appropriation of positions?” Wike wondered.
He urged journalists, who are said to constitute the Fourth Estate of the Realm, to brainstorm and come up with a workable solution to save the country from imminent collapse.
NUJ President, Chief Chris Isiguzo, while speaking, called on journalists in Nigeria to avoid allowing politicians to dictate news angles for them. He also spoke on the theme: ‘The Media, Insecurity And National Unity’ at the event which held from June 7th – 8th, 2021.
Isiguzo added that it is unethical for journalists to allow politicians take over their responsibilities and dictate media content at the expense of public interest. He warned journalists to de-escalate news capable of causing fear and panic, especially now that the country is facing the challenge of insecurity.
In one of the other presentations at the conference, the Head of Mass Communication Department, Renaissance University, Enugu, Dr Maxwell Ngene, urged the Federal Government to ensure that the Freedom of Information Act is domesticated and implemented in all states of the federation as a matter of necessity, so as to instill accountability in government.
Speaking on ‘Maintaining Peace in Turbulent Times: The Role Of The Media in Security and Unity of Nigeria’, Ngene, advocated that codes of conduct in journalism practice should be encouraged as well as development of a regulatory framework that would enhance media’s role in national unity and security, while adding that there should also be strict observance of high professional standards of ethics.
Also speaking on  Media and National Security, Alhaji Muktar Sirajo stressed that there must be ethical re-orientation in media practice, genuine and inclusive fight against corruption, pervasive unemployment and poverty, and addressing the issues of ethno-religious, political and economic-based violence, with robust improvement in national security architecture to stem the tide of terrorism and insecurity in the country.
Alhaji Muktar urged media on its part to place national interest above any parochial interest in disseminating information to the public. He enjoined the mass media to avoid the temptation of over- escalating negative news, but rather focus more on escalating positive news in other to calm the tension arising from the insecurity challenge being faced in the country. 
In another presentation on the same topic, Richard Akinnola, explained that press freedom is about freedom of expression, which in itself is a fundamental right in the world, without which genuine democracy cannot thrive. He encouraged journalists never to disclose their source of information no matter the cost, noting that they must maintain their sources of information in order not to betray the trust and confidentiality of their new source. 
Also as part of the event, delegates undertook a tour of the new Flyover bridges to have a feel of some of the new edifices being put in place by His Excellency, Governor Nyesom Wike. The first visited was the Okoro-Nu-Odo Flyover with a length of 880 metre. The second visited was the Rumuogba 1&2 Flyover which we were told is the longest of all with 1.24km length. Others were the Rumuola, GRA Junction, Rebisi, and Oro-Abali flyovers. It was gathered that three of the flyovers were constructed at the same time and delivered less than one year.
It is worthy to note that the NUJ Vice President Zone D, Chief Wilson Bako, led the Team Flyover and the Rivers State Press Officer, Ministry of Works, Paul Bazia, sensitised the delegates on the Wike-led administration’s projects recorded thus far.
It was also observed that delegates commended the numerous quality infrastructural projects executed by Governor Wike, while calling on other governors in the country to emulate his leadership prowess.
Meanwhile, everything that has a beginning has an end as the two-day event came up with a 17-Point communique drafted by the Drafting Committee members; namely Amos Dunia, Ifeyinwa Omowole and Emma Couson and signed by the National Secretaries, Shuaibu Usman Leman and Walin Shadalafiya, on June 8th, 2021, in the presence of key media houses and civil society organisations (CSOs).
The confab adopted the following resolutions as panacea to the myriad of security, political and ethno-religious crises currently facing the country. 

  • Taking into cognisance that the primary responsibility of government is to protect lives and property of citizens, against the backdrop of prevailing situations that government is overwhelmed and unable to effectively carry out this onerous responsibility, the conference urges citizens to assist in community mobilisation as a way of addressing insecurity and notes that it will be disastrous to allow citizens to lose confidence in the ability of government to deal with the situation.
  • The conference also did retrospection on the role of journalists with regard to their core mandate of informing, educating and holding government and leaders accountable. Conference notes that the media has played an active role in their propagation and proliferation by promoting their different names and titles and serving as a vehicle for their messages.
    *It also notes that more is required of practitioners as watchdogs of the society, particularly at this trying period in which a balanced reportage is more than ever before desired.
  • The Nigeria Union of Journalists takes note of the responsibility of the state to guarantee safety of lives and property, to protect the economy and economic resource areas, critical infrastructure, environment, including forest reserves and national assets.
  • The government should, in enforcing security policies, carry stakeholders at all levels of governance along and ensure good governance.
  • The Media should mediate with its distinct role of being between the governed and the rulers, particularly in situation of existential threats. The Union urges its members to prioritise mediation in the prevailing tension that pervades all geo-political zones and the threats to Nigeria’s unity. 
    *The Conference urges media practitioners to exercise caution in their reportage and analysis of unfolding events as well as play the role of a mediator between contending forces and actors. 
    *The media should be a partner in de-escalating tension instead of being a party to the conflict.
    *As for the controversy generated by the suspension of the micro-blogging platform – Twitter, the Union notes the widespread use of its resourcefulness in promoting dialogue, individual expression and commerce. The Union, therefore, solicits for caution on all sides.
  • In view of the challenges impacting on press freedom, freedom of expression, the Union will establish a Special Press Freedom Monitoring and Defence Committee.
  • The Conference, as part of innovation being injected into the NUJ, an ‘NUJ HALL OF FAME’ was launched. It is in view of this that the Conference resolves that the HALL OF FAME shall be instituted to accord due recognition to deserving public office holders, technocrats, journalists and other deserving members of the society, who have distinguished themselves in their chosen fields. In this wise, His Excellency, the Governor of Rivers State, Chief Nyesom Wike, became the first inductee of the HALL OF FAME.
    *The Conference stresses the need for adherence to the rights of the people to freely express themselves and comment on the affairs of state and conduct of government as an intrinsic part of democracy that demands accountability of rulers and public officers to the citizenry.
    *Conference notes that a factor we cannot ignore is the fact that Nigeria is a country that fought a civil war. Those who were active players in the war, from children that were born after the war to those who experienced the war, have not gotten a closure.
    *Stakeholders call on the NUJ to lead the national voice for healing the actors of the Nigerian Civil War still alive, to engage and dialogue on issues that bind them as well as commit to ensuring that past events are put behind them and all find closure.
  • Conference also notes that #EndSARS was just a ventilation of bottled-up anger, dissatisfaction and discontent with the elites.
    Conference notes that more than 60 years after Independence, it is still battling with ‘State of Origin’ in our National Data Collection System taking into cognisance that ethnicity and tribe played a negative role in the cause of the RWANDAN war. . Participants commend His Excellency, Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State for hosting the Conference and thank the people of the State for the warm reception.

By: Susan Serekara-Nwikhana

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