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Editorial

Bayelsa Assembly And Unused Estacode

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William Shakespear’s philosophical assertion that there is no art by which one could foretell the mind’s construction from the face, was aptly exemplified and replicated in Nigeria recently when the Speaker of the Bayelsa State House of Assembly, Mr. Kombowei Benson admitted that the N78 million the Assembly collected from the state treasury for the 43rd Commonwealth Parliamentary Association meeting held in South Africa was actually not used for the purpose.

Mr. Benson who had already refunded N19.5 million out of the N78 million confirmed that Anti-Fraud Unit of the Nigeria Police and Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) operatives were on his neck following scandals rocking the Assembly over the ill-fated South African trip which funds were released by the state governor, Mr. Seriake Dickson.

Speaking through his aide, Mr. Piriye Jonathan during a two-day capacity training for Journalists in Yenagoa, the Speaker confirmed that security operatives grilled legislators over the scandal, but accepted that part of the money was refunded on August 3, 2012 more than one month after the said programme.

Security agents had acted on a petition by a Yenagoa-based civil society group, Transparency and Good Governance Coalition to the Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Abubakar alleging that the Speaker and 23 other lawmakers frittered N78 million of public funds in the pretence that they attended the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association meeting in South Africa held between June 29 to July 8, 2012.

Governor Dickson who approved the lawmakers request on June 28 on the condition that the money must be used for the conference was however astonished when the said funds were actually used for other purposes rather than the said South African trip, a development which occasioned the petition by the civil society group.

Reportedly, the EFCC invited the Speaker and his colleagues for interrogation for conspiracy, abuse of office and diversion of public funds pursuant to section 38 sub 1 and 2 of the EFCC’s Act 2003, which led to the refund.

Sadly, looting of public funds or diversion of tax-payers money is not peculiar to Bayelsa State Assembly. Public officers elected or appointed and entrusted with public money tend to abuse the confidence reposed on them, despite President Goodluck Jonathan’s anti-graft crusade to ensure transparency and accountability in governance in the past few years.

In fact, the refund of N19.5 million out of N78 million released by the Bayelsa state government by the legislators has eminently confirmed the point that the lawmakers actually perpetrated unlawful act which is condemnable in all ramifications.

This is why The Tide thinks that the matter should not be treated with kid gloves. The EFCC and other security agencies must swoop on all the parties involved in the scandal and ensure that the right thing was done. They must be made to face the law as a deterrent to others who might want to siphon public funds using various devices or guises to do so.

We recall reports, not too long ago, of how some members of the National Assembly collected public money for a scheduled foreign trip but failed to do so and did not make any refund. This must not continue. Apparently, the trend appears to be the most common means legislators and other public officers in the country use to defraud the country and deprive the citizens from democracy dividends.

We therefore charge security operatives to ensure that the affected lawmakers in Bayelsa State must face the full wrath of the law by making full payment of the money they collected and not at their convenience or through installmental payments.

In advanced democracies, such highly placed officials would toe the path of honour and resign from office on account of their lack of the moral authority and character to make laws for the people.

The Tide insists that the Bayelsa lawmakers case should not just be about the Speaker, but all the beneficiaries of the misapplied funds should, and must face the music in accordance with the anti-graft war of the Jonathan administration.

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Editorial

Let Votes Count In Bayelsa, Kogi

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On Saturday, November 16, 2019, the people of Bayelsa and Kogi States, would troop out in their numbers, to vote for candidates of their choice in the governorship elections which the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) fixed on that day for the two States.
Expectedly, preparations for the elections have reached an advance stage, as the electoral umpire has put everything in place for a smooth and hitch-free exercise. This time around, expectations are really high for INEC to acquit itself creditably, by ensuring that the elections are not only peaceful but also credible, free and fair.
On this score, feelers indicate that INEC has already distributed over 2.4 million permanent voters cards (PVCs) to the electorate in both states, to ensure that they participate maximally in the electoral process.
INEC chairman, Prof Mahmood Yakubu, while dropping this hint during a quarterly meeting with Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) in Abuja, said a total of 889,308 PVCs were collected in Bayelsa State while 1,485,828 PVCs were collected in Kogi State as at September 30.
Yakubu equally disclosed that the commission had accredited 135 domestic observer groups and 16 foreign observer groups for the polls in both states, hinting that the commission was desirous of deepening transparency and accountability in the conduct of the polls.
There is no doubt that political tension has reached fever pitch in the two states, considering the volatility of these areas, particularly when it comes to matters of politics and elections. To say that the political atmosphere in both states today is fully charged is to state the obvious.
Speculations that violence may characterise and mar the elections are rife. It is even alleged that the various political gladiators in the states are warming up for a serious political showdown come November 16; and are ready to throw everything at their disposal to the ring to ensure that they clinch victory at the polls. The political indices on the ground are frightening.
Just recently, stakeholders from Bayelsa and Kogi States listed violence, vote buying and manipulation of the youths as some of the issues that would determine the outcome of the elections in the two states.
According to one of the stakeholders, apart from violence orchestrated by the Army and other security agencies, the electorate see INEC officials and security agencies as agents of fraud rather than arbiters of fair play.
It is, however, heart-warming that INEC has indicated its willingness and determination to correct the mistakes of the 2019 General Election with the November 16 polls in the two states, stressing that the two elections would correct the mistakes in the general election and set a new standard for future elections.
The chairman of the Board of INEC’s Electoral Institute, Prince Solomon Soyebi, who gave this assurance said, “the elections will provide the commission with yet another opportunity to test-run its policies, process and new initiatives”.
According to the INEC National Commissioner, “Athough the conduct of the 2019 general election and the commission’s performance had some challenges, we can use the 2019 general election as a barometer for comparison with subsequent elections, including the Bayelsa and Kogi governorship elections. Clearly, the commission is not under any illusion about the many issues and challenges posed by the electoral process”.
There is no gain saying the fact that INEC’s performance in the 2019 General Election was not too encouraging, as it fell short of the expectations of most Nigerians. One obvious area where the electoral umpire performed abysmally was the manual recording and transmission of results instead of the electronic transmission from the polling units. It is mind-boggling and shocking that INEC, going by attestation at the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal, had no server. This, indeed, leaves a sour taste in the month, as it offers and provides room for easy manipulation of results.
The Tide believes that the governorship elections in the two states, this time around, offer INEC another opportunity to redeem its battered image. The polls are, indeed, another litmus test for the electoral body, as all lapses and mistakes of the past must be corrected, through them.
The truth is that we are not yet satisfied with what is on the ground in both states in terms of preparations for the elections. INEC must be thorough. It must do all within its capacity to restore the confidence of Nigerians in the electoral process. This, it can do by being truly neutral and independent.
Above all, all the institutions, including the Police and other security agencies must be up and doing. They must all provide the enabling environment for violence-free, peaceful, free, fair and credible elections to take place in the two states.
There is the need for politics to develop in the country to the point that the people can have confidence in the electoral system in such a way that the electorate, irrespective of political part affiliations, should be allowed to vote for candidates of their choice.
Again, all stakeholders including political parties must realise that what is at stake is the interest of the two states, as it relates to development and good governance. Elections are only vehicles in actualising the yearnings and aspirations of the people in this regard. Elections are never a do or die affair.
Only the best should be allowed to emerge at the end of the day.
Thus, there should be no room for desperation and manipulations. The people must be allowed to vote with their conscience.
It is also high time INEC gave the electronic voting system a shot. It can experiment this with the governorship elections in the two states. There should be no manual thing, as we experienced in the 2019 General Election. The world is still watching. The most important thing is, let the votes count in Bayelsa and Kogi States.

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Editorial

No To Nationwide OPI

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Last week, while deliberating on matters of urgent national importance, the Federal House of Representatives passed a motion suspending a proposed exercise by the Nigerian Army tagged, Operation Positive Identification, OPI.
The exercise which was billed to last between November 1 to December 23, 2019 would require Nigerians to move about with means of identification. According to the Army, the operation would enable them profile Nigerians and identify genuine citizens from aliens, bandits, insurgents, kidnappers and other criminals.
But the Reps members, while unanimously voting against the operation said that the planned exercise was unconstitutional and against the natural rights of Nigerians to free movement.
Also, on Tuesday, Justice Rilwanu Aikawa of Federal High Court, Lagos ordered the Nigerian Army and its Chief of Army Staff (COAS) to suspend the operation, which had already commenced on the first day of the month.
According to Mr. Femi Falana (SAN), who brought the matter before the court, the operation violates his right and that of other Nigerian citizens to liberty, “as encapsulated in Section 35 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, as amended and Article 6 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act, (Cap A10) Laws of Federation of Nigeria, 2004”.
The Tide cannot agree more with the Federal House of Representatives, Justice Aikawa, Mr Falana and indeed many other concerned but silent Nigerians, who would be put through untold hardship if the operation was allowed to live through its schedule.
No matter what may have informed the exercise or the objectives the propounders had hoped to achieve, allowing OPI to be carried out nationwide by the Army would have wrought more agony, tears and complaints on Nigerians.
We think that, apart from being unconstitutional, the Army by their training and operations are not equipped for this kind of operation that is supposed to be civil in nature. It is really undemocratic to over expose the Army to the civilian populace, especially, when there is no war.
It is worrisome that the Federal Government under President Muhammadu Buhari appears to be over-labouring the military with extra responsibilities, most of which are civil in nature, when there are other agencies of government, that should naturally be saddled with such responsibilities. The Army has its roles and responsibilities clearly stated in the Constitution of the country, which mandates them to protect and defend the territorial sovereignty of the nation from external threats and insurrection.
While we are not against the military adopting any measure or tactic, including OPI to check and quell banditry, insurrection and Boko Haram menace, particularly in the North-East and North-West of the country, extending it to all parts of the nation at this time is uncalled for.
Infact, we see OPI as mooted by its sponsors as a high level scam, a kite flown by some highly placed individuals in the corridors of power to rip off the nation, even as it groans under the weight of scarce resources. Therefore, no effort should be spared to discourage and nip the illegality in the bud.
If we must embark on an exercise to profile and identify Nigerians and residents, we believe that the Nigerian Immigration Service, NIS, the Nigerian Police Force, NPF, the Department of State Services DSS and Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, NSCDC are better equipped for the job. The military, we think, should be left to concern themselves with their constitutional duties, particularly, that of checking external aggression against Nigeria.
Apart from being unconstitutional and uncalled for, OPI across the country at this time will not only exacerbate the existing tension and frustrations in Nigeria, the citizens would be downgraded. The country will be militarised while the international community will also view us as an unsecured nation that is not worthy for investment.
That most Nigerians have either rejected or spoken against OPI at the scale that was put forward by the Army shows that it is not in the interest of the people. Moreso, the fact that sources within the military a few days ago recanted on the OPI and denied ownership of the operation suggests that the operation should be treated with suspicion.
That is why we expect the Presidency to pull the plug on the operation, while the Federal High Court and the National Assembly go beyond suspension of the exercise and cancel it outrightly.

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Editorial

Social Media Reform: Good, But…

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Last week, the Federal Government disclosed its plan to police the cyberspace and inject sanity into the social media. Apparently ruffled by the avalanche of fake news, hate speech and other divisive stuff that traffic daily on social media platforms, the government said it can no longer sit by and watch promoters of fake news and hate speeches tear the fabrics of the society apart.
The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, at a press conference in Abuja, last Tuesday, said, “We cannot allow fake news and hate speech to become free speech because the Siamese twins of evil are capable of inflicting untold damage on our democracy and are threatening our national unity. They represent a clear and imminent danger to our survival as a nation.” He, however, allayed fears of using the reform to muzzle the media or stifle free speech.
The minister was only echoing or amplifying what President Muhammadu Buhari had said in his Independence Day broadcast that “Whilst we uphold the constitutional rights of our people to freedom of expression and association, where the purported exercise of these rights infringes on the rights of other citizens or threatens to undermine our national security, we will take firm and decisive action.”
This is not the first time the Federal Government will be raising concerns over contents on social media. A year ago, precisely on July 11, 2018, the Federal Government launched the “National Campaign Against Fake News and Hate Speech.”
The Information and Culture Minister also recently set up a committee on the implementation of the recommendations that were approved by the President to inject sanity into the nation’s broadcast industry, following the alleged breach of professional conduct by some broadcast stations before and during the last general elections.
Notwithstanding that the government’s latest move has attracted a red flag from some stakeholders, including the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) who question the propriety of such plan, The Tide welcomes any reform to sanitise the social media in view of their abuse.
While we appreciate the genuine concern of many Nigerians that the Federal Government’s plan has the potential of muzzling  the media and stifling free speech, we are also concerned about the abuse the social media has been subjected to in recent times.
We are also not oblivious of the fact that social media has radically transformed the world and made it more interesting and exciting. Information now travels faster and easier while genuine business transactions are also promoted and made easier through the medium for a vast global market. The cyberspace also gives everyone a voice to be heard and affords the people the right of immediate reply unlike the conventional media. But that is where the gains stop.
Researches have shown that fake news diffuse significantly farther, faster, deeper and more broadly than the truth in all categories and the effects in most cases have fatal consequences.
According to a research led by Sinan Aral of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, it takes the real news about six times long of what it takes fake news to reach 1,500 people.
We agree with the Information and Culture Minister that hate debate on social media is adding fuel to some low intensity fire and,  if not checked, would consume the nation. Indeed, there have been many posts and videos on the cyberspace purporting to be true, but later turned out to be a hoax after verification.
President Buhari was a victim of such social media malady recently when promoters of fake news went out with reports purporting that the president wanted to take his Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Mrs Sadiya Umar Faruk, for a second wife.
Another horrible example was a viral video of a building belching flames that was purported to be the Nigerian Mission torched in the thick of recent xenophobic attacks in South Africa. The building, upon fact checking, turned out to be a factory that was earlier gutted by fire in Bangladesh.
Unlike the conventional media which has a gatekeeper mechanism and  is guided by rules and regulations, the social media is free-for-all with all forms of junks. Sadly, promoters of fake news and hate speech on social media platforms usually get away with it since there is no conventional means to either track them down or censor their messages. This, therefore, necessitates the regulation of the social media.
We believe that tightening the noose on the unlimited madness that often trends on social media will sanitise the cyberspace that is currently getting out of control.
In doing this, however, the government must be conscious of the fundamental human rights of the citizenry. The procedure to combat extremism in the cyberspace must not only conform with international best practices but must not also be a bait to circumscribe the civil space. It must not be targeted at stifling the views of the opposition or witch-hunting real and perceived enemies of the state.
In order to avoid the misuse of such reform and to gain the confidence of many Nigerians, especially pundits, we recommend that a council of tested and seasoned professionals like the Nigeria Press Council (NPC) be put in place to try vendors of fake news and hate speech.

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