The bill seeking to accord immunity to lawmakers at both at the federal and the state levels and sponsored by a member of the House of Representatives, Mr Ali Ahmed (PDP- Kwara), is generating controversy.
The bill which has passed through second reading, seeks to amend Section 4(8) of the 1999 Constitution as amended.
According to the bill, verbal or written comments made by lawmakers in the course of legislative duties, will not be questioned in any court of law.
Rep. Zakari Mohammed, the Chairman, House Committee on Media and Publicity, defends the bill, arguing that it is in tandem with parliamentary practice worldwide.
He lists countries where such legislation exists to include Tanzania, United Kingdom, United States, Malaysia, Indonesia.
However, a legal practitioner, Mr Maxwell Opara, said the motive behind the bill is questionable.
Opara noted he can not readily remember a time any legislator had been arrested based on his comments on the floor of the House.
He said that Section 308 of the 1999 Constitution as amended, grants immunity to the President, Vice-President, Governors and their Deputies so that they will not be distracted while in office.
“Legislative immunity is not healthy for our democracy at this point in time; it is being pursued in bad faith,” he notes.
A PDP chieftain in Osun State Chief Abiola Ogundokun, opined that universally, lawmakers are not liable for their utterances at plenary and at committee sittings.
According to him, “they don’t need it because it is a universal convention that is applicable everywhere, as every issue in the house is a parliamentary one.
“The rights and privileges of what you say in the house begin and end there.”
Ogundokun said that a bill seeking to provide them immunity outside their functions as lawmakers is superfluous and should be discarded.
He wondered why the lawmakers should be pursuing this issue at a time when people are clamouring for the removal of the immunity clause.
He stated that Nigerians need to be enlightened on the rights and privileges of lawmakers as contained in the constitution.
Malam Umar Mustapha, the National Chairman of Kowa Party, observed that the bill has portrayed the lawmakers in a bad light.
“It is like seeking protection against criminality and if they do not have anything to hide, they have better things than passing a redundant bill.
“The 2015 election is around the corner, let them put in place laws that will enhance good governance, social and economic development and job creation, rather than immunity law,” he said.
The spokesman, Save Nigeria Group (SNG), Mr Yinka Odumakin, described the bill as an “aberration” which should be challenged by all Nigerians.
“While Nigerians are talking of removing immunity clause completely from the constitution to checkmate corruption, the legislators are coming up with their own bill.
“It is only in Nigeria that legislators will be asking for immunity which they do not need, except they have plans to contravene the law,” he remarked.
Human rights lawyer Fred Agbaje urged the lawmakers to drop the bill and address more fundamental issues.
“Rather than putting in place laws that will enhance good governance, the lawmakers are busy thinking of laws that will shield them.
“This bill is mundane and cannot enhance Nigeria’s national growth,” Agbaje said.
Mr Festus Keyamo, another human rights lawyer, said if the lawmakers pass such a law without constitutional amendment, it will be null and void.
“The constitution guarantees immunity and has covered it all. The bill is inconsistent with the existing law.
“Apart from the legal side, on the moral side, those elected to represent the people want to shield themselves.”
Chief Charles Nwodo, former National Chairman of de-registered Progressive Action Congress (PAC), said that the bill is unnecessary as the lawmakers could make speeches that could heat up the polity.
“Our fear is that some people can hide under the immunity to subvert the state, by taking laws into their hands, all in the name of immunity.”
According to him, the spate of insecurity, terrorism and other vices in the country make the bill ill-timed.
Nwodo further said that the passage of the bill could ridicule Nigeria’s democracy in the international community.
“No National Assembly member has been arrested, detained or tried for what he/she said, but the law can only go after them when they are involved in corruption,” he said.
He said the lawmakers should eschew trivialities in the course of their duties in order to strengthen the system for the overall good of the nation.
Nwodo also urged them to place higher premium on national interests in all their activities than their narrow interests.
“Instead of the representatives engaging in building bridges at this time of security challenges in the country, they are debating on the need for immunity for lawmakers,” he added.
The Senate, however, differed with the House of Representatives.
Chief Enyinnaya Abaribe, the Chairman, Senate Committee on Information, Media and Public Affairs, noted that the powers being sought by the lower chamber are extant in the Legislative Powers and Privileges Act.
“I do not think that the bill will pass on the floor of the Senate, because whatever you say inside parliament is already covered under the Privileges Act.
“If we see such a bill, then we consider it based on merit,” Abaribe said.
Analysts want the lawmakers to remember that they are representatives of the people and should, therefore, concentrate on making laws that will have positive impact on the lives of the people and not to embark on self-seeking agenda.
Okoronkwo writes for the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN)
2020 World AIDS Day And The Covid-19 Challenge
Since December 1, 1988, when the first World AIDS Day (WAD) was commemorated, the day has been one in which global attention has been on how to identify with people living with the virus, and creating awareness on how they could live healthily with it.
It has been a day in which governments, organisations and individuals across the world bring attention to the HIV epidemic, endeavor to increase HIV awareness and knowledge, speak out against HIV stigma, and call for an increased response to move toward ending the HIV epidemic.
For the first time since its emergence, this year has turned out to be when HIV/AIDS got the least attention globally, no thanks to the COVID-19 epidemic, which took the world by storm, affecting not just the health of the world’s population, but also the social, economic, and environmental well being of countries.
Although COVID-19 came to the fore in the last quarter of 2019, from February 2020 when it was declared a pandemic, virtually every other health concern took the back bench, including HIV/AIDS.
Consequently, as the world commemorates the 2020 WAD tomorrow there seems to be barely little to say about the pandemic in terms of spirited efforts made to check its trend in the world, including Nigeria, and, by extension, Rivers State. Attention has thus shifted more to the extent to which the emergence of COVID-19 may have affected the spread of HIV, and its implication to the lives of people living with AIDS.
Usually, WAD brings together people from around the world to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS and to demonstrate international solidarity in the face of the pandemic. It accords the opportunity to show solidarity with the millions of people living with HIV worldwide.
This takes various forms through which awareness is created on identified areas of the pandemic considered to be detrimental to people living with the virus, how to live the best way with it, and how to prevent it, especially in the face of a considerable number of people still living in denial.
But this year is unique, in that it has two matching themes, all geared towards eradicating the impact of the virus while at the same time sharing the responsibility of eradicating the epidemic.
The themes are “Ending the HIV/AIDS Epidemic: Resilience and Impact”, and “Global Solidarity, Shared Responsibility”. The implication is that there should be deliberate determination to continue in spelt out measures to prevent infection, and also check its spread among the populace, while also noting its effect on the people.
Expectedly, the focus on COVID-19 since it was declared a pandemic, which saw virtually all health facilities converted into care and support centres for COVID-19 patients across the world, several questions have been thrown up. Such questions include whether COVID-19 is worse with people living with HIV.
In response, researchers have stated that there is currently no evidence that people living with HIV are at a higher risk of being infected with Coronavirus, which causes COVID-19 illness.
In its presentation on “Global Information and Education on HIV and AIDS”, “avert.org” stated this in more explanatory manner:
“Our understanding of the risk of developing severe COVID-19 in people living with HIV is evolving. Current evidence suggests that HIV is less of a risk factor for severe COVID-19 than other health conditions, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, lung disease, cancer, diabetes, or being over a certain age. The best way to stay healthy is by taking your anti-retroviral treatment”, it stated.
Another question commonly asked is: if people living with HIV are more at risk of getting ill. Here, researchers advise that people with compromised immune system should take extra precautions to prevent Coronavirus infection.
They identified such persons to include those with low CD4 count, high viral load, and those who experience a recent opportunistic infection, such as tuberculosis. The reason is that their immune system may not be prepared to deal with the virus.
This is also in cognisance of the fact that people living with HIV are more vulnerable to respiratory infections when their HIV is not well managed. The implication is that they need to be taking their anti-retroviral treatment as prescribed, especially during this COVID-19 times.
Meanwhile, in addition to adhering strictly to the established COVID-19 prevention protocols, people living with HIV are advised to ensure that they take their anti-retroviral treatment regularly and as prescribed. They are also to try and stock-up on their anti-retroviral treatment in order to have enough for at least 30 days, or more.
In Rivers State, in spite of the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic, statistics from the State Ministry of Health reveal that between January and July 2020, estimated number of pregnant women stood at 193, 000, while number of pregnant women who attended Antenatal Care (ANC) was 12,809.
Number of women who were counselled, tested, and received results are 12,687, number of pregnant women who tested positive to HIV was 302, while number of pregnant women who newly started anti-retroviral therapy during ANC under 36 weeks of pregnancy is 257.
Also, number of live births by HIV positive women who delivered at health care facilities are 591, while number of HIV exposed infants born to HIV positive women who receive ARV prophylaxis within 72 hours of delivery is 499.
This implies that 92 of the HIV positive women who had their births in healthcare facilities were not placed on ARV prophylaxis. In essence, these women are most likely to infect their children with HIV.
The question, therefore, is why 92 women did not receive ARV prophylaxis: is it because the prophylaxis was not readily available, or that the women absconded, or decided to opt for Community Reproductive Health Influencers (formerly known as Traditional Birth Attendants – TBAs?).
The point here is, considering that within the period COVID-19 took the centre stage over all other health concerns in the State, as it has been in the globe, this may well be only one of numerous gaps the fight against HIV/AIDS may have experienced, thus emphasising the need for more concern for HIV/AIDS.
As the world marks this year’s WAD, therefore, there is the need for key stakeholders to genuinely appraise the extent to which the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the fight against the HIV/AIDS pandemic, in order to be able to ascertain the next step to be taken.
By: Sogbeba Dokubo
Oyigbo Saga: Premium Times And The Burden Of Objective Journalism
Our attention has been drawn to a viral social media post ostensibly put up by Premium Times on several of its verified social media handles including Twitter titled: Cooking, Oyigbo Investigations: Like Sanwo-Olu, like Wike https://twitter.com/PremiumTimesng/status/1330578311823626243?s=08
The post reads thus: “5ØÜ5ØÜ5ØÜ5ØÜ5Ø–Ü: PREMIUM TIMES will publish an investigative report on Oyigbo, revealing evidence of war-grade violence on defenceless and innocent people, extrajudicial killings, destructions and human rights abuses.
“This investigation by @Hazzanjustice (Taiwo Hassan Adebayo) is based on on-the-ground reporting, interviews with multiple sources, including witnesses, families of victims, military, mortuary and hospital sources and review of verified pictures.”
Without meaning to cast aspersions on the Premium Times brand, we are a bit surprised that they would first proceed to advertise this investigative report in a sensational manner that sends disturbing professional and ethical signals about its intent and purpose.
This is quite uncharacteristic of the identified style of Premium Times but then we recognise that sometimes, there could be exceptions to the rule.
The case of exception with this purported investigative report therefore further reinforces our suspicion that there could be more to it that goes beyond ethical and professional Journalistic service.
Again, the promotional blurb unambiguously presumes that the investigation has already been done and dusted with a judgemental conclusion.
This blurb reeks of highly opinionated, subjective and biased partiality against a particular party. Otherwise, how does one explain the meaning contained in this statement: “5ØÜ5ØÜ5ØÜ5ØÜ5Ø–Ü: PREMIUM TIMES will publish an investigative report on Oyigbo, revealing evidence of war-grade violence on defenceless and innocent people, extrajudicial killings, destructions and human rights abuses.”
Again, we find the obviously robust attempt to promote this investigation rather curious, especially coming in the wake of the expose by the Cable News Network, CNN on the #EndSARS peaceful protests and attendant events of October 20, 2020 at Lekki Tollgate.
This purported investigation by Premium Times, couched in the promotional phrase: “Cooking, Oyigbo Investigations: Like Sanwo-Olu, like Wike”, when placed pari-pasu with the trending CNN report, betrays the intention of the investigation and lends strong credence to the suspicion that Premium Times may have been contracted by some interests, to create a diversion from Lagos State and Lekki Tollgate to Rivers and Oyigbo.
Of course, we are not unaware of the reports of some shadowy organizations masquerading as civil society groups, which have been throwing out humongous figures of casualties in Oyigbo and painting gory pictures or unsubstantiated massacres and unproven extrajudicial killings.
This is no doubt a concerted effort to redirect national attention from Lagos to Rivers State and inserting Governor Wike’s name in their stories to give them some dubious relevance.
While this observatory article is definitely not an attempt in anyway to preempt whatever Premium Times is ‘cooking’ or has ‘cooked’, it is important to state the facts clearly as they relate to Governor Wike, Rivers State and Oyigbo Local Government Area.
First of all, Governor Wike is the duly elected Governor of Rivers State and Oyigbo Local Government Area is one of the local government councils in the State, which gives him the sole constitutional authority to ensure that peace, security and harmonious coexistence of indigenes and residents are maintained at all times.
The importance of this point is premised on Premium Times own admission that: “This investigation by @Hazzanjustice (Taiwo Hassan Adebayo) is based on on-the-ground reporting, interviews with multiple sources, including witnesses, families of victims, military, mortuary and hospital sources and review of verified pictures.”
We are therefore eager to know if in the course of its investigation, it also interviewed and interacted with the Chief Security officer of the State or any of his delegated officials to also get a first hand report of their side of the story. Any investigation that does not include this is completely null and void, misleading and made up of contrived falsehoods.
Let us state clearly too that in the aftermath of the gruesome events of arson and destruction that tainted what had been a very peaceful and nationally endorsed #EndSARS protests by Nigerian youths, all the states of the federation had been mandated by President Muhammadu Buhari to set up their independent Judicial Panels of Inquiry which had been one of the key demands of the protesters.
We are glad to note that not only did Rivers State set up its own Judicial Panel of Inquiry, but that Premium Times itself reported it copiously in its story by Cletus Ukpong, published on October 23, 2020, titled: “Wike tasks panel to probe if govt officials sponsor police brutality” and also in its November 9, 2020 report titled: #EndSARS: See the states that have set up panels of inquiry so far (in which Rivers State is number 26).
It would therefore be quite interesting to see if the Premium Times investigation also contains comprehensive reports and interviews from the Rivers State #EndSARS Judicial Panel of Inquiry, as Nigerians have already seen from what is transpiring with the Lagos Judicial panel.
Once again, while the penchant for mischief makers and truth twisters to whip up overblown sentiments and propaganda is very much at play, the clear facts of the #EndSARS protests in Oyigbo must continue to be stated clearly and unequivocally for the records and for posterity.
They are as follows:
On Tuesday 21st October 2020, an orgy of violence and destruction was inflicted on Oyigbo Local Government Area and some parts of Port Harcourt City Local Government Area under the guise of the #EndSARS protests. This evil, wicked and audacious action resulted in the unnecessary loss of scores of lives, including soldiers and police officers, and the destruction of police stations, court buildings and business premises.
Comprehensive security reports, corroborated by live radio broadcasts by their fugitive leader, applauding the mayhem and urging more destruction, revealed that it was the proscribed separatist group, the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra(IPOB) that carried out these attacks
Not done with Oyigbo, they also visited physical violence on members of some targeted communities which, but, for the quick intervention of the State Government and the security agencies, would have resulted in some form of internecine bloodbath.
The State Government, in a statewide broadcast by Governor Wike, promptly imposed a 24 hours curfew in Oyigbo and the other affected areas.
If the curfew had not been imposed comprehensively and in the nick of time, it would have exploded into a full blown ethnic war in the community and across Rivers State.
As a matter of fact, all over Rivers State, Oyigbo town has practically become known as IPOB’s main operational base in which they have attempted to rename and from where they have become notorious for launching premeditated violence and terror.
The fact also remains that as a stranger element with strange political ideology, IPOB, which had already been proscribed and declared a terrorist organization by the Federal Government has no legal or moral right to invade Rivers State or any part therefore at its behest and hoist its sepratist flag; disturb public peace; and subject lives and property to violence or threat of destruction under any guise.
It is also germane to place on record, for the avoidance of doubt, that the IPOB attack was against the Police and the Nigerian Army.
Governor Wike responded by reinforcing the proscription of IPOB and its activities in the State through a legitimate Executive order and imposing a curfew on the community to save lives and secure more state property from being destroyed by IPOB.
Unfortunately for IPOB however, its attack was against the Nigerian Army, which constitutionally reports only to the Chief of Army Staff and the President of Nigeria who is the Commander in Chef of the Armed Forces and head of the Federal Government that proscribed it.
Not only was it confirmed that the IPOB hoodlums who hijacked the #EndSARS protest, killed some soldiers, it was also reported that they stole some military rifles too and the leadership of the Nigerian Army, acting independently, instructed and directed the response and recovery operation of its stolen arms on its own mandate and authority.
Let us also state that Rivers State was the most peaceful State, amongst all the States and in spite of the various social media provocation, during the #EndSARS protests. Governor Wike in collaboration with security agencies ensured that the protesters peaceful until IPOB and its hoodlums hijacked the peacefulness of the process.
We would therefore expect and even demand that the Premium Times investigation, whose promotional intro does not even reflect the primary agent, instigator and perpetrator of the shedding of the innocent blood of 10 soldiers and policemen and the burning of courts and police stations, should squarely apportion blame to the necessary culprit in this matter, for a balanced and impartial representation of the real situation.
Any report which deliberately refuses to call out and chastise the real troublemakers in our society, will be totally unprofessional and an unfortunate disservice to the noble ethics of investigative Journalism.
It is thus in recognition of this professional demand that we recall the highly competent and comprehensive work done by the doyen of modern Nigerian Journalism, Chief Dele Momodu on the Oyigbo situation. He not only robustly interviewed the key figures in the story, including Governor Wike, for which he received great praise and commendation from all quarters, he also bravely undertook an on the spot, fact finding mission to Oyigbo.
Like the seasoned veteran investigative journalist he is, he even broadcast his fact finding tour to Oyigbo live, for the avoidance of doubt and the findings of that mission, which may not be agreeable to some sepratist refuseniks, speaks volumes to counter the misinformation about Oyigbo and Governor Wike, which has been making the rounds.
Lastly and very critical to whatever investigation or report that may come out from Oyigbo is the fact that several key figures who are central to the matter, have already spoken and given their verdict on the situation.
On Sunday, November 8, 2020, Governor Nyesom Ezenwo Wike held a historic meeting with South-East Governors, the leadership of Ohanaeze Ndi-Igbo and the Igbo Community in the State at Government House, Port Harcourt.
The backdrop of the meeting was the rife propaganda proclaiming an unsubstantiated massive extra-judicial response to the recent carnage, destruction and killings unleashed on Oyigbo by IPOB.
Chairman of South East Governors Forum, Governor David Umahi of Ebonyi State, who led the delegation said that the visit was not at the instance of Governor Wike but was initiated by the South East leaders to find out the truth of what transpired in Oyigbo.
He said: “We are here to interact with you. We saw a number of things in the social media about Igbos in Oyigbo and as leaders, we put heads together and requested to meet with Governor Wike. We can claim here from your own accounts and as your leaders back home, that all what we read in the social media are all lies.
“I find it nauseating that IPOB could go to Benue and Rivers States to hoist its flag and claim the territories belong to the Igbo people. Igbo leadership are opposed to this stance by IPOB.
“I have lived in Rivers State for quite sometime. My children were born in Rivers State and I can tell you that in all these years there has never been any form of discrimination against us in Rivers State.
“Let us call a spade a spade. Ndi-Igbo have massive investment and infrastructure all over the country and somebody wants to start a war for us so that Igbos will be slaughtered again. Who brings war upon himself?
“Let me tell you something. We Ndi-Igbos do not support any form of criminality so I urge you not to buy into anyone who is a criminal from our side. We feel so free with our host Communities and have lived happily with them without any form of discrimination”
Umahi who also recalled an incident in his Community a few years ago sounded a note of warning: “Soldiers do not tolerate seeing a civilian handling a gun not to talk of stealing their rifle.”
In his own comments, Governor Okezie Ikpeazu of Abia state, whose boundary with Rivers State is Oyigbo Local Government Area stated that it will be unfortunate if the Igbos wage war in Rivers, because that will be like waging war on itself.
Ikpeazu also warned Igbos to be wary of the Information they get from the social media and recalled how Aba would have been set ablaze a few years ago when some miscreants posted in the social media that people from a particular ethnic group had invaded the State and if not for Divine intervention, the fake information would have resulted into an ethnic war.
Spokesperson and Eze Ndigbo in Rivers and Bayelsa, Eze Maduagu Ajaele and Lady Regina Uwakwe, in their reactions, commended Governor Wike for his wide spread infrastructural development in the State, noting that he had created an enabling environment for Igbo businesses and families to thrive.
Also speaking, the President-General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief John Nnia Nwodo, showered encomiums on Governor Nyesom Wike, describing him as a champion of restructuring of Nigeria and a man who loves justice.
He also warned that the leadership of Igbos cannot remain aloof while some misguided few who did not experience the brutal reality of the last civil war continue to fan the ember of disunity.
Indeed, any investigation on Oyigbo that does not capture the views of the traditional rulers, who are the custodians of the communities, will be erroneous and incomplete. This is because the Chiefs themselves, contrary to the misleading propaganda in the public space, have begged the Defence Headquarters not to withdraw soldiers deployed to Oyigbo in order to prevent remnants of the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB), from regrouping.
The chiefs under the aegis of Ogbakor Oyigbo, made the appeal to the military when the Publisher of the Ovation International Magazine, Chief Dele Momodu, visited Oyigbo, to assess the situation in the area, and also urged all those who deserted Oyigbo to return as normalcy has been restored.
A high chief, Eze Ukwu III, Louis Okorie said that the community chiefs do not approve the withdrawal of soldiers from Oyigbo and expressed serious concern that if soldiers are withdrawn from Oyigbo, IPOB anarchists would unleash violence in the area.
“The Ogbakor Oyigbo General held a meeting and said they will not allow the removal of soldiers from Oyigbo. We thank Governor Wike for imposing the curfew which has calmed down the situation in Oyigbo.”
Another Chief, High Chief, Lisbery Onyegorom said: “We were surprised by the level of destruction by the IPOB. We are Rivers State and Niger Delta people. Our people are not members of IPOB. I am not aware of any Oyigbo indigene who is a member. We don’t allow that.
“Now, that the IPOB have killed some soldiers, all of them have ran away. The Army is investigating and fishing them out. Most of the IPOB members arrested have given vital information about the remnants. We are in support of the Governor’s ban on IPOB activities.”
Chief Onyegorom also frowned at the allegation of extrajudicial killings levelled against Nigerian Army by some persons working for some extraneous forces playing petty politics with the Oyigbo issue.
“We are solidly behind our Governor’s effort to maintain peace in Oyigbo. The Governor did not say, go and kill people. The Army came on a rescue mission . That’s what they came for. It is the deployment of the Army that gives us comfort to remain here. Let the Army stay until we are sure of peace in Oyigbo.
On his part, the Chairman of Oyigbo Local Government Area, Prince Gerald Oforji said most of the negative information peddled in the media on the situation in the area are unfounded.
“Today, I am very happy for the visit by the Ovation family to assess the wanton destruction carried out by the IPOB. Today, they have come to assess and see things for themselves based on lopsided information they have been getting concerning Oyigbo. I believe with what they have seen today, the world, can confirm that most of those negative information posted against Oyigbo, against Rivers State, are unfounded
No doubt, the last word on any investigation on Oyigbo must go to the indefatigable Chief Dele Momodu, who has contributed so much to expand the frontiers of journalism in Nigeria, while maintaining the noble ethics of the profession in its finest investigative and reportorial tradition.
He said: “The way they describe Oyigbo as if there is massacre, there is no massacre going on. I believe, we have moved round extensively, nobody has told me not to move to anywhere. A lot of people have challenged me that I can not come to Rivers and visit Oyigbo.
“So, I am here. For me, it is a mixture of sadness and joy. Joy, that I’m able to come here in peace, because the impression I got was that nobody could come here at all; that everywhere has been taken over by the military and people are been massacred. I have gone round. I went to the market, I have gone to the police headquarters that was allegedly burnt down.”
Indeed, we magnanimously refer Premium Times and @Hazzanjustice (Taiwo Hassan Adebayo), to his seminal article titled: “As Peace Returns to Oyigbo, My Candid Observations” published in his PENDULUM BY DELE MOMODU, column on November 21, 2020 edition, of This day Newspaper.
This is highly recommended before concluding any ‘cooking’ investigation on Oyigbo.
As an international brand, Premium Times has the social responsibility to be factual, honest and dispassionate instead of allowing itself to be sucked into cheap propaganda and misleading falsehoods.
Nsirim is Commissioner for Information and Communications, Rivers State.
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