The Rumuwoji Market, popularly called
“Mile 1 Market” went up in flames on
December 17, 2013 for the umpteenth time. As usual, nothing was left standing after the fire, but worse is the fact that at no time had the cause been identified or addressed.
It has become rather embarrassing that at this time of our civilisation, Nigeria still suffers frequent market fire borne out of the makeshift nature of the market places. This has caused a lot of losses and hardship for both traders and the society as a whole.
While we acknowledge efforts by the Rivers State Government to modernise markets in the State, more is required to cover all the markets. This needs to be done across the country, at least to reflect the level of our development and to put an end to fetish beliefs that people cause market fire to acquire ritual money.
Indeed, these frequent market fires make rather compelling, the need to control marketing activities in major cities of Nigeria. The idea where any group of people would start selling at an un-designated place and gradually grows it to a market must be checked. Any urban centre that has no rules on where to do what, is a disaster waiting to happen.
That is why we commend the prompt intervention of the Rivers State Government on the fire at the old wing of the Mile 1 Market. In addition to the promise to give some kind of relief to the traders, the governor urged them not to re-build as government was going to provide a safer, more decent market place.
Our hearts indeed go for the traders whose source of livelihood has been on the hold for some time now. Knowing how the fire struck when many of them had fully stocked for Christmas shopping, the loss was colossal. Any response by government must therefore be timely and handsome.
But before government begins the construction of the burnt area, a thorough study is required to address a number of issues that would only be expected at this time. Although the multiple floors of the new market promise more stalls, the un-controlled spilling over of the market suggests the need for more and definite space.
Sadly, because of the contention for space one or two residential buildings have always been affected by every fire at the place. It has become imperative to acquire the two buildings to the market for two purposes. One, the first plot will give more space to the market, while the second one should serve as car park and demarcation between the market and any other building. This will save the banks and other important offices on that side of Ikwerre Road.
Also compelling is the consideration of what to do with the railway market, especially as it has now engulfed many buildings along Sangana Street and even blocked the Sangana road itself. Will all that area form part of the market? Or is there a strategy to make the rail line the boundary for the market.
Coming to the market structure itself, public facilities like markets must be user friendly, especially for the old and the physically challenged. Indeed, such facilities should be built with the understanding that they would be in use nearly everyday and cannot afford to fail every now and then for maintenance.
Unlike the built up side, the new place should have more entry points for vehicles, even fire machines and lorries that would be discharging or loading goods. Similarly, there must be muster points, fire protection and management plans and disciplinary measures for users of the place.
Perhaps, of more concern will be the sense of urgency that the intervention demands. Apart from the need for the traders to be re-settled as soon as possible to commence busines, the resort to managing anywhere as they wait for the completion of the market can be dangerous. Indeed, it would tend to make the city one big market place.
Knowing how long it took to complete and hand-over the built wing of the Mile 1 Market and the New Layout Market to traders, it can only be hoped that things are done differently. We think that the things that affect the very poor in our society would begin to attract some measure of urgency and quality.
We actually look forward to a time when people can go into any market in Rivers State and come out with a sense of worth. The era when people come out looking ruffled, dirty and soak with dark mud at their feet should be over for good.
That FG’s Ban On Twitter
Twenty-two years after quitting military rule, Nigeria is steadily sliding back into full dictatorship under President Muhammadu Buhari. The President is reverting to his well-known authoritarian style of the 1980s, demonstrating growing intolerance of the press and civil society organisations that “challenge” his administration.
In an inelegant display of anger and lack of critical reflection unbecoming of an elected government, and apathy to our rights, the Federal Government on June 4, 2021, announced an indefinite ban on the operations of Twitter in Nigeria after the social media site erased a tweet by President Muhammadu Buhari, threatening secessionist groups in the South-East.
In the deleted provocative post, Buhari had tweeted, “Many of those misbehaving today are too young to be aware of the destruction and loss of lives that occurred during the Nigerian Civil War. Those of us in the fields for 30 months, who went through the war, will treat them in the language they understand.”
Nigerian Twitter users expressed outrage at the blocking of one of the main platforms they have to evaluate their government and hold them accountable. Many evaded the suspension by using Virtual Private Networks (VPN) to access the service, raising questions as to the effectiveness of the ban.
Most shamefully, the embargo adds Nigeria to the catalogue of some autocratic countries where Twitter has been suspended or banned. As a yearning liberal democracy, it is depressing to be found in the same association of social media intimidators like China, Iran, Turkey, North Korea and Turkmenistan, among others. Under Buhari, Nigeria is sliding towards fascism. There must be vigorous push-back.
Apparently outraged by defiance of the prohibition, the Attorney General, Abubakar Malami, authorised the prosecution of anyone caught flouting the ban. However, the declaration neither specified how Twitter users would be identified for prosecution nor did it prescribe the punishment.
Buhari, in the controversial tweet, drew a nexus between Nigeria’s Civil War decades ago and raids on offices of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) by incendiaries and gunmen in the South-East which proclaimed itself the Republic of Biafra in 1967 and combated a devastating war for secession. The President was a commander of the Nigerian government during the war.
The administration attracted considerable disdain when the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, openly declared the suspension and accused Twitter of “the persistent use of the platform for activities that are capable of undermining Nigeria’s corporate existence.”
Associations, civil society groups and lawyers have rightly criticised and condemned the order. Despair has come from foreign missions that strongly support the fundamental human rights of free expression and access to information as a pillar of democracy in Nigeria and the world.
Even diplomats from the European Union, United Kingdom, Ireland, Norway and Canada denounced the move in a joint statement. The United States embassy in Nigeria likewise declared that the ban “undermines Nigerians’ ability to exercise freedom of expression” and “sends a poor message to its citizens, investors and businesses”.
We equally decry Twitter’s proscription because it constitutes a gross abuse of office, as it elevates the personal interest of the President above that of the country and her citizens. The President is indeed not the State and differences over the personal terms he willingly entered with Twitter must not threaten the public and national interest.
Furthermore, the ban is a serious infraction of the Nigerian Constitution, which the trio of the President, the Ministers of Information and Justice vowed to defend. By infringing on citizens’ fundamental rights to the freedom of expression and association, it transgresses Section 39 of the Constitution, while weakening the social and economic rights guaranteed Nigerian citizens by Chapter 11 of the Constitution.
The ban similarly constitutes an unwarranted attack on the corporate, business and professional interests of organisations and individuals legitimately managing their affairs on Twitter, including but not limited to the media, entrepreneurs, researchers, educational institutions, and Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs).
As of the third quarter of 2020, Twitter accounted for 61.4 per cent of internet users in Nigeria, coming after WhatsApp and Facebook messenger, according to ‘Statista’, while ‘Quora’ estimates the number to be about seven million. Even if the number of users is vastly less, it still does not excuse a ban that is jeopardising the means of business and social communication of citizens.
However, while the ignominious action of the Nigerian government stands excoriating, Twitter must be alive to its responsibility by always watching out for and promptly deleting insalubrious tweets or suspend accounts of those who violate its rules to ensure that the platform provides a safer space for healthy discourse. Specifically, Nigerians who post potentially offensive and disrespectful contents must keep a very wary distance from such practice. Twitter should sanction defaulters for the stability of our nation.
We believe that the current Twitter ban is a poorly concealed dress rehearsal for the full censorship of all social media operations in Nigeria. This is bolstered by recent reports that the Federal Government was in talks with the Chinese authorities to build an internet firewall to block any unwanted organ. Nigerians must strive to end this crawling dictatorship now.
Whither Nigeria’s Democracy?
It will be precisely 28 years tomorrow when a historic presidential election was held and its outcome criminally overturned by a savage government. Former Military President Ibrahim Babangida’s decision to annul the poll particularly had sinister, dehumanising and macabre political motives. However, the emerging national battle for liberty produced an incredibly defective Constitution, which returned the country to civil rule on May 29, 1999.
What eventually resulted in the recognition of June 12 by the President, Muhammadu Buhari, as the annual Democracy Day was the commitment of Nigerians to the ideals of that day. The day is also to commemorate the 1993 general election when the Nigerian people, across ethnic, religious and demographic fault lines, invested their hopes in freedom in Moshood Abiola, the winner of the poll and the supreme sacrifice he paid in his quest to reclaim his victory.
But almost three decades after, rather than broad revelries, misery still dissipates throughout the land as Nigerians face the painful reality that the democratic pledge of liberty and the pursuit of prosperity have been soured terribly by visionless leadership, a warped Constitution and a complacent citizenry. Instead of the solemn declaration of democracy, the people paid dearly for the lethal combination that has merely delivered a civil rule with all its attendant declines.
Today, Nigeria is an empirical exhibit of a failed state. Nigerians are now realising the hard way that entrenching democracy goes beyond outward adornment of periodic elections, the presence of legislature and other extremely chaotic symbols of government. Democracy has become a mere covering for a few to seize power and public treasury when the institutions fails to achieve the real democratic goals of personal, political and economic liberty and the pursuit of the greatest good for the greatest number.
More than two decades of the civil rule charade, it is numbingly sad that a majority of Nigerians do not discern their lives to be better. Corruption still defines governance, as well as poverty, inequality, economic loss, inefficiency, public and private sector dysfunction, poor infrastructure, failed economic and political systems, impunity, injustice, organised crime, terrorism and diminished state capacity.
Corruption has become the new normal as public frustration and cynicism pervade the land. The fundamental elements of democracy — rule of law, social justice, citizens’ participation, responsible political parties, active free press, independent parliament and judiciary, in nominal existence, are similarly under the onslaught. Secessionist agitations are getting robust. If democracy truly thrives in the country, why do we have all these crises?
Our progress can only be measured by how far the country has gone in attaining these key elements of democracy. Sadly, for the past 28 years, it has been difficult to deepen these basic values because the executive arm is incompetent, the legislature pathetically weak and the judiciary dangerously yielded. The three, of course, share a common DNA — corruption. Despots have been parading themselves as democrats and their common enemy is free speech.
The visionless Buhari regime is also trying to intimidate the media into docility. The regime is planning to criminalise “hate speech,” under a law that may require mass surveillance and close monitoring of social media. Yet, it is acknowledged in free societies that what counts as offensive is subjective, so “hate speech” laws can be elastic tools for criminalising dissent.
One of the good things about the commemoration of Democracy Day in the country is that it should ideally cause a deep, national reflection on where we are coming from, the journey so far, and a re-energised commitment to stay the course.
Democracy Day is not just another public holiday or an opportunity for ceremonies with vacuous speeches. It is a serious business. It is the best test we can give ourselves to determine how deeply rooted we are or how far we have strayed from upholding the fundamental doctrines of respect for the rule of law, free press, and respect for human rights.
The day should also be a gauge to measure the level of maturity of our political process in the conduct of free, fair and credible elections, and the quality of our civic engagements. How do we know if we have made progress? By asking questions. And if by doing so, it is clear that we have not, the question, then is: what are we celebrating?
This year’s Democracy Day is another opportunity to reaffirm an unbending commitment to governance that holds the rule of law in the highest esteem and prioritises the right of every citizen. It must also be a time to hold conversations on the kind of leadership that can unite the diverse peoples of Nigeria in the days ahead.
We cannot over-emphasise the power of visionary leadership in fostering strong democratic doctrines in Nigeria. That is the only way progress can be made on our democratic journey and we can once again be a shining example to the rest of the world. If that is not the purpose of the day, then what exactly are we celebrating?
Governance And Peer Review Mechanism
The Nigerian governance structure is predicated on the principle of federalism. The implication is that there are other levels of governance in Nigeria that make up the federation. Government at the Centre exercises exclusive list in certain areas of governance and enjoys concurrency with state Government in others. In principle there should be a residual list of governance items, but this does not exist in actual practice as the local government administration is yet to enjoy full autonomy.
The various state Governments exercise concurrent list of governance items with the federal government in such areas as Education, Road infrastructure, Health, Environment and others.In the area of security, the constitutional provision which states that the business of Government is the protection of lives and propertyof citizens applies to all the levels of Government.However, the convoluted nature of governance structure where the federal government is in control of too many governance items has made the management of security architecture by the states very difficult, but not impossible. Governors who are described as the chief security officers of their states, cannot not have full control of the Armed forces and police. For example the commissioners of police take instructions from the Centre, precisely from the Inspector General of Police.
The states and local Government areas are the closest government to the people. This gives the states gargantuan responsibilities and challenges. The states owe their citizens more responsibilities than the federal Government but have limited resources and powers to accomplish them despite their potentials in natural resources and revenue generation. Unfortunately, the states are held down by the absence of Fiscal Federalism in the Nigerian Federation.
These challenges and more have affected and afflicted development in the states in the areas of infrastructural development, poverty alleviation, environmental control, security and human capital development.Some commentators are of the opinion that the impoverishment of the states by the federal government is partly responsible for the spread of insecurity, growing agitations and secessionists tendencies in Nigeria.
Peer Review Mechanism can be a major tool which the states can use to alleviate their burden. It is in consonance with the local aphorism that problems shared are problems solved. Peer review mechanism can be referred to as self-assessment for good governance by peers in similar enterprise.
For example, peer review mechanism is an instrument of Governance among African States tagged the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) .It is a mutually agreed instrument which member states of African union acceded to as a”self-monitoring mechanism”. This self-assessment is to encourage conformity with regards to political, economic and corporate governance values among member states. It is important to observe that the African union Agenda 2063 and sustainable Development Goals 2030 have been monitored and evaluated by AU members through Peer Review Mechanism instruments.
Simply put peer review is the evaluation of values by one or more people with similar competencies. Governors of states who are saddled with governance challenges can go into self-assessment of their governance capacity by looking at what other governors have done in their states, evaluate and copy for the development of their own states.It could also be a source of motivation for good governance.
Peer Review Mechanism is not a copy and paste mechanism, it should be a positive way of avoiding the pitfalls of a particular governance style while evaluating and copying what is good.Peer Review Mechanism as an instrument of governance in Nigeria has very fertile pedestal. Different regions in Nigeria have platforms where their Governors gather to foster social, political and economic integration. These groupings are envisioned to rub minds on development issues in their various states. In the south-south there is the BRACED.There are others including the South East Governors forum, South West Governors forum and the various Governors fora of political parties as well as the southern Governors forum recently convoked.Governors in these groupings can pick up models of development from their colleagues after thorough evolution of such projects on how they can impact meaningfully and add values to their constituents. For example, the south East Governors can copy models of development from Ebonyi State where the Governor has defined Governance through infrastructural development and little bits of what other Governors are doing.
Governor NyesonWike stands tall in the south-south. There are so much the Governors of south-south and indeed Nigerian Governors can learn, from him, especially his prowess in prudent management of Resources, Revenue Generation and infrastructural development, particularly in the area of Road infrastructure, tertiary education and Health. The sign posts in these areas of development are models that can be copied by sister states.
Also, Lagos state as the center of excellence and industrial development has a lot of exemplary blue prints and projects execution that other states in the west and even the country at large can copy. It only requires a proper study and evaluation.So many states in Nigeria picked the traffic control model of Lagos state in their LASMA scheme. This is a good example of peer review in the right direction. Recently the Nigerian Guild of Editors went to kano for their Bienal convention and one of the highlights of their trip was the inspection of projects embarked upon by the kano state Government in the last six years.
What stood out in all the projects executed by Governor Ganduje is the security infrastructure. The entire state capital is covered with CCTV Cameras that monitor every movement in and around the metropolis. This model in security architecture can be copied by the states in the North especially in the North East to stem the tide of insurgency and banditry in the region. This is what Peer Review Mechanism entails.
Let the Governors exchange ideas and rub minds to move their state forward in the realm of development.
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