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Editorial

Avoid That Nationwide Strike II)

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In the first part of this editorial published
Monday, May 16, 2016, we noted the different positions of the labour unions on the same matter. They are all right, but only a decision to work together will give Nigeria the best result and that strike was not the best action now.
In taking the arguments further, the condition of the average Nigerian cannot be discountenanced. Even as it is advisable to look for the best interest of the country, that of the people must come first. Without the people, there is no Nigeria and a country is only as healthy, safe and virile as its people.
Within months, not only has inflation affected all aspects of the economy, a lot of workers have not been paid salaries. Even worse, so many have lost their jobs and do not know where to anchor their hopes, because the government is making excuses and blaming the past, instead of finding solutions for the future.
We are surprised, however, that the difficult situation appears to be new always to the government. Whereas what is happening may have been caused by the failings in successive governments, steps taken by other countries to tackle situations like this are known. The problem has always been who will bell the cat.
Time has come for Nigeria to find the real problems and their causes. Time has come to apply the bitter pills that can heal the pain once and for all. There are systemic problems that are ignored because they serve petty interests. There are very remote contributors that question the civilization of this age and its capacity to adjust.
Today, Nigerians are protesting high cost of fuel without a mention of losses incurred when some unpatriotic Nigerians were sponsored to protest against the only legitimate solution to the fuel crisis years ago deregulation of the downstream sector. By now, not only would there be steady supply of fuel, but also jobs and other by-products that would have raised the economy.
These same people who made the past impossible are the same ones blaming the government of the past for all their woes. Frankly, they lack the moral ground to remove the fuel subsidy. Besides, they have said the fuel supply situation would improve and that they were on top of the game. On all the promises they failed. Indeed, Nigerians have every reason to be disappointed.
But as a nation, we must put the past behind and find solutions to pressing problems. People and indeed the organised labour must find a place in their hearts to forgive and work with the Federal Government in the interest of the ordinary Nigerian. There should be deep and sincere negotiation now.
The Federal Government may have lacked the courage to speak on this matter because of what its members did against this country on this matter in 2012, but it should not have placed the cart before the horse. They should have negotiated a new wage regime and prepared the people for the change before any action.
Besides, what is worth doing is worth doing well; removing subsidy and fixing price is also strange to functional capitalism. Government must be bold to fully deregulate and put an end to this frequent hiccups in the sector. Let market forces decide so that investors can come, build and operate refineries, provide employment and sustain the supply of fuel, among others.
We think that the Federal Government should quickly agree with the organised labour and suspend the planned strike. Government should involve all the unions in the negotiation of a new National Minimum Wage and the other issues that the unions have raised that can benefit the economy.
On the public sector, Nigeria has created more agencies than it can support. This is no longer in debate. Overheads alone for the MDAs take so much. A system that creates too many executives that must be treated as Lords cannot be sustainable. Indeed, the offices can be merged without sacking any civil servant.
The country also has too many States, many not economically viable. Again, there are two major suggestions; reduce the States to the six geo-political zones, or operate a fiscal federation that would make every State work hard and pay to the Federal Government, instead of collecting from the Federal Government. When this happens, each State will decide how many staff to keep and how much to pay its workers.
The point is that the leadership must be bold to take the right decision. They should be prepared to break systems, instead of human beings for whose sakes the systems are built. Although strike can catalyse the process, but the timing is not right. It’s time to talk, build and grow the economy.

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Editorial

That Military Invasion In Imo

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The security crisis in the South-East is getting more and more frightening. Under the guise of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), the Eastern Security Network (ESN) and their affiliates, many organisations roam the five states of Imo, Anambra, Enugu, Abia and Ebonyi, sowing violent and criminal activities. Innocent people are killed and their homes burned. The mob hides under the blackmail of separatist politics, making the geopolitical zone almost uncontrollable.
The situation is worsening despite the resolution of governors in the zone to curb increasing violence and homicides in the region by bringing into effect the dysfunctional regional security outfit, Ebube Agu. At the height of the crisis was a recent encounter between soldiers and youths of Umuokwu Izombe community in Oguta Local Government Area of Imo State where no fewer than 10 persons were slaughtered. About 12 houses, comprising the palace of the traditional ruler, Eze Pius Muforo, were reportedly charred and 15 others ruined.
According to sources, trouble commenced when soldiers in the area had a heated variance with some youths of the community over crude oil bunkering activities. During the brawl, the officers allegedly shot and killed a youth of the community. Angered by the contretemps, the youths were said to have mobilised and mugged the soldiers, culminating in the apparent murder of two army personnel and the smouldering of vehicles.
The soldiers, it was learned, reinforced and stormed the community in a retributive attack, purportedly burning houses and executing persons located within the environ of the altercation. Oil bunkering activities are reported to be on the upswing in Izombe, Eziorsu and Osobodo lately. Besides, Imo State has been convulsing under cataclysmic attacks in the past months, with many slain and security formations assailed. The devastating intrusion had been particularly scandalous in the Orlu area of the state.
However, police description of the predicament attributed it to some supposed bandits who pinned security agencies in the territory in a gun duel. A release by the state police spokesperson, Mike Abbatam, affirmed, “two security personnel and three others were feared killed when hoodlums invaded Izombe police divisional headquarters. The attackers whose plan was to bomb the station, engaged the cops in a duel battle which resulted in loss of lives.”
It was stated that since the incident ensued, fleeing inhabitants of the oil-rich Izombe have been suffering excruciating and harrowing experiences. Indigenes are quitting the town as hard as they could. At the last count, the Nigerian army had struck between 72 and 80 houses, 15 vehicles and 25 motorcycles. The precipitation of projectiles from the gun nozzles of experienced military men is incapacitating and acrimonious, cutting lives short.
Forty-eight hours afterward, the hitherto reticent Imo State Governor, Hope Uzodimma, excoriated the raids and pledged to set up a panel of investigation to unveil the executioners of the disturbance and bring them to justice. The governor bawled the persistent resort to lawlessness, bemoaning that crime and criminality had been on the rise since the jailbreak in Owerri. We endorse the governor’s buoying stand on the issue, but he must move fast to protect his people, especially as the army has admitted their presence in the community.
We denounce the incident and bemoan the destruction of lives and properties. Consistent with the stand of the Imo State Government on the matter, we recommend a middle-of-the-road probe into the development. An independent judicial commission of inquiry should be inaugurated to identify the arsonists among the soldiers. We likewise request for justice for all the slain persons, including the two soldiers reportedly set aflame by the irate youths.
The military usurpation of the community and the extra-judicial carnage of inhabitants are illegal, regardless of the degree of the observed offence. International best practices demand that investigations should have been ordered first before action was taken against the Izombe community, since the perpetrators may not be residents there. Hence, what was legal in the circumstances was for the Nigerian Army to inform the police, who could have effectuated the arrest of the suspected killers.
Shamefully, the Nigerian security forces did not flounder at least for once in doing what they know how to do best — confronting inculpable civilians with live bullets while razing down houses worth millions of Naira, rendering hundreds homeless. Since the restoration of democracy in 1999, this rude and ungainly manner of dealing with helpless and vulnerable civilians has been a part of the life of Nigerians.
On November 20, 1999, Odi, a town dominated by the Ijaws in Bayelsa State, was taken up by the Nigerian Army and its people were decimated. The attack originated in a contention in the Niger Delta over indigenous rights to oil resources and environmental safeguard. Similarly, in 2001, some Benue communities were flattened because hoodlums bombarded 19 soldiers. Zaki-Biam, Tse-Adoor, Vaase, Sankera, Anyiin, and Kyado were diminished to ashes. Over two thousand people perished, according to records.
Also, in December 2020, when soldiers overswarm Bolou-Tubegbe community in Burutu Local Government Area of Delta State, reportedly searching for kidnappers, they wreaked caustic pain on the community as all buildings in that area were blighted. They left behind not a single one after their operation. They crudely injured some natives as the soldiers rained bullets on the community, while many relinquished life. Those are some patterns of the complete genocide of civilian communities by Nigerian security forces.
It is exceedingly disconcerting that the Nigerian military, an institution of considerable reputation, is yet to come to terms with the imperative of jettisoning the frequent resort to self-help under constitutional democracy notwithstanding the provocation or high dudgeon. The predisposition towards encroachment and arson by soldiers clearly pertains to the Stone Age which is entirely illegitimate and amounts to terrorism. The military authorities must resolve all forms of professional misconduct amongst its rank and file.
The cowardly act of the irate youths, who murdered the uniformed men, is reprehensible. After all, the killing of military men is a crime against humanity and international laws. Illegal oil burglars in the community should give peace a chance and leave off oil thievery and economic ruination, or risk being picked up and prosecuted. Izombe youths must understand that oil bunkering activities pose a significant hazard to public health by polluting mangroves, land, groundwater, and gutting fish habitat. Rather, they should think creatively and undertake legitimate processes of subsistence for serenity and advancement of the community.
The director, Amnesty International Nigeria, Osai Ojigho, while reacting to the criminality of the military in their unabashed acts of wiping out entire villages or communities posited, “These brazen acts of razing entire villages, deliberately destroying civilian homes and forcibly displacing their inhabitants with no imperative military grounds, should be investigated as possible war crimes”. Obviously! Those who inflict the longstanding pattern of the Nigerian military’s vicious tactics against the civilian population must account for such infringements and be brought to justice.

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Editorial

That BRACED Position On S’South Concerns

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Following a critical meeting held last Monday in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, under the aegis of the BRACED Commission, the South-South Governors Forum affirmed to join the Supreme Court suit by the Rivers State Government, insisting that states and not the Federal Government should collect Value-Added Tax (VAT). This is coming on the heels of a similar declaration by five Northern governors to apply for joinder with the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) in the VAT case between Rivers and FIRS pending before the Court of Appeal.
In a communique read by the Delta State Governor, Ifeanyi Okowa, the region’s governors, among other constraining issues, said they would soon unroll a joint security outfit and called on the Federal Government to put out the report of the forensic audit of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) recently submitted to the President and quickly appoint a substantive board for the commission.
The governors also called for the relocation of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) headquarters as well as the head offices of International Oil Companies (IOCs) to states in the Niger Delta region. According to them, the request had since been made during a dialogue between stakeholders in the geo-political zone and a Federal Government delegation led by the Chief of Staff to the President, Professor Ibrahim Gambari.
The communique reads, “To unequivocally support states to collect the Value-Added Tax, and resolved to join the suit at the Supreme Court. Council urged the President and the National Assembly to take necessary measures to revisit some unfair aspects of the recently signed Petroleum Industry Bill now Act, to ensure fairness and equity. We urge that the amendment should include a clear definition of host communities and that the trustees should be appointed by the state government.
“Council called on the President and the Federal Government to uphold the law establishing the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) by appropriately constituting its board. In addition, we express the hope that the Federal Government will make the forensic audit report public and do justly and fairly with the report to strengthen the capacity of NDDC to meet its obligations to the people of the region.
“Council regretted that the President and the Federal Government entirely failed to give reasonable consideration to requests made by the region during the dialogue with the special delegation led by Professor Ibrahim Gambari, the Chief of Staff to the President. Notable among the requests was the relocation of NNPC subsidiaries and IOCs headquarters to Niger Delta and the completion of a number of projects in the region, notably roads”, Okowa added.
All the region’s governors except Cross River State’s Prof Ben Ayade were in attendance at the meeting presided over by the forum’s chairman, Governor Okowa, with the Rivers State Governor, Chief Nyesom Wike, as host and the Director-General, BRACED Commission, Joe Keshi, also present. The BRACED Commission, comprising the six South-South states of Bayelsa, Rivers, Akwa Ibom, Cross River, Edo and Delta, is an initiative to advance integration, socio-economic and infrastructural development of the region.
The resoluteness of the governors in holding regular meetings to articulate significant issues affecting the region deserves commendation. They are equally eulogised for the far-reaching resolutions at their meeting. Seen from this angle, they have to make sure that nothing breaks their will to remain united. Those decisions are precarious to the security, safety and well-being of the people of the region. The governors have amply demonstrated that they share the sentiments and aspirations of the people. Similar reciprocity is necessary with other political leaders of the zone, irrespective of party divergence.
Regrettably, Prof Ayade ravishes in putting up recalcitrant or contumacious demeanour towards his colleague-governors in the region by interminably absenting himself from their conclave. The Cross River State governor should not dissimulate and contemplate that all is well when their South-East, South-West and Northern counterparts meet regularly to confer on questions of common concerns, notwithstanding political party disparities. Rather than expressing his dissatisfaction, Ayade should join his viscounts in their renewed efforts to revitalise the once-moribund BRACED Commission to strengthen economic collaboration among the states of the region.
We welcome the governors’ decision to establish a South-South security architecture, like other areas of the country, to complement the nation’s security agencies in the area. The truth is, given the fast regressing security situation in the country, the whole of the Niger Delta region, especially the South-South zone, is under existential threat congruent with other parts of Nigeria. We have a serious security problem. Revelations around the country often emphasise insecurity related to Islamic insurgents in Northern Nigeria, organised armed banditry involving Fulani herdsmen, farmer-herder conflicts, kidnapping and armed robbery.
But insecurity has long been a conundrum in the oil-rich region of the Niger Delta. From the early 2000s, armed militants targeted oil industry infrastructure and made off with expatriates. This perdured until the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua instituted an amnesty programme for militants in 2009. Hostilities petered out but the programme focused predominantly on securing the oil industry. It did not hammer away the overarching insecurity touching on the run-of-the-mill people. Therefore, for the current gambit to succeed, stakeholders in the region must sift through the failures and ascendances of Amotekun, the South West security outfit, to build a similar or better outfit for the South-South.
Again, the South-South governors’ supplemental non-partisan intention to join the VAT lawsuit at the Supreme Court, in solidarity with Rivers State on the position that VAT should be collected by states is creditable as it is estimable. That is nothing short of a demonstration of fraternity. We hail their staunch positions on the Petroleum Industry Act, the NDDC forensic audit report, and their call on the President to uphold the law establishing the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) by appropriately re-constituting the board. If heeded, it will certainly chart a new course for the agency.
Similarly, the clarion and persistent calls for the relocation of the headquarters of International Oil Companies (IOCs) and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) subsidiaries to the Niger Delta are gratifying. These calls have become one too many. We find it mystifying that the Federal Government has remained impervious to this just demand of the Niger Delta people, thus, withholding from the region conceivable benefits, while the paradoxical realities, arising from the industry, stay put in the region.
Governors from the South-South must be unrelenting in strengthening the BRACED Commission to fast track the economic integration and development of the geo-political zone. Findings showed that what initially glued the governors together was political party affiliation and what wrenched them was individual ambition and party segregation in 2013. This time around, they must rise above those cleavages to give bearing to the revitalised commission.

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Editorial

Prioritising Teachers’ Welfare

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Tuesday, October 5, was observed as World Teachers’ Day, which was celebrated globally, including in Nigeria. Since 1994, with the assistance of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), this day has been adopted annually to highlight teachers and their profession.
A year and six months into the Covid-19 crisis, the 2021 World Teachers’ Day concentrates on the support teachers need to positively commit to the recovery process under the theme: ”Teachers At The Heart Of Education Recovery”.   A series of global and regional affairs would showcase the impact of the pandemic on the teaching profession, highlight effective and promising policy feedbacks, and plan to identify measures that need to be taken to ensure teachers realise their maximum potentiality.
Before the Coronavirus pandemic stalled the learning of Nigerian students, the country’s education system was experiencing its own epidemic: a highly deficient and unfair system with surprisingly limited education. At the climax of the pandemic, approximately 40 million students were affected by school closures across the country, but even before that, Nigeria had the highest proportion of out-of-school children worldwide.
As the second wave of the epidemic continues, school vacations have been extended in some states, indicating that children’s learning continues to hibernate. Therefore, attempts must be made to emphasise a direct and creative means to recover expected learning losses and transform Nigeria’s education system, well summarised by the acronym — FACTS: Foundation learning, Assessment, Curriculum alignment, Technology and Special needs.
On World Teachers’ Day, the services of teachers and their contributions to education are recognised and their role and relevance in the development of pupils and society acknowledged. This is a moment to pay tribute to teachers and deal with some problems confronting their occupation, so it tries to fascinate the brightest young minds to join the profession. Their significant role remains that of mentors and career coaches.
Regrettably, in Nigeria, this occasion only highlights the plight of teaching as a profession. Recently, the Teacher Registration Council of Nigeria (TRCN) revealed that only about 50 per cent of Nigerian teachers were qualified to teach. According to TRCN, the requisite qualification for any teacher is the National Certificate in Education (NCE) specified by the National Education Policy.
This is something TRCN must take seriously. The council has a responsibility to deny charlatans access to the teaching profession. It should ensure that only qualified persons who possess the basic training and qualifications may be employed in the profession. Unfortunately, many teachers view this work as a stop-gap and are in the industry to buy time while waiting for more profitable jobs.
In view of the increase in unemployment in the country, it is necessary to discourage education as a means of survival. This is especially true in private schools, where people who do not have the necessary qualifications are selected. Most private school owners do this primarily for low-cost labour.
There are structural issues within the education system that hinder development efforts. Challenges, particularly in Nigeria, include low wages, poor capacity building, insufficient resources and the inability to regulate education to meet the psycho-social demands of children. Yet, teachers continue to do their best to elevate the next generation of nation builders.
President Muhammadu Buhari approved an increase in the pay structure of teachers during World Teachers’ Day 2020 which is still underway. Other incentives include allowances, housing, training, extending years of service from 35 to 40, and the retirement age from 60 to 65. This is exemplary, but it must be enforced accordingly. All we need is for the governors and others to implement the initiative within their states. The National Assembly should ensure that the process is carried out smoothly by means of adequate legislation.
However, commemorating this year’s Teachers’ Day, the Federal Government announced that it had approved N75,000 per semester allowance for students pursuing degree courses at public universities and N50,000 allowance for Nigerian Certificate of Education (NCE) students. This deliberate attempt to capture the best minds in the education industry is both meritorious and depressing. While the movement may add content to the profession, its durability is questionable, particularly given the economic deterioration.
Here in Rivers State, teachers in observance of the day, splashed accolades and encomiums on Governor Nyesom Wike. They commended him for securing their well-being by paying regular salaries. He was equally applauded for his renovation of primary and secondary schools to guarantee better teaching and learning environment for teachers, and his policy of inclusiveness in the state’s education sector. While urging him to consider more promotion of teachers and address other matters, they eulogised the governor for his policies which are set to revolutionise education and teaching in the state.
This year’s Teachers’ Day reflects the view that without qualified, committed and competent teachers, we cannot achieve substantial or high-quality education. Nigerian leaders may be weak and slow in governance, but they are indeed masters and maestros in functions, anniversaries and commemorations. As in past years, our leaders reached out last Tuesday and delivered brilliant speeches and promises to teachers.
Rhetoric is not enough. A systematic strategy is needed, featuring increased education budgets and key tasks to thwart the system from foundering. In the next decade, while the rest of the world may be reveling in the benefits of computer-aided learning, Nigeria’s education, under the prevailing funding system, may be hit by the perpetual surge in the youth population, likely to become worse. 
If our leaders immediately begin to prioritise teacher training and well-being, which is the centre of any useful education system, this dreadful situation does not need to evolve completely. Nothing should deter us from learning from China and the Scandinavian countries, who today are considered to be the best places in the world to provide incentives for teachers.

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