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Editorial

That School Feeding Debate

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Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo said last week
that government school feeding
programme would be enjoyed by 20 million children in Nigeria. Incidentally, the planned launch has attracted responses that should not be discountenanced.
According to Osinbajo, the one-meal-a-day for primary school children across Nigeria will help the local economies, improve school enrollments, boost the nutrition and health of children, create employment and market for local agricultural produces among others.
But how the programme will be funded presented the first problem. The Vice President said the N500 billion approved in the 2016 budget for social investment will be used to fund the programme. Incidentally, it is the same money budgeted to pay un-employed graduates (for how long) and create 1.14 million jobs.
While these issues need to be clarified, Governor Ayodele Fayose of Ekiti State says the Federal Government may have provided an excuse for the school feeding programme to fail when it factored in a 40 percent State counterpart funding. He stated categorically that his State has no money for the programme, even as the matter has not been discussed with the States.
Confusing as it may sound, Governor Fayose also noted that the school feeding programme was a promise of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and should be wholly funded by the Federal Government which benefitted from the votes given on that account. On the other hand, he suggests that APC States could go ahead with it without imposing it on others.
Added to the several other responses, especially against the programme, government should find a way of confirming if Nigerians truly want that programme. Besides, should all the States be compelled to participate in the programme even when Nigeria is not under a command system.
The point must be made that while the programme may be suitable for some States, especially the rural setting; cultures that do not accord with the ‘Almajiri’ system cannot support it. In fact, many States that started it dropped the idea long ago without any external reason to do so.
The Tide shares the concern of government over dwindling school enrollment and rising school drop-outs in some States and the average health profile of the Nigerian child, but whether the one-meal-a-day for a handful of children is the panacea remains a puzzle. If government is quick to feed the children, what happens to their mothers who also have their peculiar challenges?
Apart from the tendency to always react to issues instead of avoiding them and dealing with symptoms instead of causes, governments in Nigeria have tended to confuse issues. The last time we checked, Nigeria still runs a capitalist economy and not socialist, where government at the centre decides how to feed children and concerns itself with primary education that belongs to the Local Governments.
On the other hand, the school feeding programme raises another problem; it is on record, that private schools take care of more children in Nigeria than the public schools. How then can it be explained to the children in private schools that the government discriminates against them.
Also worrisome is the sustainability of the programme especially given the funding arrangement which is already a challenge. Like the Universal Primary Education (UPE) scheme and the Universal Basic Education (UBE) scheme that failed to address any issue, why should government want to throw money into the drains again?
Over the centuries, different methods have been employed to encourage literacy; one may also be the school feeding system. But the adoption of scholarship had tended to take care of the bright and the indigent without making parents look inadequate and pitiable. Scholarships also promote competition and brings pride to the parents, who the feeding plan stand to defame.
On the whole, the safety of the children should be of paramount concern. It is common knowledge that parents in this part of the world advise their children against picking valuables on the ground as they walk by or accept gifts from strangers or put anything in the mouth that was not approved by their parents. There are very cogent reasons for these and the school feeding programme stand in contrast.
Finally, we think that there are roles carved out for parents and duties outlined for government, and none says that government should put food in the mouth of our children. The least government can do is to give free education, offer scholarships and awards and make the economy serve the needs of the family.

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Editorial

As NLNG Train 7 Kicks Off…

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History was made when President Muhammadu Buhari last Tuesday flagged off a much-anticipated project to construct Train 7 of the Nigerian Liquefied Natural Gas (NLNG) in Bonny, Rivers State. Buhari, during the virtual groundbreaking at the NLNG ground, had sought stakeholders cooperation to ensure completion of the Train 7 project “safely and on time” to pave way for a Train 8 expansion.
Buhari, in his charge to stakeholders at the occasion, said, “As we flag off the Train 7 today, I look forward to development and execution of more gas projects by the International Oil Companies (IOCs) and indigenous operators, and more Trains from Nigeria LNG to harness over 600 trillion cubic feet of proven gas reserves we are endowed with”.
Estimated to cost about $6 billion, the project is expected to increase the six processing units (trains) of the NLNG plant at Bonny Island to seven trains. This will increase the current installed capacity of the plant. Led by the Italian multinational, Saipem, with a share of $2.7 billion of the contract value, other members of the consortium are Japan’s Chiyoda Corporation and Daewoo Engineering & Construction of South Korea.     
For one thing, Train 7 has added new profiles to the domestic gas sector. A consortium of some Nigerian banks, international development finance institutions, as well as three export credit agencies will provide $3 billion of debt financing for the project, making it the world’s first LNG project with multi-tranche corporate financing. 
The Tide applauds the Federal Government’s laudable feat by ensuring the take-off of this long-awaited project. It is hoped that Train 8 will not remain in waiting in the manner Train 7 was delayed. As it is now, the project showcases Nigeria as mainly a gas-rich country to be reckoned with.
It is simply refreshing that NLNG, which was just an ordinary project in the early 90s, has successfully transformed into a very prosperous firm with over 20 years of credible operations and an uninterrupted supply of Liquefied Natural Gas, Liquefied Petroleum Gas and Natural Gas Liquids into the global market. This is positive indication that the nation has enormous capability to provide value to the world by harnessing its natural resources.
Through the Decade of Gas initiative, which was recently launched, Nigeria will be changed into a major gas and industrialised nation with gas playing the key role as revenue earner, fuel for industries and necessary feed for petrochemicals and fertiliser plants.
The NLNG has generated $114 billion in revenues over the years, paid $9 billion in taxes; $18 billion in dividends to the Federal Government and $15 billion in feed gas purchase. These again are estimable achievements by the company’s Management Team that is exclusively Nigerian. With this level of accomplishment, we can only hope that the enterprise continues to grow beginning with this Train 7 project, and position Nigeria to thrive through the energy transition.
A fundamental advantage of Train 7 is its capacity to guarantee every stakeholder more dividends in terms of further reduction in gas flaring, more revenue to the nation and shareholders, more job opportunities, especially at the construction phase and more social investments for the society.
Again, Train 7 will increase NLNG’s overall capacity to 30 million tonnes per annum (mtpa) from the current 22 million mtpa, adding immense value to the nation and the people. The project would stimulate inflow of about 10 billion dollars Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) into Nigeria, create 12,000 direct jobs in Bonny Island and additional 40,000 indirect construction jobs.
Another beneficiary of the project is the domestic Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) market. At the moment, NLNG produces one million metric tonnes of LPG and supplies 350,000 metric tonnes of the product to the domestic market, accounting for 50 per cent of LPG supply in Nigeria. 
With the additional capacity of the plant, the production and supply of LPG to the domestic market is expected to increase, thereby deepening the penetration of the low-cost and high efficiency cooking fuel in the country. Compared to kerosene and traditional biomass (such as firewood and charcoal), LPG is considered a cleaner alternative fuel.
Nigeria has ridden on the back of oil for over 60 years, but with the Train 7 project, the country is now set to fly on the wings of gas. However, this projection will be unattainable without a peaceful atmosphere. That is why Bonny and Finima indigenes must see themselves as one and opt for harmonious settlement of the ownership of host community rights saga. The Federal Government should directly intervene in the matter and ensure that the project is not unduly delayed.

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Editorial

Ending Kidnap Of School Children

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Even though the Islamist fundamentalist terrorist group, Boko Haram, has been at the top of their murderous trade in Nigeria for years, throwing bombs, engaging in suicide missions, attacking religious places and worship centres, targeting schools, markets, motor parks and other public places, killing people for fun, the entire world was particularly outraged when, in 2014, 276 school-girls were taken away from their hostels at Government Girls Senior Science Secondary School, Chibok, Yobe State, in Nigeria’s North Eastern region.
While more than seven years after that unfortunate incident that drew the attention of the United Nations and several world leaders like the then President of the United States, Barak Obama and his wife, Michele to engage in the #Bring Back Our Girls movement with many of the girls still in captivity, kidnap of school children has fast become a regular occurrence across the North-east, North-west and North-central regions.
Between December, 2020 and now, close to a thousand students and staff have been abducted in nearly 10 attacks on schools in Niger, Kano, Katsina, Jiawa, Zamfara, Kaduna, Sokoto and Yobe States. On December 11, 2020, more than 300 students of Government Science Secondary School, Kankara, Katsina State, were abducted. The 344 students were released about one week later. On February 27, 2021, a pupil was killed while 27 others were kidnapped by armed men from Government Science College, Kagara, Niger State. Three members of staff of the school and 12 of their relatives were taken along. They regained their freedom about a week later when more than 300 school girls were carted away by gun men from a school in Zamfara State.
On February 26, 2021, unidentified gun men kidnapped 317 school girls from Government Girls Secondary School, Jangebe, Zamfara State. The students were to regain their freedom on March 2, with a report saying only 279 were released after four days in captivity. This was closely followed by the kidnap of 39 students of Federal College of Forestry Mechanisation, Afaka, Kaduna State on March 11, 2021.
While five of the Afaka students were released on April 5, another five regained their freedom on April 8. The balance of 29 students were not let go until May 5, 2021. After five weeks and six days after the Afaka kidnapping, at least 20 students and two staff members were abducted from Greenfield University in Kaduna State. Five students and one staff were killed while the remaining 14 students were released on May 29, 2021.
On May 30, 2021, a yet to be identified armed gang invaded Salihu Tanko Islamic School, in the town of Tegina in Rafi Local Government Area of Niger State, taking away between 150 and 200 pupils.
In yet another violent attack on an educational institution, in the country, a student was shot dead as gunmen abducted eight students and two lecturers at Nuhu Bamali Polytechnic in Zaria, Kaduna State, last Friday.
Nigerians are generally disturbed about the worsening state of insecurity in the country as the Federal Government appears to be overwhelmed or too weak to protect lives and property of the citizens against the prevailing reign of terror unleashed upon the nation by criminal gangs and terrorists of all descriptions. However, The Tide is particularly bothered about the growing number and frequency of armed attacks, specifically targeted at pupils and students in our educational institutions.
For a government that came into power on the promise of fixing perceived weaknesses of the previous administration occasioned by security challenges among others, it is worrisome that the security situation has had a free fall under the watch of the present federal authorities. A general sense of despondency and fear hover over the country and Nigerians now pay criminal groups for their lives and to guarantee their legitimate pursuit of livelihood.
It is especially appalling that government at the national and subnational levels pay huge sums of money (though it is scarcely admitted) to these criminals to secure the release of some of the school abductees. Traumatised and terrified parents and guardians have also had to pay through their noses to get their wards back, some just their lifeless bodies.
According to the Commandant General of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), Ahmed Audi, as many as 62,000 out of 81,000 mostly government-owned schools in the country are susceptible to attacks, as shown by a recent vulnerability survey on schools across the country.
“From the survey, we discovered that the nation has over 81,000 schools, but it was very surprising and disturbing that out of this figure, over 62,000 schools are very insecure. They have no presence of physical security and there is no fence, which shows how vulnerable our children are to any attack. Most of these schools are public schools”, he said.
Concerns about the safely of the students have led the Governors of Niger, Kano, Sokoto, Zamfara, Jigawa, Katsina and Yobe States to order the closure of all boarding schools and some others located in the most vulnerable local government areas. School attendance and enrollment are sure to be adversely affected. Teachers and other staff are also very likely to quit their jobs and seek employment elsewhere with lower risk to their safety and security.
In fact, the attacks pose a very serious threat to education in a region that is already ranked amongst the places with the greatest number of out-of-school children in the world. Though education is mostly free and compulsory at the primary level in public schools in northern Nigeria, UNICEF says there is only 53% net attendance rate while the level is even lower for girls due to socio-cultural norms and practices that discourage attendance in formal education. Of course, parents and guardians are getting scared of allowing their children and wards to go to school.
Given the strong correlation between lack of education and poverty and criminality, the fear is real that banditry, insurgency and related crimes cannot be easily overcome except a very hard stance is taken against the rising trend of attacks on schools in the country.
It is therefore to save education and secure the future of this country that The Tide urges the Federal Government to arise from its slumber and give it everything it requires to secure our schools, keep our children safe and ensure that the education sector is adequately protected from the reach of terrorists and criminals.
According to the NSCDC Commandant General, a female squad of the Corps has been established to secure school environments so as to protect children from bandits and kidnappers while arrangements are in top gear to deploy technology in the surveillance and monitoring of critical national assets.
As we hope that these measures will not just end on paper but be effectively followed through for the benefit of the country, the Federal and State governments should revisit the Safe Schools Initiative the Goodluck-Jonathan administration launched following the Chibok girls kidnap with a view to making it achieve desired results.
The Tide acknowledges that paying of ransom may be a veritable incentive for kidnapping but we insist that it is not enough for the government to discourage the indulgence. The security agencies must be sufficiently equipped, mobilized and motivated to keep Nigeria and Nigerians safe and secure. It is the most basic expectation from any government that is worth its time in office.

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Editorial

That FG’s Ban On Twitter

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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.

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