President Muhammadu Buhari, while presenting the 2018 Appropriation Bill to the joint session of the National Assembly on November 7, announced the allocation of an estimated N27.369billion to the Federal Ministry of Environment for its recurrent and capital expenditures. Out of this figure, an estimated N9.524billion was set aside for capital projects, N11.6 billion for contractors’ debt servicing, while a whooping N250 million was allocated for the ministry officials’ travel expenses.
Sadly, the Federal Government shamelessly allocated a paltry N20.226million for the all-important Ogoni clean-up, despite all the years of empty promises of commitment to addressing the agitations of beleaguered Niger Delta people.
The Tide considers the paltry sum allocated for Ogoni clean-up as an insult on not only the Ogonis, but the entire Niger Delta people. It is a sharp contrast to the President’s promises that, “We are working hard on the Ogoniland clean-up project, and have engaged eight international and local firms proposing different technologies for the mandate.”
We recall that part of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) report specifically recommended that “an Environmental Restoration Fund for Ogoniland should be set up with an initial capital injection of $1billion contributed by the oil industry and the government.”
We are also aware that the UNEP report clearly recommended specific responsibilities for the government, the oil companies and the Ogoni communities in the clean-up and remediation processes, “projected to last between 25 and 30 years”. In this regard, the Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria has domiciled $10million (approximately N3.598billion) as its funding obligation towards the commencement of the clean-up exercise.
While we agree that $10million is a far cry from Shell’s share of the $1billion recommended as initial commencement sum over the first five years, we cannot fathom the embarrassing allocation of N20.226million in the 2018 budget by the Federal Government for the so-called ‘oversight and governance’ mechanisms of the Ogoni clean-up exercise. We cannot also understand the government’s reluctance to accept responsibility for the devastation and its refusal to commit funds commensurate with its 55 per cent stake in the Ogoni clean-up.
We are gravely disappointed that the Federal Government, which pocketed the huge revenue earnings from its 55 per cent stake in the joint venture operation, would turn around in 2017 to shirk its core responsibility of leading the way in the funding of efforts to restore the environment crassly degraded and polluted by several years of oil exploration and production activities in the Niger Delta.
The Federal Government’s posture, to say the least, amounts to an abdication of key social responsibility to remedy environmental degradation in Ogoniland for over 40 years. It also smacks of brazen insensitivity and callousness to the plight of the Ogoni people in particular and the entire Niger Delta in general.
Given the sharp contrast between the mouth-watering promises by the Federal Government to remediate Ogoni environment and the paltry sum committed to the project, we are constrained to think that the Buhari administration is only using sustained propaganda around the Ogoni clean-up exercise to gain cheap political mileage ahead of the 2019 general elections. Otherwise, how could a government which dissipated so much energy and resources on a presidential flag-off of such a sensitive project more than a year ago, turn around and renege on its statutory funding obligation of the same project?
We, therefore, urge the political leaders in the Niger Delta, especially members of the National Assembly, to reject the paltry allocation for the Ogoni clean-up. The National Assembly should be fair and just in their debates over the paltry allocation, and ensure honest review that should up the ante for the clean-up exercise.
Meanwhile, we task President Buhari to gallantly shove away the shame of this dismal allocation by proposing a supplementary appropriation to fund the government’s huge responsibilities in the Ogoni clean-up process, bearing in mind that 55 per cent of the $2billion clean-up cost over the first two years must be borne by government.
Deactivation Of Unregistered SIM Cards
On September 12, 2019, the Minister of Communications, Dr Isa Ibrahim Pantami, ordered telecommunications service providers in Nigeria as well as the regulating agency, Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), to, without further delay, ensure that about 9.2million telephone lines with improperly registered Subscriber Identification Module (SIM) cards are deactivated from the nation’s telecoms radar until their owners physically present themselves for proper documentation.
Pantami noted that the monthly SIM audit report showed that “Some were registered without proper biometrics, no picture, no address, among others”.
The minister explained that the directive became imperative in order to bridge the yawning gap in the country’s security system, and enhance security agencies’ ability to curtail the growing influence of criminal gangs, especially kidnappers, bandits, cultists, terrorists, armed robbers, cyber fraudsters, among others, who have been using different improperly registered SIM cards to perpetrate crimes, including violent killing of innocent Nigerians and other attacks without any trace.
Pantami said that the ugly trend was giving the National Security Council (NSC) serious concern, hence, the urgency to act now before criminal gangs take over the country.
The Tide agrees with the minister and, indeed, the NSC that the national security implications of this compromise on the part of mobile network operators are grave and consequentially unfathomable. Perhaps, we are wont to believe that the mobile network service providers and the NCC are clear accomplices for various reasons. Both the operators and the regulator have taken the country for granted by crassly failing to comply with basic procedures for procurement and use of SIM cards in line with global best practices.
We are amazed that since the Global System of Mobile (GSM) Communication was introduced in Nigeria about 19 years ago, operators of GSM licence have not deemed it expedient to play by the rules approved by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) in their operations, in many respects.
It is, indeed, a shame that over the years, mobile network operators (MNOs) have taken Nigerians for a ride, and see the country as a money milking enterprise, where basic standards are jettisoned with brazen impunity.
We recall that in 2011, the NCC approved and directed the MNOs to comply with the Telephone Subscribers’ Registration Regulations and the Technical Standards and Specifications, which required the capturing of all SIM card holders, with their comprehensive personal details in a dedicated database to be monitored by the commission.
The idea was partly to ensure that information therefrom is made available to authorised security agencies on request to facilitate the tracking and traceability of suspicious SIM card owners. We further recall that in response to that directive, MNOs embarked on the first SIM card audit and registration of those whose lines were not originally registered in their systems.
But unfortunately, following increasing inability of security agencies to track certain criminal elements using mobile phones to direct and coordinate their nefarious activities, the government discovered in 2015, that almost all MNOs, especially MTN, had failed to comply with the NCC directive to regularise all SIM cards registration in 2011.
This, thus, forced the NCC to order the deactivation of over 10 million lines and also slammed an initial fine of N1.04 trillion on MTN for being the custodian of huge number of defective SIM cards in the country. The aftermath of this is that the NCC, for the second time, directed Nigerians with defective SIM cards to go back to their service providers and undertake proper registration of their SIM cards.
The Tide is not oblivious of the fact that before the minister’s directive, some MNOs had already invited their subscribers to re-register their SIM cards, while some had suspended services to certain lines whose owners had failed to show up for regularization of their SIM cards. We are also aware that the new directive will be implemented without prejudice to the ongoing “back-end verification and scrubbing” of SIM registration data already submitted by MNOs to the NCC.
There is no doubt that the subscriber registration database is a veritable instrument used by security and law enforcement agencies in Nigeria and around the world in the prevention, detection, tracking and apprehension of criminal elements involved in heinous crimes such as kidnapping, mass shooting and killing, armed robbery, financial crimes, terrorist attacks, banditry, cattle rustling, among others.
We, therefore, urge Nigerians whose SIM cards have not been properly registered to dedicate time and energy towards ensuring that they complete the necessary procedure so as to assist government in its efforts to curtail rising insecurity in the country. We make this appeal bearing in mind that there are more benefits to the regularization of SIM cards than just improving security of lives and property of Nigerians.
However, we urge the NCC to ensure that the MNOs put measures in place to cushion the negative effects of failed registration attempts in the past. We make this appeal because we know that many Nigerians had undertaken this process a number of times before, and are still being repeatedly disturbed by service providers over improper SIM card registration. The measure will, therefore, remedy the inconveniences caused by the MNOs’ equipment failure or the incompetence of staff recruited to manage failed SIM cards’ regularization over the last eight years. This is the only way Nigerians can heave a sigh of relief from telecoms service providers.
Combating Rising Suicide Rate
The recent revelation by the World Health Organisation (WHO) that one person commits suicide globally every 40 seconds is not just alarming and frightening but a curious shock to mankind.
Perhaps that informed the reason why the United Nations (UN) declared September 10 every year as World Suicide Preventive Day to sensitise the global community on what is clearly considered in certain quarters as a clear and present danger to humanity.
Statistics from WHO indicated that about 800,000 people die yearly to suicide globally, the second leading cause of death among young people aged 15-29 years, after road mishaps and accidents.
The global suicide watchdog, the International Association for Suicide Prevention while commemorating the event last week explained that the main aim and focus of epoch is to highlight the most essential ingredients for effective global suicide prevention and to encourage people to spread awareness about suicide prevention.
WHO’s Director General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Gbebreyesus, reportedly enthused while celebrating the day that “every death is a tragedy for family, friends and colleagues” but suicide appears to be more tragic than other deaths, yet suicides are preventable.
Gbebreyesus noted that the right path to follow would be for all countries to incorporate proven suicide prevention strategies into their national health and education programmes in a sustainable manner and process.
The Tide notes that suicide cases involve the youths mainly while 79 percent of world’s suicides occurred in low and middle-income countries. Suffice it to say that high-income nations had the highest rate at 11.5 per 100,000 persons.
Gladly, despite efforts at national, regional and global levels to curb the menacing trend in suicide rate, Facebook had joined the advocacy in reducing the anomaly. The social media platform announced changes to its policies that are geared towards improving how it handles suicide and self-injury content, which includes a new suicide prevention page that features resources for those going through difficult times.
Besides sectoral efforts to address the global challenge, we think that a more holistic approach is required to stem the trend. Government at various tiers must do the needful by striving to provide the basic necessities of life for the populace, especially the youths who tend to take their lives due mainly to frustration.
Moreso, the family system and pattern need services overhaul. A situation where parents abandon the home, the nucleus of the society, is indeed impacting negatively on the children who are left alone without parental guidance, supervision and direction.
It is our candid opinion that religious bodies and other stakeholders should play critical roles in inculcating the right values and norms in children. The present young generation should not be subjected to excruciating experiences in which they are left with no other option than to contemplate suicide or self-inflicted injury.
Suicide is preventable and could be curbed, if not completely stopped, if only all stakeholders – parents, schools, churches, government, non-governmental organisations, the media, counsellors, among others do the needful by showing love, care and compassion to the youths, particularly the needy or those in very dire situations.
Any society that does not empathise and care for the less privileged ones is not worth its onions and except and until people begin to look out for one another, society may continue to record more suicide cases in future.
The Tide implores those contemplating suicide to have a re-think because, perhaps, except death, all other human challenges have solutions, one way or the other. It is, indeed, only death that has no option and, therefore, cannot be the path to follow. There is always light at the end of the tunnel.
Society should muster sufficient will power to deal with life stresses emanating from financial crisis, relationship break-up or chronic pains and illnesses most of which originate from disaster, conflict, abuse, loss, sense of isolation or discrimination which are associated with suicide behaviour.
Self-poisoning with pesticides, firearms, hanging and consumption of chemical substances and self medication are among the commonly used suicide methods and the media must join in the advocacy to report responsibly the implications of such self-inflicting tragedies.
It is our view that surveillance and monitoring of suicide behaviours will go a long way in meeting the global target of reducing the suicide rate.
NDDC’s Debt Profile
The Federal Government recently gave an insight into what Nigerians, particularly the people of the Niger Delta, should expect from the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs in the current dispensation when the Honourable Minister, Senator Godswill Akpabio, summoned the Interim Management Team of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) to Abuja for an interactive session.
The Minister, accompanied by the Minister of State, Barr. Festus Keyamo, was reported to have told the Mrs Ekwagaga Enyia-led team in no uncertain words that it would no longer be business as usual in NDDC.
Sen. Akpabio also disclosed that the debt profile of the commission was now in excess of N2 trillion and that the ministry under his watch was not only uncomfortable with the development but was poised to take measures to investigate the deals behind the figures with a view to determining the true obligations of the commission.
According to the minister, the Federal Government has decided to conduct a forensic audit on the humongous debt profile while expressing disappointment at the complete deviation of the NDDC from its core mandate of championing the development of the devastated region.
While The Tide is completely in sync with the minister on the proposed probe of the unbelievable indebtedness of the commission, we believe that the entire mechanism of the interventionist agency needs to be totally overhauled and streamlined for optimal performance and effective service delivery.
No longer can it be condoned or excused that while appointees, staff and contractors of the commission continue to feed fat and revel in inexplicable luxury, the generality of the people of the region the agency was set up to serve continue to endure squalor, excruciating poverty and environmental disaster of monumental proportion.
It is ironical that a commission that was established to “identify factors inhibiting the development of the Niger Delta region and assisting the member-states in the formulation and implementation of policies to ensure sound and efficient management of the resources of the Niger Delta region” among others, has itself been swallowed up in ineffectiveness, inefficiency and uncontrolled corruption. There is little doubt that the NDDC has become part of the problem of the Niger Delta rather than the agency raised to sort out and fix the developmental issues in the region.
“Established in 2000 with the mission of facilitating the rapid, even and sustainable developing of the Niger Delta into a region that is economically prosperous, socially stable, ecologically regenerative and politically peaceful”, the NDDC today probably has the greatest number of abandoned and/or uncompleted projects in the region, including the headquarters complex of the commission in Port Harcourt which till date remains virtually abandoned.
How can an agency that keeps its headquarters under perpetual construction while paying between N200 million and N300 million per annum to maintain a rented property be trusted to deliver on economic prosperity? The point cannot be overstressed that political loyalty has been the primary consideration, not only for appointment into the board and management positions in the commission, but contracts are also dispensed on the same basis.
A source in the commission recently disclosed to newsmen that the immediate past board of the commission awarded emergency contracts to the tune of more than N60 billion in five months without recourse to due process and without taking into account the revenue profile of the commission. And this has been the pattern over the years with most of the jobs very highly inflated, poorly or not supervised at all and many times not intended to meet real needs of the people.
In fact, the history of the NDDC has been replete with not only stories of bogus contracts, execution of substandard jobs, abandonment of projects, award and release of funds for fake and non-existent jobs and other sharp practices but also outright carting away of physical cash of the commission by successive officials.
The Tide strongly adocates a significant change from the sordid performance of the NDDC so far, it remains to be seen if the Akpabio-led Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs can muster the requisite political will to birth a refocused, reoriented, performance-driven and corruption-free commission that will be guided, inspired and motivated by the interest of the suffering masses of the region primarily as against the self-serving interest of the political class in power.
Furthermore, we believe that the members of the new board and management in the making, even though their appointment has followed the traditional politically-induced pattern, can choose to chart a new course and reinvent the NDDC to benefit the people of the region.
The narrative that the people of the region have no justification to cry marginalization and neglect because we have not been able to prudently manage accrued and accruing resources to address our needs must change. Apart from the constructive and well-intended criticism, let every one concerned in the running of the affairs of the NDDC be moved into positive action by the need to restore the degraded environment and compelling imperative of an enhanced overall living condition of the people.
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