Humanity paused a while last Wednesday to commemorate this year’s World Environment Day (WED). Observed since 1974, the United Nations (UN) specially set aside every June 5 annually to arouse and sensitize international public consciousness on environment-related issues that affect mankind.
Observed in 100 countries worldwide, the WED provides the necessary platform for environmental advocacy and the inevitable and paramount necessity to protect the environment.
The import of the event is largely to foster synergy at local, national and international levels toward ensuring sustainable environment for present and future generations.
In accordance with the UN declaration, a theme is usually chosen for each year to draw global attention to critical environment challenges and realities.
In other words, nothing else could be more apt and appropriate than this year’s theme: “Air Pollution and the Environment”. The theme, indeed, affects the global community as air pollution affects both developed and developing nations of the world, particularly developing countries such as Nigeria which is yet to take concrete and pro-active actions and policies aimed at mitigating the effects of air pollution on the citizenry.
More worrisome is the case of Niger Delta region, especially Rivers State, where the issue of soot has ravaped the environment in the past few years, resulting mainly from hydro-carbon activities of oil and gas companies but later worsened by illegal refining otherwise called “Kpo-fire” in local parlance.
With the attendant effects on human health notably cancer, lungs, skin related ailments, among other hazards, government, especially at the federal level, appears not to muster enough political will to squarely address the soot challenge ravaging Rivers State and beyond.
The much-desired synergy between federal, state and local government authorities to address the soot challenge, from all indications, is just not there.
It is pertinent to underscore the fact that man depends on his environment to live and should he ignore nature, it is at his peril. The inevitability for mankind, therefore, is to protect and preserve his environment.
Essentially, the eco-system-water including, plants and other creatures of nature, exists to protect and sustain man. Thus, a responsible exploitation and preservation of these natural endowments remains the sine-qua-non for man’s continuous existence.
Regrettably, man’s actions on another earth appear to care less for his environment but rather tend to suit his immediate gains without due regard for its long-term effects on humanity. This is not the path to follow!
Quite frankly, governments at all levels, ostensibly lack the willpower to tackle environmental issues squarely. Gas flaring, domestic bush burning and industrial waste disposal, soot, Ogoni clean-up and even Niger Delta environment remediation are among critical challenges begging for proactive measures.
Over the centuries, studies have shown that man has looked only at himself alone, recognized only the human community and exploited everything around him to serve only community, all at the detriment of his environment. Researches, however, have since shown that human community cannot stand or be sustained in without sustainable environment.
The Tide is, indeed, saddened by the fact that all laws and timelines set by the federal government to stop gas flaring, which is a major cause of air pollution, have been flagrantly disobeyed by the oil and gas companies with little or no sanctions against the culprits or erring companies.
This year’s WED theme, therefore, provides another ample opportunity to remind the Muhammadu Buhari administration that the time to put a final stop to gas flaring is now.
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.
BPP’s Revelation On FG’s Inflated Contracts
A detailed report by the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP) claiming to have saved N27 billion in 2018 through the reduction of inflated contract costs by government contractors evokes much sadness and signals Nigeria’s final descent into ignominy. The mind-boggling revelation was contained in the bureau’s 2018 annual report.
In addition, the report stated that the savings emanated from diligent scrutiny of awarded contracts by federal Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) before the contractors were issued the Certificate of No Objection by the bureau. A Certificate of No Objection is a document confirming that due process was followed in the conduct of a procurement process.
In particular, among the reprehensible ministries, the report listed the Ministry of Transportation headed by former Rivers State Governor, Rt Hon Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, and the Ministry of Power, Housing and Works equally headed by former Lagos State Governor, Barrister Babatunde Raji Fashola.
Digested in the report was the assertion that in 2018, a total of 86 No Objection Certificates were issued to MDAs for an initial contract sum of N1.421 trillion but was reviewed downwards to N1.394 trillion by BPP, hence, saving N27 billion from the awarded contracts.
From the saved sum, N22.22 billion, representing the highest amount of savings made from a single ministry, came from the Ministry of Power, Works and Housing with an initial request of N877.40 billion. Similarly, the bureau saved N1.37 billion on projects from the Transportation Ministry also from an initially quoted amount of N76.22 billion.
The findings likewise revealed that disparate initially quoted contract sums from the Petroleum Ministries, Finance, Defence, Interior Affairs, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and Federal Radio Corporation were reviewed and a prodigious N1.576 billion was saved for the nation’s coffers. However, the Federal Capital Territory Administration, Ministry of Environment as well as the Ministry of Budget and National Planning were not indicted as savings were not made from them.
We entirely commend the action of these ministries in stoutly repudiating the lusciousness of procurement frauds and back-scratching ravaging the country.
The BPP’s report is perhaps a most disappointing confirmation that corruption is still deeply entrenched in government ministries, departments and agencies despite President Muhammadu Buhari’s avowed resolve to rid the country of the deep-seated culture of graft and usher in a new era of transparency in public office. It, therefore, stands to reason that so much hard work and tenacity are required if the government is to deterge the rot in the ailing bureaucracy.
It is scandalous that fraud in the procurement process has hamstrung the efficacy of public expenditure and the occasions to advance the quality of lives of Nigerians. Regrettably, it has been established by the World Bank’s Country Procurement Assessment Report (CPAR) that out of every N1.00 spent by the Nigerian government on projects, about 70 kobo is lost to underhand practices. This is mind-blowing, indeed.
These reasons precipitated the enactment of the first Procurement Act in 2001 which provides for the harmonisation of existing government policies and practices on public procurement to ensure probity, accountability and clarity in the procurement process. Had it been judiciously observed since its proclamation, the Act would have curbed corruption drastically.
That is why we applaud the bureau’s courageous report. We think that this recent disclosure is a congenial way for the Buhari administration to invigorate the anti-corruption war whose strides have come in fits and starts right from the inception of the regime.
If the BPP, a federal government agency, could uncover highly dubious activities of some MDAs, particularly in those ministries headed by Fashola and Amaechi, two choice members of the current administration, it indicates that regulatory bodies and institutions in our clime can operate independently if left unimpeded by the authorities.
Unfortunately, The Tide observes that procurement-related frauds advance unabated because concerned officers who conspire with bidders to breach the Act are not sanctioned thoroughly to deter them from their offences. In that case, we adjure the anti-corruption agencies to prosecute felons appropriately. Procurement officers, bidders and contractors should be held accountable for their actions.
The BPP has discharged its role in conducting efficient and integrity-based assessment of those inflated contracts. It has whistled against corporate malfeasance, vigorously proving to Nigerians that it can bite. It is left for the anti-graft agencies to conscionably investigate the offending MDAs and prosecute anyone found to be culpable, including members of the administration indicted for variegated financial crimes but who forfend themselves from prosecution.
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