Rivers State Governor, Chief Nyesom Wike, while receiving Rivers State traditional rulers on solidarity visit to the Government House recently, disclosed that the Federal Government has refused to refund monies to the state which it used to execute federal projects. He also stated that funds accruing to the state from Pay-As-You-Earn (PAYEE) tax of Federal workers in the state have not been remitted.
According to him, “of all the 36 states of the Federation, it is only Rivers State that they refused to refund resources used to execute federal projects. Rivers State is also the only state that they refused to return PAYEE funds that accrued to the state”.
We are at a loss to understand why Rivers State will be singled out for this discrimination. In fact, that it is only Rivers State in the whole federation that has not been considered for refund of resources expended on federal government projects smacks of clear-cut victimisation.
However, we do not want to hurry into conclusion that the Federal Government, or its agents, have decided to place politics above due process and justice in matters concerning the state, especially, its resources and well-being. That is why we want to give President Muhammadu Buhari and his APC-led administration the benefit of doubt. The Federal Government is therefore, urged to take a dispassionate look at the claims of Rivers State, particularly, as it affects resources expended on its behalf and others accruing to the state and do the needful.
It is on record that previous administrations in the state and other parts of the country had, at different times, undertaken projects that ought to have been Federal Government’s responsibility and were duly refunded after due assessment and reconciliations.
That, we believe is the practice and the way to go to appreciate the efforts of the state government assisting the Federal Government to take care of its statutory responsibility.
That the current administration in the state has intervened robustly and fixed many federal projects in the state, particularly roads, is not in doubt. From the Port Harcourt-Owerri Federal Road, Port Harcourt-Aba Road, Port Harcourt-Refinery-Onne Road to Federal roads within the City of Port Harcourt, Ikwerre, Azikiwe and Aggrey Roads, among others, the evidences abound.
Infact, that the state has spent scarce funds running into billions of naira that could have been applied to other pressing needs and concerns of the state calls for the Federal Government to expedite action on the refunds.
The Tide thinks that the Federal Government, rather than victimising or punishing the state, should see it as a partner in nation building and encourage it to do more for the greater good of the people.
We believe that despite party affiliations, political leanings and latent personal interests of the current federal administration or its members, Rivers State remains a major stakeholder in the country and should neither be singled out for persecution nor denied her dues.
The refund of such entitlements to the state, as soon as possible, would certainly go a long way to calm frayed nerves and assure the state that President Buhari’s administration is not engineering any deliberate campaign to squeeze, intimidate, or cripple its finances.
We, however, believe that the President, as a statesman and leader who sees the entire Nigeria as his constituency, has a listening ear. It is expected that, in the interest of progress, equity and justice, he would direct the authorities concerned to effect, without delay, the disbursement of all funds due Rivers State.
That is the only gesture, we think, that will change the negative impressions the body language, actions and inactions of the Federal Government have already instilled in the minds of stakeholders, particularly Rivers people.
It will be regrettable if the state is deliberately targetted and the people made to feel isolated for reasons that may be seen as being orchestrated by partisan considerations. Petty politics and witch hunting ought not to be the hallmarks of good goverance.
It is expected, therefore, that the Federal Government will take immediate action to ensure that all that is due Rivers State, especially, refund on federal projects executed and funds from PAYEE tax of federal workers in the state are processed and released.
While we call on the Federal Government and expect it to do the needful, the State Government should not relent in tackling infrastructure decay as long as it has implications for the well-being of Rivers people.
COVID-19: Commending RSG’s Efforts
This is not the best of time for humanity. Certainly not for Nigeria whose health sector is in near comatose.
The current situation in the world as regards the outbreak of Coronavirus pandemic can only be compared to the wartime when man survives by chance. Even in the brutal Second World War, superpowers like the United States and Europe were not as mortally frenzied as they are now.
The viral pandemic has spread to more than 183 countries, including the developed world like the United States, United Kingdom and Germany. At the last count, over 950,000 cases have been recorded worldwide with over 35,000 fatalities. Italy is leading the number of casualties, followed by Spain and United States. The figure increases per hour.
In Nigeria, 174 persons, according to the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), have reportedly tested positive to COVID-19 with two fatalities recorded and six discharged. The number of cases may have even increased by the time this editorial comes out.
At least, more than eight states in the country have been hit by the deadly virus. Worst hit is Lagos State, followed by Abuja (Federal Capital Territory) and Ogun State.
There is no doubt that the situation is disturbing and scary, requiring health emergency system. It is reassuring, however, that the Federal Government, though late in response, has set up a Presidential Task Force (PTF) on Control of COVID-19 pandemic in the country. The 36 states of the federation have also stepped up measures on how to contain the pandemic.
Although Rivers State has recorded one case, the state government has taken proactive measures to nip its spread in the bud. Within the last one week, the state Governor, Chief Nyesom Wike, has made several broadcasts to the state reeling out measures against the spread of the virus.
Aside from banning social functions, religious gatherings and shutting down schools in the state, the government has ordered the closure of public parks, night clubs, cinemas and the popular Oil Mill Market in Port Harcourt, and other markets across the state. It has also ordered transporters to reduce the number of their passengers to avoid body contact.
Another commendable measure announced by the state government was to seal up and air-tight the entry point access by closing all land borders leading to the state. In addition to this, the Governor has inaugurated a 12-man special task force to monitor and enforce compliance with the government’s directives on COVID-19.
To underscore the importance of the emergency situation at hand, the state chief executive decided to head the task force himself with all service chiefs and heads of para-military outfits in the state, Secretary to the State Government, Chief of Staff to the Governor, and the State Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice as members, while the State Commissioner for Health serves as secretary.
The Tide observes that, these commendable efforts by the state government, have encouraged high level of compliance with restrictions in the state. There appears to be awareness and consciousness on the part of the ordinary citizenry to the government’s directives as reports indicate that the deadly virus has continued to claim lives worldwide.
Prior to this, the sheer ignorance and total disbelief to the existence of the virus among the low literate citizenry that constitutes the bulk of the population in the state had been a source of worry. To most of the artisans, traders and transporters, nothing seems to be at stake. Transporters still overloaded their vehicles, while many people still transacted their businesses in crowded places with reckless indifference. The few who believed in the existence of the disease premised their resistance to the government’s directives on the adverse economic effects such order would have on them.
This high level of ignorance and sheer resistance trivialises and waters down the gravity of the Coronavirus crisis and the efforts of the government. It is against this backdrop that The Tide commends the State government for imposing 24-hour curfew on parts of the state capital.
We, therefore, urge for more sensitisation and public awareness on the dangers of the pandemic. There is no doubt that the five-man Inter-Ministerial Committee on Enlightenment and Awareness Creation on COVID-19 headed by the state Commissioner for Information and Communications has been up and doing in creating awareness, the situation still requires more vigorous sensitisation among the citizenry, especially those in the rural areas.
In addition to using the media, both social and conventional, to create awareness, there is a need for traditional rulers, religious and political leaders at the local government level, to lend their support and voices to the lofty efforts of the State government.
Meanwhile, we appreciate the fact that the state economy may not support the kind of buffers governments offer their citizenry in places like Europe, US and Asia in times of emergency like this, but we want to appreciate the government’s move to provide palliatives.
We also consider it that the state government continues to make sanitisers available to the public free or, at worst, provide them at a subsidised and affordable rate.
However, while the state government rallies its personnel and resources to check the spread of COVID-19 in the state, we believe the real handle to overawe this viral pestilence lies with individual citizenry. In addition to complying with the directives of the government, the public must maintain a republic of personal hygiene by washing their hands regularly with soaps and running water, as well as maintain social distancing to avoid body contact with the infected person.
The public should understand that the far-reaching precautionary measures taken by the government to check the spread of Coronavirus in the state, though may have fatal consequences on individual livelihoods, are imperatively inevitable. Like Governor Wike said in one of his broadcasts, the current measures put in place by the government to contain the virus may be painful, but no sacrifice is too much to make for us to stay alive.
We must understand that the world, nay Nigeria, is in an emergency situation. This is not an ordinary pandemic that will just pan out without discomfort. It, therefore, requires emergency measures with huge sacrifice from both the government and the citizenry.
Again, the social distancing policy of the government must be strictly obeyed and enforced among other directives issued by the state government to actually contain the spread of COVID-19.
Combating TB In Rivers
Rivers State, on March 24, joined the rest of humanity to mark the 2020 World Tuberculosis Day, with the major target to do everything possible, with its array of influential religious leaders and other stakeholders, to change her fifth high burden status among the 36 states and Abuja, with its current burden estimated at above 16,000 cases.
Speaking at an event to mark the day, the state Commissioner for Health, Prof Chike Princewill, noted that in 2019, about 3,728 persons were diagnosed and treated for TB in the state, adding that apart from the 12 approved rapid diagnostic machines for free TB diagnosis provided in Rivers State, key players should join hands with the government to provide additional 15 TB diagnostic machines for the state in order to reduce the health burden on Rivers people.
The WTBD, observed by member states of the United Nations each year, is designed to build public awareness about the global epidemic of tuberculosis and efforts to eliminate the disease. Proposed by International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease (IUATLD) as an official UN Observance in 1982, a century after its discovery, with the theme, “Defeat TB: Now and Forever”, WTBD was not officially recognised as an annual occurrence by WHO’s World Health Assembly and the UN until over a decade later.
Tuberculosis is caused by bacteria (Mycobacterium tuberculosis) that most often affect the lungs. It’s curable and preventable, and is spread from person to person through the air. People who are infected with HIV are 19 times more likely to develop active TB. The risk of active TB is also greater in persons suffering from other conditions that impair the immune system. Common symptoms of TB are cough with sputum and blood at times, chest pains, weakness, weight loss, fever and night sweats.
In his message to mark World TB Day, WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, emphasized that, “COVID-19 is highlighting just how vulnerable people with lung diseases and weakened immune systems can be. Millions of people need to be able to take TB preventive treatment to stop the onset of disease, avert suffering and save lives”.
The Director of WHO’s Global TB Programme, Dr Tereza Kasaeva, also echoed the same sentiment, saying, “As people around the globe come together to commemorate World TB Day, WHO is calling on governments, affected communities, civil society organisations, health-care providers, donors, partners and the industry to unite forces and step up the TB response – notably for TB preventive treatment – to ensure no one is left behind. We stand in solidarity with those affected by COVID-19 and those at the frontlines of the fight to combat the infectious disease. We need to act with urgency to ensure that in line with our vision of Health for All, no one with TB, COVID-19 or any health condition will miss out on the prevention and care they need. The time for action is now.”
Despite that linkage between TB and COVID-19, among others, as some of the infectious diseases complications ravaging humanity, Rivers State has effectively prosecuted the fight against TB over the last two decades and half, and the result has been crystal clear. Although the state ranked 5th in 2019 in high burden in Nigeria, The Tide is glad that the treatment for TB has been exponentially high in the state, even as the major challenge still remains in identifying infected persons. We note that last year, over 3,728 people were diagnosed of TB and subsequently placed on treatment. We also reckon the good treatment outcome in Rivers State, where cure rate is high; and treatment success rate is almost 90%, even as the World Health Organisation (WHO) target for success rate is about 25%.
This year’s theme, “It’s Time”, is aimed at drawing attention to the urgent need to act, by ensuring equitable and people-centred TB response and increased access to prevention and treatment, reduce stigma and discrimination as well as build accountability. This is why we suggest innovative ways to increase access to TB treatment while emphasizing collaboration with private sector by engaging private health practitioners, patent medicine vendors and community pharmacists to scale up the fight. Health workers as key stakeholders are enjoined to be more painstaking in the discharge of their duties, by among other things, obtaining information about patients’ history of cough, and make effective use of modern diagnostic services.
With this year’s target aimed at mobilising religious leaders in the fight, we urge those with large congregants to be in the frontline and use their exalted positions to raise awareness at the various churches and mosques on the need to go for diagnosis, and subsequently be treated, which will ultimately lesson the infection burden on the state. We equally advise them to be part of the crusade against TB by encouraging their followers to visit health facilities for diagnosis and treatment, if need be, with a view to combating the scourge and reversing the spike in the state.
Even as Rivers State ranks 5th in high burden of TB among the 36 states and the FCT, Nigeria regrettably ranks first among TB burden nations in Africa, and sixth globally, with 300,000 cases missing in most communities. About 18 Nigerians die hourly from TB, while 49 develop active TB; seven of which are children. In 2012, approximately 1.4 million deaths were attributed to TB infection, and Nigeria ranked 10th of the 22 high burden TB countries, and recorded over 190,000 new cases and over 280,000 prevalent TB cases. In 2016, Nigeria ranked 4th out of the 22 high tuberculosis burden countries worldwide and had the highest burden of tuberculosis in Africa, with an estimated 407,000 cases.
As we mark World TB Day 2020, the disease remains the world’s top infectious killer. Each day, over 4,000 people lose their lives to TB and close to 30,000 people fall ill with this preventable and curable disease. We join WHO, its partners, civil society and governments, especially Rivers State, in asking for support of major stakeholders, including religious leaders in scaling up the TB response, to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals targets of ending the TB epidemic by 2030.
As the world comes together to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic, it is important to ensure that essential health services and operations are continued to protect the lives of people with TB and other infectious diseases or health conditions. Health services, including national and state programmes to combat TB, need to be actively engaged in ensuring an effective and rapid response to COVID-19 while ensuring that TB services are maintained. We urge continued efforts to tackle longstanding health problems, including TB during global outbreaks such as COVID-19. At the same time, we suggest that programmes already in place to combat TB and other major infectious diseases can be leveraged to make the response to COVID-19 more effective and rapid.
We, therefore, challenge religious leaders, community leaders, policy makers, and the media community to join other stakeholders to collectively win the war against infectious diseases, including TB, COVID-19, and their likes. It is a task that must be done for the benefit of humanity. We urge leaders across all levels to put the accent on the urgency to act on the commitments made to: scale up access to prevention and treatment; build accountability; ensure sufficient and sustainable financing including for research; promote an end to stigma and discrimination, and encourage equitable, rights-based and people-centred TB response. We charge all to join forces under the banner “Find. Treat. All. #EndTB” to ensure no one is left behind. Let us unite forces in raising our voices for the millions suffering and dying due to TB, especially in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s time for action. It’s time to end TB.
S’ South: Need For Unity
On Monday, March 16, 2020, a team of leaders of the Niger Delta region was in Government House, Port Harcourt, on a special visit to the Governor of Rivers State, Chief Nyesom Wike. The mission of the high-powered delegation was to prevail on the Rivers State Chief Executive to be the arrowhead of the push for the development of the richly endowed but largely marginalized region.
Leader of the team, Elder T.K. Ogorimagba, disclosed that their visit was primarily to urge Gov Wike to consider being the number one advocate for the development of the South-South region.
Accordingly, the elder statesman described Wike as the ‘Advocate of the region’, and urged the Rivers State governor to host a conference of ethnic nationalities of the South-South region to strategise on achieving consensus on promoting the development of the area.
This was after a member of the Rivers State House of Assembly, Hon Smart Adoki, had intimated the governor that the Niger Delta leaders were in Government House to thank him (Wike) for providing leadership for the region and to appeal to him to work for the restoration of the Presidential Amnesty Programme (PAP) in the interest and benefit of the people of the region.
In his response, Governor Wike decried the manifest disunity and disharmony among the ethnic nationalities in the Niger Delta and called for unity and a commitment to building a strong bond of togetherness that will foster the needed development of the region.
The governor emphasised that discordant voices from the same region along ethnic and political affiliations will not only continue to tear the region apart but will also continue to empower the forces of social, political and economic marginalization, oppression and suppression against the people of the Niger Delta.
“We must speak with one voice, irrespective of the political party that we belong to. The time has come for us to work together. If we don’t work together, we will continue to lose out,’’ he said, adding that ‘’ the song we should sing is the Niger Delta, not that of any specific ethnic group.
‘’When we sing the song of any specific ethnic group, it is difficult to unite. Let’s not restrict our struggle to that of any particular ethnic nationality.’’
Governor Wike noted that ‘’It is unfortunate that the NDDC cannot deliver on regional projects. There are no interstate roads and NDDC has not done any major project. Instead, the NDDC is engaged in micro projects to promote political interests.’’
The Tide cannot agree any less with the Rivers State Chief Executive that the Niger Delta region needs unity of purpose and a strong synergy among its diverse ethnic nationalities in order to attract a better deal and an enhanced living condition for the people.
It is, indeed, not difficult to see, as the governor noted, that interventionist agencies like the Niger Delta Basin Development Authority (NDBDA), the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), among others, have not been able to effectively deliver on their mandate of changing the squalid physical, social and economic conditions of the region largely due to lack of coordination, synergy and singularity of medium of articulating the position of the region on the national stage.
We equally agree with the governor that the time has come for the region to harness the strength and benefits inherent in unity and togetherness. The politicisation of the agencies of government, including the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs, intended to midwife development, with the active unholy connivance of ethnic, political and other vested interests in the region, must stop forthwith.
In this regard, it is heartwarming to note that the governors of the region recently resumed their meeting in Asaba, the Delta State capital, and came out with a renewed commitment to collectively tackle common problems and challenges facing the region.
With the governors showing the direction and leading the way, other critical stakeholders should not have difficulty taking a cue and following the guide.
We, therefore, think that traditional rulers should follow suit while ethnic groupings should endeavour to promote and propagate regional agenda above their individual group interests.
Ethnic-based youth councils and movements should also be prevailed upon to emphasise and pursue overall regional agenda as against championing primordial causes to the detriment of collective regional goals.
From every section and every quarter, there needs to be a convergence and unanimity in agitation for emphasis on competence and passion for the development of the area as the only guide in the appointment of helmsmen for NDDC, PAP and similar agencies.
The era of ethnic nationalities, political parties and other interest groups agitating for their own to be given such positions in view of giving them undue advantages without fair and due consideration for the greater wellbeing and benefit of the whole region should be gone for good.
A house divided against itself, they say, cannot stand. And indeed, a region with common shared ecological, environmental, social, economic and cultural problems as we have in the Niger Delta cannot overcome its peculiar challenges except with a concerted, unified, coherent and focused resolve.
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