As Nigeria marks the 59th anniversary of her Independence today, there are probably good reasons to celebrate. For some Nigerians, it is like a triumphant expression of liberation. For others, it is better to pause and ponder on the hazardous state of the nation than commemorate.
All things considered, if today’s occasion calls for celebrations, the failure of leadership, especially at the centre and at all levels, resulting in several failed opportunities, fragmented hopes, broken promises and unfulfilled aspirations demands a sober reflection upon our numerous challenges. Indeed, the indices of a failed state are virtually becoming too obvious.
No doubt, Nigeria’s Independence in 1960 apparently built the broadest possible coalition of euphoria, hope and faith in the Nigerian project. But it is regrettable that 59 years after, the anticipated gains of nationhood envisaged by our founding fathers have remained a forlorn hope.
Thus, we advise our leaders to go beyond the annual ritual of Independence celebrations and focus on the Nigerian project to identify why the nation cannot make progress since it attained self-government from Great Britain. Truth is Nigeria is besieged with copious amounts of challenges for anyone to dissipate time, energy and scarce resources on revelling.
Strangely enough, at 59, the weighty issue of corruption is yet to be squarely addressed. There were even several proven cases of malfeasance against some members of the present government. It, therefore, proves cynical that whereas the change mantra of this administration is hinged on the fight against corruption, its leadership structure seems firmly built on the hydra-headed monster.
As corruption continues to thrive, poverty and unemployment are unresolved in the midst of plenty. Of course, Nigerians are poorer under President Muhammadu Buhari’s leadership. While the economy is stuck like a stranded truck, average incomes have been falling for years. The latest figures put unemployment at 23 per cent (about 20.93 million) and inflation at 11 per cent. IMF sources stated that about 94 million Nigerians live on less than $1.90 a day, and the number keeps swelling. Also, economic diversification seems a mirage all these years.
Insecurity has assumed the worst under the present government. Armed banditry, kidnapping, militancy, armed robbery, herdsmen menace, communal clashes, terrorism and other vices of criminality have reduced our law enforcement agencies and the military to a state of helplessness and anomie, such that citizens have had to resort to self-help through neighbourhood watch and vigilance groups. Kidnapping, especially has become such a lucrative venture, Nigeria is now seen as the new gold mine. Boko Haram’s violent campaign has cost at least 27,000 lives, displaced some two million people and spawned an affiliate of the Islamic State group.
Political challenges nearly always stand on our way of progress more than ever. Besides the yearning for a credible electoral system, Nigerians have consistently asked to be governed by a constitution formed and fashioned by them. Some sections of the country are equally asking for the restructuring of the polity largely because of the imbalances in statutory allocations and representations in the federal legislature.
The ugly political scenario is further compounded by a fragile unity. Nigerians are more divided now than ever, especially since Independence. Citizens are polarised along ethnic, religious and political lines. The quest for secession or self-determination by sections of the Nigerian State, Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and the incessant conflict between the Federal Government and the Shi’ites are practical pointers.
Everyone notices the remarkable infrastructural deficit across the country and is saddened by the deplorable state of our roads, transportation, power, water, telecommunications, among others. The development is so disheartening that the National Leader of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Chief Ahmed Bola Tinubu, had to ask the president to improve the state of infrastructure.
Education appears to have hit rock bottom 59 years after the exit of the colonial masters. The sector is characterised by inadequate funding, poor equipment, policy divarications, examination malpractices, cultism, and corruption. But unlike the tragedy of the education sector, the administration’s agriculture policy may be paying off as agriculture is gradually contributing to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), although there is need to expand infrastructural capacities in the sector.
It is shameful, almost unbelievable that Africa’s top oil producer, Nigeria, heavily subsidises imported petrol for the bulk of its domestic demand. So, we advise that the entire downstream sector of the industry be liberalised outrightly by introducing the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB), which has suffered legislative delays and limited consideration by the executive. The PIB will facilitate expected reforms in the sector.
Similarly affected is the health sector which has gone through a number of dramatic twists and turns. Efforts to develop this sector have been hindered by notable challenges including limited public funding, lack of manpower, elevated rates of infant and maternal mortalities, among others. Since Independence, leadership has always been a fundamental factor in moving this area forward.
On the diplomatic front, Nigeria is yet to have a very vibrant foreign policy that will enable it extend its influence on Africa and the rest of the world. Buhari could be particularly more effective in returning Nigeria to the days when travelling with the green passport accorded us respect, not suspicion. We need to get to the point where our foreign policy takes care of us. In any case, we think that Nigeria’s voice has so far been muted on the world stage. It desperately needs to be heard again.
What Nigeria needs at the moment are true and courageous patriots to address the serious remonstrances of the country. Nigerians are the best evaluators of their governments. If they reckon that their leaders have let them down or short-changed them by a legacy of lies, we believe that the most obvious thing to do is to utilise the Independence occasion to re-think the prospects of a Nigerian renaissance. That, for us, is the right way to follow.
Happy Independence Day Anniversary!
Still On Police Brutality
The immediate substitution of the infamous Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), a component of the Nigeria Police Force, with the Special Weapons and Tactical Team (SWAT) in the aftermath of the October 2020 #EndSARS protests across the country, has turned out to be a repackaged old wine in a new bottle. The perdurable police savagery is a manifestation of that fact.
The former SARS officers operated like notorious gangsters, infamous for unlawful killings, extortion and torture marched only by the Nazi treatment of the Jews in the Concentration Camp. For years, human rights organisations and the media have documented cases of extra-judicial killings, torture, and other ill-treatment committed by SARS operatives and other units of the police.
When SWAT was set up by the Inspector-General of Police (IGP), Mohammed Adamu, in October, 2020 to appease protesting youths against SARS’ brutality, it was a superficial action to create the impression that the clamour by the youths for the abrogation of the Anti-Robbery Squad had been heeded. Many Nigerians queried the hurried action of the police and accused the force’s leadership of hypocrisy.
Several Nigerians, especially young persons, were either impaled or outrightly killed for insubstantial reasons which included accusations of being internet fraudsters. Many others were profiled for their indecent appearances, hairstyles and having tattoos on their bodies and subsequently apprehended by members of the disbanded police unit.
A few days after the so-called name-change that had no semblance of a fresh working direction and goals, the wear and tear activities of the very new SWAT demonstrated that indeed a leopard cannot change its spots. Not long after its formation, a monarch in the Nkanu East Local Government Area of Enugu State, Emmanuel Mba, was brutally killed by men suspected to be SWAT officials.
The story went that some AK-47 rifle-wielding officers dressed in mufti invaded a meeting being attended by the monarch and demanded to see him. The suspected SWAT operatives, led by an inspector, shot the monarch while he was addressing members of his community at the town hall meeting. He died before he could get medical help.
According to the account, three natives from the Oruku Community in the council area reportedly came with the SWAT officers and left with them soon after the operation. We expect the orchestrators of the harrowing act to have been fished out by now and made to face the full wrath of the law if the police were truly a force to be relied on.
In December last year, an ugly scene played out between a bus driver and some policemen in Port Harcourt, capital of Rivers State. The driver, identified as Emenike, was completely stripped for refusing to expend the usual “toll” to the police. Other drivers who witnessed the incident remonstrated along Ada George Road where the happenstance occurred, causing an unprecedented traffic jam.
Still, along Ada George Road, a policeman attached to a supermarket fired random shots at three persons who were admitted to the hospital for gunshot wounds. The trigger-happy police officer groused about the uncooperative attitude of some commercial vehicle and tricycle drivers along that route.
In November, 2020, a police officer, in a desperate attempt to clear the road for their patrol vehicle that was stuck in gridlock around the market along Yenagoa — Mbiama Road, openly shot at three women. Police brutality gained further height when, at Rukpokwu in Obio/Akpor Local Government Area, Rivers State, a tricycle driver was shot dead by a police officer over refusal to give a hundred naira gratification. That incident sparked off protests by angry drivers in the community.
Also, in the same local government area, one Abiodun Jimoh was shot dead by a policeman attached to the Elelenwo police division. It was ironic that an older brother of the deceased was an eye witness. He alleged that the killer-policeman was stupendously drunk on the day of the incident. Further reports claimed that the police officer shot the victim despite pleas by a senior colleague to release him.
These incidents and many others across the country have transpired despite the #EndSARS protests and assurances by the police authorities to check frequent police brutality and put an end to it. The animalistic conduct of the Nigerian police is a negation of modern global policing strategy. It is an absurdity unabashedly displayed by our ill-trained and flat-footed police while the citizens groan helplessly.
It is high time the Nigerian police was radically reformed by President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration for optimal performance. Since the Federal Government promised to carry out reforms in the force, no practical steps have been initiated in that direction. No doubt, Nigerians need SWAT to confront dangerous crimes, but not for routine policing as it exists currently.
This country cannot achieve much with a highly militarised police force. What is needed is a radical departure from the current centralised police structure to a decentralised force. The glaring inadequacies in the force arising from the unworkable configuration that came into effect since states were created in 1967, must be broken away from.
Enough of police brutality. Nigerians have been extorted, raped, tortured, and killed by the police, particularly the defunct SARS now SWAT. Although continued protests compelled the Nigerian government to scrap the infamous and dreaded police unit, that is not sufficient. It needs to be complemented by justice for victims of police brutality. It is a bitter reproach that police cruelty remains an issue in the country this time and age. Buhari must take immediate steps to halt this act of ignominy in the force.
Doing More For Ex-Servicemen
As Nigeria marks this year’s Armed Forces Remembrance Day today, the Rivers State Governor, Chief Nyesom Wike, has commended serving and retired members of the Armed Forces for their role in stabilising the country.
At the interdenominational church service to mark the 2021 Armed Forces Remembrance Day celebration, which held at St. Paul’s Anglican Church in Port Harcourt, Sunday, January 10, 2021, Wike lauded the military officers for their commitment to safeguarding the sovereignty of the country and ensuring internal peace.
The Armed Forces Remembrance Day or Veterans Day as it is called in some climes is an annual event organised to honour members of the Nigerian Armed Forces who fought in the First and Second World Wars. But in Nigeria, the date was changed to 15th January annually to accommodate the commemoration of the end of the Nigerian Civil War.
Acknowledging the benefits of the annual recognition of the Armed Forces’ contributions to the peace and stability of the country, Wike urged the Federal Government to do more for them. He noted that the one-off contributions made on such Remembrance Day were never enough to cater for those who had suffered injuries while defending the country or the families left behind by those who paid the supreme sacrifice.
To demonstrate his commitment to the welfare of legionnaires, Governor Wike did not end at mere declarations but redeemed his pledge of N171 million made earlier to the Nigeria Legion for the scholarship of former war veterans’ children. He equally donated 20 million naira to launch the emblem and enjoined the 23 local government councils in the state to donate one million naira each to support the launch.
The governor’s gesture is indeed commendable. He has proven to be a promise keeper. Wike could not have been more succinct in his position on the terrible predicament of officers and men of the Armed Forces, particularly the ex-servicemen. No doubt, the Armed Forces have contributed so much to our stability. The continuous co-existence of Nigeria is attributable to their huge contributions.
Besides government support, an obligation is placed on everyone including corporate bodies and faith-based organisations to render continued care and assistance to these legionnaires. Needless to say that there is a need for the government to institute an enduring reward system for war veterans to justify the ultimate sacrifices they make in keeping Nigeria safe and united.
But for their unusual repudiations, this country would not have witnessed the peace and unity being enjoyed today. Hence, they deserve state support. No one should take the stability enjoyed today for granted because it was procured with the sacrifices and blood of those great men and women in the Armed Forces. We think that some could be considered for national awards.
Last year, the Federal Government, forwarded a bill to the ninth National Assembly for the review of the Nigerian Legion Act to a Veterans Federation of Nigeria Act to improve the welfare of ex-servicemen. The bill had a plan for institutionalising the provision for welfare needs of the veterans in line with international best practices. However, it is unclear the current position of that bill.
The government owes it a duty to consider the plight of the widows and orphans of our fallen heroes. At the root of catering for the welfare of our veterans is the payment of monthly pensions. Sadly, military pensioners are still being denied their entitlements. We strongly urge the Military Pensions Board to be up to date in delivering regular pensions to the retired officers. Also, the provision of health insurance service for veterans, widows and eligible dependents of our fallen heroes will certainly be a worthy venture if none exists.
Since the onset of the Boko Haram insurgency in 2009, thousands of troops have been killed by the Islamist militant group and its West African affiliate, ISWAP, leaving behind their families. Regrettably, leaders of the Military Widows Association (MiWA) say there are more than 5,000 registered members and the number keeps growing by the day. The government is reminded that it has a huge task to attend to this growing number of widows.
If the predicament of our veterans must end, officers’ retirement benefits should be processed before their disengagement while the entitlements should be worked out and accruing gratuity paid on the effective date of retirement. Failure to abide by this known procedure has often exposed ex-servicemen to untold hardship and pains, while relatives of deceased officers are denied their lawful entitlements.
President Muhammadu Buhari should immediately end the embezzlement of funds meant for payment of military pensioners. This is one of the reasons for delay in the disbursement of entitlements. Similarly, we advocate an overhaul of management of the Military Pensions Board as well as allotment of the huge funds accruing from annual donations for Armed Forces emblem.
However, the Federal Government is lauded for initiating a collaboration between the Nigerian Legion and a private sector driven National Personal Asset Acquisition Scheme which is yielding positive results. The scheme has afforded the veterans the ability to purchase household and agricultural commodities at affordable, discounted prices within a flexible and structured repayment plan across the country. Through this scheme, motorcycles are distributed to the legionnaires and food items are given to widows of fallen heroes. This is commendable and deserves to be continued.
As we pay glowing tributes to serving, retired and fallen heroes in the Armed Forces, we must not forget our national anthem that admonishes on the need to always reminisce the labour of our heroes past — “The labour of our heroes past shall never be in vain.” That emotional line of the national anthem reminds both friends and enemies alike to remember our war veterans.
COVID-19 2nd Wave As Schools Resume
As schools in Rivers State and many others resume for academic activities this month,
there is an urgent need for the federal, state and local authorities to take adequate precautionary measures to curtail further spread of the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in Nigeria.
Countries across Europe are observing a resurgence in COVID-19 cases after successfully slowing outbreaks last year, declaring more cases each day now more than they were during the first wave earlier in the pandemic. England, Portugal and Hungary are among nations in a second lockdown as the new wave of infections sweeps through, shattering efforts and responses to keep the contagion at bay.
Following this global upsurge in the pandemic, the Nigerian government, through the Chairman of the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19, Boss Mustapha, ordered schools in the country to suspend resumption from the Christmas and New Year break till January 18, 2021. But contrary to the Federal Government’s directive, many states scheduled the first and second weeks of January for resumption.
If there is a time complaisance with the preventive COVID-19 measures have to be rigorously carried out, especially in our institutions, it is now. The enforcement of all safety protocols outlined by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) in all our schools must not be ignored. There is no basis to relax. Many countries experienced an upsurge in COVID-19 infections after reopening their schools.
In Israel, for instance, where schools were reopened following a noticeable decline in the number of infections, a total of 1,335 students and 691 staff contracted the virus just within two months of resumption and more than 28,000 students and teachers were quarantined. The volume of the spread resulted in the decision of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to close down no fewer than 125 schools in an aggressive drive to arrest the spread of the virus.
Barely two weeks after the schools were reopened, Israel was compelled to make a new policy, ordering the closure of any school which had recorded at least one case of COVID-19 infection while all students and staff of the school were quarantined. Similarly, Ghana, a neighbouring West African country, which had reported minimal cases of COVID-19 with low fatalities, also witnessed a rise in infection after reopening schools.
The Nigerian government and school authorities should imbibe useful lessons from the cases of Israel and Ghana by making certain that all COVID-19 protocols are not only deliberately put in place, but are also strictly observed. This has become imperative because an outbreak of infections in schools will spell doom for the country.
Acting in line with NCDC’s prescribed rules to ensure safety in schools, the Rivers State Government has made it mandatory for all institutions in the state to install and provide handwashing facilities in the schools including higher institutions and all persons arriving the campus environment must be subjected to temperature checks, among others. These measures were reiterated as schools in the state resumed from the Christmas and New Year vacation.
The move is applauded. But the truth is that only very few public schools in the state, less than five per cent, can meet the guidelines. Many public schools are dilapidated. Pupils and students learn under seriously compromised circumstances. Schools in Rivers State should be equipped with functional sick bays, maintain the acceptable standard number of students in a class, have functional water and sanitation facilities to promote hygiene as directed by the government.
We need to be cautious and heed the Federal Government’s warnings that a significant increase in Coronavirus infections in Nigeria appears imminent by January 2021 due to continued violation of safety protocols. The NCDC reinforced the same that Nigeria would in January 2021 pay the price of violating the COVID-19 protocols. And schools remain the most vulnerable areas. That is why the authorities in Rivers State have to upgrade public schools for necessary observance of the preventive procedures.
Given the rising rate of the virus in the state, we urge the governor, Chief Nyesom Wike, to introduce severe curtailing measures not only in schools but the entire state. Regrettably, most churches, commercial vehicles, and markets have failed to enforce the compulsory wearing of face mask in adherence to COVID-19 protocol, a fact Wike noted in a recent statement, threatening re-imposition of a lockdown.
“When you go to some churches, they don’t wear a face mask. Go to market, they don’t wear a mask. They believe COVID is not real. It’s not real because it has not happened to you; nobody had died whom you know. When somebody has died and the person is close to you, you will know that COVID is real,” Wike said.
It is necessary to intensify awareness for people to take precautions against the pandemic. Nigerians are not taking enough care against the disease. In this moment of economic recession, the country cannot afford a lockdown which might be introduced if preventive measures are not adhered to. The only option is for the people to observe the new normal, which are the COVID-19 protocols to reduce the spread of the virus.
The relevant authorities, particularly the Ministry of Education and their agencies in various states should dispatch their staff on an inspection tour of every school to certify compliance with COVID-19 protocols. The Ministry of Health in each state should equally join in these efforts. Prevention, as conventional wisdom teaches, is always better than cure. But in the case of COVID-19, there is yet no cure!
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