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Presidential Broadcast: Matters Arising

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In Nigeria, it has been the norm for a sitting president to address the nation on the anniversary of her Independence which is marked every 1st October, since 1960.
President Muhammadu Buhari has performed this ritual five times since assuming office on May 29, 2015; and none of these national speeches has drawn more flak from the Nigerian public than the one delivered on Tuesday.
Led by the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) which described the 59th Independence Anniversary presidential speech as insulting to the psyche of the nation and a mockery of democracy, many prominent Nigerians took turns to flay Mr. President and his All Progressives Congress (APC). Among these notables were Alhaji Balarabe Musa, Chief Edwin Clark, Chief Olu Falae, Mr. Mike Ozekhome (SAN) and Mr. Reno Omokri.
According to a statement credited to the PDP’s National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Kola Ologbondiyan, “The PDP notes that President Buhari, in his recorded address, failed to forcefully address the key issues of freedom, social justice, constitutional order, separation of powers, rule of law, human rights, credible elections, national cohesion, accountability and transparency in government, the very fundamentals of an independent state, because his administration had violated them all…”
On his part, Balarabe Musa, former Governor of old Kaduna State, condemned Buhari’s tone which, he said, sounded rather authoritarian than conciliatory. According to him, Nigerians had the right to complain and engage in peaceful protests if their leaders were not performing as promised; but instead of encouraging the suffering people, the president was threatening dire consequences against any protesters.
The Tide is equally disappointed that the presidential address did not throw sufficient light on what the APC-led Federal Government hopes to accomplish, going forward; especially on issues relating to the Niger Delta region.
Moving the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) from the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (OSGF) to the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs is obviously not the solution to the apparent lethargy and systemic corruption going on in the commission. We say so because even the Presidential Amnesty Programme (PAP) being supervised by the Niger Delta Affairs Ministry has not fared any better, particularly in the area of equipping already trained ex-militant agitators from the region.
Our disappointment also stems from the president’s reference to the Ogoni clean-up even when it is obvious that nothing tangible is happening on the ground. For a project that has such global appeal, having been birthed by a United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the president has not considered it worth his while to visit the area and see things for himself. What’s more, the East-West Road which runs across all the South South States has been abandoned for a very long time whereas work is steadily progressing on the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, Abuja-Kano Expressway and the Second Niger Bridge in Onitsha. We can only pray and hope that the N205 billion said to have been earmarked for the construction of 19 roads and bridges totalling 794.4 kilometres across 11 states includes the East-West Road and the Oyigbo section of the Port Harcourt-Aba Expressway.
It is no longer in doubt that the Federal Government’s attitude towards issues concerning the Niger Delta has remained rather lukewarm. Since 2016 when elders of the region, under the aegis of the Pan-Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF), submitted a 16-point request to the Buhari administration, part of which was quick passage of the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB), completion of East-West Road and building of modular refineries, not much, if anything, has been accomplished by way of response. This for us is quite worrisome. The Federal budget in the past four years of Buhari’s dispensation, the region cannot boast of any significant milestone under the present regime.
On workers’ welfare, it is already obvious that the government does not intend to approve payment of a living wage for Nigerian workers. Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr Chris Ngige, had while advancing reasons why the government cannot meet Labour’s expectations on consequential adjustments in the N30,000 New Minimum Wage only stopped short of telling the world that Nigeria’s economy is the worst across the globe. This is against the official claim made daily by his principal that the nation is recording tremendous progress in every sector.
President Buhari’s claim to have impacted significantly on agriculture within the four years he has been on the saddle cannot be totally true as the Goodluck Jonathan administration had already worked out a promising agricultural roadmap which his successor readily latched on to. Then came the herders/farmers clashes and, with it, the wanton destruction of human lives, houses and farm crops across the land.
In all, and like some of his critics had already observed, the president should have been less belligerent, even if more patronising, in his latest nationwide broadcast. There is no doubt that even his staunchest supporters are beginning to be disillusioned, especially on account of his rather slow style of governance. Nigerians are really suffering and are understandably in search of a quick fix to the nation’s economy. Why not, if that was part of what Mr. President promised during his electioneering campaigns?

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Editorial

Against Immunity For Lawmakers

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Barely four years after Nigerian lawmakers, precisely members of the 8th National Assembly backtracked on efforts to secure immunity for presiding officers of the National Assembly and their state counterparts, as a result of public outcry, the 9th National Assembly is back with a move of same purpose.
This time, via a bill sponsored by the lawmaker representing Ogo-Oluwa/Surulere Federal Constituency of Oyo State in the Federal House of Representatives, Olusegun Odebunmi, titled, “Bill for an Act to Alter Section 308 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 to Extend Immunity to Cover Presiding Officers of Legislative Institutions’, seeks to extend immunity to the four presiding officers of the National Assembly and those of the State Houses of Assembly.
Section 308 of the Constitution provides that, “notwithstanding anything to the contrary in this Constitution but subject to Sub-Section 2 of this Section (a) No Civil or Criminal proceedings shall be instituted or continued against a person to whom this section applies during his period of office; (b) A person to whom this section applies shall not be arrested or imprisoned during that period either in pursuance of the process of any court or otherwise and (c) No process of any court requiring or compelling the appearance of a person to whom this section applies shall be applied for or issued. Subsection 3 of the section spells out specifically the persons to whom the privilege of immunity from prosecution applies as the President, the Vice President, governors and deputy governors.
Already, the bill has passed for second reading on the floor of the House of Representatives. Interestingly, however, many lawmakers have voiced their opposition to the bill. Also, majority of Nigerians including civil rights groups have rejected the bill with many describing it as an attempt to indulge the lawmakers and shield them from answering any question generated by their actions, particularly that of corruption.
The Tide, therefore, joins other well-meaning opponents to the bill to say that such is not what Nigeria needs at this time of her national and democratic development. We say so because we are convinced that lawmakers in the country have all they need to legislate effectively for the general good of the people.
We recall that on January 27, 2018, President Muhammadu Buhari assented to the Legislative House Power and Privileges Act, which provides protection for decisions taken by members of parliament in the country. The law grants the Legislative Houses in the National Assembly and State Houses of Assembly immunity from litigation for actions taken in plenary or committee proceedings of the House or Committee.
Thus, we wonder what further immunity the lawmakers are looking for or what contributions additional immunity clauses would serve or add to the promotion of our democracy. Indeed, using the law to provide cover for official indiscretions, recklessness, abuse of power or office, impunity and outright criminality at any level is no longer fashionable.
We are not unaware of the real intentions of immunity privileges, especially, in a political climate fraught with political mischief makers and those with the penchant for ‘pull-him-down’ syndrome. But the privilege is open to abuses. Some of those currently enjoying it are not free from abusing it even to the extent of hiding behind it to escape repercussions for infringements on extent laws of the land. They often arrogate to themselves supernatural powers and see their opinions and wishes as superior, knowing that the law safeguards them.
We think that at a time other countries are trying to whittle down immunity provisions for political office holders so that they should be answerable to law and the people, Nigerian lawmakers should not try to expand the field. The fact that in spite of the amount of opposition that has greeted the bill at inception, the lawmakers still want to take it to public hearing where the outcome could be manipulated, shows that they are desperate to foist it on Nigerians.
This, we believe, is another attempt to ridicule the country and her democracy. It is a huge setback for the rule of law that the same privileged and powerful leaders of parliament that regularly make laws that consign ordinary, powerless Nigerians to prison for even trivial offences want to establish elite immunity to protect themselves from consequences for serious crimes of corruption and money laundering.
In fact, if allowed to stand, the much-vaunted fight against corruption by President Buhari’s administration would further lose credibility and moral ground to prosecute other Nigerians. This is because the bill would not only protect lawmakers from legal consequences for corruption and other foibles, it would exacerbate the immunity that prevails in Nigerian political circles and worsen the country’s ranking in world’s corruption perception index.
We think that the leadership of the House of Representatives should, without further delay, withdraw this obnoxious bill. Any contrary action would only go to prove the belief by many that Nigerian politicians, particularly lawmakers, are insensitive to the feelings of the people and mostly engage in self-serving trips rather than true and effective representation.
If it is difficult to strip those currently enjoying immunity of the privilege, attempts should not be made, at any quarters, to enlarge the field of immunity beneficiaries.

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Editorial

Enough Of Explosions

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In early February, this year, an explosion rocked Ekiti State with preliminary investigation blaming it on
human error. No sooner had the dust raised by the incident settled, than another massive explosion tore through the peace and serenity of Abule Ado Community in Lagos State, in the morning of Sunday, March 15, 2020.
To say that the Ekiti blast was a child’s play, compared to the Abule Ado incident, was an under-statement. This was because the explosion in Lagos State claimed the lives of over 23 persons, including a family of four; and destroyed over 50 cars and buildings; while scores of other persons sustained injuries of varying degrees. The victims of the explosion up till this day, are still counting their losses.
The worst hit was a Catholic School in Abule Ado, Bethlehem Girls College, which lost its headmistress, Rev. Sister Henrietta Alohka; a Chaplain; an administrator; and also one of the kitchen hands to the explosion. This is besides 16 students of the school who were alleged to be among those that died.
Again, Nigerians were yet to recover from the shock caused by the Abule Ado blast when yet another explosion rocked two communities in Akure, the capital of Ondo State in less than two weeks, specifically on Saturday, March 28, 2020.
According to reports, the Akure blast had destroyed a church, a school, some houses and cut into two the busy Akure-Owo highway. Several persons were also said to have been injured.
Indeed, the frequency of these explosions, particularly in Yorubaland in recent times has raised fundamental questions begging for answers, even as keen observers of developments in the country have kept on pondering over what must have been the possible causes of these explosions which have occurred in the South-West States of the country in less than two months.
This is more accentuated by the sheer fact that the actual causes of these unfortunate incidents are still shrouded in mysteries, up till this day. At best, the causes of the explosions are still situated within the realms of conjectures and speculations.
Take the Abule Ado incident as an example. The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) reportedly said that the explosion occurred after a truck hit some gas cylinders stacked in a gas processing plant located near its System 2B Pipeline Right of Way (RoW).
Some persons believe that the explosion was caused by gas leakages that formed gas clouds in the sky and upon contact with naked fire, spiraled into flames, and that before emergency responders could get to the scene, the explosion had already ruptured the NNPC pipeline that runs through the suburb, thus, aggravating the damage.
According to them, it was the contact of fire with the petroleum products in the ruptured pipeline that exacerbated the explosion and spread to residential buildings, schools and churches in the area.
Yet, some residents of the area said their initial fear was that an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) had been set off given the shocking way the explosion shook their houses, broke windows and even blew off roofs.
On its part, the Lagos State Government, said it could not make any policy statement over the incident until “we know what happened. Security agencies are investigating what happened”.
Unfortunately, the outcome of such investigations was still being awaited when the Ondo State explosion occurred. Also, the Akure blast did not offer much clues as to the actual cause of the explosion except that it was caused by those transporting explosives through the area.
Thus, it was against this backdrop that the Pan-Yoruba socio-political organisation, Afenifere, recently issued a statement, demanding for a probe of the incident.
In the statement signed by the National Publicity Secretary of the body, Mr. Yinka Odumakin, Afenifere said an inquiry must be launched into the matter to unravel the cause of the explosion as well as those involved in the movement of explosives through the state.
According to the organisation, inquiries into several explosions recorded within South-West States were yet to see the light of the day, hence, the need to investigate the Ondo explosion.
“While we have nothing to contradict the stated accounts yet, we demand an inquiry into this disaster in accordance with the Ordinance and Firearm Acts, to determine the type of ordinances that exploded,” the group said.
The body said the inquiry should ascertain the identities of those transporting the ordinances; the origin of the ordinances; those who assigned the escorting policemen; under what circumstances; and where was the destination of the Improvised Explosive Decries (IEDs).
The Tide joins Afenifere and other well-meaning Nigerians and organisations to condemn in strong terms the spate of explosions in South-West States of the country in recent times. This recurring trend of devastation of human lives and property in these perilous times, we think, is an ill-wind that does no one any good.
While we commend the Lagos State Governor, Mr Babajide Sanwo-Olu, his team for visiting the scene of the explosion and other Governors of the affected states for their prompt response, we align ourselves with those calling for investigation of the incidents.
It is quite unfortunate that up till date, no form of probe has been instituted by the Federal Government to unravel the immediate and remote causes of these explosions. That the explosions occurred between February and March is quite disturbing. Infact, the frequency of this ugly development alone, is enough to spur government to action.
We also think that the way and manner the explosions have occurred in a particular section of the country may not be ordinary. It raises a lot of eye brow. This is why the government should without further waste of time be able to act fast and establish the causes of these explosions. This is the only way of nipping in the bud these ugly occurrences in other parts of the country.
We are not also unmindful of the fact that a lot of people in the country today are crying for help, particularly victims of the blasts. Again, government cannot pretend to be insensitive to the plight of this category of persons. It can do a lot to assuage their feelings of pain. The truth remains that Nigerians today need explanation for this spate of explosions in the land. They want an end to these explosions. The Federal Government must act now.

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Editorial

COVID-19: Commending RSG’s Efforts

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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.

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