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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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As New Rivers LG Chairmen Assume Office…

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The 23 newly elected chairmen of local government councils in Rivers State were inaugurated last Thursday, June 17, 2021 at the Government House, Port Harcourt, by the Governor, Chief Nyesom Wike. The swearing-in ceremony was a follow-up to their victory on April 17, 2021 local government poll conducted by Justice George Omereji-led Rivers State Independent Electoral Commission (RSIEC).
The governor instructed the chairmen to cease from requesting loans from any financial institutions without approval from the state government. According to him, the warning had become necessary to curb the unbridle desire of some council chairmen to access money without a development plan.
“Don’t go and borrow money without the state government’s approval. Some of you tried it last time and started with your blackmail, saying, help us, we are finished. You have no authority to go and borrow money. Even we as state government, before we go and borrow money, we get approval from the Debt Management Office. No bank will even give us. Before you borrow money, the state must know what you want to use it for, and how you will pay it back, so that others who are coming will not suffer because of your indebtedness.”
Wike urged the council chairmen to avoid friction and conflicts with the legislative arm of the councils by working in harmony with the councillors and security agencies to create the right environment for development to occur. He advised the chairmen to pay sufficient attention to issues of security to prevent probable security infringements in their councils. He specifically urged them to establish a strong working relationship with the Divisional Police Officers (DPOs) and the traditional rulers as well as have periodic security meetings for adequate briefings.
“Stay in your council areas. Don’t stay in hotels and in Port Harcourt. If you’re not at home, how do you know about the security situation in your local government? Security is key! Relate with your DPOs. It does not cost you anything. Even if it cost you, governance is not easy. Governance is expensive. Security is expensive. Some of you cannot relate with the DPOs. It’s only when you have a problem that you relate with your DPOs and some of them are intelligent and when you call them that time, they turn their faces the other way. You must make effort to relate with your DPOs.”
Wise counsel dictates that the Governor’s admonition on the cardinal issues he raised are apt. Accordingly, there is a need for the chairmen to hit the ground running and ensure that development and dividends of democracy are brought nearer to the rural people. This can be feasible by guaranteeing that they administer the councils from their domains rather than from choice hotels in Port Harcourt even as the Governor has consistently advised. They should consider that as chairmen and councillors, they were elected by their people to provide the dividends of democracy. Hence, they are required to operate from home to fully comprehend the enormity of the challenges confronting the rural population.
There is no doubt that the era when council chairmen were perceived by their people as “visiting chairmen” must be bequeathed to the refuse heap of history. Reason is that current emerging realities require that they inhabit with the people, wine and dine with them, and where necessary, perish with them.
The council chief executives are also advised against reckless expenditure. We recommend stiff sanctions against any chairman that fails to perform and deliver what is expected of him. Regrettably, some chairmen owe workers many months of salaries. That being so, the new council bosses are urged to clear all salaries and allowances denied such workers by their predecessors.
To make this effective, the Governor has to monitor the payment of salaries and the expenditure pattern of the councils to ensure that funds are properly deployed to areas that will promote the interest of the people. This being the case, offending chairmen should be denied access to their security votes and perhaps, their imprest.
Equally significant is the need for the council chairmen to circumvent friction and conflicts with the legislative arm of the councils by working in harmony with the councillors and security agencies to create the right atmosphere for development to take place. Unnecessary impeachments, scathing criticisms and altercation or petitions have to be resisted.
As agents of transformation and machinery of development, the council coxswains must consult and liaise regularly with all stakeholders including the youth, women, traditional rulers, members of Community Development Committees (CDCs) and other pressure groups to chart the way forward in their respective areas.
Also, the council chairmen must run an all-inclusive administration and never isolate anyone or groups who may not have stood behind them. Of course, operating in any other way could be counter-productive as it has the potential to cause disaffection, division or even acrimony.
Similarly, the newly sworn in grassroots leaders have to understand that peace is priceless and necessary for any meaningful development to occur in the various communities. As they detrain for business, they must not only maintain stability, but must also shun stealing from the commonwealth for self-enrichment. Rather, they should invest such funds wisely in useful ways to attract businesses and development to their councils.
The primacy of good governance at the grassroots cannot be over-emphasised as Rivers people must feel their impact through effective governance. Just as the Governor is held accountable in the state, so must the chairmen and their councillors. We strongly advise them to replicate Wike’s performance at the local level if they must be considered for a second tenure.
While congratulating the new council bigwigs, we urge them to be circumspect of bootlickers and praise-singers who have undermined several governments in the country and key into the NEW Rivers Vision of the current administration in the state to make a substantial difference. History indeed beckons on them!

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Editorial

As NLNG Train 7 Kicks Off…

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History was made when President Muhammadu Buhari last Tuesday flagged off a much-anticipated project to construct Train 7 of the Nigerian Liquefied Natural Gas (NLNG) in Bonny, Rivers State. Buhari, during the virtual groundbreaking at the NLNG ground, had sought stakeholders cooperation to ensure completion of the Train 7 project “safely and on time” to pave way for a Train 8 expansion.
Buhari, in his charge to stakeholders at the occasion, said, “As we flag off the Train 7 today, I look forward to development and execution of more gas projects by the International Oil Companies (IOCs) and indigenous operators, and more Trains from Nigeria LNG to harness over 600 trillion cubic feet of proven gas reserves we are endowed with”.
Estimated to cost about $6 billion, the project is expected to increase the six processing units (trains) of the NLNG plant at Bonny Island to seven trains. This will increase the current installed capacity of the plant. Led by the Italian multinational, Saipem, with a share of $2.7 billion of the contract value, other members of the consortium are Japan’s Chiyoda Corporation and Daewoo Engineering & Construction of South Korea.     
For one thing, Train 7 has added new profiles to the domestic gas sector. A consortium of some Nigerian banks, international development finance institutions, as well as three export credit agencies will provide $3 billion of debt financing for the project, making it the world’s first LNG project with multi-tranche corporate financing. 
The Tide applauds the Federal Government’s laudable feat by ensuring the take-off of this long-awaited project. It is hoped that Train 8 will not remain in waiting in the manner Train 7 was delayed. As it is now, the project showcases Nigeria as mainly a gas-rich country to be reckoned with.
It is simply refreshing that NLNG, which was just an ordinary project in the early 90s, has successfully transformed into a very prosperous firm with over 20 years of credible operations and an uninterrupted supply of Liquefied Natural Gas, Liquefied Petroleum Gas and Natural Gas Liquids into the global market. This is positive indication that the nation has enormous capability to provide value to the world by harnessing its natural resources.
Through the Decade of Gas initiative, which was recently launched, Nigeria will be changed into a major gas and industrialised nation with gas playing the key role as revenue earner, fuel for industries and necessary feed for petrochemicals and fertiliser plants.
The NLNG has generated $114 billion in revenues over the years, paid $9 billion in taxes; $18 billion in dividends to the Federal Government and $15 billion in feed gas purchase. These again are estimable achievements by the company’s Management Team that is exclusively Nigerian. With this level of accomplishment, we can only hope that the enterprise continues to grow beginning with this Train 7 project, and position Nigeria to thrive through the energy transition.
A fundamental advantage of Train 7 is its capacity to guarantee every stakeholder more dividends in terms of further reduction in gas flaring, more revenue to the nation and shareholders, more job opportunities, especially at the construction phase and more social investments for the society.
Again, Train 7 will increase NLNG’s overall capacity to 30 million tonnes per annum (mtpa) from the current 22 million mtpa, adding immense value to the nation and the people. The project would stimulate inflow of about 10 billion dollars Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) into Nigeria, create 12,000 direct jobs in Bonny Island and additional 40,000 indirect construction jobs.
Another beneficiary of the project is the domestic Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) market. At the moment, NLNG produces one million metric tonnes of LPG and supplies 350,000 metric tonnes of the product to the domestic market, accounting for 50 per cent of LPG supply in Nigeria. 
With the additional capacity of the plant, the production and supply of LPG to the domestic market is expected to increase, thereby deepening the penetration of the low-cost and high efficiency cooking fuel in the country. Compared to kerosene and traditional biomass (such as firewood and charcoal), LPG is considered a cleaner alternative fuel.
Nigeria has ridden on the back of oil for over 60 years, but with the Train 7 project, the country is now set to fly on the wings of gas. However, this projection will be unattainable without a peaceful atmosphere. That is why Bonny and Finima indigenes must see themselves as one and opt for harmonious settlement of the ownership of host community rights saga. The Federal Government should directly intervene in the matter and ensure that the project is not unduly delayed.

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Editorial

Ending Kidnap Of School Children

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Even though the Islamist fundamentalist terrorist group, Boko Haram, has been at the top of their murderous trade in Nigeria for years, throwing bombs, engaging in suicide missions, attacking religious places and worship centres, targeting schools, markets, motor parks and other public places, killing people for fun, the entire world was particularly outraged when, in 2014, 276 school-girls were taken away from their hostels at Government Girls Senior Science Secondary School, Chibok, Yobe State, in Nigeria’s North Eastern region.
While more than seven years after that unfortunate incident that drew the attention of the United Nations and several world leaders like the then President of the United States, Barak Obama and his wife, Michele to engage in the #Bring Back Our Girls movement with many of the girls still in captivity, kidnap of school children has fast become a regular occurrence across the North-east, North-west and North-central regions.
Between December, 2020 and now, close to a thousand students and staff have been abducted in nearly 10 attacks on schools in Niger, Kano, Katsina, Jiawa, Zamfara, Kaduna, Sokoto and Yobe States. On December 11, 2020, more than 300 students of Government Science Secondary School, Kankara, Katsina State, were abducted. The 344 students were released about one week later. On February 27, 2021, a pupil was killed while 27 others were kidnapped by armed men from Government Science College, Kagara, Niger State. Three members of staff of the school and 12 of their relatives were taken along. They regained their freedom about a week later when more than 300 school girls were carted away by gun men from a school in Zamfara State.
On February 26, 2021, unidentified gun men kidnapped 317 school girls from Government Girls Secondary School, Jangebe, Zamfara State. The students were to regain their freedom on March 2, with a report saying only 279 were released after four days in captivity. This was closely followed by the kidnap of 39 students of Federal College of Forestry Mechanisation, Afaka, Kaduna State on March 11, 2021.
While five of the Afaka students were released on April 5, another five regained their freedom on April 8. The balance of 29 students were not let go until May 5, 2021. After five weeks and six days after the Afaka kidnapping, at least 20 students and two staff members were abducted from Greenfield University in Kaduna State. Five students and one staff were killed while the remaining 14 students were released on May 29, 2021.
On May 30, 2021, a yet to be identified armed gang invaded Salihu Tanko Islamic School, in the town of Tegina in Rafi Local Government Area of Niger State, taking away between 150 and 200 pupils.
In yet another violent attack on an educational institution, in the country, a student was shot dead as gunmen abducted eight students and two lecturers at Nuhu Bamali Polytechnic in Zaria, Kaduna State, last Friday.
Nigerians are generally disturbed about the worsening state of insecurity in the country as the Federal Government appears to be overwhelmed or too weak to protect lives and property of the citizens against the prevailing reign of terror unleashed upon the nation by criminal gangs and terrorists of all descriptions. However, The Tide is particularly bothered about the growing number and frequency of armed attacks, specifically targeted at pupils and students in our educational institutions.
For a government that came into power on the promise of fixing perceived weaknesses of the previous administration occasioned by security challenges among others, it is worrisome that the security situation has had a free fall under the watch of the present federal authorities. A general sense of despondency and fear hover over the country and Nigerians now pay criminal groups for their lives and to guarantee their legitimate pursuit of livelihood.
It is especially appalling that government at the national and subnational levels pay huge sums of money (though it is scarcely admitted) to these criminals to secure the release of some of the school abductees. Traumatised and terrified parents and guardians have also had to pay through their noses to get their wards back, some just their lifeless bodies.
According to the Commandant General of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), Ahmed Audi, as many as 62,000 out of 81,000 mostly government-owned schools in the country are susceptible to attacks, as shown by a recent vulnerability survey on schools across the country.
“From the survey, we discovered that the nation has over 81,000 schools, but it was very surprising and disturbing that out of this figure, over 62,000 schools are very insecure. They have no presence of physical security and there is no fence, which shows how vulnerable our children are to any attack. Most of these schools are public schools”, he said.
Concerns about the safely of the students have led the Governors of Niger, Kano, Sokoto, Zamfara, Jigawa, Katsina and Yobe States to order the closure of all boarding schools and some others located in the most vulnerable local government areas. School attendance and enrollment are sure to be adversely affected. Teachers and other staff are also very likely to quit their jobs and seek employment elsewhere with lower risk to their safety and security.
In fact, the attacks pose a very serious threat to education in a region that is already ranked amongst the places with the greatest number of out-of-school children in the world. Though education is mostly free and compulsory at the primary level in public schools in northern Nigeria, UNICEF says there is only 53% net attendance rate while the level is even lower for girls due to socio-cultural norms and practices that discourage attendance in formal education. Of course, parents and guardians are getting scared of allowing their children and wards to go to school.
Given the strong correlation between lack of education and poverty and criminality, the fear is real that banditry, insurgency and related crimes cannot be easily overcome except a very hard stance is taken against the rising trend of attacks on schools in the country.
It is therefore to save education and secure the future of this country that The Tide urges the Federal Government to arise from its slumber and give it everything it requires to secure our schools, keep our children safe and ensure that the education sector is adequately protected from the reach of terrorists and criminals.
According to the NSCDC Commandant General, a female squad of the Corps has been established to secure school environments so as to protect children from bandits and kidnappers while arrangements are in top gear to deploy technology in the surveillance and monitoring of critical national assets.
As we hope that these measures will not just end on paper but be effectively followed through for the benefit of the country, the Federal and State governments should revisit the Safe Schools Initiative the Goodluck-Jonathan administration launched following the Chibok girls kidnap with a view to making it achieve desired results.
The Tide acknowledges that paying of ransom may be a veritable incentive for kidnapping but we insist that it is not enough for the government to discourage the indulgence. The security agencies must be sufficiently equipped, mobilized and motivated to keep Nigeria and Nigerians safe and secure. It is the most basic expectation from any government that is worth its time in office.

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