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Editorial

In Support Of NDDC’s Forensic Probe

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Since its inception in 2000, the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) has assumed a monstrous notoriety, perhaps because the vision and mission of establishing the interventionist agency has been greatly eroded as the core objective of facilitating rapid and sustainable socio-economic development of the Niger Delta region has remained elusive nearly 20 years after.
It is possibly against this backdrop that the presidential directive ordering for a forensic audit of the activities of the commission from 2001 to 2019 is apt, timely and most welcome by well-meaning Nigerians, especially the people of Niger Delta region.
Though perceived as a belated move in some circles, the audit, if transparent and factual, will expose the monumental rot, abuse of public office, fraud and mismanagement that had bedeviled the commission in the nearly two decades, cutting across successive dispensations.
Receiving governors of the litoral states, led by the Bayelsa State Governor, Hon. Seriake Dickson, President Muhammadu Buhari declared that “what is presently on ground in the South South region does not reflect the huge resources that have been allocated to the NDDC”, adding that the Presidency will await the audit report before deciding on the next line of action.
The Tide agrees with the Presidency and other critical stakeholders who want a probe of the commission. We believe that such auditing will eventually reinvent the agency with a view to re-positioning it for desired results and expectations of the Niger Delta people who have suffered environmental degradation from oil and gas prospection and exploitation.
We have had reasons in our previous editorials to question the way and manner in which the NDDC was operating as a cash cow, where political gladiators in the Niger Delta region and, indeed, Abuja use the commission’s funds to settle ‘the boys’ after elections, but such observations and public outcry had always been treated with disdain and contempt.
While we acknowledge the fact that the Federal Government, International Oil Companies (IOCs) and funds from the Ecological Fund, which constitute major sources of the commission’s funding, by virtue of the NDDC Act, were hardly released, yet, billions of naira released to the agency so far cannot be said to be accounted for as there are virtually no tangible projects on the ground to justify the huge sum that had accrued to the commission in the last 20 years.
Section 14 (2) (a) and (c) of the NDDC Act clearly provide the sources of funding the commission; and clearly the organs responsible for the agency’s funding have observed their obligation in the breach. It is against this backdrop that we equally charge the forensic auditors to dig deep with a view to ascertaining the level of indebtedness to the commission. In essence, the audit that covers its assets and liabilities from inception.
It is, indeed, regrettable that the interventionist agency as at 2019 abandoned over 12,000 contract projects scattered over the nine Niger Delta States of Rivers, Bayelsa, Delta, Cross River, Akwa Ibom, Imo, Abia, Ondo and Edo. The question, therefore, is: how many projects can the NDDC proudly say it has successfully completed and commissioned in the last 19 years of its existence?
We are disturbed that the NDDC shut itself on the foot as it has, by omission or commission, abandoned its well-crafted ‘Niger Delta Regional Development Master Plan’ in which billions of naira of tax payers’ money was expended to craft and produce. Rather than follow the master plan assiduously, successive management teams jettisoned the lofty plan in preference to emergency and/or contingency projects/programmes which could not take the region to the next level of development as expected. It is lamentable that some oil-bearing communities in the region are still in their usual state of nature: no good drinking water, no road, no electricity, school, health centre, modern housing units, among other necessities of life or technology, nearly sixty years after oil and gas exploitation.
The Tide has it on good authority that NDDC is owing contractors over N1.5 trillion with over 8,000 projects at various stages of execution, while about N2 trillion unpaid statutory allocations from the Federal Government and proceeds from Ecological Fund between 2000-2017 remittances are yet to be received by the commission.
We view such anomaly as unhealthy as it runs foul of section 14 (2) (a) and (c) of the enabling NDDC Act which makes it mandatory for the Federal Government and other stakeholders to compulsorily fund the commission so as to make up for the region’s infrastructural deficit.
We, therefore, join all well-meaning Nigerians, particularly governors from the Nigeria Delta states, Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF), Traditional Rulers of Oil Mineral Producing Communities of Nigeria (TROMPCON), Ijaw National Congress (INC), NDDC Contractors Association of Nigeria, Community-Based Organisations (CBOs), Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) and the Media to insist on a forensic audit of NDDC but with utmost adherence to the core principles of accountability and transparency.
It is also our candid position that all the big names who willingly or unwillingly defrauded the commission should be made public and prosecuted accordingly. Such culprits must refund their loot. The Presidency must leave no stone unturned by ensuring that no ox is gored and there are no sacred cows in the process of sanitising the commission in order to achieve the desired objective of ensuring sustainable development of the region.
The presidential order for a forensic audit is the right path to follow and it will surely pave way for a new direction for NDDC and, by extension, the Niger Delta region as the region’s underdevelopment constitutes an embarrassment.
The region remains Nigeria’s cash cow with virtually all national budgets based on revenue from oil and gas.
Let’s not kill the hen that lays the golden egg. This is our take!

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Editorial

Beyond The S’ South Demands

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After a last-minute cancellation of a meeting between the Presidency and stakeholders of the
South-South zone scheduled for November 17, 2020, representatives of the geo-political region recently met in Port Harcourt with a presidential delegation led by the Chief of Staff to the President, Prof. Ibrahim Gambari, and demanded a restructuring of the country to ensure true federalism and devolution of powers to the states as well as resource control.
Other demands included the relocation of the headquarters of all subsidiaries of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) to the region, revitalisation of the region’s Calabar, Port Harcourt and Warri ports, immediate privatisation of the three refineries in the region to make them functional and boost the economy of the zone, create and manage their police and security architecture under a federal structure.
The regional leaders also called for the relocation of the headquarters of major oil companies from Lagos and Abuja to the South-South region. Also, they requested the immediate implementation of the consent judgement entered in the Supreme Court Suit No: SC/964/2016 to enable the zone get its share of $55 billion shortfalls of collection on deep offshore and inland basin production sharing contracts.
The governors and stakeholders equally expressed concerns about the rot in the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and observed that one of the major failures of the intervention agency was its refusal to forge and foster synergy, consultation and cooperation with the state governments, especially on project location, development and execution.
None of the demands by the South-South regional leaders is new as they have always been at our fingertips. Rather, we find it curious that the #EndSARS protests which unfortunately were limited to  Southern Nigeria, and Abuja, the nation’s capital,  have triggered a presidential stakeholders meeting.
Gambari is busy junketing across geo-political zones, all in the name of gathering information as to what could have been responsible for the anger that assailed the land. Interestingly, the South-South meeting took place only just recently after an initial failed meeting that drew heavy condemnations from leaders of the zone.
It is unclear what the stakeholders’ meeting was meant to achieve.  If the meeting was designed for the presidential team to get information on the grievances that could have precipitated such widespread protests, that is enough proof that the Presidency is deaf to the lamentations across the land. This is, however, not strange for a government that renounced all it promised Nigerians that graciously voted it into power.
While The Tide salutes the governors and stakeholders of the region for making bold to ask for, particularly restructuring (a word the president and his Northern cliques hate to listen to), every other demand that was presented before the presidential team is in the public domain.
The clamour for restructuring has never been louder at any other time than this moment in our history. Some sectional groups which used to stand firmly against it have joined the call to remodel the political and administrative architecture of the country. The only group that continues to ask questions about the true intentions behind the clamour is the Arewa Consultative Forum, (ACF).
Nigerians know the country suffers badly over the refusal of the political leaders to agree on the need for fiscal federalism. No one can deny the fact that the economy is solely dependent on oil from the Niger Delta, and that the northern cabal in power sees this as a goldmine. Perhaps, they are waiting for the oil in the delta to be depleted after which they would rely on their resources and allow for resource control.
The controversy over the Zamfara gold which is not appropriated as a national resource like oil is probably a pointer of what could happen in the future. Surprisingly, this critical issue was not presented at the meeting. No law of the country permits Zamfara or any state government to control and manage gold or any other mineral deposits in the state. We cannot as a nation apply laws discriminately. If people are allowed to process their solid minerals, others should also be allowed to do the same for their oil.
If President Muhammadu Buhari seeks to understand the gravity of the anger of the #EndSARS protesters, his predecessor, Goodluck Jonathan, handed him a gift on the assumption of office. Buhari had often been asked to act on the constitutional conference materials as a blueprint to restructure the country. Even the decisions of the restructuring panel headed by Governor Nasir El-Rufai of Kaduna State which the All Progressives Congress (APC), constituted contains enough information for the president to act with and accomplish the demands of the South-South leaders.
As requests are constantly made for the development of the zone, past and some present governors from the area need to answer the question of what they have done so far with the over N50 trillion they have received from the Federal Government as 13 per cent derivation fund through the Federation Accounts all these years without any tangible, meaningful, and people-oriented human capital development to address the plights of the Niger Delta people. That would be fair to the entire Niger Delta struggle.
The seven-point demand of restructuring, true federalism, resource control, state police and others should be taken seriously by the federal authorities as we call for a deliberate understanding of the predicament and challenges of the region by our leaders, especially in terms of the degradation of the environment and waters. While we urge leaders of the region to articulate their positions and forward same to the National Assembly for necessary constitutional amendments, we ask the Federal Government to be disposed to the agitations or cease from developing other parts of the country with resources from the area. This is only fair in the interest of true federalism.

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Editorial

As World Marks AIDS Day…

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Tomorrow, December 1, 2020, the world will commemorate World AIDS Day. On this day, people
around the world unite to show solidarity and support for persons living with HIV/AIDS and remember those who have died from AIDS-related illnesses.
Each World AIDS Day focuses on a specific theme, but this year seems to have dual theme all tailored towards sharing the responsibility of ending the impact and resilience of HIV/AIDS . Thus, this year, the theme revolves around “Global Solidarity, Shared Responsibility”. Again, this year’s theme combines a growing list of challenges that World AIDS Day has alerted people to globally.
Founded in 1988, World AIDS Day was the first ever international day for global health. Every year, United Nations agencies, governments and civil society groups coalesce to campaign around specific themes related to HIV to create awareness.
World AIDS Day remains as relevant today as it has always been, reminding people and governments that HIV has not gone away despite the overwhelming presence of the COVID-19 pandemic. Therefore, there is still a critical need for more funding for AIDS to increase awareness of the impact of HIV on people’s lives to end stigma and discrimination and to improve the quality of life of people living with HIV.
This year, the world’s attention has been directed by the COVID-19 pandemic on health and how pandemics affect lives and livelihoods. COVID-19 is showing once again how health is interlinked with other critical issues, such as reducing inequality, human rights, gender equality, social protection and economic growth. Hence, the theme.
COVID-19 has proved that indeed no one is safe in a pandemic until everyone is safe. Thus, leaving people behind is not an option if we are to succeed in the fight. Eliminating stigma and discrimination, making people our priority and basing our responses on respect for human rights and gender-responsive approaches are key to ending the colliding pandemics of HIV and COVID-19.
Global Solidarity and Shared Responsibility requires that we view global health responses, including the AIDS response, in a collective and new way. It, therefore, calls on the world to come together under the exercise of strong leadership that will create equal societies, the right to health for all and a robust and equitable global recovery. This World AIDS Day also calls on countries to step up their efforts to achieve healthier societies.
It has been estimated that 38 million people globally were living with HIV. Out of this figure, 25.4 million people were accessing antiretroviral therapy. While 1.7 million people became newly infected with HIV globally, 690, 000 people died from AIDS-related illnesses in the last year.
Given this development, it is now imperative for the introduction of a permanent cure for AIDS. If scientists developed a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine within a year and a half, and are still learning what COVID-19 infections look like and how to vaccinate against them, why is it hard to develop a HIV vaccine since its outbreak several years ago? In 1984, officials declared that an HIV vaccine would be ready for testing in two years. More than 35 years later, however, there is no HIV vaccine.
As the world focuses on this global health concern to humanity, Nigeria also joins the urgent call for a collective effort to alleviate the plight of AIDS patients in the country. Working on the local theme: “United to End AIDS in the Midst of COVID-19: Get Tested”, the Federal Government laments the low response of people to HIV/AIDS testing and appealed to citizens to embrace it.
The Director-General of the National Agency for Control of AIDS (NACA), Dr Gambo Aliyu, speaking at the 2020 World AIDS Day celebration in Abuja, regretted that the COVID-19 pandemic had adversely impacted the HIV/AIDS programmes in the country. Aliyu clearly identified stigma and discrimination as major causes of low response to testing and decided that his organisation would fight against such issues.
It has been rated that Nigeria has the second largest HIV epidemic in the world. Although HIV prevalence among adults is much less (1.3%) than other sub-Saharan African countries such as South Africa (19%) and Zambia (11.5%), the size of Nigeria’s population means 1.8 million people were living with HIV in 2019. Recent drops in prevalence estimates for the country has been attributed to better surveillance.
Nevertheless, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), estimates that around two-thirds of new HIV infections in West and Central Africa in 2019 occurred in Nigeria. Together with South Africa and Uganda, the country accounts for around half of all new HIV infections in sub-Saharan Africa every year. This is despite achieving a 13% reduction in new infections between 2010 and 2019.
NACA can reinvigorate the fight against the twin problem of discrimination and stigmatisation by employing interventions that will properly direct and improve young people’s knowledge of HIV, reducing negative stigma belief through media campaigns and increasing access to HIV testing through home-based testing and “opt-out” strategy at the point of care. This will drastically reduce the prevalent rate as well.
A major setback in the fight against HIV/AIDS in the COVID-19 era emanated from poor financing. Though NACA confirms it has been receiving some funding, the Federal Government needs to do more to enable the organisation increase its testing capacity and treatment of more AIDS victims to inspire courage and confidence in them and get them tested for the ailment.
It is commendable that NACA is beginning to enlist the support of the private sector to find a lasting solution to the HIV/AIDS pandemic in the country. The organisation should similarly solicit the assistance of some wealthy Nigerians like Alhaji Aliko Dangote, Chief Femi Otedola, Chief Mike Adenuga, Chief (Mrs) Folorinsho Alakija, among others. Also, universities in the country should be enabled to come up with antidotes to the HIV/AIDS challenge through research efforts. This no doubt will greatly boost our national image.
Afterall, two Nigerians are involved in the discovery of the vaccine recently discovered to cure 95% of Covid – 19 infections. If that be the case, why not find a cure for HIV? There is no gainsaying that such a feat will put Nigeria on the global map.

 

By:  Sogbeba Dokubo

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Editorial

Reliefs For Flood Victims

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A dominant Nigerian problem is the diffident attitude by the authorities to issues of critical concern to the progress and sustenance of the citizenry. Hence, the citizens, especially the unremarkable people, have over the years constantly paid for leadership ineffectuality and deficiency in very huge magnitude.
An example is the recurring huge fatalities and massive devastation wreaked by yearly flooding across the country. Despite public commotion over the unnecessary occurrences leading to the disaster and exacerbate the situation, governments at all levels have often either exhibited a do-nothing attitude or paid outright lip service to the threats and advice from experts and professional bodies. Thus, the gamut of the loss of lives and properties to floods remains high, with the concomitant ripple effects on the socio-economic life of the country.
In May this year, the Nigeria Hydrological Services Agency (NIHSA) issued an alert that at least 102 local government areas in 28 states in the country were at risk of copious flooding. Similarly, in March 2012, 32 out of the 36 states were affected by flooding, in which more than 360 people were killed and almost two million displaced.
Then in 2016, more than 92,000 were displaced as flood wreaked havoc across the country. In 2017, the figure almost tripled as an estimated 250,000 Nigerians were sacked from their homes. Described as phenomenal, the 2012 flood reportedly impacted more than seven million people, with over 2.3 million persons displaced and 363 persons killed. The flood devastated about 597,476 houses in 34 states, with estimated damage and loss put at N2.6 trillion.
A similar disastrous episode observed in 2018 left in its wake pains, sorrow and wailing. It involved 2,321,592 people, killed 199 and displaced 722,741 persons. It equally destroyed over 100,000 houses. The catastrophe inflicted on the citizens by flood in 2019 was no least unbearable, as more than 130,934 people were affected, with 48,114 persons displaced and 126 people killed, just as 29,356 houses were wrecked.
An earlier admonitory by the NIHSA that the current flood level which it put at 7.02m sighted at Niamey, Niger Republic, posed a precarious threat to the country, seems to be a prediction that holds true with the states it named to be at greater risk already experiencing a hard time. The states are Kebbi, Jigawa, Kano, Sokoto, Niger, Kwara, Kogi, Anambra, Edo, Delta, Rivers and Bayelsa.
For example, reports on severe flooding this year showed that in Jigawa State, which witnessed the worst flooding in 34 years, at least 50,000 houses were destroyed in 17 out of the 27 local government areas in the state, with more than 100,000 hectares of rice farmland washed away. A total of 40 people lost their lives. In Kano, the worst-hit area was Danbatta, where around 7,000 houses were destroyed and four deaths were recorded. The death toll in Kebbi and Sokoto States were six and 15 respectively.
Despite early warnings each year, there is skimpy interest by the government at all levels to put resources where they are urgently needed. Rather, the government prefers to buy mattresses and other sundry items, enrich a few contractors and political sycophants rather than put money in research efforts that can yield results needed to prevent the flood from occurring in the first place.
The most immediate effect of this problem is that it might compound the already bad issue of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs). That is already happening. In the areas most affected, suffering, hunger and diseases of epidemic proportions are already in waiting. In our view, and considering what is already on the ground in IDPs’ camps scattered across the country, this will be one headache too many.
Sadly, states often adopt cosmetic measures such as clearing drainages amid rainfalls instead of taking pre-season, concrete, enduring and far-reaching actions to prevent flooding. It is inexplicable and depressing that increasingly the authorities are finding it difficult to think out of the box and proffer enduring solutions to flooding, which has made death so cheap for the common people.
Rivers State in particular is always found on the list of states to be flooded annually yet the government has not done more than the provision of relief materials. Unfortunately, several communities in the state were submerged in the water this year with very little help for the victims. Thus, we urge the state government in its usual charismatic manner to take the bull by the horn and be more proactive in proffering a lasting solution to perenial flooding in the State.
A state emergency response agency should be established to cater for disaster victims and end the dependence on the Federal Government for assistance, that never really comes.
We similarly urge local governments in the state to set up structures for assisting flood casualties since federal agencies only intervene at a stage of the flooding which may be too late. We suggest that both the local government councils and the state government jointly mitigate flooding at the preliminary stages to avoid colossal disaster.
Residents can also assist the government to prevent flooding of urban areas by desisting from building on water channels, avoid dumping of refuse in the drains and clear their drainages to accommodate volumes of water after each rainfall. The Sole Administrator of the Rivers State Waste Management Agency (RIWAMA), Bro Felix Obuah, has so much to do in this regard.
To call on the international community and donor agencies for aid each year flooding occurs may appear an attractive way out, but whatever comes from those sources will remain what they are meant to be – palliatives. The ultimate solution, therefore, is for the Nigerian authorities to do what they necessarily and urgently have to do to check this perennial disaster that is becoming a stigma because of the primitive approach to managing it.

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