These are challenging times for residents of Nigeria’s Niger Delta area. Many leaders in the communities feel a high level of concern about travelling to Port Harcourt through the East-West Road due to the high level of banditry, kidnappings and killings recorded in recent weeks. Indeed, there is a heightened feeling of insecurity in Rivers State, and other Niger Delta communities, as elsewhere in the country. The situation may have gotten worse in the build-up to, and the aftermath of the 2019 General Election.
Let me X-ray emerging issues in the region. It would seem that 20 years after the restoration of civilian rule in Nigeria, we are experiencing worsening human security conditions in this resource-rich region. When a country or state, irrespective of the political system in operation, fails to protect the rights, livelihoods and security of its citizens, then, we have a crisis. What do we do to address the crises that confront us today as a country, particularly in the light of petroleum extraction in the Niger Delta region?
Twenty years ago, as Nigeria was transiting from military dictatorship to civilian rule, the most pressing challenge for the new federal administration was the ecological, human rights and livelihood crises in the oil-bearing Niger Delta region. The members of Niger Delta communities have borne the negative impacts of petroleum extraction. Oil companies operating in the area have historically operated most recklessly. These mostly foreign companies have spilled more crude oil into the natural environment and flared more associated gas here than in any part of the world, resulting in the destruction and degradation of fishing and farming livelihoods, and the increase in diseases and deaths.
Let’s review the issue of community resistance since the 1990s. Of course, the period witnessed the escalation of conflicts between the Nigerian state and petroleum-bearing communities. The oil companies, working with the military regimes at the time, waged a campaign of repression against the community victims of pollution. In our midst today are representatives of the Umuechem community whose plight exemplified the Niger Delta predicament.
In 1990, members of Umuechem community organised a peaceful protest against the pollution of their environment and the destruction of their livelihoods by Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC). The community members demanded alternative means of livelihoods and social amenities such as better healthcare. Shell and the Nigerian government responded by sending the Mobile Police to burn down the entire community and kill everyone that they could find in the community. The soldiers spared not even domestic animals in the community. The only survivors of the Umuechem Massacre are people that managed to escape into the bushes. Though, a government enquiry made recommendations for compensation for the survivors, neither the government nor Shell made any restitution. Nobody was charged for the crime, and no one has apologised to the community.
Following the Umuechem Massacre, oil company and government’s repression of peaceful community resistance continued in Ogoniland where many community members were killed, including the leaders of the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP). All over the Niger Delta region, communities have suffered different forms of human rights abuses and killings because of petroleum extraction. In some cases, such as Rumuekpe in Rivers State, entire towns have been destroyed due to conflicts engineered by oil companies that paid thugs within the community as the companies tried to prevent the people from uniting to demand compensation for pollution and other deprivations.
As a people, it is essential to review the impact of the democratic transition in the last 20 years on the environmental, human rights and development crises in the Niger Delta region. We note that following the General Election of 1999, community members and others expected robust changes in government and companies’ policies and practices to protect the environment, health, livelihoods and other human rights. However, we find that old problems have persisted while new challenges have emerged. For example, in the form of artisanal crude oil refineries, which have provided employment for some youths while exacerbating pollution and insecurity in the region.
We also note that the Federal Government, since 1999, has made some policy and legislative changes and created new institutions such as the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs (MNDA) and the Presidential Amnesty Programme (PAP). We need to examine the impacts of these institutions and programmes.
Meanwhile, in 2011, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) released a report of its Environmental Assessment of Ogoniland. This report, which confirmed widespread contamination of Ogoniland, made recommendations for immediate environmental and social remediation. The community members hoped that the findings would catalyse fast-tracked action towards ameliorating the problems. However, government response in Ogoniland has been slow and tardy. Elsewhere, there is little or no effort by the Federal Government to address increasing pollution. Recently, the Bayelsa State Government launched an independent commission to examine the impact of oil spills in the state. What is not clear is what role that state governments could play to address an issue under federal jurisdiction.
What is clear, however, is that all tiers of government – federal, state and local – have not always applied petroleum revenues accountably in meeting the development needs of the area. We need to examine what communities and civic organisations should be doing to encourage better accountability in government – beyond participation in voting during elections.
To better clarify the issues, let us dissect the thorny challenge of petroleum legislations at the National Assembly. Today, there is still no legislation that bans gas flaring and protects residents even when communities do not have access to electricity which could be generated from flared gas. The reality of continuing gas flaring underscores the failure of democratic institutions to adequately address the environmental challenges faced by communities in the Niger Delta.
The Senate, in particular, aborted attempts to pass legislation against gas flaring. Also, efforts to pass the Petroleum Industries Bill (PIB) have failed since 2008 due, in part, to contentions over rights of communities in sites of extraction. Later, the Petroleum Industries Governance Bill (PIGB), which contains many problematic provisions, was passed by the National Assembly but rejected by President Muhammadu Buhari. Our organisation called on the President to reject the PIGB, which contains many provisions that would undermine environmental regulations and increase corruption in the petroleum sector. Other bills (that were part of the original PIB) that are still pending before the National Assembly include the Petroleum Host and Impacted Communities Bill (PHICDB), Petroleum Industry Administration Bill (PIAB) and the Petroleum Industry Fiscal Bill (PIFB).
Now, let us examine those proposed legislations, particularly from the point of view of the communities, and make recommendations. I had earlier made reference to Umuechem, which like numerous other communities in the Niger Delta, demand justice. With the historical and continuing failings of the executive and legislative arms of government, oil-bearing communities continue to seek justice through the judiciary with limited results. Communities do not always have the resources for prolonged litigation in Nigeria while a few, often with the support of international NGOs, have attempted international litigation in the home countries of foreign oil companies, with varied results.
Just on May 1, 2019, a court in The Netherlands ruled that it has jurisdiction to determine the complicity of Royal Dutch Shell in the Nigerian government’s murder of the Ogoni Nine leaders of MOSOP who were campaigning against widespread environmental pollution, and for community self-determination. That ruling adds to the judgment of a UK court against SPDC in 2016, in the suit instituted by Bodo community, and opens up possibilities for other victims of pollution and human rights violations.
Now, let us examine workable options for litigation to achieve justice for community victims in areas where petroleum extraction has negatively impacted the people. The Nigeria Resource Justice Conference, 2019 provided a platform for interaction among community members and leaders, citizens groups, scholars, government agencies and elected representatives of the people. Unlike other conferences of this nature, the conference panels bring together experts, activists, agencies and the victims of environmental pollution from the communities.
The conference provided opportunities for participants to dissect the issues of concern to their communities with a view to finding lasting solutions to them, going forward. I think it is important that Niger Delta communities continue to partner NGOs and civil society groups to achieve peace and development in the region by ensuring justice for all victims of the consequences of petroleum extraction activities in the region.
Of particular note is the muscle that a renowned NGO – Development and Peace – has brought to ensure access to justice for Umuechem and other communities. We believe that with further collaboration, other communities’ cries for help will also be remedied.
By: Dr. Isaac Osuoka
Hate Speech Emanates From Hate Agenda, Policy
Now, the hate speech debate has added to the number of debates in the country; such as the fading rural and urban grazing areas (RUGA), restructuring, etc. The Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria recently introduced a bill which seeks to establish a Federal Government Agency to check and regulate hate speech in the country and the matter is generating hot debate across the country. Majority of Nigerians have spoken against the bill.
The bill prescribed death by hanging as maximum punishment for certain categories of offenders. Other categories of offenders are liable to 10 years jail term or payment of N10 million fine. The offenders are those who use their tongues, or publish, produce, present, provide, play, distribute or direct performance of any written or visual that stir up ethnic hatred, hostility, violence or cause the death of fellow Nigerians.
The bill is sponsored by the Deputy Senate Chief Whip, Senator Sabi Aliyu Abdullahi. The proposed bill is an assault on democracy and democracy loving people of Nigeria. It is an affront to those who risk their lives to fight for the enthronement of democracy and liberty in Nigeria. It is childish, unconstitutional and undemocratic. The bill is barbarous, obnoxious, draconian, horrendous and totally unacceptable to Nigerians. It is sacrilegious and condemnable. The freedom of speech as enshrined in section 39 (3) in the Nigerian Constitution is sacrosanct.
I think the sponsor of the bill is ignorant of what democracy entails. Perhaps he does not know that the best baby of democracy is the freedom of speech. That democracy allows all people to speak their minds at all times, whether it is hate or love, sense or nonsense, criticism or praise, condemnation or commendation. That as the creator allows all human beings, rich or poor, educated and uneducated etc to co-exist and co-habit, so does democracy. May be, he is not aware that the law of defamation, slander, libel etc takes care of hate speech and all that. He may not know, that there is right to refute and needs for apology. Besides all that, we have the Nigerian Communication Act and Cyber Crime Act. Are these not enough to take care of hate speech, if enforced?
I am sure Senator Abdullahi is not alone in this diabolic hate speech bill. There are people behind him and they have ulterior motives. They know their plans and what they want to achieve in 2023. So, they want to make all of us dumb now before the time. So that when they start displaying their barbaric political acrobatics in 2023, we will be watching them like dumb people without uttering a word as nobody would want to be hanged or pay 10 million naira fine. But for sure their plans will fail.
Nigerians feel circumvented and betrayed that the National Assembly which is the heart of democracy and major representatives of the people should be in the forefront of those attempting to murder the freedom speech, the finest baby of democracy. Unhallowed hate speech bill (freedom of speech) now lying in the hallowed Red Chamber waiting to be murdered is against democracy and the people of Nigeria. It is to muzzle and deprive Nigerians their constitutionally guaranteed right to freedom of speech. It is sad that this is happening in the 8th Senate, under Buhari and the APC government. Something we did not experience in 16 years of PDP rule, not even under the military governments of Generals Ibrahim Babangida and Sani Abacha; and not also under the June 12 madness. Why is it happening now under Buhari’s democracy? Could this be the resurrection of Decree Nos. 2 and 4? Is that our expectation in this “Next Level”?
Now, what law will the senate make for those who promote hate agenda and those who execute hate policy in the country? Because through hate agenda and policy that hate speech emanates. Without hate agenda and policy there will be no hate speech. What do you expect when people from a section of the country speaks, behaves and act as if they own the country. What do you expect when people from section of the country kill Nigerians with impunity. What do you expect when a leader who should see himself as a father and leader of all, sees himself as a father and leader of a section of the country and packaged juicy and sensitive positions for them. Will these not generate anger and hate speech?
It started when the Fulani herdsmen began to behave as if they own the country and killed Nigerians any how that people reminded them that they immigrated from Senegambia in the 1880s. Could that be hate speech? Tongue is not wicked until it is provoked. My people say if a masquerade over displays, harasses and intimidates people at the dancing arena, people will be compelled to display ordinary tree with which it was carved as a masquerade. This is where hate speech comes in. So, if the Senate is looking for people to hang, they should direct their search toward the murderous Fulani herdsmen. There are also many arrested Boko Haram and bandit murderers, let them hang them first, before looking for mere provoked hate speakers.
More so, how do people feel when a section of the country produced the President of the country, the Senate President, the Senate Leader, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, the President of the Court of Appeal, the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, the Attorney General and Minister Of Justice. The Secretary to the Government of the Federation, the Accountant General of the Federation, the Chief of Staff to the President, the Chief of Army Staff, the Chief of Air Staff, the Inspector General of Police, Minister of Defence, the Comptrollers-General of Customs, Immigrations, Prisons and National Security Adviser.
Others were the Heads of DSS, NIA, DIA, NNPC, DPR, NPA, FAAN, NCAA, NDIC, NRC, PENCOM, AMCON, NUC, NEMA, NSPM, BPE, NBC, UBEC, NPHDA, NHIS, FERMA, NPHDA, TETFUND, NTDA, NAICON, INEC, EFCC, NTA, FRCN etc. Will these lopsided appointments in favour of a section of the country generate love speech or hate speech? If every section of the country is treated well and equal, there will be no hate speech.
It is the ethnic agenda and policy such as this that promotes hatred and hate speech in the country. I, therefore, urge the Senate to make a law to checkmate lopsided appointments in Nigeria. If the president of Nigeria is from the North, the Senate president should come from the South, if the Chief Justice of Nigeria is from the South, the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice should come from the North; If the Chief of Army staff is from the North, the Inspector General of Police should come from the South and so on. The balanced position will make people happy and stop hate speech in the county.
Lest I forget, President Muhammadu Buhari recently raised alarm that the trillions of naira budgeted for the constituency projects across the country in the past 10 years have no reflection on the people and the constituencies they represent. Thus, the Senate should enact a law by hanging for any senator, other legislators and public office holders who involve in extortion and embezzlement of public funds and in the process impoverish his fellow Nigerians to die by hanging. This is more important to me and Nigerians than mere hate speech. What is hate speech?
Ogbuehi, a journalist and pro-democracy activist, wrote in from Eagle Island, Port Harcourt.
Not many Nigerian elite became aware when Nigerian politics became a gangsterist affair and what accounted for that peculiar feature, and whose interest such development was meant to serve. Similarly, not many Nigerians had an opportunity to read an online posting by The Times, April 9, 2008. Its title was: The New Scramble for Africa Begins: Modern Imperialism on the Resource-Rich Continent will be less Benign than old Colonialism. Its author was one Matthew Parris, making reference to “Black gangster governments” emerging under the guise of democracy.
It is quite unfortunate that the docile and myopic nature of the Nigerian masses should be exploited to such an extent that people can be induced to sell and enslave themselves. For example, how many people took note or reflected on the following statement of a governor: “Anything that will promote the interest of Rivers State is what I will do. You can be my sister state, if you want to take what belongs to Rivers State, I will not agree. I will not sell Rivers State”. (The Tide 25/11/19 – page 39).
With reference to the controversies over the recent elections in Bayelsa and Kogi States, there was a phone call from a Kenyan research fellows, saying that what is happening in Nigeria is “not an exclusively Nigerian affair”. He did not want to go for. Knowing him for his level of articulateness and deep degree of perception, it was not difficult to grasp the message of the Kenyan diplomat.
Commenting on the same recent elections in Bayelsa and Kogi States, the PDP National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Kola Ologbondiyan, made statements that Nigerians should think about seriously. He said “President Buhari by now ought to have summoned his service chiefs and ordered a presidential investigation into the violence and observed infractions in the elections, including the deployment of a police helicopter to teargas voters”. He went on to add that “it is clear that he is more interested in the survival of the APC than the survival of democracy”.
The aforementioned online posting of April 19, 2008, did talk about “raping” of African countries by self-interested Asian or Western powers” who sponsor “Black gangster governments”. While such foreign powers do not need to administer or visit the territory, the strategy is to “buy your own gang” and “give it support munitions, bribes and protection to keep the roads and airports open”. What is the vital issue at stake? Matthew Parris said it is oil!
The fact that allocation of oil blocks in Nigeria is shrouded in secrecy and chicanery also goes with the fact that those given such allocations merely become rent collectors. Without the technical wherewithal, they sell the allocations to foreign partners, who should rightly be called buccaneers perhaps, these foreign buccaneers or middlemen, are those who “buy and sponsor Black gangster governments”, for their own business purposes.
The perennial state of instability, insecurity, corruption and social injustices involved in a “do-or-die” system of politics and governance, may not be unconnected with the Matthew Parris theory of “Black gangster governments”. If that is not the case, then why is democracy being subverted and undermined under the guise of election? Why are the security and armed forces involved in the way they are in electoral process?
While there are many glib talks and explanations about the unstable state of developing countries, not much is known about foreign influences fuelling such state of instability. If no other fact can be pointed out, the issue of arms proliferation can suffice to support the theory of foreign collaboration.
Common weapons used by heartless economic interests to maintain the status quo include arms, money, power, intimidation, violence, corruption, poverty, mendacity, hypocrisy etc.
Unfortunately, members of the security and armed forces, wittingly or unwittingly become participants or partners in this sad mission. It is a well-known fact that global capitalism operates at its worst in the oil and gas sector, of which Nigeria is a playing field. When the military handed over power to civilian politicians in 1999, details of the constitution were not made open.
The fact that elected members of the National Assembly were showered with lots of money as allowances and benefits, was meant to provide a safe landing for the military and their collaborators. It is also a fact that a major part of oil block allocations was done by the military and more in favour of their collaborators. Therefore, there is a close relationship between oil politics and the military, such that who holds power matters a lot.
We cannot deny the fact that it takes gangsterism to subvert and dethrone a democracy in such a nasty way that elections can become a warfare. Why are voters being intimidated, bought over with money or burnt alive because of what party they belong? Obviously, there is more to the gangsterist nature of Nigerian politics than what meets the4 eyes.
Not only voters are being subjected to anti-democratic assaults, but efforts are being deliberately made to expand and consolidate power, just like PDP once boasted that it would remain in power for 50 years without being dislodged. Is that democracy?
Basic Education: Using PR To Address Challenges
It is a privilege to talk with Public Relations Officers of the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) and the State Universal Basic Education Boards (SUBEBs) from all over the country. This National Training session is very important because it has the capacity to enhance the quality of basic education in the country.
It is instructive that the 2019 Public Relations Training is holding in Rivers State. This is because Rivers State is the centre of rapid development in the country. Therefore, the gathering of basic education public relations officers means that they will directly interact with the development process of Rivers State.
I take this opportunity to welcome you to Rivers State, the home of Mr. Projects, Nigeria’s Best Performing Governor. You must have noticed that Rivers is a huge construction site.
UBEC And SUBEBs Public Relations Officers Are Important
Public Relations Officers of UBEC and SUBEBs are key players in the quest to resolving the out- of-school children challenge facing the country. Fundamentally, proactive information dissemination to convince parents to allow their children access basic education is important. This is in view of the fact that basic education is free.
•This entails effective use of traditional and new media. However, each public relations officer must use the right media that will be most effective for his state. But in view of the strata of society being targeted, I suggest local broadcast media and the new media. For the broadcast media, messages should be sent across to parents through indigenous languages.
In cases where finance is available, the public relations officers should work with the Local Government Education Authorities (LGEA) to engage in direct outreach programmes, which will involve meeting religious leaders, community-based groups, women groups and comparative groups in the drive to attract children to school.
•Retention Of Kids In School
Even when the out-of-school children are attracted to school, the next challenge is to retain them in their classes. Here again, public relations officers of UBEC and SUBEBs remain critical partners with other stakeholders.
I believe that the PR Departments of UBEC and SUBEBs should be strengthened to provide positive information on the beautiful things that happen in schools – the improving quality of learning, the free feeding programme (where it exists) and the advantages of good education.
PR personnel must not allow purveyors of negative information discourage children from going to school and giving parents reasons why children should not go to school. Such negative information comes from sensationalism. If there is a challenge at a public school, these negative information traders blow it out of proportion.
While we seek better educational facilities, we must always seek intelligent and honest ways of promoting the public basic education system. You can achieve this by promoting outstanding teachers and very brilliant pupils in different schools across different states.
•Advocacy To Attract Stakeholder Participation In Basic Education Across Communities
We have all agreed that government alone cannot drive basic education. There are limited resources with competing needs. We are also aware that several schools across the country that require attention cannot be reached by the Federal and State Governments.
This is where the participation of community stakeholders is vital. Public relations officers in different states working with other SUBEB and LGEA officials should identify privileged Nigerians in different communities and prevail on them to invest in basic education schools.
There are privileged Nigerians who can build classroom blocks, boreholes, writing materials, classroom furniture and feeding for children. These investments ought to be done in line with the capacity of the investing stakeholders.
For the investing stakeholders, they would have their names crested on the areas of their investments. In addition, UBEC and SUBEB should also initiate awards and halls of fame to recognize these stakeholders and encourage others to key in.
•Education Remains The Key To National Revival
As public relations practitioners, always bear in mind that you are at the most important rung of the developmental ladder of the country. This means that you must remain dedicated.
As it stands today, education is the only way for the country to commence its journey to greatness. In this march to greatness, education plays a key role and the basic education sector is even more important. That is why public relations officers of UBEC and SUBEBs must engage the process and all stakeholders to ensure that our people appreciate the importance of basic education.
•Education Beyond Politics
As we work to develop the basic education sector, we must bear in mind that education is beyond politics. Every Nigerian child, irrespective of the political leaning of his/her parents, should be able to access education
Therefore, public relations officers working for UBEC and SUBEBs must place the society above political considerations. If they do this, they will earn the confidence of parents and improve the enrollment figures in our public basic schools.
Building Networks To Achieve Collective Goals
This is why this meeting should be applauded. Beyond the training that PR personnel will get is the opportunity to interact and build networks for the development of the basic education sector.
Though the challenges faced may differ from state to state, public relations officials have the platform to peer review and compare notes. This way, they can tap into diverse experiences and better their operational capacity. In the long run, the country stands to benefit. The basic education sector would be enriched and our country would naturally be on the path to growth.
Nwakaudu is the Special Assistant to the Rivers State Governor on Electronic Media. He made the above remarks at the 2019 PR Training for UBEC and SUBEB Public Relations Officers from the 36 States and FCT in Port Harcourt, yesterday.
By: Simeon Nwakaudu
Sports24 hours ago
CAF Confed Cup: ‘I knew I Was Going To Score’
Transport1 day ago
Lagos Public Transport To Run On Gas In 2020 – Commissioner
News23 hours ago
Oil Theft: NEITI Calls For Review Of Legislation
Front Pix22 hours ago
Wike Carpets Oshiomhole, Peterside At Book Launch …Urges EFCC To Fight Corruption Within The Law …As Rivers Set To Launch Security Trust Fund
Housing/Property1 day ago
Staff Housing Loan Boss Cautions Public Servants Against Corruption
Business1 day ago
Nigeria’s Border Closure: The Pains, Gains, Challenges
News23 hours ago
Rivers Council Chairman Impeached
Politics1 day ago
Don’t Leave Politics In Hands Of Politicians Without Ideals-Falana