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EFCC And Abia’s Rot

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Is Abia State on the verge of having two of its former governors cool off in prison? With the ongoing investigation of Senator Theodore Orji, who governed the state from 2007 to 2015 over an allegation that he diverted N521 billion from the state to his personal use by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), it seems that may probably be the case.
According to the anti-graft agency, on March 17, 2017, a group, Fight Corruption: Save Nigeria Group, filed a petition accusing the former governor of withdrawing N500 million monthly as security vote from the state’s treasury during his eight years in office; diverting N383 billion revenue from the Federation Account, N55 billion Excess Crude revenue, N2.3 billion Sure-P revenue, N1.8 billion ecological funds, N10.5 billion loan, N12 billion Paris Club refund, N2 billion agricultural loan, and N55 billion ASOPADEC money while in office.
According to the petition, the N500 million the former governor allegedly withdrew monthly was “not part of the security funds expended on the Nigerian Police, the Nigerian Army, DSS, Navy, anti-kidnapping squad, anti-robbery squad, purchase of security equipment and vehicles for the security agencies.”
Also accused is the son of the former governor and current Speaker of Abia State House of Assembly, Chinedum Orji, who is said to own about 100 accounts in different banks, accounts that received “so much deposit in cash without evidence of job or services rendered”.
Add this mind-blowing amount of money to the N7.65 billion stolen by his former boss and predecessor, Dr Orji Kalu, which had earned him 12 years imprisonment and you will understand why Abia State is in its present pitiable situation.
Arguably, the most popular city in Abia State is Aba. Residents of the city are renowned for their enterprising spirit and commercial endeavours, making it one of Nigeria’s foremost commercial hubs. Some call it Nigeria’s China. Yet, most of the roads in the city are in deplorable condition. Some of the roads, like Port Harcourt Road, had been abandoned for many years. People living around this area continue to tell pitiable stories of how difficult it is for them to move in and out of their homes for their business and other daily activities, especially during the rainy season. The situation is the same in many other parts of the city. In many areas, the drainage systems are blocked by waste which litters almost all the city.
With the heavy commercial activities going on daily in Aba comes heavy waste. Incidentally, over the years, improper management of these wastes has posed a great challenge for the government. Anybody that goes to Aba or passes through there to other places in the country will agree that waste has become a permanent feature of the city, especially at the various markets. Roads and streets are littered with all manner of waste and the entire environment is polluted with stench from the gutters and the rubbish.  During the administration of the immediate-past governor, Theodore Orji, Aba became the dirtiest city in Nigeria and even found a place among the list of worst places to live in the world.
Yet, billions of Naira meant for development of the state was allegedly pocketed by a few individuals. If a small fraction of the loot was used to provide incinerators in Aba to cater for the huge volume of waste, would the city not have been better than the pigsty it is today? What if a percentage of the money was used to tackle erosion, flooding and other hazards that occur annually in the state which has led to the loss of valuable properties? What if a little sum of the money was channeled to road construction, repair and maintenance of the numerous bad roads across the state? Indeed, there are plenty of things that would have been done with the massive loot which would have impacted so much on the people.
It is, therefore, hoped that the EFCC will expedite action on this particular case and bring father and son to book if found guilty. In addition to serving the constitutional punishment for the offences, they should also be made to return the looted funds which should be used to address the infrastructural deficit in the state.
The anti-graft agency should also beam its searchlight on other states of the country so as to fish out all the “Kalus and Orjis” that may have milked or are still milking their states dry to the detriment of the citizens. The rate of looting and embezzlement, not only among the state chief executives, but at different sectors of our economy, is so scary and disturbing that one wonders what becomes of the future of our states and the country in general if nothing is done to check it now.
Some have said that one big issue we have in the country today is the security votes that are not accounted for. There can be no better truth thant that. Some greedy, selfish governors are using it as an excuse to siphon the treasury and impoverish the people.  It is difficult to understand why you should take tax payers’ money as the person in charge of the state’s affairs and don’t deem it necessary to give account to the people who own the money.
For donkey years we have claimed to be fighting corruption in this country, yet there is nothing to show for it. Rather, the situation seems to be worsening by the day. People no longer see corruption as a wrong doing but as a way of life. That’s why some people are castigating EFCC for investigating Orji and his son, labeling the action as a witch hunt, politically-motivated act and all manner of sentiments.
Corruption is now a systematic issue and the sooner we devised a more effective way of dealing with it systematically, the better for us.  We need to build the integrity of the citizens. Integrity is what will make a governor, lawmaker, president or anybody for that matter, to always ask himself two important questions before taking any action: am l doing the right thing? am l doing it right? Once we can get many Nigerians reason this way, corruption will be stemmed.

 

By: Calista Ezeaku

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Opinion

Public Display Of Illegal Weapons

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The Rivers State Police Command must be congratulated on the seizure and display of ammunition and assorted weapons from suspected cultists, kidnappers and robbers operating in the state. Back-Page Reflection in The Tide newspaper of Thursday, March 12, 2020, tells the story in picture, where a proud Commissioner of Police was briefing the public to showcase the gallantry, zeal and patriotism of his men in the state.
Anybody looking at the picture-display in the newspaper would appreciate the extent of elaborate arrangement involved in the show of gallantry. Yes, the task of recovery of illegal fire-arms and the dislodgement of the operational and hiding places of criminals are risky but commendable acts of patriotism. It takes ideal professionalism to be able to accomplish such feats.
What those people who are not well-acquainted with the unwritten law of police operations may not know, includes the fact that all details displayed in public may not tell all the stories. There may be more weapons or money displayed for public consumption than what were actually recovered by the police from criminal groups.
Surely, there had been cases where the amount of loots recovered from armed and pen robbers were more than what was displayed to the public. The culture of re-looting of recovered loots is not new, neither is it confined to Nigeria alone. There had also been cases where criminals caught in the net of law-enforcement agencies were made to admit ownership of additional load than what they actually carried. Who would not want to help himself when such opportunity beckons? You don’t ignore windfalls, do you?
The dismissal of a senior police officer many years ago arose from his habit of exchanging counterfeit currency notes with genuine ones recovered from bank robbers. There are many of similar cases which one would not want to exhume because of their sensitive and security nature. Oftentimes some naïve and unfortunate junior officers can be sacrificed to save the face and reputation of some clever officers. Would it not be appropriate to place some searchlight on our security and law enforcement agencies? It is long overdue!
From promotions, postings and deployments, there are lots of internal but often suppressed grumblings within the police circle. Is there no sense in a suggestion made long ago that State Commissioners of Police should be officers from or well acquainted with the states they are deployed?
Similarly, is there no truth in some insinuations that promotions, postings and deployment in the police perhaps other federal establishments, have become seriously politicized? Few years ago there was an alarm raised that one state alone had more candidates shortlisted for recruitment into the security services than some 10 states put together. Is the Federal Character policy not being applied in some discriminatory manner?
The issue of criminality in Nigeria is taking some challenging dimensions, whereby the adoption of a know-all-attitude cannot be helpful for the nation. Having professional training in surveillance, combating and detection of crimes is a vital starting point, but that must also go along with other factors. Apart from what is known as local knowledge of the zone of operation, there must also be a good rapport with the residents of the neighbourhood. Without public co-operation, there can hardly be an effective policing.
What we find common among our law-enforcement personnel is the creation of some hostility with members of the public who can be of immense help to them. Apart from the need for retraining programmes to keep abreast with current trends, older hands who are no longer in the job can be of great help to the police. The police needs the help of older hands.
It would not be enough to organize some public exhibition of recovered weapons and arrested cultists, kidnappers and robbers; other things can be added. These would include making effective use of current crime-statistics, especially police-supervisees in the states. It is common for old crime-barons and kingpins to be placed under police supervision for some years, and their activities monitored. New hands in the under-world are mere apprentices who must have god-fathers and protectors.
Often times, the big sharks in the sea are so powerful and well-connected that they become men that no one can arrest or even point fingers at. For example, were the weapons displayed by the police procured by the suspected criminal paraded in public?
Some years ago the police withdrew fire-arms licences as well as the guns from individuals who had legal possessions of firearms. But some private investigations showed that the withdrawal of firearms licences applied only to particular sections of the country. Why make some people vulnerable while others had free use of weapons? Those whose licenced guns were withdrawn have not got them back yet, but illegal arms are plenty.
Dr Amirize is a retired lecturer from the Rivers State University, Port Harcourt.

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Opinion

Whither The Dividends Of Democracy?

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Universally, democracy is defined as government of the people, by the people and for the people. It is a representative, participatory and consultative government. It is about due process, rule of law and respect for the fundamental human rights. It is about transparency, accountability and good governance.
Democracy recognizes and respects human dignity and freedom, such as freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom of movement and freedom of association. It is about service and not leadership. It is about welfare and well-being of the people. It is about provision of social amenities such as pipe-borne water, electricity supply, healthcare, education, housing, employment, food, transportation, good roads, job creation, security, and so on. All these are the fruits of democracy, commonly known as the dividends of democracy.
Dividends of democracy are also enjoyed when the masses to which democracy assigns huge responsibility of electing their representatives in the three tiers of government are given fair treatment by the government.
But it is painful that after 20 years of experimenting and experiencing the democratic governance in Nigeria, we are yet to see the much needed dividends of democracy. We have no potable drinking water. We still make do with untreated bore-hole water and yet, every year, huge amount of money is budgeted for water.
Electricity is in short supply in the country. Steady supply of electricity would have been a source of joy to small-scale entrepreneurs whose businesses such as tailoring, barbing, dry cleaning, hair dressing, selling of minerals and pure water depend on it. But it is painful that electricity supply has not improved for the past 20 years despite billions of dollars budgeted for it by government on yearly basis.
Nigeria has not fared better in the area of education. Some years ago, Nigerian slogan was ‘Education for all by the year 2000’. Now year 2000 has come and gone, education for all is not yet in sight. We still have thousands of children who cannot find their way to school for one reason or the other.
School fees at all levels of education are expensive and, in some cases, unaffordable. And what is more, teachers and lecturers are not receiving better treatment from government in terms of salaries and working conditions. Indeed, our education system is in a mess.
Our healthcare system is in comatose. Many hospitals have no drugs and modern equipment. Despite the efforts of NAFDAC, fake drugs from India and other countries still find their way into the country. As a result of these, many Nigerians travel abroad for medical attention.
Despite abundant human resources, vast lands and billions of naira generated from oil, Nigerian leaders have refused to invest in agriculture. This has increased the prices of food stuff and general cost of living in Nigeria; with thousands of youths roaming about the streets for lack of nothing to engage in.
In fact, unemployment in the country has become the biggest problem of Nigerian youths and challenge to the federal government. Millions of Nigerian youths who graduated from various universities and other higher institutions every year are without jobs. Inability to ensure jobs and indeed reasonable paid jobs has lured many into various crimes.
It is the same sad story in the area of transportation. Rail transportation used to be cheap in those days. It is the cheapest means of transportation for the common man. But today, rail transportation barely works optimally after intervention by the present administration. Billions of naira earmarked for its rehabilitation with a Chinese firm as contractor hasn’t yielded much.
This situation is exacerbated by the deplorable condition of roads in Nigeria, particularly those in the eastern part of the country. Anybody who passes through our roads would weep for Nigerians who ply these roads on daily basis. The question is: What happened to the trillions of naira that Olusegun Obasanjo’s government and others budgeted for this sector. Down the drain as usual?
So, where are the dividends of democracy? Unfortunately, what we have as dividends of democracy in Nigeria are political thuggery, violence, militancy in the Niger Delta, banditry, terrorism, kidnapping, public harassment and extortion, election rigging, embezzlement of public funds, etc.
It is against this backdrop that I call on President Muhammadu Buhari to pursue his agenda with much vigour so that by the time he would be leaving office, he would be able to boast of good legacies.
As for Rivers State, Governor Barrister Nyesom Wike is making appreciable and commendable in-roads, especially in the areas of roads network, education, healthcare, transportation, security, urban renewal and beautification. We only hope he would not be distracted by political cynics.
Ogbuehi, a journalist and human rights activist, wrote from Port Harcourt.

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Opinion

Averting COVID-19 Hunger Action 

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Reading about the hunger protest in Philippine on Wednesday, I couldn’t help but picture what may happen in our country should there be further delay in delivering relief materials and other palliatives promised by the federal and some state governments to cushion the effect of the lockdown occasioned by the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak .
Residents of a slum area in the capital city, Manila, staged a protest to demand relief goods amid a month-long Coronavirus lockdown that had left many of them without work, claiming they had not been given any food packs and other relief supplies since the lockdown began over two weeks now.
Back home here in Nigeria, President Muhammadu Buhari, during a national address last Sunday, ordered the lockdown of Lagos, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and Ogun State for two weeks as one of the measures to control and contain the spread of the pandemic. He announced that relief materials would be deployed to ease the pains of residents of satellite and commuter towns and communities around Lagos and Abuja whose livelihoods would be affected by the restrictive measure. Other palliative measures include: feeding of school children (though schools are on holiday); a conditional two months cash transfer for the most vulnerable in the society; two months of food rations for internally displaced persons (IDPs) and many more.
However, days into the lockdown, we are yet to see these measures come to light. Yes, the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 told us on Wednesday that the President had approved the release of 70,000 metric tonnes of grains from the National Strategic Grain Reserves, to be distributed to the poor and vulnerable in the worst hit states, as well as persons whose livelihoods will be affected by the lockdown. A day before then, the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Hajiya Sadiya Farouk, had announced that no fewer than 11 million Nigerian citizens would benefit from the palliative measures. But what we have not seen is the poor people around us who have nothing to feed on, especially at this critical period, getting these relief materials. And why the beneficiaries are pegged at 11 million; the statistics used to select them are still unclear to me.
Furthermore, the minister said the palliatives distribution has started with the IDPs in the North-East who received two months’ rations of relief materials. Commendable! But should this handful of persons be the ones to have gotten these materials four days into the lockdown? How long will it take for it to go round? Is it when the lockdown ends? Perhaps, we need to be reminded that millions of those who are compelled to self-isolate for two weeks are hustlers, who eat from hand to mouth and that staying this long without food or money in their pockets is as good as asking them to choose death either by hunger or the virus.
Is government right in taking the harsh decisions? Of course, yes. Seeing the devastating effects of the novel virus all over the world, how people are dying in hundreds daily, our government, both at the federal and state levels, must be commended for all their efforts so far in checking the spread of the disease in the country. The closure of the inter-state borders, restriction of movement, banning of public gatherings, among other measures are in the interest of the people. However, one would expect that these measures will have human face. Many would have expected the palliative measures be delivered to the people before the lockdown as it obtains in other countries.  In Lagos State, though markets are shut, neighbourhood food markets are set up at selected locations to cater for the needs of the people. Wouldn’t other governors and the FCT Minister adopt this? With these, you can be sure of compliance and commitment from all citizens.
However, one sure thing is that government cannot do it alone. In a country of over 200 million people with a greater population living on less than a dollar a day, coupled with our dwindling economy, we will not be realistic to think that government alone can adequately cater for the huge number of poor citizens. A whole lot of assistance is needed from individuals, organisations and corporate bodies. Gladly, we have seen actions in this direction in the past few days with the donations from banks, well-to-do individuals and even federal, state lawmakers, ministers and governors pledging their salaries for the same course.
As at Wednesday, monetary contributions to the account set up at the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) under the auspices of the private sector Coalition Against COVID-19 (CACOVID) was said to have hit N15 billion with 37 donors on the list. Some faith based organisations have also been quietly doing what they know how to do best – reaching out to the poor.  It goes to prove the saying that when faced with a threatening situation; Nigerians never fail to aggressively tackle it, putting aside all religious, ethnic and even political sentiments. We hope that the mangers of this and other COVID-19 relief fund will use the monies for the purpose they are meant for so that when the Coronavirus war is over, there will be no need for the setting up of panel on mismanagement of COVID-19 funds as had been the case with other such funds in the past.
Meanwhile, while more corporate bodies are expected to join in the donation, other citizens should not fail to play their own role. Individually, we can help our poor neighbours by sharing what we have with them. Sellers of food items and other essential items should desist from exploiting other Nigerians by creating artificial scarcity of their goods and increasing their prices arbitrarily. As a matter of fact, there should be price control mechanism in the country which will place restrictions on the prices that can be charged for goods and services in our markets going forward. Let those truly in need of the relief materials go for them when they are eventually brought.
However, while we believe that together we can make the economic, psychological and mental torture of the pandemic bearable, government should do the needful to avert the wrath of the hungry masses.

 

By: Calista Ezeaku

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