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Editorial

Against Repentant Insurgents’ Bill 

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In what looks like a poor imitation of the Amnesty Programme in the Niger Delta, a bill seeking to establish an agency for rehabilitation of repentant Boko Haram members is about to be passed into law by the Senate.
But unlike the Amnesty Programme in the Niger Delta where the ex-agitators were known and reasons for their agitation were well spelt out, the Boko Haram insurgents are terrorists who derive joy in killing innocent people without provocation and justification. The recent bill by the former Governor of Yobe State and Senator representing Yobe East, Ibrahim Geidam, cannot, therefore, be said to have met the criteria for which an Amnesty Programme in the Niger Delta was established.
Among other curious motives, the Geidam bill titled ‘Establishment of the National Agency for the Education, Rehabilitation, Deradicalisation and Integration of Repentant Insurgents in Nigeria and for Other Connected Purposes’, seeks to deradicalise repentant insurgents and equip them with requisite skills.
According to Senator Geidam, the bill “will help rehabilitate and reintegrate the defectors, repentant and forcefully conscripted members of the insurgent group, Boko Haram, to make them useful members of the society and provide an avenue for reconciliation and promote national security.
“It will also encourage other members of the group who are still engaged in the insurgency to abandon the group, especially in the face of the military pressure and enable the government to derive insider-information about the insurgency group for greater understanding of the group and its inner workings”.
The Yobe East Senator also believes that the bill “will enable government to use the defectors to fight the unrepentant insurgents”.
Details of the bill show that the proposed agency will rely majorly on funds from the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC), the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund), and 0.5 per cent of the allocation of the six North East States.
The Tide finds inexplicable the rationale behind the idea of creating an agency to rehabilitate veritable savages when the victims of their bestialities are languishing in internally displaced persons’ (IDPs) camps.
There is no gainsaying the fact that for the eleventh year running, the Boko Haram terrorist group has remained a raging inferno that costs the country so much in human and material terms. Worst is the apparent helplessness of the Federal Government to contain the monster. The government’s assurance that Boko Haram would soon be history has become trite. The more the government promises to decimate the terrorist group, the more vicious it becomes.
But is the rehabilitation of the lunatic group the solution to insurgency in the country? The answer is No. It is against this backdrop that we frown at the reported release of 1,400 Boko Haram ‘’suspects’’ and a bill currently before the Senate for the establishment of a national agency to educate and rehabilitate repentant insurgents. The bill, which has already passed the first reading in the Red Chamber, is a mockery of the fight against insurgency and the unspeakable tragedy that has been wreacked on the nation by the Boko Haram sect in the last one decade.
It is appalling that members of a terrorist group who should be charged with treason and subjected to condign punishment are being treated with kid’s gloves.
For us, the idea of establishing an agency to take care of the terrorists who gleefully celebrate the decapitation of fellow humans and the casualties resulting from their bestialities is irreconcilable. The bill is curious and raises more questions than answers. Is the rehabilitation of members of the lunatic band the appropriate action to assuage the grief of widows and orphans left behind by those who died fighting against these same fanatics?
If the bill sails through, how do we get justice for so many officers and men of the Nigerian Armed Forces who, in the service to their fatherland, have paid the supreme price fighting Boko Haram? How would the government justify the humongous amount of the nation’s resources, including borrowing, that had been channelled into confronting the terrorists?
It is also unthinkable that the government will have to spend borrowed money to rehabilitate those who have immensely contributed to its financial crisis, should Geidam’s bill become law.
Again, how do we distinguish between pretenders and genuinely-repentant insurgents?  What is the guarantee that many, if not most of the supposedly repentant insurgents will not find their way back to the fold of their fellow fanatics after gathering information that will enable them to wreak havoc in greater measure?
Like many other Nigerians, we fear that releasing the ‘repentant’ Boko Haram militants into civilian population could be counter-productive as there is high likelihood of hardened fighters returning to the terror group to commit more atrocities, just as there is the likelihood that the bill, if passed, will breed more insurgents.
The bill is, therefore, not only needless, but also a misplaced priority. This is even so that the nationality of the insurgents may be difficult to ascertain.
We also doubt if the Boko Haram elements who kill for no cause or justification can be rehabilitated. We advise that funds meant to rehabilitate them should be used to correct infrastructural decay in the area of roads, electricity and water supply. Better still, the funds can be used to fund the Army, the police and other security agencies as well as proper equipment to fight the insurgents.
Meanwhile, we believe that the situation in the North-East has been properly taken care of with the establishment of the North East Development Commission (NEDC). That commission should be well-funded and well-equipped to tackle all the socio-economic malaise which breed insurgents in that geo-political zone.
It will amount to a waste of resources to channel resources that are supposed to be used to bring an end to terrorism and the orgy of violence into setting up an agency in the name of rehabilitating a terrorist group that does not care a hoot about human lives.
We believe that the country is currently at war with insurgents, and the war must be fought to its logical conclusion. Deradicalisation can only come after the terrorist group has been defeated. Therefore, Geidam’s bill at this moment when the war is on amounts to putting the cart before the horse.
The bill, if passed into law, will not only offend the sensibilities of all the victims of Boko Haram’s insanity, it will also be an indication of appeasement if not outright capitulation. If this happens, both the sponsor and the Senate that passed the bill into law will be as quilty as the Boko Haram lunatics that have made the country a theatre of needless war for the past 11 years. Nigerians are watching.

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Editorial

COVID-19: Enforcing Rules In Rivers 

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This is not the best of time for humanity. Certainly not for Nigeria whose health sector is near comatose.
The current situation in the world as regards the outbreak of Coronavirus pandemic can only be compared to the wartime when man survives by chance. Even in the brutal Second World War, superpowers like the United States and Europe were not as mortally frenzied as they are now.
The viral pandemic has spread to more than 20 countries, including the developed world like the United States, United Kingdom and Germany. At the last count, 474,000 cases have been recorded worldwide with 21,300 fatalities. Italy is leading the number of casualties, followed by Spain and China where the pathogen originates from. The figure increases per hour.
In Nigeria, 65 persons, according to the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), have reportedly tested positive to COVID-19 with one fatality recorded and two discharged. Six others are to be discharged in Lagos any moment from now. The number of cases may have even increased by the time this editorial comes out.
At least, eight states in the country have been hit by the deadly virus. Worst hit is Lagos State, followed by Abuja (Federal Capital Territory) and Ogun State.
There is no doubt that the situation is disturbing and scary, requiring health emergency system. It is reassuring, however, that the Federal Government, though late in response, has set up a Presidential Task Force (PTF) on Control of COVID-19 pandemic in the country. The 36 states of the federation have also stepped up measures on how to contain the pandemic.
Although Rivers State has recorded one case, the state government has taken proactive measures to nip its spread in the bud. Within the last one week, the state Governor, Chief Nyesom Wike, has made three broadcasts to the state reeling out measures against the spread of the virus.
Aside from banning social functions, religious gatherings and shutting down schools in the state, the government has ordered the closure of public parks, night clubs, cinemas and the popular Oil Mill Market in Port Harcourt. It has also ordered transporters to reduce the number of their passengers to avoid body contact.
Another commendable measure announced by the state government on Wednesday was to seal up and air-tight the entry point access by closing all land borders leading to the state. In addition to this, the Governor has inaugurated a 12-man special task force to monitor and enforce compliance with the government’s directives on COVID-19.
To underscore the importance of the emergency situation at hand, the state chief executive decided to head the task force himself with all service chiefs and heads of paramilitary outfits in the state, Secretary to the State Government, Chief of Staff to the Governor, and the State Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice as members, while the State Commissioner for Health serves as secretary.
In spite of these commendable efforts by the state government, The Tide observes that the level of compliance with restrictions in the state is abysmally low. There appears to be apathy and indifference by the ordinary citizenry to the government’s directives even when the deadly virus has continued to claim lives worldwide.
Of particular worry to us is the sheer ignorance and total disbelief to the existence of the virus among the low literate citizenry that constitutes the bulk of the population in the state. To most of the artisans, traders and transporters, nothing seems to be at stake. Transporters still overload their vehicles, while many people still transact their businesses in crowded places with reckless indifference. The few who believe in the existence of the disease premised their resistance to the government’s directives on the adverse economic effects such order would have on them.
This high level of ignorance and sheer resistance trivialises and waters down the gravity of the Coronavirus crisis and the efforts of the government.
We, therefore, urge for more sensitisation and public awareness on the dangers of the pandemic. There is no doubt that the five-man state ministerial committee on Enlightenment and Awareness Creation on COVID-19 headed by the state Commissioner for Information and Communications has been up and doing in creating awareness, the situation still requires more vigorous sensitisation among the citizenry, especially those in the rural areas.
In addition to using the media, both social and conventional, to create awareness, there is a need for the state government to rally traditional rulers, religious clerics and political leaders at the local government level, to lend their support and voices to the public awareness.
Meanwhile, we appreciate the fact that the state economy may not support the kind of buffers governments offer their citizenry in places like Europe, US and Asia in times of emergency like this, but we want to suggest that, as a way of encouraging public compliance with the government’s directives on COVID-19, the state government should consider some stop-gap measures to cushion the effects of its directives. One of such measures might be suspension of issuance of government’s tickets to commercial drivers in the state pending the time the fight against Coronavirus will be over, while also putting a permanent stop to tolls collected from transporters by the police at various stop-and-search checkpoints.
We also consider it apposite that the state government makes sanitizers available to the public free or, at worst, provide them at a subsidized and affordable rate.
However, while the state government must rally its personnel and resources to check the spread of COVID-19 in the state, we believe the real handle to overawe this viral pestilence lies with individual citizenry. In addition to complying with the directives of the government, the public must maintain a republic of personal hygiene by washing their hands regularly with soaps and running water, as well as maintain social distancing to avoid body contact with the infected person.
The public should understand that the far-reaching precautionary measures taken by the government to check the spread of Coronavirus in the state, though may have fatal consequences on individual livelihoods, are imperatively inevitable. Like Governor Wike said in one of his broadcasts, the current measures put in place by the government to contain the virus may be painful, but no sacrifice is too much to make for us to stay alive.
We must understand that the world, nay Nigeria, is in an emergency situation. This is not an ordinary pandemic that will just pan out without discomfort. It, therefore, requires emergency measures with huge sacrifice from both the government and the citizenry.

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Editorial

NDDC Advisory Committee

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President Muhammadu Buhari, on March 10, 2020, inaugurated an Advisory Committee for the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) at the Council Chambers of the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
The Committee which was constituted in accordance with the provisions of Part III, Section 11 (1a) of the NDDC Establishment Act (as amended) comprised the nine governors of the Niger Delta region and the Ministers of Niger Delta Affairs and Environment.
According to Section 11 (2) of the Act, the Advisory Committee will have the responsibility of advising the NDDC Board and to monitor the activities of the Commission, with a view to achieving set objectives as well as to make rules regulating its own proceedings.
While inaugurating the Committee, Buhari recalled that his administration had in 2016 launched the New Vision for the Niger Delta (NEVIND) to bring sustainable peace, security, infrastructure and human capital development to the region. He told the governors that the abuses of the past made it necessary for them to demand strict and diligent oversight, henceforth.
The President said that the medium to achieve this important objective was through the Niger Delta Ministry, NDDC and the Presidential Amnesty Programme (PAP). He tasked the members to carry out their new assignment effectively and with utmost diligence, working closely with the relevant ministries, adding that he expected to see positive changes in the affairs of the NDDC and on the ground in the Niger Delta region.
Buhari tried to justify his decision to inaugurate the Committee ahead of the reconstitution of the NDDC board when he said: “This is to enable us develop insights into the affairs of the Commission which will properly guide the board when reconstituted once the forensic audit exercise on the Commission is concluded…”
Responding on behalf of members of the Committee, Delta State Governor and Chairman of South-South Governors Forum, Dr Ifeanyi Okowa, said “We do not want to criticise what has happened in the NDDC for quite some time, but the fact is that co-operation between the states and NDDC has not been strengthened over time and we have various cases of duplication of projects that are not properly planned.
“But I believe with the inauguration of this body, we will be able to sit down, work in collaboration and supportively to bring greater development to our people.”
He thanked the President for constituting the advisory committee and also granting the request of the region’s governors for a forensic audit of NDDC.
Going by the Act establishing the NDDC during the Olusegun Obasanjo administration 20 years ago, the agency has the core mandate to formulate policies and programmes and execute same for the development of the Niger Delta region in the areas of industrialisation, transportation, agriculture, health, housing and urban development, water supply, electricity, telecommunication and employment generation.
Even as belated as the inauguration appears, The Tide commends Mr. President for the bold move, especially considering that the Committee comprises mainly governors of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
Already, and just as Governor Okowa hinted in his speech, there is lack of collaboration between administrators of the regional interventionist outfit and governors of its member-states. And this had resulted in the duplication of efforts, funds misapplication, shoddy jobs and outright projects abandonment.
For instance, here in Rivers State, Governor Nyesom Wike had since berated the NDDC for failing to live up to the expectations of the Niger Delta people. He drove this point home when the former NDDC Acting Managing Director, Professor Nelson Braimbaifa, visited him last year, during which he complained that the Niger Delta states were never involved in the design and siting of projects.
Wike had accused the NDDC of owing his government a refund of the state’s counterpart contribution for the building of the Mother and Child Hospital on which the agency reneged. The state has almost completed work on the project single-handedly.
We also recall the disagreement between the Rivers State Government and the NDDC over the construction of Igwuruta-Chokocho-Okehi Road and the recent sealing-off of the latter’s corporate headquarters over a N50 billion tax debt.
The story is almost the same elsewhere across the region. In Akwa Ibom State, for example, Governor Udom Emmanuel, in 2017, accused the NDDC of poor job execution, project abandonment and distortion of the state’s development master plan.
We believe that with the advisory committee now in place, any incoming board of the NDDC will be better guided in terms of projects selection, design, siting and execution so as to ensure quality delivery and avoid duplication of efforts.
It is also expected that the governors will be in a better position to monitor the progress of any NDDC projects sited in their respective domains.
The 28-kilometre Ogbia-Nembe Road in Bayelsa State will continue to stand out as the kind of high profile projects the Niger Delta region needs at this period. Surely, the N24 billion project, built by the NDDC in partnership with The Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC), could not have been a success if the state government had not provided the necessary environment.
Finally, given the years of exploitation, neglect and injustice suffered by the region, we implore the NDDC, its new advisory committee, major stakeholders, foreign donor agencies and interested private sector partners to seize this noble opportunity to begin to collaborate in a way that will bring about a reversal of the present dire circumstances of the people of the oil-rich Niger Delta region of Nigeria.

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Editorial

That S’South Govs’ Asaba Meeting

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A couple of weeks ago, the six South-South governors in Nigeria gathered in Asaba, the Delta State capital, under the umbrella of South-South Governors’ Forum. Central to their discussions and decisions were the moribund BRACED Commission and the establishment of a regional security outfit to tackle peculiar challenges in the region.
Speaking at the end of the meeting, the Forum’s Chairman and Governor of Delta State, Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa, said that the governors had agreed to resuscitate the BRACED Commission, which is a regional economic and integration platform. In addition, BRACED, which stands for Bayelsa, Rivers, Akwa/Ibom, Cross River, Edo and Delta, would be mandated to come up with modalities on the establishment of the regional security outfit.
Indeed, The Tide is happy to note that, after years of lull since the formation of the BRACED Commission over 10 years ago and the seeming abandonment of its vision and mission by its founding founders and their successors, current governors in the region appear ready to take up the gauntlet once more. The commission, at inception, was intended to facilitate economic co-operation and developmental strategies within the region. It, however, failed to deliver on its promises after an apparent loud inaugural show, ironically, in the same Asaba, by its founding fathers.
Regrettably, we cannot claim to be ignorant of the foibles that made the BRACED Commission to suffer a stillbirth ab-initio after it was largely seen as a big step in the right direction by member-states.
Now that the incumbent governors have resolved to provide the needed logistics for the Commission to come back to life, we believe that it is a move that should be supported and encouraged by all that have the interest of the region at heart. We believe so because the importance of economic co-operation, unity of purpose and streamlined strategy towards common challenges in the region outweigh individual approach and one dimensional strategy.
Indeed, the South-South region, in spite of being the goose that lays the golden egg for Nigeria, has peculiar problems, ranging from economic, social to political. In fact, the level of lack of development in most communities of the region in the face of its often touted wealth is a paradox of contrasts.
There is no gainsaying that the people of the region have suffered severe deprivations and we think that through the BRACED Commission, provided that the objectives are right, the people can pool resources together and take the region to the next level.
With the Commission given the necessary shot in the arm, it would present the region the platform to articulate common areas of cooperation, tackle issues with one voice and seek to attract attention and development for the region. It must, however, be noted that, for the commission to be viable, efforts must not be spared in providing the logistics it needs to function optimally.
More importantly, the governors should do well to provide the leadership and vision needed by the Commission, while an administrative structure in which all the states would be represented is required for the needed cohesion, vibrancy, unity of purpose and economic empowerment to be engendered.
We think that the Commission should be seen as a serious business platform to advance the interest of the region rather than a mere social meeting or a forum for competition. It is a known fact that the Commission, despite its ideals and promises at formation, suffered setback due to ego problems, personal agenda and political differences among the founding governors. This must not be allowed to play out again. The larger interest of the region is paramount and should be above that of an individual, including any of the governors.
It is time to drive the wheel of development and progress of the region forward and no state in the zone should be left behind.
In addition, we support the Forum’s idea of setting up a security outfit for the region.
Currently on the front burner in the country is the issue of regional and community policing. In fact, the decision of the Forum on this subject matter could not have come at a better time, especially, considering the coming on stream of the South-West security outfit, Amotekun, the prevailing precarious security situation in the country and the peculiar security challenges in the region.
However, the region must not play to the gallery or join the bandwagon for the sake of it. We expect the political leaders to sit back and design a workable security blueprint that will be suitable to the zone. Such blueprint would not only seek to collaborate with the extant security agencies to provide law and order and protect lives and property but to promote a safe environment for business and leisure in the interest of the region’s economy.
Governors in the region are expected to rise above personal disagreements, political differences and ethnic considerations to speak in one voice on this matter. Security is serious business and an efficient and effective outfit is needed in the region to drive safe living and robust economy. If we dilly-dally while other regions secure their frontiers, criminals would naturally seek for a safe haven and would readily take advantage of any porous zone.

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