Since Coronavirus (COVID-19) first reared its ugly head in December, 2019, in far away Wuhan, a city of 11 million people in China, a lot has changed. It has apparently turned the world upside down. Peace and tranquility which the people have hitherto enjoyed without inhibition seem to have deserted the globe. Panic and fear have crept in and becoming the order of the day in virtually all continents of the world.
Moreover, things appear to have really fallen apart and the centre seems not to hold any longer. The respiratory disease which the World Health Organisation (WHO), aptly described as a global pandemic, has continued to ravage and make mince meat of mankind, leaving in its wake pain, anguish and thousands of deaths. What is happening in the world today is only comparable to a war time.
Worse still, there is no sign of it abating in sight, as no vaccine for its cure has been discovered, even though scientists and medical experts are working round the clock to provide a panacea. At the last count, over 30,000 persons have died from the virus across the globe.
In fact, the rapidity with which the pandemic is spreading across the globe is unprecedented, most astonishing and alarming. In the history of the world, there is nothing compared to it. In response, and as a way of checking the widespread of the virus, various measures have been put in place.
There are massive lockdowns all over the world. Today, sporting events and activities are suspended or outrightly cancelled; and airports are closed. Businesses, contracts and appointments are put off; with heavy tolls on mankind. Stocks have continued to have free falls. Global oil prices have crashed. There are travel bans and restrictions here and there.
Today, the world is literally at a standstill; it is virtually convulsing, courtesy of the Coronavirus pandemic. Overnight, the fear of COVID-19 has become the beginning of wisdom in almost all countries of the world. As the International Monetary Fund (IMF) recently asserted, “monitoring, containing and mitigating the effects of the disease should be top priorities for countries”.
Interestingly, several countries have swung into action to contain the spread of the ravaging monster. In Nigeria, for example, which has confirmed 131 cases so far, with two deaths, the Federal Government has taken drastic measures to curtail the spread of the disease.
It had earlier announced the closure of Port Harcourt International Airport, Omagwa; Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport, Kano; and the Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu; and later placed total ban on international travels at all the airports in the country. It equally imposed travel ban on 13 countries which it considered to have high risk of the pandemic as well as banned public and civil servants from foreign travels, among other measures.
On Sunday, President Muhammadu Buhari addressed the nation on the situation and revealed the measures and some palliatives the government has put in place to cushion the effects of the disease on the citizenry.
We boldly state that some of the palliatives are not what Nigerians are expecting from the government today. The Federal Government should borrow a leaf from other countries which are providing other forms of palliatives to their citizens.
Most significantly, as soon as the news of the outbreak of the pandemic broke, the Rivers State Government swung into action by constituting a five-man Inter-Ministerial Committee on Enlightenment and Awareness Creation on COVID-19, to undertake aggressive sensitisation campaigns to check the menace of the contagion in the state. The committee, headed by the State Commissioner for Information and Communications, Pastor Paulinus Nsirim, has not relented in intensifying the campaigns by reaching out to critical stakeholders in the state.
Sensitisation jingles and messages aired on radio, television and newspapers, which the state government through the committee has powered, are no doubt going a long way to put the disease under control in the state.
These are beyond the efforts being personally made by the state Governor, Chief Nyesom Wike, to contain the spread of the disease in the state. First, the Governor directed all schools and tertiary institutions in the state to shutdown till further notice. Regrettably, Rivers State has recorded one index case as confirmed by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC).
In furtherance of the commitment of the state government to protect Rivers residents, Governor Wike also announced the closure of all borders including air, sea and land routes into the state to traffic and banned vehicular movements in and out of the state. He equally closed down all public parks, night clubs and cinemas till further notice and banned public burials and wedding ceremonies across the state. He has signed the Executive Orders to give verve to all the directives issued by the state government to check the spread of the disease.
The government had earlier set up a 12-man task force on enforcement of the ban on public gatherings and places of worship headed by the Governor as a way of containing the spread of the disease.
Indeed, The Tide commends the actions taken by the state government so far to ensure that the incidence of COVID-19 in the state is reduced to the barest minimum. We believe that this is not the time to let down the guard. The sensitisation campaigns must be intensified.
The closure of the state’s borders by the Governor was the real icing on the cake in terms of the proactive measures adopted by government to contain the spread of the disease in the state. In fact, the government needs the support and cooperation of the Federal Government as well as all and sundry, to ensure that this particular measure works effectively.
We are also elated that the government is strengthening and enhancing the surveillance measures already in place to prevent the importation of the virus into the state. The truth remains that the battle against the pandemic is a battle that must be fought and won. For this to be realised, we think, all hands must be on deck.
All residents of the State must, therefore, observe basic principles of hygiene as recommended by experts by washing their hands regularly with soap and using alcohol-based sanitisers as well as keeping their immediate surroundings clean at all times. This is because, as they say, cleanliness is next to Godliness.
Again, the social distancing policy of the government must be strictly obeyed and enforced among other directives issued by the state government to actually contain the spread of COVID – 19.
Justifying Allocations To Intel Agencies
The approval of a N4.87 billion budget for the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) by the National
Assembly (NASS) to track, intercept and monitor calls and messages on mobile devices, including Thuraya and WhatsApp may prove to be counter-productive to the constitutional role of the press. Clearly, that seems to be one of the ploys of the Federal Government to subdue the media.
This amount is said to be part of the N895.8 billion supplementary budget presented by President Muhammadu Buhari and approved by the two chambers of the federal parliament after having increased it by about N87 billion. Of that sum, N1.93 billion was earmarked for “WhatsApp Interception Solution” and N2.93 billion for “Thuraya Interception Solution” – a communications system used for monitoring voice calls or call-related information, SMS, data traffic, among others.
Also, Nigeria’s military intelligence arm, the Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA), has secured N16.8 billion for foreign and national military intelligence. The DIA will as well use the funds to conduct enhanced voice and data monitoring. The funds will be used for interception of communications on tactical mobile geological platforms. The agency will also provide infrastructure and establish cyber intelligence facilities and laboratories across the country.
Federal legislators are also working on a series of legislative initiatives to regulate the media. A number of such bills include the Nigerian Broadcasting Commission (NBC) Act and the Press Council Act (PCA). The Buhari’s government has also recently banned the social media platform, Twitter, as it continues to call for support for regulation of online and mainstream media space in the country.
The purpose of modifying the NBC Act and the PCA Act, is not only to intimidate and stifle the press, but also to muffle the basis of our democracy – freedom of speech. Both amendments seek to empower the Minister of Information to issue licences to print and broadcast media, and penalise journalists and media organisations for offences already covered under the country’s penal and criminal codes.
For instance, Section 3 (e, f, and g) of the NPC amendment bill says the body shall “receive, process and consider applications for the establishment, ownership and operation of print and other related media houses; with the approval of the minister, grant print media and other related licences to any application considered worthy of such; monitor activities of the media and other related media houses to ensure compliance with the National Press Code for professional and ethical conduct, including the Nigeria Union of Journalists.”
The bill also provides the minister with the authority to sanction and revoke the licence of any print media that violates the “National Press Code”. Section 33 (3) of the bill also says that “any person who carries news established to be fake news thereafter, commits an offence and is liable, on conviction, to a fine of N5 million or two years in prison or both.”
And the print media that carried the ‘fake news’ shall be liable to a fine of N10 million and/or closure for one year! This clause deliberately ignores existing media laws that provide for retraction and apology when a media organisation errs in publishing an article. It is yet to be seen what is democratic about this proposed law.
In addition, the currently conceived bill aims to regulate internet broadcasting and all online media organisations through a series of broadcasting licences, including licences for live content or Over the Top Television (OTT). Attempting to crack down on online media criticism is patently reckless, and it flies in the face of liberal democracy.
We are totally confident that all the endorsed funds and the review of media laws are geared towards enabling security operatives to haunt journalists and to restrict freedom of information in the country. This is actually another strategy to limit criticism of the government. Why are the authorities not thinking about utilising the enormous funds earmarked for media repression to develop other sectors of the country consistently yearning for consideration?
No opposition party in Nigeria has benefited more from press freedom than the All Progressives Congress (APC). As APC’s spokesperson at the time, the current Information Minister, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, had access to traditional and online media at all times, and his views were widely publicised. Therefore, it is paradoxical that these obnoxious bills are in the process of becoming laws.
Over the last six years, the NASS has adopted, revised or proposed no fewer than five pieces of legislation, all of which have the capacity to restrict the press. These include the Cybercrime Act, the Frivolous Petitions Bill of 2015, the Hate Speech Bill, and the Prevention of Internet Falsehood and Manipulation Bill of 2019. Each of them looks scary enough.
The NASS or any other related legislature must deal with various anti-media bills carefully to avoid overheating the already tense polity. In the past, even under the military regime, Nigerian leaders tried to block the press, but met severe resistance; and only successfully pitched the government against the people and the media and created social unrest.
Certainly, like traditional media platforms, there could be abuse, and this invariably requires some regulation. But given the inherent nature of social media, extreme care must be taken to prevent the child from being dumped with the bathwater. The largely unsuccessful experience of some developed countries that have sought to reduce social media excesses in some respects is very instructive.
In any event, there are enough existing laws in the country’s statute books on defamation, privacy, libel and slander to protect public and private individuals ordinarily. It is important to ensure that the passage of another law on similar matters is not excessive, eventually resulting in needless duplication of laws.
There is no question that the government has to regulate the media in line with extant laws, especially in this period when the country is beset with existential, economic, political and security problems. In fact, the time demands that all security agencies, including the intelligence community, are up and doing.
However, we firmly insist that the massive allocations to the different intelligence services in the country should not be a cover-up to fight the media. Instead, they must be put to good use to achieve the presumed objective of combating subversive activities, crime and criminal elements. No society can stand up to a subjugated press.
Fix Eleme–Onne Road, Now
Youths from the four Ogoni-speaking local government areas of Rivers State have since last Monday
morning blocked the Eleme–Onne axis of the East–West Road to protest the poor condition of the federal highway. The youths have mobilised heavy trucks to block both ends leading to the high-priority infrastructure of the country, in particular the only bridge connecting the region to Port Harcourt.
The section, measuring 15 kilometres with a linking bridge, is one of the busiest segments of the highway following the regular hauling of goods from the Onne seaport, the Port Harcourt Refining Company, and the Oil and Gas Free Trade Zone. The road equally serves over 200 multinational companies in the Eleme Industrial Zone including the two refineries, the Indorama Petrochemical and Fertiliser Company, Intels Nigeria Limited, and Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA).
The protesting youths, who have literally turned the event into a carnival of a sort, are demanding that the dilapidated Ogoni section of the East–West Road be reconstructed, with at least three flyovers at strategic locations in Akpajo, Alesa and Onne, all in Eleme Local Government Area. They also want to see the reconstruction of the existing bridge at the Aleto junction.
Apart from the conveying of goods from Eleme, the East–West Road with only an access bridge which is near collapsing connects nine local government areas to Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital. The Federal Government had consistently promised to fix the section of the road, but contractors are yet to be mobilised to the site, even though skeletal works are ongoing on some sections.
As expected, the protest is affecting businesses and other activities in the area badly. For example, the physical verification of the Continuous Voter Registration exercise by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) scheduled to commence in parts of Rivers State since Monday is negatively impacted by the protest.
In a statement, the Head, Voter Education and Publicity of INEC in Rivers State, Mark Usolor, said, “due to the blockade on the stretch of the East–West Road, their personnel and materials were unable to arrive some of the local government offices of INEC to commence the exercise.” The commission listed the affected local government areas to include Andoni, Bonny, Eleme, Gokana, Khana, Ogu/Bolo, Okrika, Opobo/Nkoro and Tai.
During the inauguration of Community Secondary School, Eteo, Eleme, and Community Secondary School, Obeakpu-Ndoki, Oyigbo, respectively in June this year, Governor Nyesom Wike charged the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Godswill Akpabio, to visit the Eleme section of the East–West Road to appreciate the agony of the people of the area. The governor denounced the dilapidated condition of the road, particularly the Eleme axis and urged rapid completion on account of its economic importance.
He said; “I urge the Federal Government under the APC to please fulfill promises they made to Nigerians, fulfill promises they made to Rivers State. It is unfortunate, look at the East–West Road, this part of it has almost collapsed. The money comes from where? The money comes from us. Can you see this part of the road anywhere in this country? They are taking us for granted because we have nobody. God in his infinite mercy will give us somebody. The kind of treatment we are receiving from this Federal Government is unacceptable.”
In what initially appeared to be a reassuring move, the Federal Government had disclosed that it released N7 billion to contractors to facilitate the East–West Road project, and instructed them to comply with the directives to complete and hand over the project to people of the region before the end of First Quarter 2022. Unfortunately, there is nothing on the ground for the tremendous amount and no one has been questioned for it.
Indeed, this protest has come at an auspicious moment. We support the action and urge the youths to remain on the remonstrance howbeit peacefully until work begins or they can obtain a commitment from the Federal Government. We will resist a situation where commuters and other road users are exposed to countless difficulties on a daily basis. It is hard to understand why, despite the enormous economic value of the road, it has stayed abandoned to this day.
Developments in the Niger Delta have reached a point where strategic and decisive measures must be taken to guarantee the future of the region. The Federal Government must pay greater attention to the plight of those living in the Niger Delta. It is a shame that the East–West Road has been in limbo for years and that there is no serious work going on there. If politics plays into the construction of the road, nothing prevents the people from expressing themselves in assertion of their rights and defence of the residents.
Interestingly, the East–West Road was flagged off in 2006 by the Olusegun Obasanjo administration. To facilitate its completion, President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration moved the project to the Presidential Infrastructure Development Fund (PIDF), with approved funds surprisingly warehoused by the Uche Orji-led Nigeria Sovereign Investment Authority (NSIA). However, it was later transferred to the impoverished Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs for doubtful reasons. Stakeholders in the region strongly believe that this is the reason why the work is slow at the moment.
While we suffer the anguish of the ugly progression of this all-important road, so far, we think that there is an urgent need for the protest to be guided by its organisers to forestall being hijacked by hoodlums for criminal or political purposes. There are already sad reports of people being assaulted and property being vandalised. That is by no means the way to go. The leaders of the region should call the youths to order and urge them to conduct themselves appropriately.
If the government is spending about N900 billion on the 127.621km Lagos–Ibadan Expressway, and the Abuja–Kaduna–Kano highway reviewed from N155 billion to N797.236 billion, why is the East–West Road continuously denied similar attention when it is located in the region that produces over 80 per cent of the nation’s revenue? The federal authorities must heed the demands of the protest marchers and fix this road immediately.
Party Defections Taken Too Far
The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), last week, instituted a legal action at the Supreme Court against the Zamfara State Governor, Alhaji Bello Matawalle, and members of the State House of Assembly and federal lawmakers from the state who defected with the state chief executive from the PDP to the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC).
In the suit which follow an earlier one initiated by the Zamfara State Chapter of the PDP at the Federal High Court in Abuja seeking similar reliefs, the main opposition party in the country is asking the Apex Court of the land to declare as vacant the seats of its erstwhile members in the National Assembly as well as the Zamfara State House of Assembly who dumped the party for the APC. The party also wants Governor Matawalle to lose his governorship position as a consequence of the defection.
On June 28, 2021, Matawalle had announced his defection from the PDP to the APC at an occasion attended by leaders of the ruling party including the Secretary to the Government of the Federation and 11 APC governors in Gusau, the state capital. Also received into the APC from the PDP were all the 24 members of the State House of Assembly, all three senators and six out of the seven members of the House of Representatives from the state. Only the Deputy Governor, Aliya Gusan and the member Representing Anka/Talata-Marafa Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives, Hon. Kabiru Marafa, chose not to defect of all that benefitted from the Supreme Court judgement in 2019.
Governor Matawalle was declared governor and the lawmaker’s winners of their contested seats on May 24, 2019 after the Supreme Court disqualified all the APC candidates in the general elections of 2019 over the failure of the party (APC) to conduct valid primary elections to produce the candidates.
Before Matawalle and his group defected, the governor of Ebonyi State, Dave Umahi and his Cross River State counterpart, Ben Ayade had walked out of the PDP into the APC this year. On the other side, Governors like Aminu Waziri Tambuwal of Sokoto State, Samuel Ortom of Benue State and Godwin Obaseki of Edo State had moved without much ado from the APC to the PDP and scores of lawmakers criss-crossing the political divides at will at different times in the past under questionable and very disturbing circumstances.
Observers and stakeholders have continued to express worry at the unhealthy trend describing it not only as embarrassing to the nation, but also as a dangerous development that could spell doom for the country’s democracy which requires urgent and decisive action to contain.
While The Tide concedes to politicians their right to freely move and pitch tent with any political party of their choice and has nothing against political groups’ freedom to poach influential members of rival parties, we are concerned that the recklessness of the act, if not checked, could weaken the system and erode every advantage and benefit accruable to the people from the liberal democratic system the country is nurturing.
Critical watchers of the Nigerian political space have come to the inevitable conclusion that the constant defection of politicians from one party to another have less to do with principles and ideologies but more to do with self-serving motives. Whether by enticement, coercion, manipulation, blackmail or intimidation employed to compel this indiscriminate move of the political class, the fact remains that the indulgence systematically eliminates viable and vibrant alternative voice that is necessary for the socio-political and economic development of the country.
According to a certain commentator, the ongoing rash of defections being instigated and celebrated by the APC is particularly baffling because of the absence of concrete ideological validations or performance indices driving the defecting politicians.
“It is not as if states being run by PDP governors are faring worse in development than APC states. It is not like the current Federal Government is a PDP-run one under which insecurity, poverty and socio-economic conditions have become nightmarish. In a twist of paradox and curiosity, political actors are defecting to the ruling party today at a time when the government is widely rated to score lowest in nearly all performance indices,” he said, concluding that the defectors could only be doing so either for political survival, exemption from prosecution form corruption or promises of future juicy positions and privileges.
It is, therefore, to entrench a more accountable political class and to protect the people from dubious political actors that The Tide commends and supports the PDP for the bold and courageous step to seek legal redress which outcome could conclusively address and stem the ugly tide.
While defending his party’s decision to go to court, Kola Ologbodiyan, spokesman of the PDP, averred a “combined reading of Section 221 of the 1999 Constitution and the pronouncement of the Supreme Court in Faleke Vs INEC (2016) is clear in holding that it is the political party that stands for election, that votes scored in election belong to the political party and that the candidate nominated to contest at an election by his party acts only as the agent of the party”.
Suffice to say that the shameless political harlotry of the Nigerian politician and all the dangers it portends for our democracy has just got to stop, and we urge the Supreme Court to attend to this case in the light of all that it is meant to put right to save our democracy.
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