Rivers State, on March 24, joined the rest of humanity to mark the 2020 World Tuberculosis Day, with the major target to do everything possible, with its array of influential religious leaders and other stakeholders, to change her fifth high burden status among the 36 states and Abuja, with its current burden estimated at above 16,000 cases.
Speaking at an event to mark the day, the state Commissioner for Health, Prof Chike Princewill, noted that in 2019, about 3,728 persons were diagnosed and treated for TB in the state, adding that apart from the 12 approved rapid diagnostic machines for free TB diagnosis provided in Rivers State, key players should join hands with the government to provide additional 15 TB diagnostic machines for the state in order to reduce the health burden on Rivers people.
The WTBD, observed by member states of the United Nations each year, is designed to build public awareness about the global epidemic of tuberculosis and efforts to eliminate the disease. Proposed by International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease (IUATLD) as an official UN Observance in 1982, a century after its discovery, with the theme, “Defeat TB: Now and Forever”, WTBD was not officially recognised as an annual occurrence by WHO’s World Health Assembly and the UN until over a decade later.
Tuberculosis is caused by bacteria (Mycobacterium tuberculosis) that most often affect the lungs. It’s curable and preventable, and is spread from person to person through the air. People who are infected with HIV are 19 times more likely to develop active TB. The risk of active TB is also greater in persons suffering from other conditions that impair the immune system. Common symptoms of TB are cough with sputum and blood at times, chest pains, weakness, weight loss, fever and night sweats.
In his message to mark World TB Day, WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, emphasized that, “COVID-19 is highlighting just how vulnerable people with lung diseases and weakened immune systems can be. Millions of people need to be able to take TB preventive treatment to stop the onset of disease, avert suffering and save lives”.
The Director of WHO’s Global TB Programme, Dr Tereza Kasaeva, also echoed the same sentiment, saying, “As people around the globe come together to commemorate World TB Day, WHO is calling on governments, affected communities, civil society organisations, health-care providers, donors, partners and the industry to unite forces and step up the TB response – notably for TB preventive treatment – to ensure no one is left behind. We stand in solidarity with those affected by COVID-19 and those at the frontlines of the fight to combat the infectious disease. We need to act with urgency to ensure that in line with our vision of Health for All, no one with TB, COVID-19 or any health condition will miss out on the prevention and care they need. The time for action is now.”
Despite that linkage between TB and COVID-19, among others, as some of the infectious diseases complications ravaging humanity, Rivers State has effectively prosecuted the fight against TB over the last two decades and half, and the result has been crystal clear. Although the state ranked 5th in 2019 in high burden in Nigeria, The Tide is glad that the treatment for TB has been exponentially high in the state, even as the major challenge still remains in identifying infected persons. We note that last year, over 3,728 people were diagnosed of TB and subsequently placed on treatment. We also reckon the good treatment outcome in Rivers State, where cure rate is high; and treatment success rate is almost 90%, even as the World Health Organisation (WHO) target for success rate is about 25%.
This year’s theme, “It’s Time”, is aimed at drawing attention to the urgent need to act, by ensuring equitable and people-centred TB response and increased access to prevention and treatment, reduce stigma and discrimination as well as build accountability. This is why we suggest innovative ways to increase access to TB treatment while emphasizing collaboration with private sector by engaging private health practitioners, patent medicine vendors and community pharmacists to scale up the fight. Health workers as key stakeholders are enjoined to be more painstaking in the discharge of their duties, by among other things, obtaining information about patients’ history of cough, and make effective use of modern diagnostic services.
With this year’s target aimed at mobilising religious leaders in the fight, we urge those with large congregants to be in the frontline and use their exalted positions to raise awareness at the various churches and mosques on the need to go for diagnosis, and subsequently be treated, which will ultimately lesson the infection burden on the state. We equally advise them to be part of the crusade against TB by encouraging their followers to visit health facilities for diagnosis and treatment, if need be, with a view to combating the scourge and reversing the spike in the state.
Even as Rivers State ranks 5th in high burden of TB among the 36 states and the FCT, Nigeria regrettably ranks first among TB burden nations in Africa, and sixth globally, with 300,000 cases missing in most communities. About 18 Nigerians die hourly from TB, while 49 develop active TB; seven of which are children. In 2012, approximately 1.4 million deaths were attributed to TB infection, and Nigeria ranked 10th of the 22 high burden TB countries, and recorded over 190,000 new cases and over 280,000 prevalent TB cases. In 2016, Nigeria ranked 4th out of the 22 high tuberculosis burden countries worldwide and had the highest burden of tuberculosis in Africa, with an estimated 407,000 cases.
As we mark World TB Day 2020, the disease remains the world’s top infectious killer. Each day, over 4,000 people lose their lives to TB and close to 30,000 people fall ill with this preventable and curable disease. We join WHO, its partners, civil society and governments, especially Rivers State, in asking for support of major stakeholders, including religious leaders in scaling up the TB response, to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals targets of ending the TB epidemic by 2030.
As the world comes together to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic, it is important to ensure that essential health services and operations are continued to protect the lives of people with TB and other infectious diseases or health conditions. Health services, including national and state programmes to combat TB, need to be actively engaged in ensuring an effective and rapid response to COVID-19 while ensuring that TB services are maintained. We urge continued efforts to tackle longstanding health problems, including TB during global outbreaks such as COVID-19. At the same time, we suggest that programmes already in place to combat TB and other major infectious diseases can be leveraged to make the response to COVID-19 more effective and rapid.
We, therefore, challenge religious leaders, community leaders, policy makers, and the media community to join other stakeholders to collectively win the war against infectious diseases, including TB, COVID-19, and their likes. It is a task that must be done for the benefit of humanity. We urge leaders across all levels to put the accent on the urgency to act on the commitments made to: scale up access to prevention and treatment; build accountability; ensure sufficient and sustainable financing including for research; promote an end to stigma and discrimination, and encourage equitable, rights-based and people-centred TB response. We charge all to join forces under the banner “Find. Treat. All. #EndTB” to ensure no one is left behind. Let us unite forces in raising our voices for the millions suffering and dying due to TB, especially in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s time for action. It’s time to end TB.
Nigeria’s Growing Debt Burden
Thursday, July 15, 2021, the Nigerian Senate approved two new foreign loans of $8.325 million and
€490 million respectively. That has raised a lot of questions among many stakeholders in the country, who have equally considered the approval as a bad move in the management of the already battered economy, especially at this period of torturous debt service compulsion.
The loans are said to be part of the Federal Government’s 2018-2020 external borrowing plan. It was ratified after the Senate considered the report of the Senate Committee on Local and Foreign Debt. In May this year, President Muhammadu Buhari asked the National Assembly to endorse the loan for funding various “priority projects” in the country.
Earlier, the Senate had approved $1.5 billion and €995 million respectively. The $1.5 billion was to be sourced from the World Bank for the financing of critical infrastructure across the 36 states of the federation under the States Fiscal Transparency, Accountability and Sustainability (SFTAS) programme and Covid-19 action recovery plan.
Similarly, the €995 million was to be procured from the Export-Import Bank of Brazil to finance the Federal Government’s Green Imperative project to enhance the mechanisation of agriculture and agro process to improve food security. These are aside several other loans taken by the administration since inception in May 2015.
Statistics from the Debt Management Office (DMO) on Nigeria’s liability portfolio over the last six years show how the accumulation has progressed hazardously. According to the DMO, Nigeria’s total debt as of June 30, 2015 (the year President Muhammadu Buhari took over) stood at N12.12 trillion. As of December 31, 2020, the country had a debt portfolio of N32.92 trillion. The latest DMO statistics, covering the first quarter of 2021, indicated that the debt portfolio had increased again to N33.10 trillion.
In addition, the Federal Government also incurred another N10 trillion in overdrafts with the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). This overdraft, which may also be provided by printing currency, has been reconditioned to be repaid over 30 years. We wonder what the managers of the economy have up their sleeves when they take on these liabilities which have serious implications not only for the present, but also for the future generations of Nigerians.
These allegations of printing of funds that have followed a trend across the country in recent times may be seen as apparently corroborated by this huge N10 trillion owed by the CBN. The CBN may have always relied on printing money to meet the government’s overdraft demands.
The unfortunate and highly impoverished argument still put forward by the government and proponents of increased borrowing is the country’s debt-to-GDP ratio is still sound and below 40 per cent. However, they lose sight of the fact that GDP does not pay the debt, but incomes do. GDP only reflects the size of the economy and not that a mechanism has been put in place to service the loan when it becomes due.
What the Buhari government has done over the past six years, with its incompetent economists, is reckless borrowing, and has obviously borrowed beyond its repayment capacity. That is why the Federal Government is in trouble as far as servicing the debt is concerned. It recently admitted this much, claiming it spent N1.8 trillion on debt servicing from its N1.84 trillion revenues in the first five months of 2021 (January to May).
Thus, the debt-to-revenue ratio of the Federal Government, a key measure of debt sustainability, stands at 97.8 per cent over the reviewed period. How outrageous is that? In 2016, the federal debt service amounted to only 44.6 per cent. But by 2020, the debt-to-revenue ratio had increased to about 84.8 per cent. That is why 33 per cent of the current 2021 budget is dedicated to paying down the debt.
As debts increase for payments, the strain on incomes increases. In the 2019 budget, for instance, over N2.1 trillion was set aside for debt servicing. Also, in the 2020 budget, N2.45 trillion was dedicated for debt repayments. That was close to 25 per cent of the budget. No country can achieve development with such enormous debt settlements.
The huge amount spent on debt servicing leaves the Buhari government with little money for infrastructure. That is why it takes more loans and print money to finance the cost of personnel, pensions and capital expenditures. Since printed currency also forms part of the debt of any government, we are concerned with the staggering way the CBN has printed money over the last six years and handed it to the Federal Government. It increased sharply from N2.2 trillion printed in 2016 to an estimated N10 trillion by the end of 2020.
There is no use borrowing for projects such as railways and airports. No sane government continues to invest in such infrastructure. Investments in areas like that and many others should be led by the private sector while the government creates an enabling environment. Public funds should be expended on health, education and social welfare, not on areas better managed by the private sector.
Nigerians have always been bombarded by constant requests for loans from the President. Such loans have become too numerous and most well-meaning citizens have called for an end to the alarming tendency to incur loans infelicitously. The nation already has a huge debt burden and must not permit this situation so far aggravated by the Buhari administration.
Time and time again, the current government, aided by an implacable legislative assembly proud of its docility, has invoked various excuses to justify its borrowing frenzy. Sadly, the administration does not show creativity when it comes to reducing governance costs and consolidating the revenue base. It is all about here and now: it does not think of the future. The fiscal situation of the country is disastrous and disheartening, and it is time for the government to change course.
Sustaining Ban On Affidavit Racketeering
As part of efforts to strengthen the management of the Judiciary to provide effective services to the public, the Rivers State Chief Judge, Justice Simeon Amadi, has banned racketeering of affidavits by unauthorised persons within and around the Judiciary complex in Port Harcourt. The statement also stated that individuals or groups caught in violation of the prohibition would be prosecuted.
Justice Amadi said so when he met with members of the Rivers State chapter of the Judiciary/Crime Reporters Association, who visited him in his Port Harcourt office. The Chief Judge stated that the situation had become disconcerting as the touting of affidavits in front of the court complex had assumed a lucrative livelihood.
Indeed, Amadi’s audacious move to rid the headquarters of the state Judiciary premises of touts is commendable and a desirous way to begin office. Lawyers, litigants and many others who have a thing or two to do in the court arena are daily harassed and molested by this group of persons in the name of searching for customers to create a means of livelihood. The time has come to get rid of them and put an end to the situation.
During the administration of the immediate past Chief Judge, Justice Adama Iyayi-Lamikanra, the rampaging touts were severally dislodged, while some were arrested and charged to court at different times. How the court cases were determined is unclear. But the fact that the touts have always returned after each raid to harass passersby and motorists, is an indication that definitive measures have never been taken to contain the threat. It appears that the authorities are powerless to successfully get rid of them.
With the renewed fight against touting, Amadi must ensure that the battle this time is carried through. It appears that affidavit-seeking touts are gradually becoming a strong force to contend with. They seem to have a longstanding partnership. Since many are making a fortune from the business, it is going to be difficult to evict them with mere barking orders. This will take more than that.
Besides, some of the racketeers go beyond the affidavit venture and engage in pursuits where they strut as middlemen and women to get vital official court documents that should, in usual practice, not be found in their custody. This brisk merchandising goes on unabated regardless of the veracity of the contents of such documents or the provisions of the law on the illegal act.
The law lays down certain conditions for issuing affidavits. Sadly, those stipulations are daily subverted by touts and court officials, who bend the rules and rob the system of millions in the process. With regard to the declaration of age, the law provides that no declarant under the age of 50 can personally swear an affidavit. They are required to come along with an older person, such as the mother, the father, an uncle or an elder brother, who would inform the oath commissioner about their knowledge of the time the declarant was born as well as provide other necessary data about the person.
Unfortunately, this provision of the law is circumvented daily when commissioners of oaths sign declarations that are presented to them by touts without regard to the designated procedures. This is also the case with other documentations in the court such as loss of items and change of name. The consequence is that anyone would be able to falsify information about themselves such as age or any declaration and have them signed in court.
The matter is now worsened by the touts, who issue fictitious affidavits at greatly inflated cost than the official ones. Many scalpers make thousands of naira every day by signing these fake documents with their stamps thereby depriving the government of the necessary income. That is why the authorities of the state Judiciary must rise and resolve this problem by stopping the touts and their collaborators who, of course, are court officials.
During the recent nationwide strike by Judiciary workers to press home their demands for judicial autonomy, the court workers shut all courts while the strike lingered. This meant that court premises were locked, cashiers were not receiving revenue, commissioners of oath were not working and judges stayed out of work.
Surprisingly, in the circumstances, some Nigerians had been freely obtaining court documents and affidavits from the closed courts that had no workers. While the court documents could not be obtained remotely and without payments to the court cashiers, it is believed that “unknown-court-staff” were providing fraudulent services in the closed courts across the state and the country as well.
This growing trend has continued unabated even when it is known to the authorities that there are internal collaborators without whom the touting business can hardly flourish. Unfortunately, thousands of touts are now indulging in the enterprise while the management of the court is looking the other way. We denounce this tendency. If the Chief Judge is resolved to get at a quick remedy to the problem, offending court officials have to be identified and sanctioned.
It has become expedient for Justice Amadi and his officials to properly direct persons coming to the court to do business or swear affidavits to prevent their becoming victims of oath canvassers. If, despite this measure, touts are obstinate in proceeding with their nefarious career of engaging in fake affidavit endeavours, they should be promptly apprehended and prosecuted to serve as a deterrent to others.
Preferably, a taskforce should be inaugurated to continuously check the trend. These measures would hopefully put a final check on the problem and perhaps, restore the required sanity and dignity to the hallowed vicinity of the third arm of government. This will ensure that funds for the smooth management of the institution, but constantly diverted from the system by the unhealthy activities of touts, are sustained.
NDA: FG Must Act Now
A renewed threat of blitzkrieg aimed at paralysing Nigeria’s battered economy has emerged from the Niger Delta Avengers (NDA), one of the well-known militant organisations in the Niger Delta region. The Avengers have threatened to launch invigorating assaults on the country’s oil and gas installations in the region following allegations of continued neglect by the Federal Government.
In a declaration by the group, a new “Operation Humble” proposing a fresh round of bombings of oil and gas facilities to weaken the country’s economy, is considered by them in the coming few days. The body stated: “This operation shall be coded ‘Operation Humble’ aimed at bringing down targeted oil and gas installations in the Niger Delta, capable of humbling the economy into permanent recession.”
The fierce militant organisation also threatened to attack important politicians and personalities from the region for their roles in the under-development of the area. The militants accused the Federal Government of failing to meet their demands to speed up the development of the region since they declared a ceasefire, following the intervention of leaders and stakeholders from the area.
As part of its demands, the NDA called for immediate restructuring of the country, creation of two additional states and more local government councils in the region, the allocation of operational licences for marginal fields to Ijaw people, and the reconstitution of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) Board, among others.
Given the track record of the NDA, many oil and gas observers are already nervous, expressing serious concern, especially as the bellicose organisation is known to have carried out deadly attacks on the country’s oil and gas infrastructure in the past. It is, therefore, considered injudicious to treat their warning lightly.
Recall that in 2016, the NDA assaulted many oil fields and terminals, nudging the country’s oil production and export down considerably to between 1.4 million and 1.5 million barrels per day from its capacity of 2.2 to 2.3 million barrels per day. Nigeria had scarcely recouped from the impact when the Covid-19 pandemic curtailed the growth of the sector. The current foreboding is, therefore, coming at a most inappropriate time when the country is least disposed to be encumbered with another round of oil and gas sector crises.
Curiously, the intimidatory remark was expressed less than 48 hours after President Muhammadu Buhari met with the leadership of the Niger Delta and Ijaw National Congress (INC), at the Presidential Villa, and the germane issues were discussed, especially call for restructuring of the Federation, and the inauguration of a Board for the NDDC.
Buhari had advised that the new NDA foreshadowing was unnecessary, stating that the government was addressing the concerns of the Niger Delta. At present, the NDDC remains a patient in the ICU. Since its inception in 2001, the country’s public space has been inundated with appalling stories of ongoing forensic audit activities to unravel the pit of internal administrative and operational transgressions that have paralysed the interventionist agency.
In the President’s usual practice of handling the situation in the Niger Delta, we must not miss the deployment of a large-scale military presence in the region to curb threats to infrastructure. Under the circumstances, this option, most often adopted by the government, does not seem to be achieving the expected results, as industry watchers warn that militancy is becoming more and more prevalent in the region.
As a result of the prevailing situation, the Federal Government must review its position concerning the Niger Delta. They must readjust their policy direction from the standpoint of the people in the region, who are concerned about the current state of affairs, especially the inconsistency related to the existing palliative care for their plight.
The NDDC, which was created specifically to thwart the present state of affairs, is a great example. Its operative failures and the ensuing launch of the forensic audit exercise on it substantiate the complete breakdown of the commission’s objectives and the need for a new set-up to supplant the old order.
Since the appointment of a substantive board of directors to redesign and refocus the NDDC is one of the cardinal demands of the NDA and other recalcitrant interests in the region, then, it is in the long-term interests of the government, the region, and the country as a whole to oblige such requests as soon as possible.
All things considered, the threat by the militant group to destroy oil installations is strongly denounced. We believe that violence cannot be the means to address grievances. There are peaceful ways and the group should exploit them. In addition, members of this group are urged to channel their grievances to the appropriate authorities and wait for action to be taken on them.
However, we request the Federal Government to move swiftly to meet the age-old demands of the militants and the Niger Delta people. On the inauguration of the NDDC board, our position is clear; forensic audit should never be employed as an excuse to delay its investiture. The country is already undergoing severe economic hardship. Therefore, anything to make the predicament worse at this point should be prevented.
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