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Editorial

Nigeria And Recession Alert

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The International Monetary Fund (IMF) recently projected that Nigeria’s economy would soon witness its worst recession in 30 years.

This projection was part of the Fund’s April 2020 World Economic Outlook report released penultimate Tuesday in Washington DC, United States at the commencement of its 2020 Spring meeting held through video conferencing.

The IMF further said that Nigeria’s economy will recede by 3.4 per cent in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has disrupted the global supply chain of most commodities, including the country’s main export commodity, crude oil.

It noted that this would be the worst economic setback in 30 years for Africa’s largest economy, after a negative economic growth of 1.51 per cent in 2016.

According to the IMF Chief Economist and Research Director, Gita Gopinath, the impending global recession would be the worst since the Great Depression between 1929 and 1932 when the advanced economies shrank by 16 per cent.

While Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is expected to shrink by 3.4 per cent and land her in another recession, the Fund’s projected outlook for Africa’s most advanced economy (South Africa) is even worse at 5.8 per cent, from a 2019 growth of 0.2 per cent.

Nigeria was hoping to improve on her 2.2 per cent 2019 growth rate before the advent of the Coronavirus pandemic which saw the global oil price of petroleum tumbling. In fact, while oil prices were taking a bashing (no thanks to the muscle flexing between Russia and Saudi Arabia), the COVID-19 pandemic simply aggravated the situation. Currently, North Sea Brent crude is reported to be trading at USD 31.48 per barrel while Western Texas Intermediate sells for around USD17.75 per barrel. OPEC Basket is USD12.22.

To say that Nigerians did not see this coming will be the height of insincerity as there had been suggestions to nearly every administration to diversify the nation’s economy as to move the country away from its over dependence on petroleum as main revenue earner.

The Tide is deeply troubled that this gloomy projection is coming at a time when the average Nigerian is wishing that the trauma of the 2016 recession would soon be over and for things to return to normal.

The effects of job losses, high cost of living, border closure, herder–farmer clashes and the rising crime rate had led to a worsening of the nation’s misery.

We are also not unaware of the latest warning by the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) in which Nigeria was listed as one of the 10 countries that would soon experience severe famine of biblical proportion.

With these projections indicating impending national calamities, we fear that the government and, indeed, Nigerians hardly have the time to make any meaningful preparations.

Already, the USD 57 per barrel crude oil benchmark in the 2020 budget has been reviewed downward, even as today’s oil price still makes nonsense of that review. Also, capital expenditure has been severely downsized. This is even as the nation’s USD 1.5 billion debt servicing pledges have become impracticable and need to be renegotiated.

Inflation rate has already entered double-digit while the steady depletion of the external reserve piles pressure on the naira’s worth. What’s more, with COVID-19 came the adoption of national and interstate border closures as part of containment measures. The intra-city lockdowns that also followed led to a halt in economic activities with the attendant negative effects on Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

The nation may therefore begin to reconsider redenominating her currency as was successfully done by Ghana some years ago, after decades of economic doldrums. Debt forgiveness is already out of any consideration for Nigeria because she is no longer in the world’s list of Highly Indebted Poor Countries (HIPCs), especially since after rebasing her economy in 2013 and emerging as the largest economy in Africa. She is now considered a middle income nation.

Efforts should be geared to better manage the nation’s available income. This period should be likened to a war situation when emphasis should be reduced in infrastructural development, rather efforts should focus on amassing weapons to attack the common enemy which in this case comprises Coronavirus, corruption, misery, hunger, climate change, among others.

There is no doubt that COVID-19 lockdowns have eroded whatever savings that were available for investment to the Micro, Small and Medium Scale Enterprises (MSMEs) in the country. In fact, some have had to convert their present stocks of goods for their daily consumption and survival. And this renders a serious blow to the nation’s GDP.

We commend the IMF for, as usual, alerting most vulnerable countries like Nigeria on the difficult times ahead. We also believe that, as it had always done in the past, the Fund will follow this up with a list of some necessary steps that need be taken by the government in order to curtail the extent of these difficulties.

And to the government, the call for a resort to mechanized agriculture and massive food storage has never been more expedient for a country of about 200 million people than now.

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Editorial

Still On Police Brutality

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The immediate substitution of the infamous Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), a component of the Nigeria Police Force, with the Special Weapons and Tactical Team (SWAT) in the aftermath of the October 2020 #EndSARS protests across the country, has turned out to be a repackaged old wine in a new bottle. The perdurable police savagery is a manifestation of that fact.
The former SARS officers operated like notorious gangsters, infamous for unlawful killings, extortion and torture marched only by the Nazi treatment of the Jews in the Concentration Camp. For years, human rights organisations and the media have documented cases of extra-judicial killings, torture, and other ill-treatment committed by SARS operatives and other units of the police.
When SWAT was set up by the Inspector-General of Police (IGP), Mohammed Adamu, in October, 2020 to appease protesting youths against SARS’ brutality, it was a superficial action to create the impression that the clamour by the youths for the abrogation of the Anti-Robbery Squad had been heeded. Many Nigerians queried the hurried action of the police and accused the force’s leadership of hypocrisy.
Several Nigerians, especially young persons, were either impaled or outrightly killed for insubstantial reasons which included accusations of being internet fraudsters. Many others were profiled for their indecent appearances, hairstyles and having tattoos on their bodies and subsequently apprehended by members of the disbanded police unit.
A few days after the so-called name-change that had no semblance of a fresh working direction and goals, the wear and tear activities of the very new SWAT demonstrated that indeed a leopard cannot change its spots. Not long after its formation, a monarch in the Nkanu East Local Government Area of Enugu State, Emmanuel Mba, was brutally killed by men suspected to be SWAT officials.
The story went that some AK-47 rifle-wielding officers dressed in mufti invaded a meeting being attended by the monarch and demanded to see him. The suspected SWAT operatives, led by an inspector, shot the monarch while he was addressing members of his community at the town hall meeting. He died before he could get medical help.
According to the account, three natives from the Oruku Community in the council area reportedly came with the SWAT officers and left with them soon after the operation. We expect the orchestrators of the harrowing act to have been fished out by now and made to face the full wrath of the law if the police were truly a force to be relied on.
In December last year, an ugly scene played out between a bus driver and some policemen in Port Harcourt, capital of Rivers State. The driver, identified as Emenike, was completely stripped for refusing to expend the usual “toll” to the police. Other drivers who witnessed the incident remonstrated along Ada George Road where the happenstance occurred, causing an unprecedented traffic jam.
Still, along Ada George Road, a policeman attached to a supermarket fired random shots at three persons who were admitted to the hospital for gunshot wounds. The trigger-happy police officer groused about the uncooperative attitude of some commercial vehicle and tricycle drivers along that route.
In November, 2020, a police officer, in a desperate attempt to clear the road for their patrol vehicle that was stuck in gridlock around the market along Yenagoa — Mbiama Road, openly shot at three women. Police brutality gained further height when, at Rukpokwu in Obio/Akpor Local Government Area, Rivers State, a tricycle driver was shot dead by a police officer over refusal to give a hundred naira gratification. That incident sparked off protests by angry drivers in the community.
Also, in the same local government area, one Abiodun Jimoh was shot dead by a policeman attached to the Elelenwo police division. It was ironic that an older brother of the deceased was an eye witness. He alleged that the killer-policeman was stupendously drunk on the day of the incident. Further reports claimed that the police officer shot the victim despite pleas by a senior colleague to release him.
These incidents and many others across the country have transpired despite the #EndSARS protests and assurances by the police authorities to check frequent police brutality and put an end to it. The animalistic conduct of the Nigerian police is a negation of modern global policing strategy. It is an absurdity unabashedly displayed by our ill-trained and flat-footed police while the citizens groan helplessly.
It is high time the Nigerian police was radically reformed by President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration for optimal performance. Since the Federal Government promised to carry out reforms in the force, no practical steps have been initiated in that direction. No doubt, Nigerians need SWAT to confront dangerous crimes, but not for routine policing as it exists currently.
This country cannot achieve much with a highly militarised police force. What is needed is a radical departure from the current centralised police structure to a decentralised force. The glaring inadequacies in the force arising from the unworkable configuration that came into effect since states were created in 1967, must be broken away from.
Enough of police brutality. Nigerians have been extorted, raped, tortured, and killed by the police, particularly the defunct SARS now SWAT. Although continued protests compelled the Nigerian government to scrap the infamous and dreaded police unit, that is not sufficient. It needs to be complemented by justice for victims of police brutality. It is a bitter reproach that police cruelty remains an issue in the country this time and age. Buhari must take immediate steps to halt this act of ignominy in the force.

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Editorial

Doing More For Ex-Servicemen

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As Nigeria marks this year’s Armed Forces Remembrance Day today, the Rivers State Governor, Chief Nyesom Wike, has commended serving and retired members of the Armed Forces for their role in stabilising the country.
At the interdenominational church service to mark the 2021 Armed Forces Remembrance Day celebration, which held at St. Paul’s Anglican Church in Port Harcourt, Sunday, January 10, 2021, Wike lauded the military officers for their commitment to safeguarding the sovereignty of the country and ensuring internal peace.
The Armed Forces Remembrance Day or Veterans Day as it is called in some climes is an annual event organised to honour members of the Nigerian Armed Forces who fought in the First and Second World Wars. But in Nigeria, the date was changed to 15th January annually to accommodate the commemoration of the end of the Nigerian Civil War.
Acknowledging the benefits of the annual recognition of the Armed Forces’ contributions to the peace and stability of the country, Wike urged the Federal Government to do more for them. He noted that the one-off contributions made on such Remembrance Day were never enough to cater for those who had suffered injuries while defending the country or the families left behind by those who paid the supreme sacrifice.
To demonstrate his commitment to the welfare of legionnaires,  Governor Wike did not end at mere declarations but redeemed his pledge of N171 million made earlier to the Nigeria Legion for the scholarship of former war veterans’ children. He equally donated 20 million naira to launch the emblem and enjoined the 23 local government councils in the state to donate one million naira each to support the launch.
The governor’s gesture is indeed commendable. He has proven to be a promise keeper. Wike could not have been more succinct in his position on the terrible predicament of officers and men of the Armed Forces, particularly the ex-servicemen. No doubt, the Armed Forces have contributed so much to our stability. The continuous co-existence of Nigeria is attributable to their huge contributions.
Besides government support, an obligation is placed on everyone including corporate bodies and faith-based organisations to render continued care and assistance to these legionnaires. Needless to say that there is a need for the government to institute an enduring reward system for war veterans to justify the ultimate sacrifices they make in keeping Nigeria safe and united.
But for their unusual repudiations, this country would not have witnessed the peace and unity being enjoyed today. Hence, they deserve state support. No one should take the stability enjoyed today for granted because it was procured with the sacrifices and blood of those great men and women in the Armed Forces. We think that some could be considered for national awards.
Last year, the Federal Government, forwarded a bill to the ninth National Assembly for the review of the Nigerian Legion Act to a Veterans Federation of Nigeria Act to improve the welfare of ex-servicemen. The bill had a plan for institutionalising the provision for welfare needs of the veterans in line with international best practices. However, it is unclear the current position of that bill.
The government owes it a duty to consider the plight of the widows and orphans of our fallen heroes. At the root of catering for the welfare of our veterans is the payment of monthly pensions. Sadly, military pensioners are still being denied their entitlements. We strongly urge the Military Pensions Board to be up to date in delivering regular pensions to the retired officers. Also, the provision of health insurance service for veterans, widows and eligible dependents of our fallen heroes will certainly be a worthy venture if none exists.
Since the onset of the Boko Haram insurgency in 2009, thousands of troops have been killed by the Islamist militant group and its West African affiliate, ISWAP, leaving behind their families. Regrettably, leaders of the Military Widows Association (MiWA) say there are more than 5,000 registered members and the number keeps growing by the day. The government is reminded that it has a huge task to attend to this growing number of widows.
If the predicament of our veterans must end, officers’ retirement benefits should be processed before their disengagement while the entitlements should be worked out and accruing gratuity paid on the effective date of retirement.  Failure to abide by this known procedure has often exposed ex-servicemen to untold hardship and pains, while relatives of deceased officers are denied their lawful entitlements.
President Muhammadu Buhari should immediately end the embezzlement of funds meant for payment of military pensioners. This is one of the reasons for delay in the disbursement of entitlements. Similarly, we advocate an overhaul of management of the Military Pensions Board as well as allotment of the huge funds accruing from annual donations for Armed Forces emblem.
However, the Federal Government is lauded for initiating a collaboration between the Nigerian Legion and a private sector driven National Personal Asset Acquisition Scheme which is yielding positive results. The scheme has afforded the veterans the ability to purchase household and agricultural commodities at affordable, discounted prices within a flexible and structured repayment plan across the country. Through this scheme, motorcycles are distributed to the legionnaires and food items are given to widows of fallen heroes. This is commendable and deserves to be continued.
As we pay glowing tributes to serving, retired and fallen heroes in the Armed Forces, we must not forget our national anthem that admonishes on the need to always reminisce the labour of our heroes past — “The labour of our heroes past shall never be in vain.” That emotional line of the national anthem reminds both friends and enemies alike to remember our war veterans.

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Editorial

COVID-19 2nd Wave As Schools Resume

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As schools in Rivers State and many others resume for academic activities this month,
there is an urgent need for the federal, state and local authorities to take adequate precautionary measures to curtail further spread of the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in Nigeria.
Countries across Europe are observing a resurgence in COVID-19 cases after successfully slowing outbreaks last year, declaring more cases each day now more than they were during the first wave earlier in the pandemic. England, Portugal and Hungary are among nations in a second lockdown as the new wave of infections sweeps through, shattering efforts and responses to keep the contagion at bay.
Following this global upsurge in the pandemic, the Nigerian government, through the Chairman of the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19, Boss Mustapha, ordered schools in the country to suspend resumption from the Christmas and New Year break till January 18, 2021. But contrary to the Federal Government’s directive, many states scheduled the first and second weeks of January for resumption.
If there is a time complaisance with the preventive COVID-19 measures have to be rigorously carried out, especially in our institutions, it is now. The enforcement of all safety protocols outlined by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) in all our schools must not be ignored. There is no basis to relax. Many countries experienced an upsurge in COVID-19 infections after reopening their schools.
In Israel, for instance, where schools were reopened following a noticeable decline in the number of infections, a total of 1,335 students and 691 staff contracted the virus just within two months of resumption and more than 28,000 students and teachers were quarantined. The volume of the spread resulted in the decision of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to close down no fewer than 125 schools in an aggressive drive to arrest the spread of the virus.
Barely two weeks after the schools were reopened, Israel was compelled to make a new policy, ordering the closure of any school which had recorded at least one case of COVID-19 infection while all students and staff of the school were quarantined. Similarly, Ghana, a neighbouring West African country, which had reported minimal cases of COVID-19 with low fatalities, also witnessed a rise in infection after reopening schools.
The Nigerian government and school authorities should imbibe useful lessons from the cases of Israel and Ghana by making certain that all COVID-19 protocols are not only deliberately put in place, but are also strictly observed. This has become imperative because an outbreak of infections in schools will spell doom for the country.
Acting in line with NCDC’s prescribed rules to ensure safety in schools, the Rivers State Government has made it mandatory for all institutions in the state to install and provide handwashing facilities in the schools including higher institutions and all persons arriving the campus environment must be subjected to temperature checks, among others. These measures were reiterated as schools in the state resumed from the Christmas and New Year vacation.
The move is applauded. But the truth is that only very few public schools in the state, less than five per cent, can meet the guidelines. Many public schools are dilapidated. Pupils and students learn under seriously compromised circumstances. Schools in Rivers State should be equipped with functional sick bays, maintain the acceptable standard number of students in a class, have functional water and sanitation facilities to promote hygiene as directed by the government.
We need to be cautious and heed the Federal Government’s warnings that a significant increase in Coronavirus infections in Nigeria appears imminent by January 2021 due to continued violation of safety protocols. The NCDC reinforced the same that Nigeria would in January 2021 pay the price of violating the COVID-19 protocols. And schools remain the most vulnerable areas. That is why the authorities in Rivers State have to upgrade public schools for necessary observance of the preventive procedures.
Given the rising rate of the virus in the state, we urge the governor, Chief Nyesom Wike, to introduce severe curtailing measures not only in schools but the entire state. Regrettably, most churches, commercial vehicles, and markets have failed to enforce the compulsory wearing of face mask in adherence to COVID-19 protocol, a fact Wike noted in a recent statement, threatening re-imposition of a lockdown.
“When you go to some churches, they don’t wear a face mask. Go to market, they don’t wear a mask. They believe COVID is not real. It’s not real because it has not happened to you; nobody had died whom you know. When somebody has died and the person is close to you, you will know that COVID is real,” Wike said.
It is necessary to intensify awareness for people to take precautions against the pandemic. Nigerians are not taking enough care against the disease. In this moment of economic recession, the country cannot afford a lockdown which might be introduced if preventive measures are not adhered to. The only option is for the people to observe the new normal, which are the COVID-19 protocols to reduce the spread of the virus.
The relevant authorities, particularly the Ministry of Education and their agencies in various states should dispatch their staff on an inspection tour of every school to certify compliance with COVID-19 protocols. The Ministry of Health in each state should equally join in these efforts. Prevention, as conventional wisdom teaches, is always better than cure. But in the case of COVID-19, there is yet no cure!

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