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Editorial

Polio-Free Africa

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A milestone in a journey to achieve global polio eradication was recorded in Nigeria and, indeed, the whole of Africa, on August 24, this year, when the World Health Organisation (WHO) certified the country and the entire region free from the deadly virus. 
With this historic milestone, five of the WHO regions, representing over 90 percent of the world’s population, are now free of the wild poliovirus. 
Nigeria, in particular, attained polio-free status on June 18, this year, for the first time, after four consecutive years of not recording any outbreak of the endemic. The country last recorded a case of wild poliovirus in 2016.
The certification of Africa, two weeks ago, is therefore, an important public health milestone for Nigeria and the entire African region. The landmark also brings the world one major step closer to achieving global polio eradication, notwithstanding that the disease is still endemic in Eastern Mediterranean countries of Pakistan and Afghanistan. 
Polio is a viral disease that is transmitted from person to person, mainly through a faecal-oral route or, less frequently, through contaminated water or food, and multiplies inside the intestines. 
While there is no known cure yet for polio, the disease can be prevented through administration of a simple and effective vaccine. That is why efforts are made across every country to rapidly boost immunity levels in children and protect them from polio paralysis.  
We recall that as recently as 2012, Nigeria accounted for more than half of all polio cases worldwide, according to WHO. At the time, more than 350,000 children were paralysed every year, in more than 125 endemic countries. 
With the efforts by the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI), UNICEF, Rotary International, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, USAID, the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, and other volunteers, the incidence of polio was reduced by more than 99 percent globally. In Nigeria, more than 200,000 volunteers across the country repeatedly immunized more than 45 million children under the age of five, to ensure that no child would suffer from this paralysing disease. Today, only two countries: Pakistan and Afghanistan remain in the endemic list of poliovirus.
The Tide acknowledges the milestone recorded by Nigeria and indeed, the entire Africa, in the fight against polio, but also wants to emphasise the need for vigilance, “one which we must delicately manage with cautious euphoria”, as the Executive Director of the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA), Dr Faisal Shuaib, once put it. 
We note that this historic achievement in global health would certainly not have been possible without the novel strategies adopted in the consistent fight against polio and other vaccine preventable diseases. We commend the strong domestic and global financing and the commitment of governments at all levels towards achieving this feat. 
The Tide congratulates the governments of the 47 countries in the WHO African region for this incredible feat. We also commend health workers, community volunteers, traditional and religious leaders and parents across the region for their efforts and collaboration in kicking wild polio out of Africa. 
Despite this milestone, we urge African governments at all levels not to rest on their oars. We urge that the innovation, partnership, resolve and commitments that underpin this feat should continue. Continued commitment and resolve to reach every last child in the continent with the polio vaccine, as well as strengthening surveillance and routine immunization across the region will be key to keeping wild polio at bay, protecting the gains achieved and tackling the spread of Type 2 circulating vaccine-derived poliovirus (cVDPV2) which is present in 16 countries in the region. 
We also call on all governments of the WHO regions and donors to remain vigilant against all forms of polio. This is because, until every strain of polio is eradicated worldwide, the progress made against the paralysing pathogen will be in jeopardy. Therefore, immunization and surveillance activities must continue to rapidly detect a potential re-introduction or re-emergence of the virus. 
The outstanding commitment and efforts that got Africa off the endemic list must continue, to keep the world polio-free. Efforts should also be made towards getting Pakistan and Afghanistan off the hook of the deadly disease in order to achieve a polio-free world. 
The certification of African region as wild poliovirus free is a sign of hope that progress can be achieved through collaboration and perseverance. This milestone in the fight against polio indeed bears eloquent testimony to the fact that when governments, leaders, partners, health workers and communities come together, we can triumph over the most difficult health challenges. 
As the African continent and indeed, the world, grapple with the scourge of COVID-19, we recommend this collective, regional consciousness and efforts in other areas of public health, especially malaria that has continued to defile total eradication across the globe.

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Editorial

Recovered Assets’ Agency

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Last week, the Attorney General of the Federation, AGF, and Minister of Justice, Malam Abubakar Malami (SAN) disclosed that the Federal Government has approved a new bill, the Proceeds of Crime Recovery and Management Agency Bill, for onward transmission to the National Assembly.
According to the AGF, the bill, which was first conceived in 2007, and rejected by the Federal Executive Council, FEC, of successive administrations, including the current cabinet before it was eventually approved, is geared towards securing a legal and institutional framework that will assist in harnessing proceeds of crimes that are currently scattered across several government agencies and bring them into one agency.
The Tide views this development as a pragmatic strategy in the Federal Government’s fight against corruption and commends the move as a positive one in the right direction. The initiative, we believe, will breathe a measure of air of people’s confidence in the crusade against corruption, which has been the fulcrum of the present administration’s agenda.
We are also happy to note the recent launch of the Central Database on recovered asset and the Central Criminal Justice Information System by the government. The database and information system will, no doubt, ensure transparency and accountability in the management of recoveries from proceed of crimes.
That these initiatives would help promote transparency, better information flow and management is not in doubt, or the impact it would have regarding accountability and trust, as far as recovered assets are concerned.
It is an open secret that public distrust and suspicion have trailed the fight against corruption and the subsequent announcements of recovered or seized assets. Indeed, Nigerians could not whole-heartedly vouch for the sincerity of government and safety of such assets and the situation went a long way to raise more questions than answers over the operations and candour of the anti-graft agencies and their personnel.
There have been numerous questions and calls by Nigerians regarding the exact figure and status of recovered loot by the anti-graft agencies, especially, under the present administration.
That is why we think that the National Assembly should as a matter of national importance consider the Recovered Assets’ Agency Bill and ensure its speedy passage. Passage of the bill and coming into effect of the agency, we believe, will not only ensure uniformity of process and real time access and information feeding, it will put Nigeria on safe pedestal with her membership of international organisations, inclusive of financial action task force, and openness targeted at deepening transparency within the context of United Nations Convention Against Corruption.
In addition, we are convinced that such agency would help block leakages and promote transparency in government. Importantly, also, effective tabs would be in place to secure recovered assets without any room for happenstance, while information on such assets would easily be accessed by Civil Society Organisations, CSOs, Non-Governmental Organisations, NGOs, the media, researchers and ordinary Nigerians. This will, at all times enable the people, particularly, the CSOs to be on the same page with government as far as the status and management of recovered assets are concerned, thereby engendering mutual trust and confidence.
With the agency on board, Nigeria can be in more productive synergy with other developed and transparent countries based on the existence of world accepted best practices.
However, in establishing the agency and choosing the personnel, especially, the management cadre, it is pertinent to ensure that due diligence is observed. It must not be a job for the boys or an opportunity for political, selfish and sentimental considerations. The task should be for not only the eminently qualified and capable individuals, but persons with impeccable antecedents to be able to live up to the demands of the office.
We expect that the agency should be set up and empowered in such a way that it would have internal-check mechanisms, be professional, independent and strong enough to keep a leash on other anti-graft agencies like the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC); Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission (ICPC); and others.
This, we believe, will make the agency effective, accountable and ensure that recovered funds and assets are not relooted one way or another. The Federal Government and the National Assembly must ensure that no effort is spared to put the agency in place within the shortest possible time with all recovered assets put under its custody.
It is indeed time to put the fight against corruption on the table and make sure that it passes through and survives integrity and transparency test in Nigeria.

 

 

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Editorial

No To Water Resources Bill

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Barely a week ago, an affiliate of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), the Amalgamated Union of Public
Corporations, Civil Service Technical and Recreational Services Employees (AUPCTRE), and a vocal civil society organisation (CSO), the Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa (CAPPA), rebuffed Federal Government’s plot to convince them, to support the controversial National Water Resources Bill 2020. This followed a meeting in Abuja between the Minister of Water Resources, Engr Suleiman Adamu, and his team with the leaderships of AUPCTRE and CAPPA designed to secure buy-in for pro-privatisation of all water resources in the country, and consequently undermine Nigerians’ free access to water and sanitation in line with the spirit of the United Nations resolution which recognises water and sanitation as basic human rights of citizens.
Addressing newsmen later, AUPCTRE’s National President, Comrade Benjamin Anthony, said: “Our meeting with the Minister of Water Resources was very frank. The minister advanced reasons why the Bill should pass but we drew his attention to the contentious clauses that must be addressed. We restate our opposition to this anti-people Bill and urge the National Assembly to trash it. The Bill fails to address human rights issues and does not enjoy the support of Nigerians. The Bill will dispossess Nigerian citizens of their inherited and cultural rights to water and should be discarded immediately”.
The CAPPA Director of Programmes, Philip Jakpor, was more succinct, “The contents of the Bill are against the spirit of the July 28, 2010, United Nations General Assembly Resolution which recognised in unmistakable terms, the human right to water and sanitation. Our position remains unchanged: President Muhammadu Buhari should use his good office to recall this contentious Bill from the legislative quarters and kick-start a fresh process which will entail consultation and input from Nigerians from the beginning through the entire process at the National Assembly.”
The Bill is titled, “A Bill for An Act to Establish a Regulatory Framework for the Water Resources Sector in Nigeria, Provide for the Equitable and Sustainable Redevelopment, Management, Use and Conservation of Nigeria’s Surface Water and Groundwater Resources and for Related Matters”. On July 23, 2020, referring to Order 12, Rule 16 of the Standing Orders of the House of Representatives, 9th Edition, the Bill scaled Second Reading in the House, and was referred to the Committee of the Whole House for third reading and final passage even as its presentation breached the Rules of Procedure and legislative convention of the House and the relevant provisions of the 1999 Constitution. Order 12, Rule 16 of the Standing Orders of the House states that “a bill from a preceding Assembly must be gazetted, with clean copies circulated”. But this Bill failed that test because its promoters are in a hurry to achieve a sinister agenda!
In 2017, the Buhari administration had forwarded this Bill, which seeks to transfer the control of water resources from states to the Federal Government, to both chambers of the National Assembly, with a request to pass it into law. But it failed to secure concurrent passage by the Eighth Senate, which threw it away at its first reading in 2018. Not satisfied, however, Chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Rules and Business, Hon Abubakar Fulata, and his cohorts, while ignoring due process, rule of law and standard procedure for reintroduction of any Executive Bill, flagrantly presented the rejected Bill to the Ninth House, and demanded its expeditious passage.
Since its re-emergence, prominent Nigerians and groups have expressed deep concerns at the purpose and intent of the Bill, and advised the Federal Government to jettison it in the national interest, just as they did in 2017 through 2018. In fact, both AUPCTRE and CAPPA, on September 3, 2020, jointly signed a damning letter to President Muhammadu Buhari, cataloguing the obnoxious sections of the Bill and how they posed grave danger to the attainment of Nigerians’ rights to water and sanitation.
The Tide agrees completely with millions of Nigerians that this Bill must not see the light of day because it represents a dark era in Nigerian history, some of which relics include the Land Use Act, Petroleum Resources Act, among others. We are disappointed that lawmakers from the South voted in support of this evil Bill. To be clear, Section 13, states, that “the Bill empowers the Minister of Water Resources to formulate national policy and water resources management strategy to guide the integrated planning, management, development, use and conservation of the nation’s water resources and provide guidance for formulation of hydrological area resources strategies under Section 94 of this bill”. It further states, “In implementing the principles under subsection (2) of this section, the institutions established under this Act shall promote integrated water resources management and the coordinated management of land and water resources, surface water and ground water resources, river basins and adjacent marine and coastal environment and upstream and downstream interests.” Another obnoxious content of the Bill reads in Section 2(1), “All surface water and ground water wherever it occurs, is a resource common to all people.”
This simply means that the Bill seeks to empower the Federal Government to control all sources of water in Nigeria. By implication, the Federal Government can permit anybody or group from any part of the country to go and possess any water resource in another part thereof without the consent of the local communities. How else do we explain an ambitious government’s desperation to consolidate age-long policy of enslaving a free people, whose liberties have consistently and brazenly been trampled on by a particular ethnic group, which see themselves as hegemonic overlords?
First, they came with the chameleonic Rural Grazing Area (RUGA) initiative, the deceptively designed expansionist programme, aimed at gifting Fulanis ancestral lands belonging to other peoples, all over the country, in ‘new town’ settlements that would have looked more like Government Reserved Areas than herdsmen’s redoubt, complete with Fulani paraphenalia. When RUGA was rejected across board, they coyly and cleverly packaged National Livestock Transformation Plan, which was RUGA by another name. That too, was ferociously rejected by Nigerians. Now, they think they can hoodwink Nigerians to accept a draconian National Water Resources Bill that takes away their rights and freedoms? This is not possible. It won’t work!
We are gladdened by the fact that in its 17th teleconference meeting since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Nigerian Governors’ Forum (NGF), promised to take a position on the National Water Resources Bill 2020, after their State Attorneys-General and Executive Councils of States have brainstormed on the proposed bill and other similar relevant laws that have been generating controversies in the country. We urge the NGF to reject the Bill in its entirety, especially when they realise that the Water Resources Minister had clarified that the new bill is consistent with the vexatious Land Use Act. Even so, we task Senators from the South-South, South-East, South-West and North-Central not to capitulate but to unanimously vote against this Bill for the general good of the people and posterity.

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Editorial

Not Time For Power Tariff Hike

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As the economy of the country continues to tether (as indeed the global economy)
and living condition of the average Nigerian takes a suffocating bashing from the novel COVID-19 pandemic, electricity distribution companies (DISCOs) in Nigeria shocked consumers of electricity with a 100% hike in tariff effective September 1, 2020.
Labelled ‘Service Reflective Tariff’, the Nigeria Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) was said to have approved the increase on August 31, granting DISCOs the permission to raise the amount of money charged for units of electricity consumed according to hours of supply made available in a day.
By this development, electricity consumers who get supply for 12 hours and above in a day are to pay between 80% and over 100% more than their previous bills while consumers who receive less hours of electricity supply will not be affected according to the categories determined by the regulators.
To this end, consumers are categorised into Service Bands of A to E with A comprising those who enjoy up to 20 hours of power supply, B with 16 hours, C with 12 hours, D with 8 hours and E made up of those who see only 4 hours or less of electricity in a day.
While those who fall within the Service Bands D to E have their tariff frozen at N30.23 for one kilowatt unit of energy per hour (kwh), those in category A are to pay as much as N62.33 per kwh.
NERC explained that it approved the new tariff, taking into account the following: iInflation rate (the cost of living in Nigeria); Global Gas Price (that has increased since 2015); Naira exchange rate; Average Kilowatt sold by the DISCOs; Unit cost of power generation and Aggregate technical collection and commercial losses.
According to the minor review of Multi-Year Tariff Order (MYTO) 2015 and Minimum Remittance Order for the year 2020 for distribution companies published by NERC on its website, the commission has set projection for the cost-reflective tariff to begin January 1, 2021.
Of course, as expected, the increase in electricity bill has since elicited varied reactions from various stakeholders and interest groups in the country with most of them condemning, rejecting and describing it as a move that will neither help the economy nor the already traumatised mass of the Nigerian people.
The Nigerian Electricity Consumers Advocacy Network, accused the government of a policy summersault and inadequate consultation with a wide range of stakeholders in the sector before the announcement of the increase. The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) has vowed to resist the hike even as the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN) has said that the hike could precipitate economic recession in the third quarter of the year.
The NLC, in particular, has described the development as an ill-conceived agenda to further impoverish Nigerians, arguing that “Each hike in electricity tariff in Nigeria is trailed by huge leap in the hours of darkness, de-metering of more Nigerians, exponential rise in incidences of estimated billing, and increased burden on citizens for the procurement of equipment and facilities for public electricity supply amidst other devious methods by DISCOs to cheat, exploit and despoil poor Nigerians”.
While The Tide acknowledges the validity of the reasons proffered by NERC for the increase, we believe that the timing is wrong as it will only add to the yoke of already COVID-19 induced economically distressed, socially disorganised, physiologically disorientated and materially challenged citizenry.
We think that the new change in electricity tariff should be reversed and no increase contemplated or effected until all electricity consumers are metred, appreciable qualitative, stable power supply achieved and estimated billing completely eliminated with the provision of prepaid metres at affordable cost to all electricity consumers in the country.
It is believed that Nigeria’s investment in the sector is in the neighbourhood of $20 billion with the Federal Government still prepared to sink in another $6 billion while the power companies have failed to invest but continuously steal from the people through outrageous estimated billing, sale of pre-paid metres at exhobitant prices, poor electricity supply, poor response to customers’ complaints and incessant tariff hike.
Any attempt at resolving the abysmal energy supply situation in the country must be holistic as the current piece-meal approach to fixing the problem will never work in the interest of the people and, therefore, will continue to be resisted.

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