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As World Marks AIDS Day… 

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Tomorrow, December 1, 2020, the world will commemorate World AIDS Day. On this day, people
around the world unite to show solidarity and support for persons living with HIV/AIDS and remember those who have died from AIDS-related illnesses.
Each World AIDS Day focuses on a specific theme, but this year seems to have dual theme all tailored towards sharing the responsibility of ending the impact and resilience of HIV/AIDS . Thus, this year, the theme revolves around “Global Solidarity, Shared Responsibility”. Again, this year’s theme combines a growing list of challenges that World AIDS Day has alerted people to globally.
Founded in 1988, World AIDS Day was the first ever international day for global health. Every year, United Nations agencies, governments and civil society groups coalesce to campaign around specific themes related to HIV to create awareness.
World AIDS Day remains as relevant today as it has always been, reminding people and governments that HIV has not gone away despite the overwhelming presence of the COVID-19 pandemic. Therefore, there is still a critical need for more funding for AIDS to increase awareness of the impact of HIV on people’s lives to end stigma and discrimination and to improve the quality of life of people living with HIV.
This year, the world’s attention has been directed by the COVID-19 pandemic on health and how pandemics affect lives and livelihoods. COVID-19 is showing once again how health is interlinked with other critical issues, such as reducing inequality, human rights, gender equality, social protection and economic growth. Hence, the theme.
COVID-19 has proved that indeed no one is safe in a pandemic until everyone is safe. Thus, leaving people behind is not an option if we are to succeed in the fight. Eliminating stigma and discrimination, making people our priority and basing our responses on respect for human rights and gender-responsive approaches are key to ending the colliding pandemics of HIV and COVID-19.
Global Solidarity and Shared Responsibility requires that we view global health responses, including the AIDS response, in a collective and new way. It, therefore, calls on the world to come together under the exercise of strong leadership that will create equal societies, the right to health for all and a robust and equitable global recovery. This World AIDS Day also calls on countries to step up their efforts to achieve healthier societies.
It has been estimated that 38 million people globally were living with HIV. Out of this figure, 25.4 million people were accessing antiretroviral therapy. While 1.7 million people became newly infected with HIV globally, 690, 000 people died from AIDS-related illnesses in the last year.
Given this development, it is now imperative for the introduction of a permanent cure for AIDS. If scientists developed a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine within a year and a half, and are still learning what COVID-19 infections look like and how to vaccinate against them, why is it hard to develop a HIV vaccine since its outbreak several years ago? In 1984, officials declared that an HIV vaccine would be ready for testing in two years. More than 35 years later, however, there is no HIV vaccine.
As the world focuses on this global health concern to humanity, Nigeria also joins the urgent call for a collective effort to alleviate the plight of AIDS patients in the country. Working on the local theme: “United to End AIDS in the Midst of COVID-19: Get Tested”, the Federal Government laments the low response of people to HIV/AIDS testing and appealed to citizens to embrace it.
The Director-General of the National Agency for Control of AIDS (NACA), Dr Gambo Aliyu, speaking at the 2020 World AIDS Day celebration in Abuja, regretted that the COVID-19 pandemic had adversely impacted the HIV/AIDS programmes in the country. Aliyu clearly identified stigma and discrimination as major causes of low response to testing and decided that his organisation would fight against such issues.
It has been rated that Nigeria has the second largest HIV epidemic in the world. Although HIV prevalence among adults is much less (1.3%) than other sub-Saharan African countries such as South Africa (19%) and Zambia (11.5%), the size of Nigeria’s population means 1.8 million people were living with HIV in 2019. Recent drops in prevalence estimates for the country has been attributed to better surveillance.
Nevertheless, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), estimates that around two-thirds of new HIV infections in West and Central Africa in 2019 occurred in Nigeria. Together with South Africa and Uganda, the country accounts for around half of all new HIV infections in sub-Saharan Africa every year. This is despite achieving a 13% reduction in new infections between 2010 and 2019.
NACA can reinvigorate the fight against the twin problem of discrimination and stigmatisation by employing interventions that will properly direct and improve young people’s knowledge of HIV, reducing negative stigma belief through media campaigns and increasing access to HIV testing through home-based testing and “opt-out” strategy at the point of care. This will drastically reduce the prevalent rate as well.
A major setback in the fight against HIV/AIDS in the COVID-19 era emanated from poor financing. Though NACA confirms it has been receiving some funding, the Federal Government needs to do more to enable the organisation increase its testing capacity and treatment of more AIDS victims to inspire courage and confidence in them and get them tested for the ailment.
It is commendable that NACA is beginning to enlist the support of the private sector to find a lasting solution to the HIV/AIDS pandemic in the country. The organisation should similarly solicit the assistance of some wealthy Nigerians like Alhaji Aliko Dangote, Chief Femi Otedola, Chief Mike Adenuga, Chief (Mrs) Folorinsho Alakija, among others. Also, universities in the country should be enabled to come up with antidotes to the HIV/AIDS challenge through research efforts. This no doubt will greatly boost our national image.
Afterall, two Nigerians are involved in the discovery of the vaccine recently discovered to cure 95% of Covid – 19 infections. If that be the case, why not find a cure for HIV? There is no gainsaying that such a feat will put Nigeria on the global map.

 

By:  Sogbeba Dokubo

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Editorial

Restoring Sanity In Rivers NUJ

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After several postponements, the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Rivers State Council, last Wednesday, January 19, 2022, elected new officers to pilot the affairs of the union for the next three years. The election, initially rescheduled for August 12, last year, was put off about six times following altercations emanating from the delegates’ list and quite a few other matters between the two opposing camps and their supporters.
It was indeed an exhibition of shame and humiliation as the 7th Triennial Congress of the Rivers State Council of the NUJ resulted in tragic disagreements among the contestants, ending in chaos and fisticuffs. Armed police teams were required to chase out journalists from their state secretariat when the conflicts between the candidates and their adherents thwarted attempts to conduct the polls. Amazingly, those in the pen profession who chastise politicians for failed elections were unable to organise ballot for themselves.
Finally, the poll was postponed indefinitely as journalists were initially denied the use of the Ernest Ikoli Press Centre for a few months. However, meetings at the request of the state Information and Communications Commissioner, Pastor Paulinus Nsirim, were held where a truce was reached with the major warring factions. The “warlords” decided to go down in their differences and agreed to hold the elections.
Recall that the battle of August 12 began when the zonal national vice-president of the time, Edward Ogude, decided to conduct the election as part of the formalities of the triennial congress without National Secretariat approval. Also, some members of the union in the hall promptly questioned the credibility of the list of voters about to be used to conduct the election because the credentials’ committee failed to display the voter’s list for claims and objections.
After the clash of August 12, a new electoral date of January 13, 2022 was approved by the National Secretariat. However, the election saw a new change in date as a result of objections to the voter’s list. January 18 was finally approved after concerns arising from the voter’s register were resolved. The election began, but because of differences in the ballots, it was cancelled and postponed until the following day.
As watchdogs of society and the conscience of the nation, journalists should be blameless in their conduct. They should be obligated to society and exhibit high ethical standards in all ramifications. In a disconcerting way, what happened to the gentlemen of the press, particularly on August 12, at the NUJ office in Rivers State, was a radical departure from these standards. It was the last straw of indecency.
However, and most favourably, stability and cohesion were eventually restored within the union, which saw the cordial conduct of the recent polls. Specifically, we thank Nsirim for his inexplicable support that enabled a breakthrough in the whole peace process. A former Information Commissioner, Hon. Ogbonna Nwuke and the union’s Committee of Elders are also commended for their tireless efforts to negotiate peace.
With the election now over, there is a need to quickly put the outcome behind and hit the ground running. It is essential that the new State Council Executive headed by the Chairman, Stanley Job Stanley, builds on the resuscitated love, unity, and camaraderie among journalists in the state to move the union forward. He must begin a gesture of reconciliation to heal the deep wounds inflicted upon the minds of members and lead an inclusive administration.
Numerous issues bordering on constitutionality, membership, adherence to the Code of Ethics, and seniority in the profession, require the urgent attention of the State Council. Firstly, and henceforth, all members of the new executive must ensure that their actions and decisions comply with the provisions of the Constitution and Code of Conduct of the union. We must make sure they lead by example. Secondly, they must conduct themselves peacefully and respectably to achieve harmony and stability in the union.
The unwarranted confusion that engulfed the Rivers NUJ would have been prevented if journalists were competent in the provisions of their Constitution relating to the union’s elections. Unfortunately, most journalists do not have a copy of the very important NUJ grundnorm and have been practising without adequate knowledge of the rules. It is an invitation to crisis. This is an unacceptable trend that needs to be reversed.
Again, the authentication of union’s membership remains a hot issue, waiting to be addressed. Many people whose membership is questionable are often allowed to vote during elections, encouraging quackery. The acquisition of the requisite academic qualifications and the payment of professional dues or check-off are obligatory for membership. The Constitution says defaulters should lose their rights and privileges, or at best be reduced to nominal membership. The new executive would, therefore, have to disinfect the union by enforcing that provision of the union’s decalogue.
Unlike the legal profession where classification is guaranteed, the NUJ has become a union where seniority, both in age and in practice, is observed in the breach. There is no respect for the senior partners by their subordinates, a situation which has led to superiors withdrawing from union activities. Every professional organisation needs the guidance and wise counsel of its senior members and the NUJ cannot be an exception. The new state leadership and the national body must take action accordingly.
Having assumed office, Stanley and his executive must restore the integrity of the Rivers State Council of the NUJ by raising the bar of trust and confidence of the members and the public. They must distance themselves from fraud and embezzlement, the scourge of most previous administrations, which then brought them to their knees. Instead, they need to provide responsive and accountable leadership, as befits a union that is highly regarded as the mirror of society.
We need to realise that the NUJ is a professional body, not a political party with no threshold to a desperate thirst for power. Union representatives are elected periodically to promote the journalism course and, by extension, society. Unfortunately, members of the press seem to be tainted by the “stomach infrastructure virus” as an average Nigerian politician who sees elected office as a gold mine. This grotesque tendency is mainly responsible for the crises observed during NUJ elections across the country. This must stop if the union must move forward!

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Editorial

Anti-Soot War: Counting The Gains

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As desperate efforts by the Rivers State Government to track down all artisanal refineries and their operators in the state seem to be intensifying, Rivers people have commended Governor Nyesom Wike and his council chairmen for the courageous steps taken to tackle operators of illegal oil enterprise popularly called “kpofire” and the brilliant successes achieved so far.
The practical steps taken by the governor to declare those behind the illegal refineries wanted, and his visits to certain sites of the infamous activities are indeed comforting. The state has been grappling with soot emissions widely blamed on the activities of illegal oil refiners, and the complete destruction of their facilities by security agents, indiscriminate burning of tyres and certain actions in abattoirs.
At the inception of the war against artisanal refining of crude oil at the beginning of the year, the Rivers State Task Force on Illegal Street Trading had carried out several raids on some illicit refining sites in Port Harcourt and arrested many persons. Again, a number of sites and illegal crude oil refining activities identified in the state have been closed or virtually destroyed.
Governor Wike had declared 19 persons wanted for operating illegal crude oil refining locations, directly responsible for soot prevalent in the state. Barely 24 hours after the declaration, the Rivers State Police Command officially announced that its operatives arrested and paraded 18 persons implicated in outlawed oil refining activities in various parts of the state. Ever since, the “war” has taken on a stronger dimension.
Undeterred by the extremely hazardous nature of the governor’s directive to local government bosses to clamp down on “kpofire” sites, the Obio/Akpor Council Chairman, Barrister George Ariolu, guided by an intelligence report and surveillance, hinted that his administration had stormed two artisanal refineries and repositories on Salvation Street and Rahi Avenue in Rumuosi, respectively.
Evidence showed complicity of security agents in the crimes. Accordingly, Wike accused the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) anti-vandal unit and the police of aiding and abetting vandals and illegal bunkers in the state, urging the Police Commissioner, Eboka Friday, to redeploy the Divisional Police Officer (DPO) in Emohua Council for operating an illegal refinery in the area. While the NSCDC authorities promptly disbanded the anti-vandal unit and suspended its head, the police redeployed the DPO, further placing him under probe.
In Emohua Local Government Area, the crusade against illegal oil bunkering activities has continued to make appreciable progress. Following a tip-off on illegal oil bunkering actions, the Chairman, Dr. Chidi Lloyd, had intercepted newly constructed equipment being installed at an artisanal petroleum refining site in Rumuji town.
Consequently, the council boss led a combined team of security personnel and members of the local government task force on illegal oil bunkering into a forest in Rumuji, where construction work was being concluded for the take-off of a new artisanal petroleum refinery with over 15 tanks and receivers already fabricated and installed in the site.
Similarly, the Ikwerre Local Government Council Chairman, Engr Samuel Nwanosike, recently apprehended some persons with vehicles loaded with illegally refined petroleum products and handed the culprits including their vehicles to the police for further investigations. Isiokpo, Elele, Omerelu, Omagwa, Aluu and Igwuruta, among others, were indicted by the chairman for permitting illegal oil refining in their areas.
In addition, the Bonny Local Government Chairman, Dame Anengi Barasua, demolished an enormous illegal refinery in the area as part of government’s efforts to crush the activities of operators of artisanal refineries unleashing soot in the state. Barasua had led security agencies, Ijaw Youth Council members and Lo cal Ggovernment Area officials to annihilate a live oil bunkering camp at Banigo-Egbelu by Oputumbi Creek.
Meanwhile, the House of Representatives lately called for an investigation into the proliferation of illegal refineries in the Niger Delta region, especially with the alleged involvement of the Nigeria Police, NSCDC, among others. The House directed the Inspector-General of Police, Usman Baba, and heads of other relevant security agencies to immediately clamp down on illegal refiners in the state.
These remarkable feats and others owe much to Wike who has never failed to stand by his people. His “war” against illegal refineries is simply another indication of a leader who does not only lead from the front, but always puts his people first and steps on toes where necessary to ensure that Rivers people come first, no matter whose ox is gored. There should be determined strategies to flush out the criminals. Politics must be separated from the absolute imperative of protecting the citizens.
We have learnt that the war against illegal bunkering of crude oil cannot be ended unless the unlawful refineries are completely destroyed. We even realised that every time illegal refineries are destroyed, the oil thieves would always return to restart the business. However, we strongly advise security agents to adopt a new scientific strategy in destroying the facilities to reduce hydrocarbon pollution.
To prevent a dearth of refined products in the state, arising from the onslaught of illegal oil thieves, we urge the state government to work assiduously to ensure that the modular refineries promised by the Federal Government are set up. This will not only effectively terminate the economic sabotage on the nation but curb the soot droppings in the homes and premises of hapless Rivers residents.
Although artisanal refining of stolen crude oil is blamed for the current accelerator of soot and ambient air pollution in the Niger Delta, decades of reckless exploration and production activities by multinational companies, ill-maintained oil pipelines and facilities, routine gas flaring and lax regulatory framework could as well be responsible for the highly dangerous situation those in the region now find themselves.

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Editorial

Kudos, EFCC, But…

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During an end-of-year assessment of its operational activities for 2021, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) promptly declared to Nigerians that it recovered over N152 billion; $386.2 million; £1.1 million; €156,246.76; 1.7 million Saudi Riyal; 1,900.00 South African Rand, and 1,400.00 Canadian dollars between January and December 2021.
A spokesperson for the commission, Wilson Uwujaren, said in a recent statement that the recovery also included a digital currency component with 5,36957319 Bitcoin and 0.09012 Ethereum. The operations by the headquarters dominated the recoveries with N67.2 billion, $375.6 million and £1.1 million, according to the news release.
Uwujaren revealed that the anti-graft agency secured 2,220 convictions across all its commands in 2021 with the Lagos Command recording the most convictions — 481, closely followed by the Ibadan Command with 324 convictions, while the Port Harcourt Zonal Command had 230 convictions. Curiously, the EFCC failed to indicate the cumulative cases in court in the year under review.
The convictions obtained by the commission in 2021 are the highest since its establishment. Prior to 2021, the highest number of convictions was reached in 2019 at 1,280. The record of 2,220 in 2021 is 127.5 per cent better than in 2019. The record 2,220 represents a 98.49 per cent success rate in prosecutions as the commission lost only 34 cases during this period.
We heartily commend the EFCC chairman, Abdulrasheed Bawa, and his staff for their industry and dedication despite the challenges of criminal litigation in the courts. The organisation should keep on motivating all categories of staff for greater efficiency through capacity development and other incentives and ensure that perpetrators of economic and financial crimes are denied the benefits of the proceeds of crime.
As an agency charged with the responsibility of recovering looted assets in Nigeria by arresting and prosecuting offenders, a day hardly passes without the commission inviting jittery and errant politicians and corrupt persons for questioning. It is no longer hearsay that this “eagle” deployed by the Federal Government has gouged many preys and is pursuing others.
Since its inception during former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration, the EFCC has had cases against prominent Nigerians, and what often begins as a light grilling sometimes does climax in a jail term, with victims having to part with considerable sums as bail. Some are acquitted following marathon trials that pass through multiple courtrooms.
The Federal Government may have earned credit for recovering stolen funds or property in Nigeria. Its posture is laudable even though the administration is not the right bet considering the tattoos of banditry, insurgency, kidnappings, hunger, insecurity, poverty, and unemployment engraved on the face of the average Nigerian.
Despite the latest figures projecting the EFCC’s achievements, the question on the lips of many Nigerians is: where does the anti-graft agency channel recovered looted funds? In other words, where does the confiscated money reside? In deposit accounts earning interest? Nigerians need to know and maybe see concrete steps that are being taken with these funds.
Although the EFCC had at different times claimed that recovered funds were lodged in a Federal Government’s consolidated account in the Central Bank or deposited in some interest-yielding accounts on the instruction of the courts, revelations unearthed when Bawa appeared before a House of Representatives ad hoc committee investigating the status of recovered loots mainly under its former chairman, Ibrahim Magu, proved otherwise.
Various transactions were flagged by the committee, some of which included unauthorised transfers to and from the EFCC account. The Attorney General, Abubakar Malami, had in a series of letters to the President accused Magu of diverting billions of Naira of recovered funds, as well as failing to act timeously on a presidential directive to investigate the controversial $9.6 billion P&ID British firm that secured a gas contract in Nigeria.
Funds recovered by the EFCC should be accounted for and be used to tackle youth restiveness. As a realistic approach to reducing crime, insecurity and unrest that many Nigerians have grown accustomed to, some of these funds should benefit unemployed graduates. Whatever challenges such an approach may pose, the Federal Government can respond to them in its own way.
It is expedient for Nigerians to be privy to credible information about the recovery of looted assets, identities of the perpetrators or those associated with corruption cases, as well as details of their prosecution and the composite number of cases in court within a review period. This is what we need to know to appreciate the exploits of the anti-graft agency.

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