President Muhammadu Buhari lately flagged off the reconstruction of the much-awaited
Nigeria’s Eastern rail line, a 1,443 km narrow gauge rail line spanning from Port Harcourt in the South-South zone to Maiduguri in the North-East zone with new branch lines to Owerri, Imo State, and Damaturu, Yobe State.
The project is to be co-financed through a loan from a syndicate of Chinese financiers with the Federal Government’s contribution of 15% project cost. The undertaking includes the Bonny Deepsea Port and Railway Industrial Park, Port Harcourt, and will be developed through direct funding by the conglomerate led Messrs CCECC Nigeria Limited.
When completed, the trains from Port Harcourt to the Maiduguri Eastern narrow gauge railway will run at 60 to 80 kilometres per hour Kph and 80 to 100 kilometres per hour Kph, respectively. Through his virtual speech, the President informed Nigerians that the purpose of the project was to revive the once vibrant rail transport in Port Harcourt — Maiduguri, the country’s Eastern rail corridor.
Justifying the narrow gauge rail line for the Eastern corridor, the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, explained that the Federal Government opted for a single track for the Port Harcourt – Maiduguri rail line because of lack of funds for the construction of a standard gauge. According to Amaechi, the six geo-political zones would be covered. It would go through several states including Rivers, Abia, Imo, Enugu, Ebonyi, Anambra, Benue, Nasarawa, Plateau, Bauchi, Gombe and Yobe.
He said the Eastern rail line was designed to have both narrow and standard gauge, “but as it stands now, due to the cost of the standard gauge and what is feasible to do within the limited time frame, it is cheaper to rehabilitate the narrow gauge which will cost about $3.2 billion and can be delivered within the approved time frame.”
The minister also said a standard gauge line was to cost between $11 billion and $14 billion to construct, and getting the funds within the limited time was not feasible because of other projects that were waiting to be funded. Explaining further, the minister said, “the only difference with the two lines is the speed. The standard gauge is 120km per hour. If you take off with the standard gauge, let’s say to Damaturu, you will arrive 20 minutes before me that uses the narrow gauge.
“The narrow gauge is cheaper at $3 billion. Why we did not get the approval for the narrow gauge on time was because the President insisted on the standard gauge from Port Harcourt to Maiduguri. My argument is that if I can achieve the same length of rail with $3 billion, why not take that first until when we get money, we can now go for the standard gauge. If we continue to wait until we get the $11 billion to $14 billion, we may not be able to construct the Eastern flag before we leave government.”
This project is highly appreciated for its economic viability and ability to reduce vehicular movement on the road. However, the rehabilitation of rail lines in the country has been a major concern, especially as many in the South-East and South-South regions have been deliberately neglected by the President; whereas he has been busy building thousands of kilometres of rail lines in the North and South-West: Abuja – Kaduna; Lagos – Ibadan; Kano-Katsina-Maradi in the Niger Republic, among others.
The need for a functional rail line on the Eastern corridor persists and remains compelling as the supply chain for products and services on this corridor vanishes and articles and items such as petroleum products, iron and steel, minerals, livestock and poultry products availability were drastically reduced giving rise to the high cost of products.
However, we think that because of the busy nature of the Eastern corridor, a standard gauge would have been more appropriate as rehabilitation of the old narrow-gauge line would amount to a waste of resources. The government should have perhaps utilised the available resources to construct the kilometres that could be covered while the next administration completes the work.
As the region that produces the nation’s wealth, we should have been given priority in terms of quality of the project. Why is cost not an issue when building the standard gauge in other parts of the country? Sadly, it is only when it has to do with the Niger Delta that cost is an impeding factor. Hence, we stand with the Rivers State Governor, Chief Nyesom Wike, in describing the narrow gauge rail line as inferior, sub-standard, slower, and outdated compared to the standard gauge rail line. We deserve the best.
While it is understandable that the project possesses high economic viability, create employment, and grow the economy through transportation, the question is, why is it coming now when the government has a brief time to be in power? Can the work be completed within the remainder of the administration’s lifespan?
Moreover, given its penchant for abandoning projects, the Federal Government cannot be trusted to deliver the narrow gauge rail project according to schedule. For instance, there are about 9,000 abandoned projects awaiting completion in the Niger Delta alone. The East-West Road has been lying fallow for many years, seeking attention. Numerous others are scattered all over the country many of which are at various stages of incompleteness.
A good number of projects in the area are not pursued with vigour. There are no good roads yet. The East-West Road has been abandoned. The water is polluted and electricity supply is still a luxury in the area where it exists at all. Schools are badly funded. In other words, the people of the Niger Delta remain impoverished.
What is more, why, with all the monies already spent, are there no landmark projects in the area? There are no monuments in the Niger Delta to the huge wealth derived from there. Indeed, all the organisations in the nation’s oil sector, including the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) headquarters are not even located in the Niger Delta. Things cannot continue in this way. Enough is enough.
Task Before New IGP
As Nigerians eagerly awaited judicial pronouncement that would have sealed the constitutionality or otherwise of the extention of service period for former Inspector General of Police (IGP), Mohammed Adamu, by the court on April 16, 2021, President Muhammadu Buhari, acting through his Minister of Police Affairs, Maigari Dingyadi, aborted that expectation when he announced the appointment of Usman Alkali Baba, as the 21st indigenous IGP to replace Adamu in acting capacity on April 6, 2021.
Until that appointment, Usman Baba who holds a Master’s Degree in Public Administration, was the Deputy Inspector General (DIG) in charge of Force Criminal Intelligence and Investigation Department (FCIID) at Force Headquarters, Abuja. He had also served as Force Secretary, Commissioner of Police in Delta State, the Federal Capital Territory, as well as being the Assistant Inspector General (AIG) in charge of Zones 4, 5 and 7, respectively.
Being the third in a row of Northern Muslims appointed into that position by President Buhari, there are many who see the President’s action as not only insensitive but a brazen disregard for the increasing tension in the land occasioned by heightening clamour against perceived sense of exclusion and frustration, given vent in violent rage against the state.
There are other Nigerians who think that the president acted without due process in the appointment of the new IGP without recourse to the Police Council as required by law. The argument is that it is erroneous for the president to rely only on Section 171 of the Constitution without taking due regard to the Third Schedule Section 215 (2)) of the same 1999 Constitution in the discharge of his function as touching the subject matter.
Created by Section 153 of the Constitution, the Police Council which has the President as chairman and the 36 state governors as members is saddled with the responsibility of appointing the IGP based on the recommendation of the Police Service Commission. As things stand, there is no indication that even the Police Service Commission was involved in the appointment of Usman Baba. For many, this is a disservice to the nation and an apparent breaking of the law by the President himself.
While The Tide agrees that the President ought to have exercised better discretion, sensitivity, circumspection and adherence to the rule of law in his choice of a new helmsman for the Nigerian Police Force at this time, the fact cannot be denied that the task before IGP Baba is very huge and challenging and requires uncommon bravery, courage, ingenuity, resourcefulness, patriotism and sincerity of purpose to surmount.
It is not for nothing that Usman Baba’s appointment was announced while his predecessor was on an on-the-spot assessment of one of the most massive destructions ever visited upon the headquarters of a police command and a correctional facility in the country. It is also instructional that barely 48 hours upon his assumption of duty, five state governors, acting in concert, proclaimed the establishment of a regional security outfit, following the footsteps of some others who had gone before.
The truth of the matter is that Nigeria at the moment faces an existential threat, not from without but from within its borders. With festering insurgency in the North East, banditry in the North West, farmers-herder’s deadly confrontations in the South West, North Central and South’ South, and a fledging insurrection in the South East, a general sense of insecurity pervades the entire landscape of Nigeria.
In the last three months, bandits have attacked and kidnapped students from four different schools in the North West region with some students of the Federal College of Forestry Mechanisation in Kaduna State still being held by their captors. Attack on police formations and killing of law enforcement personnel is almost becoming a daily occurrence. Separatist voices are getting louder while ethnic war lords are springing up in their numbers. Kidnapping, cultism and sundry violent and deadly crimes are spinning out of control. In fact, there is an intolerable level of breakdown of law and order while overall safety and security of lives and property have reached an all-time low in the country.
To say the least, lack of security and effective and efficient enforcement of law and order fueled by uncontrolled influx of small arms and light weapons is the unfortunate reality in Nigeria. There are indeed, those who describe the country as a failing state because of the level of lawlessness and the security agencies’ seeming lack of capacity and capability to stem the overwhelming tide. Perhaps, the job of maintenance of law and order in Nigeria has never been this challenging and it is now the unenviable lot of IGP Usman Baba to put a lead on the spiraling ugly situation and give his compatriots a new hope of a safe and secure environment for their lives and property.
However, for the police to be able to undertake this task effectively, it must itself attain certain basic standard requirements. To begin with, the police are ill-equipped and understaffed. Clearly, adequate equipment of the police in the light of the equality and calibre of weapons in the hands of the criminals is a fundamental requirement if they are to make any impact at all.
The new IGP must also work with relevant authorities to ensure that the personnel strength of the force is significantly increased in order to have enough manpower for the work. The situation where you have less than one million officers to police about 200 million people is no longer sustainable.
Deliberate purposeful efforts must be made to earn the people’s trust and confidence for the police to achieve results. The police cannot continue to be in confrontation with the same people they’re paid to protect. The need for a properly trained, highly professional and truly civil police force cannot be overemphasized.
IGP Usman Baba must also work to ensure that the police does not find itself working at cross purposes with sister security agencies but always endeavour to fashion out workable synergy and partnerships for the overall good of the country. The Nigeria Police Force needs to reform itself, motivate its officers and men through adequate remuneration and the provision of welfare packages that will boost their morale and reduce their tendency to be compromised without much ado.
Of course, IGP Usman Baba has already made public his new policing vision to include: Deploying cutting-edge policing technology; integrating intelligence-led policing practices to core policing functions with a view to strengthening police capacity to stabilize the internal security order; and restoring public confidence in the force.
Of course, IGP Usman Baba will require the support, assistance and cooperation of the Federal Government as well all Nigerians to succeed but he must work to justify the confidence reposed in him by the president and prove himself worthy to be taken seriously by the people.
Imo Jail Break: One Attack, Too Many
Nigeria is going through its worst moments. Lawlessness is fast gathering impulsion in the coun
try and there is every justification for Nigerians to palpitate and tremble. Criminal elements are labouring very hard to snatch the soul of the nation. The latest theatre of anarchy is in the South-East, especially in Anambra, Imo, Ebonyi States and a fraction of the South-South in Akwa Ibom and Delta States where security agents are daily confronted by non-state actors.
Jailbreak and bomb onslaughts on security formations in Owerri, the Imo State capital, led to the escape of 1,844 prison inmates with at least three people dead. The parallel attacks may be indicative of the fact that security agents are recording a streak of losses in the battle against felons. Specifically, on April 6, 2021, gunmen attacked the prison in Owerri. They also razed the Ehime Mbano Local Government Area Divisional Police Headquarters in Imo State.
Not done, the gangsters again bombed the Imo State Police Command Headquarters where about 50 vehicles and other property were razed. Military checkpoints were equally assailed with two soldiers reportedly killed. President Muhammadu Buhari appears to be incapacitated as he watches Nigeria voyaging towards self-destruction. Trouble everywhere. In the North-West, bandits are having unusual pleasure while in the North-East, terrorists have altered things for the worst. North-Central and South-West have persisted in the tenacious grip of bandits as well as farmers/herdsmen configurations.
Even the British High Commissioner to Nigeria, Catriona Laing, recently expressed concern for Nigeria’s unpleasant situation: “We are extremely concerned about the deteriorating security situation…Nigeria is facing a lot of problems everywhere – in the North-East, terrorism; in the North-West, banditry, kidnapping; in the Middle Belt, the farmers-herders conflict; in the South, the Niger Delta conflict everywhere. And the secession movements in the South-East. So, Nigeria is really struggling.”
It is sad that Nigeria still contends to live on after more than a century of amalgamation and six decades of independence. For all these years, our country, rather than wax stronger, is diminishing in strength. It has continually failed to provide welfare and security for its people. The state has lost power and control to criminals, regardless of the vain conceited posture by the government. Two days before the Owerri attacks, seven Hausa/Fulani ‘suya’ (roasted meat) vendors in Owerri markets were killed by gunmen.
Before the Owerri incident, Anambra, Ebonyi, Nasarawa and Delta States had also had their fair share of attacks. In the Obeagu, Egedegede, Amaizu and the Effium communities in the Ishielu and Ohaukwu Local Government Areas of Ebonyi State, gunmen suspected to be of the Fulani extraction massacred 22 persons. The assailants are yet to be apprehended.
At Garaku Market in Toto Local Government Area of Nasarawa State, bandits bared their deadly fangs, and shot dead the chairman of the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association and another official. Also in the throes of killing is Anambra State where six police and four Naval officers including civilians were killed. A Chief Superintendent of Police was burnt alive in Akwa Ibom State. The deadly trail continued as criminals killed two police officers on escort duty in Warri, Delta State.
Bandits have seized Niger State and effectively control many communities. Farmers are surcharged before they can gain entrance to their farms. School children are abducted in large numbers in Kaduna, Katsina and Zamfara States at random. The situation is such that within the first six weeks of this year, 1,525 persons had been killed by terrorists, bandits and killer herdsmen. The Global Terrorism Index reported 1,606 killed in 125 incidents to make Nigeria the world’s third most terrorised country in 2020.
Similarly, Amnesty International affirmed that 1,126 people in rural communities in the North were slaughtered by bandits and herdsmen in the first six months of 2020. Alarmed by the figures, the Catholic Bishop of Sokoto, Hassan Kukah, clearly captured the state of utmost abhorrence, “being the poverty capital of the world comes with its rewards such as banditry, violence, death, sorrow, blood, poverty and tears.”
The successive invasions and sacking of police stations, checkpoints and usurpation of arms in the South-East ought to have precipitated prophylactic intelligence action from security agents. It should have been apparent to the police that the criminals would eventually assault bigger targets if not arrested. Besides, the police headquarters in Owerri is near the Government House and much less than 30 minutes drive away from the Nigerian Army’s 34 Field Artillery Brigade Headquarters. Slow response to emergencies is part of the unfortunate banes of our security system. Thus, criminals operate for hours without any response from law enforcement agents.
Nigeria is disintegrating and we need to act fast. There is a deep mistrust towards the authorities by the people and likewise profound mutual antagonism among the ethnic nationalities and the numerous faiths. The government should stop alienating Nigerians particularly in the manner Kukah described as the incredible funding of billions of naira in “rehabilitating” terrorists and bandits who battle against the country with no programme of rehabilitation for their victims.
Certainly, our country is going through significant divergent forces. However, we think that the situation is not hopeless. The nation can still be rescued. As a first step, the government needs to soak up illicit arms. This has become necessary given the unrestrained arms inflow from Mali, Libya and Central African Republic, according to the US Military’s Africa Command. Also, the toxic mixing of politics and religion with security by the authorities should cease as this country may not survive another civil war.
To pull back from devastation, state governors must quickly set up and fund formidable state security outfits. To be effective, these must be completely devoid of politics and sectarian or partisan contemplations. Furthermore, State Houses of Assembly and the National Assembly should, in the ongoing amendment of the 1999 Constitution, decentralise policing immediately. The current failed central policing structure must be disbanded forthwith.
Towards Credible Rivers LG Polls
All looks set for the conduct of the Rivers State local government elections scheduled to take place tomorrow, April 17, 2021, in the 23 local government areas of the state. A total of 17 political parties will vie for various council positions in the Saturday polls. The Rivers State Independent Electoral Commission (RSIEC) had initially listed 18 political parties for the election, but the All Progressives Congress (APC) discontinued the contest.
The political parties cleared for the polls are African Action Congress, Action Democratic Party, Accord Party, Social Democratic Party, National Rescue Movement, Action Alliance, People’s Democratic Party, Labour Party, Zenith Labour Party, Young Progressive Party, Allied Peoples Movement, All Progressives Grand Alliance, African Democratic Congress, New Nigeria Peoples Party, Boot Party, Peoples Redemption Party, and the Action Peoples Party.
Tomorrow’s council polls follow intense preparations by RSIEC. The elections are expected to be conducted in line with the provisions of the Rivers State electoral laws. Speaking at a meeting with stakeholders recently, the RSIEC Chairman, Justice George Omereji (rtd), hinted that the commission had complied with relevant sections of the law in all its preparations for the task. He implored political parties and politicians to ignore acts that could jeopardise the electoral process.
While we wholeheartedly endorse the move to ensure that democratic practice, norms and values always prevail at the local government level, we are, truly, elated by the level of earnestness and commitment exhibited so far by the Justice Omereji-led commission to conduct credible, free and fair elections in the 23 local government councils. Indeed, RSIEC can execute credible election if it resists pressures from different quarters.
The commission’s parley with security agencies, especially with the police, and other stakeholders is, to say the least, heart-warming and reassuring. We expect this co-operation and partnership to continue even after the election. Going by Omereji’s antecedents, we strongly believe that the commission will not fail to provide a level playing ground for political parties and politicians to test their popularity in a free, fair and tension-free contest.
The electoral body must, therefore, strive to adopt an open-door policy where complaints would be entertained on their merit during and after the election. As anticipated, we hope the commission embarked on massive voters education and training of electoral and ad hoc staff that would man the 23 local government areas. It is advised that adequate preparations should be made for the security of sensitive and non-sensitive electoral materials.
RSIEC is reminded that the success or otherwise of any election depends largely on the authenticity of the updated voter’s register which the commission is expected to obtain ahead of the election from the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). The news that as many as 17 political parties in the state will participate in the council polls is cheering. The parties are urged to support and co-operate with the commission in ensuring a smooth and credible election.
It is expedient that Governor Nyesom Wike releases all the funds appropriated by the state House of Assembly for the conduct of the local government election to the commission and ensure that he does not interfere in the workings of the RSIEC, or even influence the outcome one way or the other. Members of the commission should work harder to uphold the law without fear or favour; let or hindrance.
Incidents of missing ballot or result sheets, late arrival of materials and other logistics will only serve to discourage the electorate who already entertains a deep mistrust for the electoral process in the country. The lack of confidence in the system is largely responsible for the attitude of most Nigerians refraining from playing an active role of either voting for candidates of their choice or vying for political office. RSIEC must guard against those lapses.
Politicians, on their part, must understand that irrespective of their party affiliations, the common goal is the provision of good governance for the people. An election should never be a ‘‘do or die affair’’ and no aspirant is worth spilling blood for. Political positions are a call to service, not personal enterprises motivated by profits or bloody sports for which violent and fatal competitions are means. Experience has shown that arms provided for political thugs during elections, end up being tools for robberies and kidnappings after the election.
The idea of security agents acting the script of political actors should no longer amount to something in our polity. The nation currently faces perhaps its worst security challenges, and the police as well as other security agencies need the trust of Rivers people to enable them to carry out their duties effectively throughout the polls.
Law enforcement agents must protect both voters and election materials. The recent #EndSARS protest, along with the violence that ensued, is a manifestation of the dissatisfaction of Nigerians with police operations. These security agencies must learn to commit themselves to their constitutional role and oath in the sustenance of democracy, rather than to any government official.
We must realise that ultimate power rests with the people, and the best way to exercise this power is through the electoral process. Hence, Rivers people must own the electoral process, first by acquiring their permanent voters’ card, turn out en mass tomorrow to vote for candidates of their choice, and guarantee that their votes count. They have to elect responsible and responsive persons whose utmost interest will be the security and welfare of the people.
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