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As Empowerment Support initiative (ESI) Clocks One

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It is precisely one year, today since the inauguration of the Empowerment Support Initiative (ESI), a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) and pet project of the wife of the Rivers State Governor, Dame Judith Amaechi.

Founded  October, 16, last year, ESI has as its primary objective, to provide practical assistance in the development and welfare of women and children, particularly, those who feel excluded and marginalized from social and economic activities, vital for general wellbeing and improved quality of life in the communities.

To achieve this objective, ESI initiative is targeted at developing the potential of women and children to bring about positive change in economically, socially and environmentally sustainable ways, through the implementation of well articulated programmes and projects in the areas of education, healthcare, children, sanitation and nutrition.

In line with its set objectives, ESI has through the enlistment of community volunteers and in collaboration with both local and international groups recorded remarkable success in improving quality of life in our communities through the effective implementation of set projects, in the last one year.

Some of the notable areas the ESI has impacted positively on the people of the state in this one year, are the creating of awareness on women’s right in the communities by promoting public support and respect for those rights; providing strategic and technical support in the delivery of effective communication programmes, particularly on various health risks and diseases such as HIV/AIDS.

Recently, the initiative provided a breast cancer screening machine at the Comprehensive Health Centre at Churchill Road in Port Harcourt to encourage the campaign for regular examination and early detection of breast cancer.

The initiative has equally provided vocational facilities for women in our communities who, by reason of their age, infirmity or disability, financial hardship and poor social circumstances have desperate need for such facilities. Under this programme, a good number of women and youths drawn from the three hundred and nineteen wards of Rivers State are currently engaged in training on various skills and trades such as tailoring, electrical, electronics, plumbing, painting and carpentry within and outside the state.

Also, recently, 53 women who had been sponsored to train in driving skill were empowered with taxis to engage themselves in public transportation challenges giving hope to the next set of 120 others under training.

Another very remarkable milestone recorded by the pet project of Dame Amaechi, is its collaboration with the graduate school of management of Rivers State University of Science and Technology, Port Harcourt to train 2000 women of the state under her Agricultural wealth Empowerment Programme (AWEP) which is aimed at equipping the real farmers with the right skills and training to boost food production in our various communities.

Even more commendable is the special attention the Initiative has given to early child education particularly its drive in championing appropriate foundational and early child education of the less privileged and rural children in the state, which before now has never been given a thought by developers of the education curriculum of our public schools. No doubt, the Initiative of Dame Judith Amaechi bold, plausible and  timely as it is, will without doubt re-orientate and re-direct our youths towards appreciating and embracing positive societal values that will put them in the path of honour.

It is in appreciation of this gesture that we acknowledge those who have supported the objectives of ESI through financial contributions and equity donations in terms of land to facilitate the realization of this early child education programme capable of moving Rivers State forward.

We also call on other individuals, corporate organizations, national and international donor agencies to take a queue and that way, help in actualising the vision of her Excellency and enhance timely execution of its projects and programmes that have the capacity to sustain the rural economy of our people.

While, we appreciate the numerous challenges in the execution of these objectives, we associate ourselves with the key statement of her Excellency, “ESI was not my problem but born out of a burden. It doesn’t matter how long it takes to build it but the basic thing is to start.”

“The project is founded by God, I am only the driver. No human that wasn’t a child first. The challenges we face, the things we saw are what made us today. So if you have to start, you have to start early from the bottom of the top and the bottom is the children, if you are not able to correct them now, it will be difficult to do it later.”

As we observe the one year anniversary of the Empowerment Support Initiative (ESI) we are of the view that today should be seen as a day of reflection on the challenges of this initiative and all necessary fine tuning should be made to ensure that this lofty idea does not die with Dame Judith Amaechi as wife of the Governor of Rivers State, but be sustained thereafter.

Congratulations  ESI.

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Editorial

Combating Food Crisis In Nigeria

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Dire economic conditions have been exacerbated by severe shortages in food supply in Nigeria. Therefore, the government should do all it can to ensure that the country is not hit by food depletion by promoting local production rather than resorting to the usual food imports. Immediate steps should also be taken to combat the threat of destructive pests.
Over the years, Nigeria has spent billions of dollars importing basic food items from other countries. Not long ago, former Minister of Agriculture, Audu Ogbe, revealed that Nigeria spent as much as $20 billion a year on food imports. This is an infamy for a country with 99.9 per cent arable land that has huge potential for agricultural development.
It can be seen that policy and institutional obstacles are the main stumbling block to Nigeria’s agricultural development and agro-related industries. In addition to the lack of commitment, there has been no policy push for agro-processing and value-added tool manufacturing. Furthermore, epileptic power is a major barrier. Nigerians would not be importing food or going hungry if the right policies and structures were in place.
Reports show that more people are falling into extreme poverty daily. Some live on less than a dollar a day and are unable to eat three meals a day. About 7.1 million people in Nigeria are currently in need of humanitarian assistance, and another 1.8 million people are still living in camps for internally displaced persons in conflict-affected areas. Their main need is food. We must identify the problems associated with food production and distribution to overcome the looming hunger and food crisis.
Insecurity is a major concern currently plaguing food production, supply, and distribution. The killing of 43 rice farmers in Borno State by Boko Haram militants is still fresh in farmers’ memories. Similar killings by bandits or herder/farmer conflicts have occurred across the country. Insecurity also hinders the free movement and distribution of agricultural products. These events create great fear among farmers, who are forced to abandon their farms.
Low agricultural product quality and inputs are also identified as one of the threats to food production. At a 2019 national workshop analysing agricultural input supply chains in West Africa and the Sahel sub region, agricultural experts agreed that despite population growth in Nigeria and West Africa, agricultural inputs and productivity were declining. Their position was that most farmers did not understand improved seeds and how to obtain them. Farmers’ awareness in this regard must be improved.
Lack of storage is another issue in the food value chain that contributes to hunger. Sadly, more than 60 per cent of our produce perishes before it reaches the final consumer. This is because the country lacks sufficient storage facilities to keep perishable goods. Tomatoes, peppers, onions, and others are the hardest hit. These products are prone to spoilage soon after harvest.
Consequently, we call for the speedy re-introduction of various marketing boards, especially for cash crops such as cocoa, cashew, rice, and maize. The defunct marketing boards were emplaced to scale agricultural hurdles of poor financing, fluctuating prices and inability to access markets. The agricultural boards were of great help to farmers with relevant information and capacity building towards stabilising production and marketing of farm produce.
Poor transport systems and road networks have also been identified as a factor hindering an effective and efficient food distribution system. Currently, most produce is transported across the country by road on trucks. Food distribution and delivery to their respective destinations are greatly hampered by poor roads and general insecurity.
The current rice revolution policy of the government is applaudable, but not adequate. That is why the price is still on an upward swing. The availability of alternative food to rice must be the priority of governments at all levels. A situation where rice is given so much priority almost to the neglect and exclusion of other food crops the country is equally blessed with is not in the interest of the nation.
Our federal lawmakers should enact a law to compel all tiers of government to regulate prices of food and other items, guarantee food security and lessen the economic hardship on Nigerians. The legislators should meet with critical stakeholders in the country to address the frightening rise in the prices of goods. These should include captains of industry and other promoters in the economic sector on ways for a drastic reduction in prices of goods and services.
From the onset of COVID-19, global food prices have rocketed, putting pressure on the world’s most fragile countries. In Nigeria, especially, soaring prices and growing insecurity are deeply felt and could foment protests and social unrest. The pain is unusually acute because purchasing power and social safety nets are virtually absent in the country, and discontent with underperforming governments is simmering.
Since local production of food is not getting the required boost, the Federal Government should reopen more borders to address the food shortage in the country. This will be a step in the right direction. Food importation could arrest Nigeria’s food inflation to an extent. Making food available and taming hunger that could escalate conflicts should be the focus of our country rather than protectionism. This measure would help reduce the surging cost of food items and other necessities.
Besides the insecurity that daunts farmers, the poor state of infrastructure in rural areas where most of the farming population lives is a major impediment to Nigeria’s efforts to ensure food security. State governments should correct this. The need to provide good rural roads and off-grid electricity using solar energy to improve the lives of rural residents cannot be overemphasised. States need to prioritise rural infrastructure and agriculture with strong private-sector participation.

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Editorial

Time To Account For 13% Derivation Refunds

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How did the other South-South states, aside from Rivers, expend their arrears of the 13 per cent derivation refunds that were illegally deducted from the oil-producing states by the Federal Government since 1999? That is the tough question on the lips of some stakeholders mostly in the affected states.
This came after the startling revelation by the Rivers State Governor, Chief Nyesom Wike, that Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari authorised and paid the arrears to Rivers, Bayelsa, Delta, Edo and Akwa Ibom States. Wike spoke on the development last Friday during the inauguration of the N17 billion Port Harcourt Campus of the Nigerian Law School.
Responding to those who had been seeking to know how the Rivers State Government was able to obtain funds to execute projects many of which are being inaugurated or commissioned, Wike replied that President Buhari’s gesture was the major source of revenue for his projects, including the flyovers, the law school, the cancer centre, among others.
Hear him: “Monies that were not paid to the Niger Delta states since 1999 mainly 13 per cent deductions, the President approved and paid all of us in Niger Delta states.” Wike had reiterated a similar remark at two separate events afterwards. Following the disclosure, stakeholders have begun to ask their governors questions on how they spent or are spending their allocations of the money.
Now that the Rivers State Chief Executive has let the cat out of the bag, some of his fellow governors in the region have come out of their comfort zones to offer explanations or tell cock-and-bull stories better told to the marines. This divulgence indicates that Wike is truly fighting for the masses, even though he stands the risk of making more enemies for himself.
Speaking on the matter through his Chief Press Secretary, Olisa Ifeajika, the Delta State governor, Ifeanyi Okowa, said the state had drawn only N30 billion from its accrued share of N270 billion from the 13 per cent derivation arrears. He said his administration opted to access its share through a bridge finance loan of N150 billion from a bank. The Delta governor declared that since the Federal Government could not pay the money in bulk, the oil-producing states agreed for some part of it to be disbursed within three years and the other within five years.
Some Bayelsa stakeholders took to social media over the slow pace of development amidst considerable resources. The big question on their lips has been what happened to Bayelsa’s stake in the money paid by the Federal Government? Similar questions are asked by residents of Akwa Ibom and Edo States. While some have threatened to use the Freedom of Information (FoI) Act to compel their government to account for the money, others have called for a probe into the seemingly looted funds.
Astonishingly, some governors in the Niger Delta could receive such a tremendous amount of money in these hard times yet decline to pay salaries and pensions regularly. In some affected states, infrastructure is decrepit and development is apprehended. While Governor Wike has been building flyovers and executing other developmentally-oriented projects in his state with the windfall, the question is, what have the other governors who got a similar treasure-trove been doing with theirs?
It is time transparency and disclosure were enforced in the administration of the 13 per cent derivation by state governments. Reportedly, eight states have been benefiting from the scheme. The eight oil-producing states received about N6.589 trillion from the federation account under the derivation principle, between 2009 and 2019. Sadly, there has been little or nothing to show for such allocation in some beneficiary states as agitations for benefits continue among the people directly impacted by oil production.
For states receiving derivation payments, translucency is even more key, given the history of state governors’ management of these funds. That way, the temptation to yield to corruption risks is reduced, wasteful spending is curtailed and oil-producing communities have a greater chance of getting these funds to work in their interest.
Governor Wike deserves commendation for exposing the non-performing governors in the crude oil and gas-rich Niger Delta region, who collect huge derivation funds and arrears but without any corresponding projects on the ground to justify the allocations. But for his bringing the situation to limelight, many would not have been aware of it. The other governors in the region must ensure that their funds reflect massive developmental and infrastructural projects, as seen in Rivers.
We hail President Muhammadu Buhari for authorising the payment of the funds to the deserving states and not playing politics with it, particularly since the benefiting states are virtually in the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). This is an abiding testimony to the President’s political maturity and his commitment to the tenets of democracy and the rule of law. As can be seen, Buhari’s release of the money has enabled the Rivers governor to embark on more projects in the state.
Unfortunately, the 13 per cent derivation which is a form of royalty for mineral owners has been hijacked for political expediency rather than meeting the needs of the host communities. There must be a paradigm shift away from political expedience in the use of the funds to employing it to maximise the social and economic welfare of the oil-producing communities in particular and the state in general.
An energy expert and former adviser at Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI), Garuba Dauda, said extractive revenues face a huge utilisation challenge at both national and subnational levels in Nigeria. He stressed that there were far-reaching accountability gaps in the management of oil revenues at both national and subnational levels of government, especially the 13 per cent derivation.
Accountability remains key if benefit transfer must get to the citizens. The need to imbibe and integrate corporate best practices in the oil and gas industry in Nigeria must include holding the state governments accountable for disbursement of the 13 per cent derivation funds. Oil-producing communities in derivation-receiving states must be seen to be enjoying the dividends of the derivation.

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Editorial

Enough Of Attacks On INEC’s Offices

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A resurgence of arson targeted at the Independent National Electoral Commission’s (INEC) offices has again raised fears of a volatile electioneering season as the country begins its countdown to the 2023 general polls. In the latest direct assault on the electoral umpire, hoodlums attacked and set fire to its offices in Ogun and Osun States, destroying physical structures, equipment, and permanent voter cards (PVCs). These materials are critical to the successful conduct of next year’s election.
The attacks prompted INEC to summon an emergency security meeting with the head of security agencies, who are members of the Inter-Agency Consultative Committee on Election Security (ICCES), including the National Security Adviser (NSA). Amid other security challenges and the desperation of politicians and their hirelings, the President, Muhammadu Buhari, and the security agencies must take extraordinary measures to ensure hitch-free polling.
INEC’s Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) for Ogun State, Dr Niyi Ijalaiye, reported that the commission’s office in Abeokuta South Council was attacked and set ablaze. The incident occurred when some unidentified persons overpowered the security personnel on duty and set the entire building afire. The main building and all the movable assets in the office were destroyed. They include 904 ballot boxes, 29 voting cubicles, 30 megaphones, 57 election bags, eight electric power generators and 65,699 uncollected PVCs.
Similarly, the REC for Osun State, Dr Mutiu Agboke, informed that the commission’s office in Ede South Council was under assault and also set on fire. The incident happened in the early morning when unidentified persons attacked the building and set it on fire. However, Agboke said the damage was limited to one area of the building and only a few pieces of furniture were destroyed.
Before now, serial violence and arson against INEC personnel and facilities in some states, especially in the South-East and South-South zones, had destroyed buildings and vital election equipment and loss of lives. The attacks in Osun and Ogun suggest that the violence could spread to the South-West. Those responsible for these acts can only be agents of lawlessness and disorder. The authorities must do everything to contain this rapid descent into lawlessness.
The growing violence and attacks on INEC’s facilities nationwide may raise the cost of next year’s general election. Rampaging hoodlums had razed no fewer than 11 INEC offices, 13 vehicles, 429 generators, and others in over 41 attacks in the last few months. In the past, INEC estimated that each card reader cost N167,063 while each memory card cost N6,000. Today, the cost will be much higher, given the depreciation of the Naira against foreign currencies. So, these attacks cannot be allowed to continue.
Furthermore, while enlisting the types of incidents and the parties that are responsible for violence, the electoral umpire revealed that one of these attacks was from bandits, one by the Boko Haram, four post elections violence, 18 EndSARS protests, 11 by unknown gunmen, six from election thuggery. The commission also stated in another report that over 1,000 people, including its employees and security personnel, lost their lives in the past three election cycles held in 2011, 2015 and 2019.
Besides the perturbations of Nigerians, the United States and the United Kingdom have expressed concerns over the recent irruptions on the offices of INEC nationwide. The United Kingdom Development Director, Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office, Chris Pycroft, and the United States Consul General, Mr Will Stevens, expressed the concerns while speaking at a forum recently. According to the diplomats, that prognosticated grave danger to the 2023 elections.
It is now up to the authorities to put in place measures that will prevent disruptions in future election operations and protect the lives of innocent citizens. While a combined technique of intelligence, law enforcement and special operations may help in containing the menace, it is also in the enlightened interest of our politicians to curb the attacks that could, if care is not taken, torpedo our democracy. It is imperative to deploy joint safety and security teams in all INEC assets and facilities on a national scale.
Security agencies will also need to upscale intelligence gathering, sharing, and utilisation of the same to stem further sabotage. Similarly troubling is the rising incidents of attacks on supporters and facilities of political parties, ostensibly by political opponents, so soon into the five months for campaign rallies, processions, and meetings as provided in the INEC timetable and schedule of activities for the 2023 general election.
In addition to the measures already taken for the arrest and prosecution of offenders, the Inspector-General of Police, as head of the lead agency in internal security, should convene a meeting of all political parties, candidates, and other critical stakeholders to reiterate the necessity of peaceful campaign and to convey the enforcement measures to be taken against violators. Purveyors of violence should be prosecuted in line with the Electoral Act.
Experience elsewhere shows that successful elections can be organised even in the middle of insurgencies. A report by Bridgewater Review recalled that with UN assistance, Iraq held three successful national elections in 2005 notwithstanding insurgent threats, with a voter turnout of between 58 per cent and 76 per cent. It cited a mix of mass security sweeps, effective voter education and trust in the rectitude of the electoral umpire as success factors. Nigeria ought to imitate this model.
Beyond the insecurity, an avalanche of pre-election cases before the courts is very unsettling. It is unhealthy for democracy. INEC’s chairman, Mahmood Yakubu, deplored over 600 court cases arising from the party’s recent primaries and the nomination of candidates for the 2023 election. The decelerate stride of the judicial system in Nigeria means that some cases will not be resolved in due course before the opening of election in February. This has an effect on INEC’s proficiency to print and distribute ballots before voting begins.
We applaud the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Justice John Terhemba Tsoho, for designating a team of judges subsequent to the large volume of pre-election suits that have swamped the court. The judges who are members of the task force will hold off all ordinary cases in their specific courts because of the seriousness of election cases, which are time bound. This will assist the commission to expeditiously prepare for the 2023 ballot.

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