One of the hallmarks of true democracy is the right of the citizens to be heard on issues they consider unacceptable or retrogressive. It is from this civilized conduct that Nigerians derived the right to stage peaceful protests, naturally intended to attract public attention to a given issue and engineer healthy debate before arriving at a just end.
Strangely, successive Nigerian governments had often considered such public protests as an indictment and or outright condemnation of their programmes and projects. With that mindset, every reaction, not grounded in vain praise and was pre-judged as the product of the wicked machinations of opponents or enemies must be crushed.
To that heavy-handedness, have countless Nigerians lost their lives, their offence being, an unarmed protest against what they considered wrong, as they are entitled to, in a civilized society.
The worst era in the usage of such brute force to suppress dissent were the overlapping regimes of the Buhari/Idiagbon duo through the President Ibrahim Babangida years and later the Abacha/Diya’s all of which peaked with the protests against the annulment by General Ibrahim Babangida of the June 12, 1993 general elections, largely believed to have been won by Late Chief Moshood Abiola.
However, with the turn of the new democratic dispensation in May 1999, violent hostility as official response to unarmed protests abated considerably with only isolated cases of police assault against protesters. In fact, the state’s attitude to such internationally acclaimed conduct has over the years, changed for the better.
Indeed, it was for that relieving re-think and conducive environment thus provided for dissent that the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and other pressure groups, at various times, between last year and this, protested against various government actions without a single incident.
This is why, it came to The Tide as a huge shock that unarmed youths from the nine states that make up the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) who staged a peaceful protest, to press home alleged deprivations by the interventionist body, were last Wednesday dispersed with brute force by the Military Joint Task Force (JTF).
According to independent media reports, there was pandemonium at the Aba Road office of the NDDC in Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital, when men of the JTF shot sporadically to disperse about 1,000 unarmed and defenceless youths who had staged a peaceful protest to the NDDC headquarters, over alleged failure of the Commission to Implement the Youths’ Skills Acquisition Programme commenced 2005.
Apparently, denied audience by their unfriendly hosts, the protesting youths, according to reports, displayed placards and briefed newsmen of their disappointments, key among which was the failure of the commission to provide the graduate trainees starter packs, as part of a credit scheme promised them before and during their Training.
Rather than address the issues, the JFT was called in the raid which allegedly ensued, as many of the protesting youths were said to have sustained gun-shot wounds, some of them critically, although no deaths were reported at press time.
That is not how it should be. When, for instance a protest tilts towards the likelihood of getting violent, any reasonable police would disperse protesters with minimum force, using less life threatening weaponry like tear-gas canisters, but certainly not live ammunition.
That is why The Tide is reluctant to believe wholly that such arrogant display of military grand-standing could be staged against armless protesters but we also find it difficult to accept that the gun-shot wounds sustained by some protesters were faked by the victims themselves.
This is why we consider it most instructive to call for a thorough investigation to ascertain, among other things those who invited the JTF to quell a civil protest, employing the kind of force alleged, who, infact authorised the use of such live ammunition instead of plastic bullets as often advised as a last resort and above all, the authenticity of the allegations leveled against the NDDC by the youths.
We say so because such tackless accidental discharges and the likelihood of reprisals that normally ensue are expensive distractions that the relatively peaceful city can ill-afford.
In the future therefore, the Police or any Security Agency engaged to check the likely excesses of civilized protest must demonstrate maturity and great measure of responsibility to avoid any return to the past, when, police carried out accidental discharges in a brass culture of impunity, while, the hopeless citizenry stayed dump and afraid.
Congratulations, The Tide Is 50!
The founding fathers of Rivers State developed and nurtured a vision of the necessity of a newspaper. Being a people from a minority area of the country, these stakeholders were in desperate need of a voice for the people of the state and indeed a viable channel to educate, inform and socially engineer the people towards properly appreciating the government’s plans, projects, and actions. The challenges which occasioned the founding of The Tide 50 years ago persist to this day.
For The Tide to adequately execute its task of being the voice and caring for the interest of the people and government of Rivers State, the corporation was bolstered with a well-equipped commercial printing press to ensure that lack of finance did not prohibit it. The department continues to operate to date.
Known as the “Authoritative Voice of the Niger Delta”, The Tide, in its 50 years of existence, has progressed through rosy and challenging moments, without jeopardising its core mandate of operating as the voice of Rivers people. Being one of the earliest public newspapers in Nigeria, The Tide remains afloat despite the difficulties. However, the paper had experienced a few closures following a variety of problems. The most recent was in April 2020, when most establishments, both public and privite, were shut down to contain the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic which ravaged the world.
Categorically, it is a newspaper with a pervasive reach in the Niger Delta, complemented by the most sophisticated international readership through the website — www.thetidenewsonline.com and an operational email — firstname.lastname@example.org.
The management and staff of the corporation must take advantage of this rare opportunity to relish the livelihood of the newspaper and recognise God for His grace through the years. The corporation and specifically the Rivers State Government must seize this time to re-equip and turn around the newspaper for the future and betterment of the state.
Although quite some persons and organisations have been collaborating with the tabloid from its inception, The Tide would need to draw courage and inspiration from the solidarity of a fore-sighted state government which has sustained it all this while.
There are several reasons why the government and the people of the state should celebrate this state-owned stable. It is reassuring that, so far, the state newspaper is the most decisive voice in the South-South region and one of the main African newspapers on the Internet. As well, it may be the first Nigerian press to provide a strong Internet archiving capability.
Bearing a motto: “A Commitment To Truth”, The Tide has, besides keeping faith with its mandate, facilitated the training of high-level manpower in the media industry, including students of higher institutions on industrial attachment. This is the first government newspaper to be colour-coded daily. The paper excels despite clear inhibitions and has operated for many years without a rotary machine.
Perhaps, one area the stable desires to be always appreciated is it serves as the link between the government and the governed, on the one hand, the people and the rest of the world. This tabloid has made a significant contribution to good governance by providing advice, promoting government programmes and policies, advancing the interest of the state, and holding the authorities to account.
It is again indulging that very many institutions, corporate bodies and individuals mostly patronise the paper and consider it as their first preference. The spread of information through appropriate and factual news, opinion articles, business, sports, press interviews, commercials, editorials, among others, has invariably kept the newspaper’s doors open. We dare assert that we serve the menu hot and fresh in these areas.
That The Tide still flows and keeps afloat is a testimonial to the flexibility, hard work, focus, never-say-die spirit and industry of the staff and management on one hand, and the support of successive governments on the other. It, therefore, requires all the support it can get to carry on.
On this 50th Anniversary of the Rivers State newspaper, the questions are: what is the plan of the government for the tabloid? What does the government think of this newspaper, which has been promoting its programmes and policies diligently over the past 50 years? The universal truth is for any newspaper, private or public, to get through, it must be well-capitalised and professionalised.
That is why there is every reason to reposition The Tide that has demonstrated a valuable resource to the state by furnishing the corporation with functional machines, computers, generating plants, printing machines, additional staff, circulation vans, and replace all decaying infrastructure to enable it function better and be able to withstand future challenges. The profitable business of exercise book production needs to be brought back as well.
Fortunately, early last year, the Governor, Chief Nyesom Wike, graciously announced plans for an extensive renovation of The Tide Newspaper premises to give it a more modern outlook and provide state-of-the-art printing machines. We dare say that with the pragmatic and paternal disposition of our governor, this will inevitably come about soon.
At 50, The Tide is a full-fledged grown-up and no longer a youngster; its network, experience and even service have multiplied by a thousand. Its plan for the future has become indeed more tasking. This is one issue the anniversary will shape and colour in the real interest of the least Rivers’ person.
As we have seen, The Tide family needs to adulate obsequiously the Almighty God and thank the government and people of Rivers State for keeping the publication alive. This is a prospect for the stable to commemorate itself. Thus, all staff of the corporation (past and present) and those who have sprinted on the pages of this eminent newspaper, must be grateful to God and remain more positive than ever.
To The Tide newspaper, it is bravo and bon voyage!
Yes, at 50, The Tide still flows…even stronger.
Lessons From PDP Convention
After weeks of uncertainty and apprehension, the coast became clear for Nigeria’s leading opposition, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), to hold its national convention on October 30 and 31. The Court of Appeal had a day before the event dismissed a suit filed by the embattled National Chairman of the party, Uche Secondus, challenging his suspension months ago. The court likewise declined to halt the conduct of the convention.
Secondus had asked the appellate court to nullify his suspension, indicating that Section 59 (3) of the PDP Constitution affirmed that the ward or the state executive committee of any state has no authority to suspend any national officer of the party. He repeatedly requested that he be obliged to conclude his tenure on December 9, 2021, having been elected for a four-year term.
He also asked the court to set aside the orders of the Rivers and Cross River High Courts, which had earlier restrained him to stop parading himself as the national chairman. But a three-member panel of justices of the Appeal Court headed by Haruna Tsammani said it found no merit in Secondus’ appeal, maintaining he renounced his position since he did not challenge his removal at ward and local government levels.
Amidst its nagging legal conundrums, the PDP headquarters, until recently, was divided, with some members calling for the outright exit of the embattled chairman while others backed him to lead the party into the convention. Undoubtedly, some party organs were split over Secondus’ fate.
With the legal hurdle cleared not fewer than 3,600 delegates of the party assembled at the Eagle Square in Abuja to elect new members into the National Working Committee (NWC). Before the beginning of the convention, the Chairman of the National Convention Organising, Governor Ahmadu Fintiri of Adamawa State, had blustered that the opposition party was bracing for the occasion and promised that it would be the best-organised convention in the country.
Indeed, the convention was hitch-free and memorable for the PDP, as all or most of the officers emerged via consensus. Consensus is part of the democratic process and we expect the opposition party to use the new officers who emerged through the process to stabilise the party. The new leadership will assume duties on December 9 to enable the outgoing NWC members to conclude their four-year tenure, which began on December 9, 2017.
The convention was a display of intrigues and power play, which saw the governors in the party growing up as an effective team against the veterans who have been calling the shots in the past. Obvious from the outcome of the convention is that governors now have unrestricted domination of the party. The event was again a pathway for the presidential aspirants to proclaim their plans, as they all displayed posters and banners to let the members know that they were coming out for the primaries of the party.
The machinery put up by the elders and presidential hopefuls, like the erstwhile Vice President Atiku Abubakar, former governor of Jigawa State, Sule Lamido, former Senate President Bukola Saraki and others, to make Oyinlola and Ciroma emerge, failed as the governors had their way. Atiku, Saraki, Lamido and others had wanted Ciroma and Oyinlola to diminish the prevailing influence of the governors.
Though the October PDP national convention has come and gone, there are many lessons it demonstrates. First, we must applaud the PDP for holding a rancour-free convention that saw 19 of the 21 available positions won by consensus. That three of the candidates persuaded to step down for a favoured candidate by the powerful governors refused to do so, helped to legitimise the consensus arrangement, as it suggested that it was arrived at through persuasions and negotiations and not through fiat. This is recommended as a standard for political parties in Nigeria.
Second, despite all the pre-convention fears and nervousness stemming from the grim effort of Secondus to scurry the exercise, the main opposition party stood united and came out of Eagle Square unscathed. This has entrenched it in a position to salvage Nigeria from the maladministration of the All Progressives Congress (APC) government. This is again illuminating.
A further lesson to pick up from the convention is the crisis management mechanism of the PDP, which turned out to be more efficient than those of other political parties. The dominant opposition party has always overcome its challenges because perhaps the party has the most sophisticated people. For crushing the leadership crisis which would have blighted the last convention, the former ruling party has confirmed to Nigerians that if trusted again, it will do even better than before.
As the PDP basks in the splendour of a magnificent exercise, it has become indeed more sanguine to put the APC on notice that it is coming for its positions in 2023. This could be a manifestation that the key opposition party is fully back on stream. With a successful convention, the PDP may have challenged the APC with 92 chairmen in 36 state chapters to accomplish a comparable performance in their elusive convention.
Given the manner the opposition party handled its recent national convention and leadership crisis, not a few watchers of the nation’s democracy believe it has the potential to put up an excellent battle in the 2023 elections. However, while the hurdle of its leadership situation may have so far been managed from imploding by its governors, the challenge of holding the centre until the next general elections and wooing back its key players lost to the APC lately remains ambiguous.
Still On Soot In Rivers
For about five years, savage ‘black soot’ has captured the Port Harcourt skyline and several parts of Rivers State, leading to massive air pollution. While there are fears of intensified air pollution-induced illnesses, there is a simple lack of concerted effort, especially by the Federal Government to deal with the disastrous pollution.
It was first spotted in parts of Port Harcourt and some neighbouring local government areas like Eleme, Oyigbo, Ikwerre, and Obio/Akpor towards the end of 2016. Residents in these areas complained of ‘black dust’ or soot staining their cloaks or landing on their packed cars overnight. The further the observations gained currency, the more the ‘black dust’ extended to other locations.
Unable to find out the origin, the Rivers State Government, early in 2017, set up a committee headed by the then state Commissioner for Environment, Professor Roseline Konya, to examine the issue. It was the committee that later deciphered the probable cause of the soot, which had continued to advance in magnitude as it spread to other localities.
However, before Konya’s committee revealed its findings, conjectures were prevalent about the possible causes, with some denouncing the Port Harcourt Refinery Company (PHRC) for it. Others indicted a Chinese bitumen manufacturing firm, while many more claimed it was precipitated by the wholesale burning of used tyres by scavengers and the unscrupulous activities of crude oil thieves who employ primitive techniques, notoriously referred to as ‘kpo fire’ in refining the stolen oil.
But following further inquiries or investigations by the state committee, the most likely causes were narrowed down to illegal refining by crude oil thieves and the obscene act of setting ablaze recovered crude and refining facilities of the illegal refinery operators by security agents.
The Konya-led state government committee also revealed as much when she, in another public reaction, affirmed that the state government had been advising security agencies to devise a stronger means of dealing with operators of illegal refineries to curb the escalation of the soot.
In a rather consternating action to find a solution to the obstacle, the Federal Government, through the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Chief Timipre Sylva, has promised to take a definitive step against the ravaging soot in the state. He pledged while delivering his speech at the 6th National Council on Hydrocarbon held in Port Harcourt that the Federal Government was going to tackle the issue headlong.
Speaking through the Permanent Secretary of the Federal Ministry of Petroleum Resources, Nasir Gwazor, who represented him at the event, Sylva said he was passionately disturbed about the soot, and assured that his ministry would work with the Federal Ministry of Environment to deal with the issue.
Similarly, the Rivers State Governor, Chief Nyesom Wike, represented at the occasion by the state Commissioner for Energy and Natural Resources, Dr Peter Medee, appealed to Rivers people to ward off the temptation of pilfering what naturally is theirs, and in the process destroy oil installations.
He called on the people “to continue to support the efforts of the Federal Government to strengthen the production of crude oil as today, the major chunk of revenue of this country that will drive the sustenance of the economy is from this sector. It is on that note that we call on you to avoid illegal practices and negative tendencies that will affect this noble provision that God has given to us,” said Wike.
To the inhabitants of the oil-rich region, Port Harcourt, and its vicinities, the infiltration of soot has attained an escalation, jeopardising their lives like a Frankenstein monster. Curiously, this dilemma seems to be peculiar to Rivers State among other Niger Delta states where oil bunkering activities take place, indicating that there might be other factors responsible for the peril besides illegal crude refining.
The latest information demonstrates that the country loses an average of 200,000 barrels per day, about 100,000 barrels lost to shut-ins. Unfortunately, government officials, politicians, ex-militants, security forces including the military, are implicated in the oil bunkering business while the Federal Government looks an alternative path. It is believed that oil bunkering unions place security agents on payment to execute their nefarious businesses unhindered. This is a big reproach!
The thriving of illegal refineries in the Niger Delta is to blame for the non-supply of petroleum products by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). The non-availability of petroleum products, chiefly kerosene and fuel, has availed operators of the illegal facilities to saturate the market with these commodities that enjoy the patronage of the public. The refineries have to make the products available to forestall demands for the prohibited items.
The black soot threat calls for immediate and combined efforts to bring it to an immediate end. It is the primary responsibility of both the Rivers State Government and the federal authorities to ensure this. One way to do that is to end illegal refining in the state and confront every group that is involved in the business.
Though the state government has been tackling the hazard single-handedly from inception through several verifiable strategies and initiatives, we believe that with the Federal Government resolve to address the menace, the stage is set for a holistic approach to eliminating the devastation. We, therefore, urge the Federal Government to partner the Rivers State Government and the 23 LG councils in concert with the military and relevant security agencies as a way of complementing the efforts of the state government in ameliorating the sufferings of the people of the state.
We also expect that after 60 years of oil exploration, there should be an environmental audit in the Niger Delta region, particularly in Rivers, following the enormous oil businesses going on in the state. The time to act is now!
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