The initiative by stakeholders, especially the Senate and the Federal Ministries of Justice and Interior to address the pathetic conditions of Nigerian prisons, though belated as it may be, should be commended by all well-meaning citizens.
Only recently, the Senate through its Committee on Interior gave a two-week deadline for a bill seeking to improve the deplorable conditions of our prisons.
The proposed bill which seeks to repeal the existing “Prisons Act” intends to provide a legal framework for a comprehensive overhaul of the Nigerian prison system, inherited from the colonial masters.
Similarly, the Federal Ministry of Justice and its sister Ministry of Interior have also set in motion the process of reforming our prison system through the constitution of various committees to address the appalling state of the prisons.
Interior Minister, Emmanuel Ihenacho and his Justice counterpart, Mohammed Adoke in renewed efforts by the federal government to address the matter charged the committees to work out modalities aimed at reversing the ugly situation in the nation’s prisons.
These concerted efforts of the various stakeholders are coming on the heels of many previous failed attempts and initiatives on the same subject matter.
The federal government should also ensure that the current initiative does not fail as did the previous attempts on prisons reform.
We say this because, past dispensations, especially the Obasanjo’s administration set up a similar body on prison reform and decongestion but the recommendations of the committee did not see the light of the day.
Deliberate and concrete actions, not rhetorics, are required to make the reformation of our prisons a reality.
For instance, the current effort must seek to bring prison environment in Nigeria to minimum international standards.
In some countries prisoners are permitted to work in factories and construction firms and are allowed certain percentage of what they earn to support themselves while the rest is left for the maintenance of the prison.
Poor maintenance is the bane of Nigerian prisons and this is largely due to poor funding. Since the prison is a place of reformation and not a hell of eternal damnation, we insist that the prison must be made to be truly reformatory. We challenge the federal government and the prison authorities to see the current effort as an opportunity for all stakeholders to rescue the Nigerian prisons and their inmates from continuous decay.
Because prisons decongestion cannot be realised when 65 percent of prison inmates are Awaiting Trial Inmates (ATI), most of whom may be innocent suspects languishing in jail without conviction by any court of competent jurisdiction, the committee must also look at the legal system.
Our legal system is defective in many respects, and this, to a large extent, has impacted negatively on our prisons leading to the over-bloating of their population.
Addressing this malady therefore requires comprehensive overhaul of the country’s criminal justice system, judicial reform and executive action, all geared towards enhancing the state and condition of our prisons.
We must therefore make the difference now or never, especially against the background that the Goodluck Jonathan’s administration and the National Assembly have demonstrated sufficient concern and determination at reversing the ugly state of our prisons.
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!
Checking Fire Outbreaks In Rivers
Recurring and pathetic fire outbreaks in Rivers State have become unacceptable. Time and time again, residents of the state wake up with discouraging stories of devastation from infernos. These do not spare residences, business complexes, worship centres, markets, among other areas, with enormous resources in ruins and precious lives lost.
Fires caused by tanker accidents, faulty electrical cables or poor wiring, pipeline explosions and malicious activities by illegal crude oil refiners stink to high heavens. Experts are examining the possible fundamental causes of these disasters, hoping to stifle them. Unfortunately, they are in the upsurge, often with recurrences at specific locations.
Recently, fire razed to the ground properties worth tons of Naira at three specific locations in Port Harcourt, Rivers State. Last weekend, residential houses at Isiokpo Street, D/Line, in Port Harcourt City Local Government Area and Zenith Bank Plc, situated at Rumuokoro, Obio/Akpor Council, were taken down by inferno.
The third fire incident occurred last Monday at the Bonny/Bille Jetty and burnt several boats, consuming goods and property. It was gathered that the three fire scenes were precipitated by adulterated fuel and kerosene, popularly called “kpofire”. An unconfirmed number of fatalities was reported in the Bonny/Bille incident. Some observers said about 10 persons had lost their lives to the fire, prompting a violent backlash by the mob on sighting the fire service.
The fire outbreak at the Bonny/Bille Jetty occurred following the shipment of food components and illegally refined fuel stocks in the boat with passengers on board. The Rivers State Commissioner for Special Duties, Emeka Onowu, who spoke at the D/Line, where the initial fire event transpired, lamented about the incidents and grimaced at the activities of illegal crude oil vendors.
Recall that in February this year, a fire outbreak destroyed property worth millions of Naira at the Marine Base Timber Market in the old Port Harcourt Township. The cause of the fire could not be directly determined. The incident happened almost five days after a comparable fire occurrence razed property worth millions of Naira at the famous Mile 3 Market.
In October this year, about 20 persons were scorched to death in a fire explosion that cropped up at a forest in Rumuekpe community in Emohua Local Government Area following an illegal artisanal oil refining (Kpofire). It was learnt that one of the cooking pots caused the fire at the site of the oil refining activities whose pipe they interconnected to other pipes which exploded.
There is the probability that it is petroleum products that are responsible for most of the fire escapades. This does not portray the state in a positive light. Hence, the government should take harsh measures against those who participate in the illegal refining of petroleum products, since their operations have moved so many innocent people to their premature graves.
Likewise, gas stations, fuel depots and public and private buildings should ensure that they have fire extinguishers handy as first aid in event of any fire accident. All electrical devices not in usage should be turned off and pulled out from the sockets to suppress electrical sparks from an energy surge. Media outfits have a considerable role to play in informing and enlightening.
Security agents should intensify their endeavours to restrain criminals from gaining access to the outlawed product. Anyone caught in the act should be sanctioned according to law to ward off other felons from attacking government resources that were established for the good of the public. Specifically, the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), whose responsibility is to secure the nation’s assets, must be up and running.
Similarly, the state-owned fire service station should be appropriately endowed with contemporary amenities to rescue the situation whenever there is a fire surge. The service has to live up to its statutory mandate of forestalling and mitigating fire emergencies. Firefighters must be proactive by showing up at fire scenes early, combating it and cutting back its spread. They can accomplish this if the state complements their efforts by promoting constant training of the work force.
Government officials and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) should carry out sensitisation campaigns to inform the youths on the need to safeguard public resources in their sphere. Law-abiding citizens should be attentive and declare illegal refining enterprises in their neighbourhoods to law enforcement agents. More fire preventive procedures have to be taken, chiefly as the harmattan season is fast approaching, which is associated with drought and wind.
Unfortunately, ‘the black soot’ wrecking the state’s environment is mainly attributed to the actions of illegal refiners of crude oil in the state. That is why there is a compelling demand for partnership between the Rivers State Government and the federal authorities to end the menace that is mainly answerable for the serial fire eruptions in the state.
A broad-scale investigation should be conducted by the state government to untangle the actual sources of the rattling fire incidents. Recent government pronouncements to set up a panel of inquiry are laudable. This will not only reveal the origins of the fires, but provide a remedy to them. Forestalling fire incidents is a collective obligation. Precaution and alertness are required.
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