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Enforcing Law Against Smoking In Public Places

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There are several laws in Nigeria that exist only in principle. This is because since their enactment and passage they are never enforced. In fact, such laws exist only on paper and in the imagination of people who have a good memory about them but in reality they never did.

The heart beat of the non-smoking populace in Rivers State is that the law on Ban of Smoking  in Public Places should not be consigned to history as one of such “bad” laws that lacked enforcement.

Indeed, the Rivers State House of Assembly, whose constitutional obligation it is to legislate on matters in the (best) interest of the people has over the period of its legislative sessions enacted laws which are considered to be in the best interest of the people of the state.

One of such laws is the Ban on Smoking in Public Places. This law is so fundamental and critical to life in view of the danger cigarette smoking poses to the health of both smokers and non-smokers.

The litany of clarion warnings by the federal ministry of Health that, “Smokers are liable to die young” heightens public anticipation for the quick passage of a law to stem the gory trend.

In fact, medical and health personnel aver that not only smokers but the non-smokers are vulnerable to the variegated cases of smoking in the public. No doubt, the Rivers State House of Assembly has done a good job.

This is why for anyone who savours and has regard for the sanctity of human lives, the enforcement of the law on Ban of Smoking in Public Places must be given teeth, and defaulters, no matter how highly placed in society, made to face the wrath of the law.

It is pertinent to state that since the state House of Assembly did not define what a “Public Place” is but reportedly relied on the provision of the “criminal code” on what constitutes in public place, it behoves the law enforcement agencies in the state, precisely the Nigerian Police, Rivers State Command to embark on a public enlightenment as to what the term “Public Place” denotes.

The enlightenment on the clause should not be left for public assumption thus creating a presentiment for flagrant violation of the law, though, “ignorance of the law is not an excuse to indulge in crime or misdeamenour with the intention of escaping justice.

It must be sounded that the law on the Ban of Smoking in Public Places is the people’s law, it will protect children from the nuseating consequences.

The benefit of the law cannot be exhausted in this article: it will stimulate lack of interest in smoking thus curbing the tendency of breeding a generation of smoking youths, it will reduce the number of tobacco – related deaths especially the unsuspecting public who are vulnerable to such ailments through smoking in public places. It helps to domesticate and legitimatise the federal ministry of health’s warning on the danger tobacco smoking poses to health. The law also gives temerity and effeontry to every resident in Rivers State, who has reasonable proof that his life is threatened, to challenge or take necessary legal action on anyone who recaclitrantly violates the law.

And if the law is enforced, in course of time, smoking will be so unappealing that people who hitherto were smokers or would –be smokers, will jettison the practice as unfashionable and sheer waste of money even as dissidents would be viewed as law-breakers risking prosecution and imprisonment.

Kudos therefore to the Rivers State House of Assembly and the contributors to the public hearing on this bill for its passage into law.

The ball is now in the court of the law enforcement agents in the state, I hope they cannot fail and truncate a million dollar process to rid our society of the danger smoking in the public poses.

May the Nigeria Police in particular carve a niche for itself by enforcing this law to the letter within the nooks and crannies of the state.

The Police should ensure that the principle of equality before the law holds sway. They should endeavour to enforce this law and reduce the associated risks.

However, where there is reasonable evidence that this law is not enforced, the state House of Assembly should as a matter of public interest call on the relevant law enforcement agents to brace up to this challenge.

Otherwise, resources pooled to come up with this law would be deemed wasted.

 

Igbiki Benibo

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Opinion

Electricity Tariff Increase: Problem Or Solution?

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In some Nigerians’ typical way of making joke with the policy summersault that has characterised the current federal government and that has plunged the nation into the current unprecedented economic woes, a caller on a radio phone-in programme on the recent electricity tariff increase said, “shebi dem dey complain of meter by-passing, now dem go see fly-passing.”
Of course the act of energy theft through illegal connections, meter by pass, illicit meters and other means is condemnable. The Criminal Code, Penal Code, the Electric Power Sector Reform Act (EPSRA) and other federal and state laws criminalise the act. For instance, Section 1 (1) of the 2013 Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) Electricity theft and other related offences regulations provides as follows:
“Any person who willfully and unlawfully taps, makes or causes to be made any connection with overhead, underground or under water lines or cables, or service wires, or service facilities of a licensee; or tampers with a meter, installs or uses a tampered meter, current reversing transformer, shorting or shunting wire, loop connection, receives electricity supply by by-passing a meter, or uses any other device or method which interferes with accurate or proper registration, calibration or metering of electric current or otherwise results in diversion in a manner whereby electricity is stolen or wasted; or damages or destroys an electric meter, apparatus, equipment, wire or conduit or causes or allows any of them to be so damaged or destroyed as to interfere with the proper or accurate metering of electricity, so as to abstract or consume electricity or knowingly use or receive the direct benefit of electric service through any of the acts mentioned in paragraphs (a), (b) and (c) or uses electricity for the purpose other than for which the usage of electricity was authorised, so as to abstract or consume or use electricity shall be guilty of an offence under Sections 383 and 400 of the Criminal Code, Sections 286 (2) of the Penal Code and Section 1 of this Regulation, and shall be punishable with terms of imprisonment as applicable, provided under Sections 390 of the Criminal Code, Section 287 of the Penal Code or Section 94 of the EPSR Act.”
But while the government focuses on dealing with anyone who commits the crime, a pertinent question that must be asked is, what are the factors that contribute to the prevalence of energy theft in the country? Is the hike in electricity tariff a problem or a solution?
The latest tariff hike according to the authorities affects consumers categorised under Band A. These consumers NERC disclosed, enjoy up to 20 hours of power supply will henceforth pay a tariff of N225 per kilowatt-hour, up from the previous rate of N68/kWh. Reason being that the government can no longer continue to subsidise electricity for this category of customers and decided to take them off subsidy so that the government can still manage to cope giving subsidies to those enjoying less hours of electricity.
According to NERC only 15 percent of the 12 million electricity consumers are affected. Those in the rural areas are not affected while those in the urban areas will be significantly affected. Incidentally, many places in the urban areas seem to now belong to Band A or have been on Band A without knowing it yet they do not enjoy the services that those in that category should enjoy.
I live in a neighbourhood that can hardly boast of 12 hours of power supply daily. After the tariff increase announcement, some of my neighbours bought electricity tokens and were shocked to discover that the Estate is on Band A. “I got 20.7 units for N5,000 which is approximately my household average daily consumption. Which means we will be spending about N150, 000: 00 every month on electricity minus the cost of fuel for the generator. This is unrealistic”, exclaimed one resident. Of course the Estate has approached NERC to seek for an appropriate categorisation.
We all know that the reason for the constant electricity tariff increase is to enable the investors to recoup their investment and make profit. The spokesman of the power distributors under the Association of Nigerian Electricity Distributors (ANED), Sunday Oduntan, stated during a recent television appearance that, “In every business, there’s the need for the businessman to be able to put money into business and recover the costs. Even when there is no profit, you need to recover your cost.”
But it is also a known business strategy to sell products with a low profit margin and make more sales than to insist on high profit margin and sell less. So, would it not make better sense for electricity to be sold at a more affordable rate which will guarantee more legal consumption than sky rocketing the price and have more people turn to illegal connections as a way to reduce their electricity costs?
In a couple of weeks, May 29 precisely, it will be one year since the controversial removal of fuel subsidy which has caused untold hardship to Nigerians and their businesses. Experts had warned that tampering with energy security would have a serious negative impact on the nation’s economy and the living standard of the people. However, the voices of those who claimed that fuel subsidy was bad and that it is corruption ridden and  strikes down growth and profit were louder. See where the country is today.
And to think that Nigeria is again toiling with electricity subsidy? That may send the economy of the nation into a coma. The World Bank report released on April 9, 2024, ranked Nigeria (alongside Congo Democratic Republic) as the headquarters of extreme poverty in Africa. The National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) recently placed the inflation in the country at 31.7 per cent. The nation’s currency has collapsed.
The irony is that the federal government keeps assuring that efforts are being made to tackle the inflation and make life better for the citizens. Yet the same government keeps coming up with policies that will make no meaning of whatever that is being made. Did the government consider the number of businesses that will fold as a result of the electricity hike, the jobs that will be lost and the other consequences on the masses and the economy?
One therefore suggests that rather than hiking the electricity tariff and worsening the problem of energy and economic crisis in the country, the government should deal with the corruption within the energy sector. The issue of allowing individuals or businesses to operate illegally without facing consequences, officials taking bribes to overlook illegal connections or to avoid prosecution  must be adequately tackled.
It is not enough to have the barrage of laws aimed at tackling energy theft and vandalism,  Law enforcement agencies must wake up to their responsibility of enforcing these laws and ensuring that no defaulter goes unpunished no matter how highly placed. These agencies must be provided with the necessary resources and be motivated to address the issue effectively.

By: Calista Ezeaku

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Opinion

Cautious Optimism As Naira Rebounds

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It has been good news since the past three weeks as our national currency, the Naira, continues to regain its lost value. The recovery follows frantic efforts by a government whose ill-advised, inaugural policies had set the legal tender, and the whole economy, tumbling.
The naira took an unprecedented plunge from last June and hit bottoms by the middle of March, 2024, following a hasty decision by President Ahmed Tinubu’s administration, to let it float freely on the market forces of demand and supply, in addition to removing petroleum subsidy, in disregard of the handicap of Nigeria’s import-dependence.
Without provisions to boost productions that satisfy domestic demands, or prime export capacities to balance import pressures on the local currency, a floating naira depreciated by 25 per cent in a single day in June, 2023, dropping to N1,950 per dollar in March, 2024, from about N750 per dollar earlier in May, 2023, while the price of petrol jumped overnight to 295 per cent, from N189 to N557. By December, 2023 overall inflation, according to official estimates, reached 28.92 per cent and food inflation shot beyond 33.33 per cent.
According to a World Bank report, whereas about 24 million Nigerians crossed the poverty line during the first half of 2023, in the twilight of the Buhari administration, situations got worse by the end of 2023, when accelerating inflations ushered-in by Tinubu’s hasty policies, pushed 63 per cent of Nigerians (about 133 million) into multi-dimensional poverty.
By the first quarter of 2024 hardships drove restive youths to near-uprising, which forced government into another haste – a concoction of palliatives – ironically, a form of subsidy, which it had earlier denounced as government wastefulness.
With the naira regaining its losses, it appears a panicky government has finally groped unto a solution. But if Mr President’s men are remorseful for the havoc done to Nigerians, they should be more sober this time in their computations to avoid distressing the country further.
The Federal Government has resorted to offloading dollar raised from sovereign bonds (in essence, loans), petroleum export proceeds and drawdowns from the external reserves, into the economy to reduce Foreign Exchange (FX) supply pressures, and to help it buy time in the hope of finding solutions to the wider unfavourable economic fundamentals bedevilling the economy.
On the dollar demand side, government has freed-up official restrictions that it believes created artificial scarcities that favour the black market. The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has also cleared-off a backlog of FX obligations to assure investors, lifted the ban on sale of dollar to Bureau De Change Operators (BDCs), clamped down on currency speculators, closed down Binance, a crypto platform government accused of opaque dealings with money launderers, and borrowed dollar through short-term, sovereign bonds to ‘defend’ the naira.
Ever since, the CBN has offloaded dollar to BDCs at progressively reduced rates in the hope of prompting currency hoarders to cut losses and release supposed stockpiles. But in a clime where looted funds are desperately exchanged and exported, not much may be squeezed from hoarders, if surveillance is not stepped up. However, as at April 8, 2024, the CBN has offloaded a second tranche of $10,000 per BDC operator at N1,101 per dollar with a charge not to sell above 1.5 per cent margin. Many predict the CBN would offer the dollar below N1,000 in the coming weeks.
But for how long can the CBN go on with its bonanza to ‘defend the Naira’?  And what has been the cost of that defence? While the impact of a strengthening naira is yet to reflect on commodity prices in Nigeria, the nation’s foreign reserve has dropped within 18 days by $0.95billion, down from $34.45billion on March 18, 2024, to N33.50billion on April 3, which represents a daily average depletion rate of $52.78 million. This is despite the $3billion loan from the AFREXIMBANK and petro-dollar revenues also thrown into the fray. To sustain its strengths, reports say the federal government plans to take stabilisation loans by June, 2024, speculated at a tune of $15billion, through the issuance of domestic bonds denominated in foreign currency. FG seeks the loans within the window of short-term, volatile Foreign Portfolio Investment (FPI) bonds which may disappoint the country in times of crises, as against Foreign Direct Investments which are more reliable. According to Bloomberg reports, FG has contacted investment banks, JP Morgan Chase & Co, Goldman Sachs and Citibank NA, for advice on Eurobonds, but Nigeria’s Debt Management Office denies Federal Executive Council’s approvals for such.
Certainly, a stronger currency is beneficial to an import-dependent nation like Nigeria, but without strengthening national productivity to generate surpluses for trade-balancing exports, the pursuit of merely high currency valuation becomes a vain strategy. While the naira strengthens, the reality of the adverse economic fundamentals that erode its worth remains unchanged, implying that its buoyancy rides merely on costly FX floods being pumped by the CBN. It is easy to guess the result should the CBN halt supply.
For years, Nigeria relied on its petroleum sector which at present provides about 78 per cent of FX earnings, but constitutes far less than 10 per cent of its real Gross Domestic Product (GDP), implying that to stabilise, Nigeria needs to grow its non-oil sector of over 90 per cent of GDP. Even the petroleum revenue is endangered by sabotage, illegal bunkering, dwindling investments and insecurity.
The FG may have taken the bet that sustaining the naira could buy it time from hard-pressed Nigerians, in the hope that a number of tangible local productions might kick-off. Notable among the expectations is the Dangote Refinery which, with its 650,000 barrels per day refinning capacity, is expected to satisfy local demands of petroleum products to ease the huge FX demand in that front, and may hopefully earn FX through exports. Already, Dangote’s recent release of 100 million liters of diesel crashed the price of the product from N1,700 to N1,350, with another batch of 100 million liters expected to crash prices further, while the company plans to supply petrol by May, but government-owned refineries which have drained so much resources remain dysfunctional. Again, the recent break through against reprocity flight barriers between the UK and Nigeria by Airpeace, reportedly crashed ticket prices to UK by 60 per cent.
FG may also see reliefs in the successful take-off in Aba, of 24-hour power supply by the Geometric Group and the recent commissioning of 700 Megawatt Zungeru hydro-electricity station, a tomato processing plant in Nassarawa, and a steel mill in Kaduna. However, agricultural, petroleum and manufacturing sectors remain at  their lowest and beseiged by insecurity, while the finacial services sector appears to be strong but has incommensurate impact on industrialisation. If government does not encourage productivity in the real economy, its efforts in buoying the naira would be hopeless, while Nigeria falls deeper in debts. Already, as at December 31, 2023, Nigeria’s total debt stood at $106billion, while the 2024 budget of N28.7 trillion projects a deficit of N9.8 trillion to be debt-financed.
When public debt grows fast ahead of GDP growth rate, mounting debt service costs under-cut funds required for investment. That became the plight of Nigeria from Buhari’s era, when from 2016 to 2022 public debt grew by yearly average of 52.4 per cent, and GDP below 2 per cent. In that fateful 2022, debt service cost exceeded government revenue, which is why we are where we are.
The International Monetary Fund projects that Nigeria’s reserve would plummet to $24billion by end of 2024. Meanwhile, a nation’s FX reserve reflects the country’s balance of payments and its ability to settle international obligations. Severe declines in reserve may erode investor confidence and lead to downgrading of its credit ratings, which further worsens the nation’s borrowing costs.
Therefore the current approach towards buoying the Naira through loans cannot be any other thing, but a gamble.

By: Joseph Nwankwor

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Opinion

When Did Journalists Become Police Enemies?

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The pathetic story of John Bibor, a credible Journalist with the Rivers State Government-owned The Tide Newspaper, on the sadistic  brutality meted to him by a detachment of the Nigerian Police from Umuebele Divisional Police Headquarters stationed  at Umuakoru road, Igbo-Etche on Thursday, March 4, 2024, leaves much to be desired.
According to John Bibor, the victim of the police brutality, “I closed from work, got to Igboh Junction and boarded Okada to go to my house at Umuchoko Igboh Etche.
“We got to C S S, Igboh Etche and the Okada man asked me to disembark as the police had cordoned off the road leading to Eze Nweke Palace.
“I stepped down, raised my hands as others were doing without knowing why.
On my way, one of the police officers accosted me, asking me who I was, I disclosed my identity, as a good Nigerian resident in the community.
“On further probing about my identity, I told him that I’m a Journalist but live there. He said journalist, so you are here to tell lies about us and started flogging me with the rubber pipe in his hands.
“He even threatened to shoot me and calling on thunder to fire my generations”.
It beats my imagination to hear that some police men see journalists as potential threats to  them and their duties. The question begging for answer is: Is it because they are not doing the right thing? Is it because the policemen are involved in shady deals, hence, the presence of journalists poses a discomfort to them? I ask because it is said that an innocent person fears no accusations. Journalists as members of the Fourth Estate of the Realm, constitute the watchdog of society. They hold Government accountable to the people, and remain the conscience of healthy society. The services of the journalist are so sacrosanct that Thomas Jefferson, the third President of the United States, was one of the world’s earliest political leaders to declare his admiration and advocacy for media governance.
Writing from Paris to Edward Carrington who he sent as a delegate to the Continental Congress from 1786-1788, on the importance of Free Press to keep Government in check, the media-friendly Jefferson said quite clearly and with utmost sincerity, “If I had to choose between Government without Newspapers (Media) or Newspapers without Government, I should not hesitate a moment to choose the latter”.
Rather than seeing the journalist as an enemy, a spoilsport and unwanted, the Nigerian Police should see the journalist as a veritable partner in building a society devoid of crime.
The police and the media are like the snail and its shell. They are inseparable pair, separate them they will languish for want of the other. In fact, the professionals the police needed most to collaborate with them to check the spate of crime and criminality in our society, highlight the exploits, achievements and challenges of the Nigerian police are the journalists. The Nigerian Police cannot fight crime and criminality in its complex and multi-dimensional operations, to the exclusion of the media. Journalists remain a strong voice for the police. They share in the pains and gains of the police. The media in a modern society driven by technology is the channel through which the police communicate its activities to the society. And more often than not, journalists have whipped up positive sentiments about the police. The upward review of remuneration of the rank and file of the Nigerian Police cannot be dissociated from the vociferous and resilient reportage of journalists on the plight, hazardous nature of the police encumbered by a peanut and paltry takehome which was a derogation of their essential and invaluable security services to the society.
Perhaps, why some police men hate journalists is because the latter had refused to give a blind eye or look the other way in reporting the excesses and acts of the police that are inconsistent and counter-productive to their service demands.
The Nigerian Police should know that when journalists write against anti-social behaviour, criminal activities and acts inimical to their duties, they are veritably discharging their constitutional and statutory mandate and obligation. It negates code of ethics for journalists to write in favour of the Police when there is a clear failure  of the men of the Nigerian Police to justify the confidence reposed on them. Truth is the pillar of journalism, to act otherwise is an unpardonable error.
John Bibor is a seasoned journalist of over 20 years in practice, who has always adhered strictly to the principle of objectivity and fairness. He is conscientious, and God-fearing. A diligent and hardworking, John Bibor was twice the “Best Reporter” awardee of the Rivers State Newspaper Corporation, printers of The Tide Newspapers. The annual Corporation’s Award scheme is designed to enhance productivity by recognising  and motivating hardwork.
So, it must certainly be a case of mistaken identity to identify patriotic and ethics-compliant journalists like John Bibor, to unethical and unprofessional practices.
No doubt, with fairness to my conscience the journalism profession like every  other profession, is fraught and replete with the challenge of quackery. Quacks or gate-crashers are on the prowl, their nefarious activities seem to have overwhelmed the quest for  sanity and respect for ethical conduct and professionalism.They are virtually everywhere like the octopus whose tentacles are spread beyond imagination. Their activities speak volumes of who they are: Sensationalism is their hallmark, their reportage lacks fairness, objectivity and balance. For  them, the end justifies the means; integrity and honesty are alien in their practice.
The presence of the quacks and counterfeit in any profession lends credibility to the fact that there are originals and patriots.
The Nigerian Police should know that the Judas Iscariot in Jesus’ team is not enough to make other apostles suspects or susceptible to insults. It will amount to a fallacy of generalisation when the Nigeria Police treat innocent members of the society on the basis of their haunt for criminal elements of the society.
Trained and professional journalists are good people, they are not criminals. They are help-mates to the Nigerian Police and other security outfits of government.
A synergy with journalists will enable the public appreciate the sacrificial roles of the police. But acts of antagonism, will inevitably strain a good relationship that had existed over time. And the Nigerian Police will suffer loss because “the pen is mightier than the sword”.
The Rivers State Police Command should prevail on the Divisional Police Officer in charge of Umuebele Police Division to call his men to order and render unreserved apology to John Bibor, The Tide Chapel of the Nigeria Union of Journalists and the Rivers State Council of Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) for dehumanising an innocent citizen and a patriotic journalist.
The Police Command should commit to build a sustainable synergy with  journalists, so much so that injury to one will be deemed injury to the other. Nation building, crime detection, crime prevention and crime fighting are a function of unalloyed synergy.

Igbiki Benibo

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