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From Street To School

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Drawing a line between
pre-teens street hawking and child labour or child abuse, has not really been easy because of divergent views about the subject matter, while some schools of thought view preteens street hawking as a bad omen to the society, which to them, constitutes an abuse of the child, others consider it as child training, and a way of carrying the child along in the daily running of the home.  The later defend their position by referring to African traditional education system which does not follow the usual classroom drills but uses the child directly to facilitate self reliance.
No system I believe is against taking a child through the occupations of his parents.  By merely sitting beside one’s parents as they go about their family chores or business, a child learns the skills of his parents and gradually, the child is thought to lay his hands as a tradition, on those skills and hobbies which he naturally gets used to as he develops.
At every point in a child’s development, the weight of assignment given to the child, must be commensurate with both his mental as well as the physical development, anything more, will be tantamount to labour which must be resisted by any sane mind which thinks well for humanity.
Suffice it to say that there is a limit to what job or duty a child could be subjected to which of course precludes being used as money making machinery.  Hence, the use of children to make money for the home through street hawking, is by all standards; mentally, physically, socially and morally dangerous and harmful to them as it deprives them of opportunities for schooling and development.  Moreso, the high level of diverse and tedious jobs that children execute especially in dangerous circumstances, calls for worry, considering the fact that their effort has an insignificant impact in alleviating the economic hardship faced by their homes.
As the population of Port Harcourt City continues to swell considerably, given the influx of people from the northern part of the country who are chased out of their abode by the menacing Boko Haram insurgency, pre-teen hawking has also continued to increase despite all efforts by the state government at curbing this development.
Recently, the Rivers State Government threatened to arrest any child found hawking during school hours and to facilitate this, law enforcement agents are supposed to be on their toes to sweep the street and apprehend defaulters, especially targeting the arrest and prosecution of parents whose children and wards would be caught.
This is to lend credence to the State House of Assembly’s legislation four years ago against street hawking, in line with the Child’s Right Act as domesticated in the state, thus making it compulsory for every child of school age to be mandatorily enrolled in school.
Education and proper upbringing of the children is definitely the only way to eradicate poverty.  The law forbids the use of underage children for domestic labour as it negates the tenets of the Child Rights Law.
Although an opinion poll towards this recent warning by the state government has revealed that many parents and guardians have decided to keep their children and wards behind or allow them go to school in the day while using them for their money making spree at night, this will actually suffocate the reason behind taking the child off the street which is to get him educated.
Coming back from school and facing street hawking is definitely not enabling for such intention as the child would not have the time to concentrate on his home work and after-school-reading, not to talk of having rest for a  better mental development.
However, other times, parents and guardians could hide under the cloak of using the child to raise money for his training. Hurray!, the present administration, under the leadership of Rt Honourable Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, has taken that burden of child’s educational training off the shoulders of parents and guardians by providing free education at the primary and secondary levels of education hence making parents inexcusable for deciding to keep their children and wards at home during school hours.
These children who are used for street hawking, do not only suffer fatigue, irregular attendance at school, lack of comprehension and motivation, they are also exposed to the risk of sexual abuse and high likelihood of being involved in crime, if they are fortunate enough to escape the antics of the ritualists.  Hence the effort of the state government at getting these young ones off the streets to school must be encouraged as it will not only restore the dignity of the child, but will help in checking the spate of restiveness and crime in the society.
One way to make this “Street to School” project a success is by enforcing legal instruments meant to protect the child.  Even though what is considered the best for the child may not appeal to his interest at the moment, we must stop at nothing in ensuring that every avenue geared towards protecting the child is explored.
In the same vein, this renewed campaign for Street to School will only be fruitful if parents do not misconstrue the intention of the government so as not to scuttle its efforts.

 

Sylvia ThankGod-Amadi

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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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