The Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers, NUPENG last Monday embarked on a shortlived nationwide strike aimed at pressing home their demand over what it termed poor working conditions for its members. The union’s other grievances include harassment of its members by security agents, particularly men of the Nigeria Civil Defence Corps, bad roads and insecurity facing members. Initially planned to be an indefinite exercise, the strike action was called off less than 24 hours after it began.
The Tide thinks that the strike action should not have been called abinitio. The fact that it ended few hours after commencement is an indication that NUPENG and the relevant arm of government did not do their home work well. That the action was hasty, ill thought out and with disregard to consequences on the already battered economy and Nigerians were all too glaring. We believe that strike actions, due to their obvious far-reaching implications should be the last weapon to be deployed by trade unions to make their case.
We say so because the just suspended NUPENG strike was one too many and would have sounded the death knell on the economy which has been in recession. Already, within few hours of the aborted action, long queues had surfaced at the petrol stations, with motorists and traders bracing themselves for yet another vicious circle of fuel scarcity and its ripple effects. Indeed, the average Nigerian would have been, as usual, the ultimate sufferer and the economy, the loser.
Certainly, there would have been hike in transport fares with its attendant effect on prices of goods and services. When linked to the recent increase in suicide cases in the country, one can only imagine how many Nigerians that could have been driven to premature death by the added hardship.
No doubt, NUPENG, just like any other trade union reserves the right to go on strike over industrial dispute and we agree that most of their demands are germaine, the union is however, expected to use the option as a last resort when others have failed. As a responsible body NUPENG should explore and exhaust all rules of engagement before the strike option.
We believe that constructive dialogue and negotiations are better than undue confrontation and taking advantage of critical position to inflict avoidable pain on the masses. It is always better to jaw-jaw’ than to ‘war-war’.
Regrettably though, successive governments in the country have demonstrated the penchant to effectively react to industrial disputes only when the strike option is exercised. Moreso, it is worrisome that some of NUPENG’s grievances have existed for years. Even some of the agreements reached had not been implemented by government.
Therefore, we urge relevant agencies of government to be proactive and always work to nip industrial disputes in the bud. The usual insensitivity to the plight and demands of unions and the 11th hour move to avert its consequences must not continue. Government must not wait till strike action is declared before meeting aggrieved unions on the table.
While we believe that strike action, whether by NUPENG or any other trade union, does no good to any party in a dispute, government must try its best to discourage its employment by unions by having a listening ear and giving teeth to agreements reached. Except this is done, we will continue to put our citizenry and the economy through agonizing moments and experience that will keep the country stagnated.
Address Looming Genocide In Nigeria
Last Friday, January 27, was designated by the United Nations General Assembly as International Holocaust
Remembrance Day (IHRD). Since 2005, the UN and its member states have held commemoration ceremonies to mark the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau and to honour the six million Jewish victims of the Holocaust and millions of other victims of Nazism.
The purpose of International Holocaust Remembrance Day is two-fold: to serve as a date for the official commemoration of the victims of the Nazi regime and to promote Holocaust education throughout the world. Since 2010, the UN has designated specific themes for the annual commemorations that focus on topics such as collective experiences and universal human rights. In addition to Holocaust Day, many countries hold national commemoration ceremonies on other dates connected to the Holocaust.
Resolution 60/7 not only establishes January 27 as “International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust”, but it also rejects any form of Holocaust denial. Drawing from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the resolution condemns all forms of “religious intolerance, incitement, harassment, or violence against persons or communities based on ethnic origin or religious belief” throughout the world.
The first commemoration ceremony was held on January 27, 2006, at the UN Headquarters in New York City. Each celebration has a specific theme. The 2022 theme was “Memory, Dignity, and Justice.” It explored how preserving the historical record and challenging distortion are elements of claiming justice. However, the theme of 2023 is “Home and Belonging.” It reflects on what these concepts meant to persecuted individuals during the Holocaust and in its aftermath.
Holocaust, like genocide, is the deliberate and systematic destruction of a group of people because of their ethnicity, nationality, religion, or race. Genocide has been practised throughout history. In Bosnia-Herzegovina, the conflict between the three main ethnic groups – the Serbs, Croats, and Muslims – resulted in genocide committed by the Serbs against Bosnian Muslims. In the late 1980s, a Serbian named Slobodan Milosevic came to power. In 1992 acts of “ethnic cleansing” started in Bosnia, a mostly Muslim country where the Serb minority made up only 32% of the population.
In 2003, violence and destruction raged in the Darfur region of western Sudan. Government-sponsored militias known as the Janjaweed conducted a calculated campaign of slaughter, rape, starvation, and displacement in Darfur. It is estimated that 400,000 people died following violence, starvation, and disease. More than 2.5 million people were displaced from their homes and over 200,000 fled across the border to Chad. The then United States Congress and former President George W. Bush of the United States recognised the situation in Darfur as “genocide.”
Beginning on April 6, 1994, groups of ethnic Hutu, armed mostly with machetes, began a campaign of terror and bloodshed that embroiled the Central African country of Rwanda. For about 100 days, the Hutu militias followed a premeditated attempt to exterminate the country’s ethnic Tutsi population. The killings only ended after armed Tutsi rebels, invading from neighbouring countries, managed to defeat the Hutu and halted the genocide in July 1994. By then, over one-tenth of the population, an estimated 800,000 persons, had been killed.
Between 1975 and 1979, Pol Pot led the Khmer Rouge political party in a reign of violence, fear, and brutality in Cambodia. An attempt to form a Communist peasant farming society resulted in the deaths of 25% of the population from starvation, overwork, and executions. By 1975, the U.S. had withdrawn its troops from Vietnam, and Cambodia lost its American military support. Taking advantage of this opportunity, Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge seized control of Cambodia and murdered intellectuals, former government officials, and Buddhist monks.
There have been a series of dastardly acts that suggest ethnic cleansing in Nigeria. Kaduna is increasingly the epicentre of violence, rivalling Borno State, the home turf of Boko Haram. Kaduna has long been a place of political, ethnic, and religious violence. The city has undergone ethnic “cleansing,” with Christians now concentrated in the south and Muslims in the north. Since the end of military rule, Kaduna has seen election-related violence that turned into bloodshed along ethnic and religious lines.
The growing attacks reportedly by armed Fulani herdsmen in Nigeria have left villages previously occupied by Christian farmers desolate. The attacks propose “an Ethnic cleansing agenda” in the country. They have become so frequent that some families have suffered multiple displacements. The Fulani herders are systematically killing the local population and occupying their territories. The killings have a motive of religion behind them. The Fulani killers are Muslims, and the conquering of the territory is paramount to large Muslim populations in the country.
Many other states in Nigeria, especially in the country’s South East region, Makurdi, Gboko, Otukpo, and Katsina-Ala in Benue State including Ogun State, Cross River, Ebonyi, Imo and Anambra continue to experience attacks by Fulani militants. Thousands of lives have been lost, property destroyed, and communities left in disarray, with the population of internally displaced individuals totalling over a million in Benue State alone, to say the least.
President Muhammadu Buhari must personally lead the peace resolution efforts based on a bilateral and multinational approaches to end needless ethnic and religious-based killings and armed violence in many parts of the country. If the violence continues unchecked, Nigeria may slip into a killing field where the government and security agencies will become increasingly helpless.
Though the responsibility to protect populations against genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity lies primarily with individual States, the principle also underlines the responsibility of the international community to take collective action, in a timely and decisive manner, to protect populations from those crimes when States manifestly fail in their responsibilities. There is a need for a collective response that would protect populations by either stopping the escalation of ongoing atrocities or accelerating or prompting their termination.
Being able to recognise the signs of genocide is only the first part of how to end the crime. It is also important to act when any of these steps are underway to prevent the progression to full-blown mass killing. Genocide usually takes place during wartime, so to prevent a massacre, it is essential to find the causes. Many conflicts stem from racism, intolerance, discrimination, dehumanisation, and hatred of others. Addressing these issues should be a primary goal because it can prevent armed conflicts.
Addressing Petroleum Products Supply Challenges
Nigeria’s Federal Government recently announced that the commencement of operations at the 60,000 barrels per day Port Harcourt Refinery had been moved from December 2022 to the first quarter of this year. In September last year, the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Timipre Sylva, while speaking after a Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting, promised Nigerians that the country’s biggest refinery would become functional by December 2022.
However, that was no longer possible, according to Sylva and the Group Chief Executive Officer of the Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited (NNPC), Mallam Mele Kyari. Both men spoke at the President Muhammadu Buhari Administration Scorecard (2015 – 2023) series, anchored by the Federal Ministry of Information in Abuja. The reason adduced by Sylva and Kyari was that the government was buying stakes in some upcoming privately owned refineries in the country because of the need to ensure the nation’s energy security.
Sadly, the Nigerian government, instead of developing refining capacity, waits patiently for the completion of private refineries currently being constructed to end fuel scarcity in the country. This compels the nation to rely on imported petrol for local consumption. This factor robs Nigeria of the gains of the current spike in crude oil prices. The contentious issue of fuel subsidy would not have arisen if Nigeria can refine all its needed petroleum products, as dependence on imported fuel has continued to put serious pressure on the nation’s foreign exchange account at the expense of other productive sectors of the economy.
We reject the reason given by the two government officials for the inability of the Port Harcourt Refinery to commence production last December as originally scheduled. If the refinery had worked, it would have added 60,000 barrels per day of Premium Motor Spirit (PMS) to the supply equation at a time when fuel scarcity has returned across the country and prices have skyrocketed to between N280 and N500 per litre at the few filling stations dispensing the product. This would have helped to reduce the burden on Nigerians.
Furthermore, we think that resuscitating and putting other local refineries back on stream will additionally boost the government’s desire to bridge the yawning gap in the demand and supply chain, and reduce the frustration millions of Nigerians are facing in efforts to move around from one place to another or power their homes. Getting more private sector-driven refineries, like Dangote, Waltersmith, and others to contribute to enhancing the volume or quantity of refined petroleum products available to consumers will help address the excruciating pains the people are experiencing.
At a time when inflation has risen to an all-time high, the Naira’s capacity to compete at the international market (exchange rate) is so weak, the purchasing power of the average Nigerian has been drastically whittled down, and economic opportunities are near zero. Hence, addressing the fuel supply hiccup is key to refocusing the nation, and returning it to a functional state.
Petrol shortages have been recurring for several decades in Nigeria. The present scarcity resurfaced about four months ago and has defied all logic and solutions. The government and its agencies are clueless, making disconnected statements and uncoordinated moves. Curiously, the Department of State Service (DSS) directed the NNPC Limited, the Independent Petroleum Marketers Association of Nigeria, and the Major Oil Marketers Association of Nigeria to resolve the fuel crisis in 48 hours.
Others directed by the Service were the Depot and Petroleum Marketers Association of Nigeria, Nigerian Association of Road Transport Owners, Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers, Petroleum Tanker Drivers Union, and other stakeholders. The queues initially appeared to reduce after the directive, but the reprieve did not last as the scarcity assumed a more acute dimension, frustrating Nigerians who are now spending many precious hours at filling stations.
Marketers were selling the product at prices ranging from N175 to N300 per litre in defiance of the regulated pricing regime, signifying an out-of-control. Some private depots in Port Harcourt, Lagos, and other cities increased the ex-depot price to N235/litre as against the approved N148.17/litre. The scenario is further proof of the disarray in the administration of President Buhari. A serious, coordinated government would have cobbled together an inter-agency effort, efficiently coordinated, and with tasks assigned to each agency.
This development is ignominious considering that Nigeria is one of the six leading oil producers and exporters in the world, a fact the President once underscored when meeting with stakeholders. But lamentations are not enough. The Buhari-led government should set to work immediately on a long-term scheme that will not only end scarcity, but ensure the refining of enough petroleum products locally for Nigerians’ consumption. The corruption-ridden importation, which has hampered local refining, is the bane of fuel supply.
Whenever Nigeria experiences fuel scarcity, there are usual speculations about likely causes, claims, and counter-claims by operators and regulators. But one constant fact is that scarcity is not often because of product non-availability but the general increase in the overall cost of importing the product, which usually affects marketers who are always without the required capital amid complaints of unsettled previous loans from the banks.
It is time to ask the Nigerian authorities pertinent questions. What has happened to the refineries the NNPC claimed had been turned around to complement import? What impact has the recently enacted Petroleum Industry Act (PIA) had on fuel supply? The law, passed after more than a decade of debate, was meant to overhaul the nation’s oil industry; is it doing that? What about the modular refinery development strategy that was meant to leverage local refining? Why is it not operational yet, and is there nothing to be done about that?
Buhari should stop treating petrol scarcity with levity. As President and de facto Petroleum Minister, he should suspend his endless foreign trips, and coordinate an inter-agency effort to resolve the current supply logjam. Certainly, enough excuses have been offered for the fuel scarcity in the country and sufficient damage has been done to the people’s well-being. The present administration can end this national shame if it shows a greater commitment to governance and the interest of the people.
Re-igniting Collective Commitment To Education
Tomorrow, January 24, 2023, will be marked across the world as the International Day for Education. It is a day that aims to celebrate the role education plays in peace and development. This date was adopted in 2018 at the United Nations General Assembly. Education is at the heart of individual, national and global development. Quality education, one of the Sustainable Development Goals, is also the pathway toward achieving all the other goals — poverty eradication, gender equality, innovation, infrastructure and many more.
The right to education is a universal right of every child; however, today, 258 million children and youth still do not attend school; 617 million children and adolescents cannot read and do basic mathematics; less than 40 per cent of girls in sub-Saharan Africa complete lower secondary school and some four million children and youth refugees are out of school. Their right to education is being violated and it is unacceptable.
International Day of Education is therefore a call for action — bringing individuals, civil society, and policymakers to take solid steps towards ensuring that primary and secondary education is given to children, as well as improving youth engagement in education. Learning programmes should be designed for the needs of different demographics, converging to one main goal; equipping children with the education needed for employment and a better future.
The theme of the 2023 International Day of Education is “To invest in people, prioritise education”. The International Day calls on governments, the international community and key stakeholders to stand by their commitments to prioritise investment in education and educational transformation. Social media will enable influencers and youth champions around the world to support the call.
In Nigeria, only 61per cent of children of primary school age attend school, and the percentage is lower in the North. It is worse for the female child in the North of the country, where only about 40 per centare registered in school. Education is technically compulsory in the country, but close to half of the primary school-aged children in Nigeria are not being educated. The number of unschooled children increases at secondary and tertiary levels, says UNICEF.
The first area of concern relates to the number of out-of-school children, but it does not end there. The quality of education available is another issue, and it spans several areas, including but not limited to the infrastructure and learning environment; relevance and adaptability of the curriculum; the quality of educators and the teacher training process.
This constitutes a serious problem for the country. Knowing the future impact of having a population largely filled with uneducated children, this menace will, if not properly curtailed, reduce the world’s largest black nation to a hub of vulnerable children with no access to quality education. A good education prepares children to cope successfully with life in today’s society. It equips them with academic skills, including the ability to read and write elegantly and to do arithmetic.
Moreover, it affects their interaction with others and helps them build up wholesome standards of morality. Furthermore, as human society becomes even more complex, a good education takes on greater importance. Many feel that the main purpose of education is to earn money. Yet, some educated people are unemployed or do not earn enough to meet basic needs. Some parents may therefore think that it is not beneficial to send a child to school. But schooling does more than prepare someone to make money. It equips children for life in general.
Many of the issues raised need to be worked on from a political strategy level. Government has a major role to play in the allocation of resources that are earmarked for the Ministry of Education. There is also a need for the government to address issues surrounding the current curriculum being used in schools at all levels. How relevant are they? Do they allow the average Nigerian graduate to compete internationally? Can they adequately prepare and equip these students to solve the problems of the future? These are pertinent questions that need to be addressed.
Are education courses a dumping ground for students who could not study their preferred courses, or is it a course that attracts the brightest and the best? While infrastructure is important, if the issues above are not first addressed, a wonderfully set up computer laboratory or library will be redundant and will not be used to its fullest capacity.
The standardisation of the education industry is also of concern. Schools can be set up overnight in people’s backyards. Unlicensed teachers are often employed to teach, and each school may determine which curriculum they prefer to implement. While this allows for the bar to be set high in some instances, in others it also allows for the bar to be set very low. The role of implementation of policies and standardisation of procedures needs to be implemented across the board.
Looking towards the 2023 elections, it stands to reason that these discussions need to hold between key stakeholders and players in the education space. Party candidates also have to be interrogated on their roadmaps and plan to uplift education in Nigeria, and eventually be held accountable. If education is not a key driving force in any campaign, it is already evident that other aspects of nation-building will be short-lived.
Beyond devoting a proportion of expenditure to education, it is overly important to also spend on the areas that promise the most impact for the actualisation of other Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), poverty eradication inclusive, and the growth and development of the country in general. Training for teachers should top the list of areas of education expenditures with learning tools and equipment as conventional spending on brick-and-mortar classrooms, chairs, and tables phase out. We cannot feign ignorance of the new direction for global literacy and education.
The health and safety of students and improved working conditions of teaching staff need to be enhanced. The girl child also needs to be protected in Nigeria. All told and in light of the foregoing, it will be disastrous for Nigeria to close a blind eye to the impact that education plays in making life meaningful for its citizens. This is because, a literate society promotes comprehension, internationalism, and value-based contribution to the common goal of our nation and living.
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