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The State As A Patient Bird

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Jailbreaks: 3,906 Escaped Inmates still At Large, FG Weeps”, was a back page news headline of The Tide newspaper of Friday, November 12, 2021. In spite of the Federal Government of Nigeria weeping over the jailbreaks, the Minister of Interior, Rauf Aregbesola, at a media briefing organised by the Presidential Communication Media team in Aso Rock, Abuja, told Nigerians that “the state is a patient bird. You can run but you can never hide”. The minister said that about 4,369 inmates escaped from correctional centres from 2020 till date, following attacks by unknown gunmen, but that only 984 had been re-arrested.
Weeping is an emotion which expresses frustration and pains arising from helplessness, but it is of a serious concern when the weeping one has the might of coercion and compulsion. So, weep no more, ye strong and mighty! We are reminded by P.B. Shelley, of Ozymandias of Egypt, King of Kings, whose works suffered decay and despair. A peculiar challenge which managers of public affairs rarely consider seriously is the verdict of distant history. Neither would the engagement of the International Police (INTERPOL) obliterate the tears arising from weeping over escaped inmates.
Rather, what counts for a triumphant life, like Nelson Mandela would say, is the ability to turn personal liabilities and deficiencies into rewarding assets and lessons. Rather than weep over jailbreaks or have the patience of the bird of prey, managers of public affairs would do better by looking inwards, without bias or conceit, to pick out the realities on the ground which escape their attention. For us in Nigeria, there are many such realities which beg for critical scrutiny and revisitation, not weeping or bluster.
Jailbreak is one form of rebellion or protest over many lingering social injustices. For unknown gunmen to undertake such risky task of attacking correctional centres and causing inmates to escape, means that motives and stakes are quite high. Similarly, to expect the escaped inmates to surrender themselves all to state authorities, would be to expect too much from desperate rebels. Many would rather go for plastic surgery to wear a new look, or commit suicide, rather than submit themselves to state authorities. Even with the patience of the bird of prey and the cooperation of INTERPOL, many of the escapees would hardly be apprehended. They may laugh and mock!
In the first place, a large number of those in correctional centres are probably innocent of the alleged crimes that took them there. Similarly, a large number of Nigerians moving freely in the streets, with swagger and air of piety, are probably not as clean as they claim or pose. Having served as a police officer for several years, one is aware of the various malfeasance common in the justice delivery system as well as the threats, malpractices and temptations common in that sphere of the society. No amount of pretence or lip service can sweep away the rot and leakages in the society.
Secondly, despite the change of nomenclature from prisons to correctional centres, the Nigerian penitentiary has not been transformed, to reflect a positive change rather than punitive degradation of inmates. An ex-convict once described the entire Nigerian society as a “prison environment”, where foul can be fair and fair foul. Much had been said in the past about the unacceptable state of Nigerian correctional centres and the diminished rather than added value on the life of inmates after serving sentence. Neither does the “ex-convict” tag go even with a positive change.
One would make a strong suggestion to the Minister of Interior, before the end of his tenure, to carry out a discreet inquiry into the status of the Nigerian correctional centres, with reference to possible miscarriage of justice. If independent-minded persons drawn from among retired police officers, university academics, journalists, etc, can be engaged in such inquiry, Nigeria would be the better from the result of such exercise. Besides, there are many people held up in correctional centres for several years, either awaiting trial, or for such minor infractions for which they are going through gross abuses and dehumanisation.
Someone had said it long ago that correctional centres in Nigeria, like other developing countries, are meant for the underprivileged and endangered segments of society, while the elite enjoy exclusion. The few cases where the elite and political class are made to “face the wrath of the law”, they enjoy special privileges even while in detention. Apart from special privileges enjoyed by the class of elite who face the wrath of the law, there is also a wide difference and discrimination in food and custody. There was a gossip about an inmate whose food was always delivered from a 5-star hotel, daily.
There is nothing wrong with people of high status who fall foul to the law being given special privileges, in line with the honour they deserve. But everything is wrong with a society where criminality wears two faces, according to who is involved. Anyone who has examined crime statistics in Nigeria, vis-à-vis social status of convicts, would surely feel uncomfortable with the stark realities. Who are those that wallow in correctional centres; what are the most common criminal offences; what are the motives behind crimes, and what measures are taken to correct social deviants?
Weeping managers of public affairs would do better to correct unacceptable situations rather than issue threats to those who react violently to lingering social ills. Social ills are not corrected by denying their existence, covering them up or intimidating those who point them out or react violently when nothing is done to correct them. Surely, Nigerians would not be happy or fold their arms when they see abominable acts being condoned or covered up because of who is involved. Neither would they consider it just that protesters of acts of malfeasance by law enforcement officers, should be shot in the streets because they complained.
The impression which many Nigerians have, even when they do not say it in the open, is that there are two sets of citizens, namely: those protected by the law, and those exposed to the wrath of the law; thus making the law to become respecter of persons. A situation where some public and private individuals have several security personnel attached to and guarding each of them 24 hours, while a call for police help when armed robbers and bandits operate, takes a long time for a response, then people would wonder if all people are equal before the law. Are there not inmates in correctional centres who are there for being too vocal over unacceptable situations in society? Patient bird waiting for prey!

By: Bright Amirize
Dr Amirize is a retired lecturer in the Rivers State University, Port Harcourt.

 

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Opinion

Folly Of Leaping Before  Looking

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Look before you leap”, is one of the wise sayings that over the years I have been emotionally attached to. It means so much to me.  It teaches me to  be thoughtful,  articulate, dissective, dispassionate and solicit for advice of the experienced and reasonable people where necessary. I have seen people  reveal their stark ignorance because they took decisions rashly and without  considering the implications of their actions or inactions. It has therefore, become  necessary to “look before you leap”. Rehoboam, son of Bible’s King Solomon lost 10 tribes of Israel to Jeroboam. The negative consequences of lack of conscientious and enlightened  guide before taking action has landed many in avoidable regrets.
The recent judgment of a Federal High Court, Abuja sacking 20 Cross River State House of Assembly members should serve as an object lesson for thoughtless lawmakers’ and elected representatives who want to defect from the party on whose platform they were elected to a preferred political party whether the choice was based on sound judgment, ignorance or pecuniary gains, to learn the wisdom of looking before leaping.
The Electoral Act is unambiguous and crystal clear so does not make judicial interpretation necessary, on the ground for an elected representative to leave his or her political party for a preferred one either by inducement, anticipated pecuniary benefits or blind loyalty.
And the sublime reason must be premised on irreconcilable crisis in the  political party of  those elected who want to decamp or cross-carpet.
Recall that on Monday,  March 18, 2024, a Federal High Court in Abuja  sacked 20 members of the Cross River State House of Assembly.
The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) had instituted a suit against the lawmakers over their defection to the All Progressives Congress (APC).
The judgment in the suit marked FHC/ABJ/CS/975/2021 was delivered on Monday. Ruling on the case, Taiwo Taiwo, the presiding judge, held that the lawmakers should vacate their seats, having abandoned the political party that sponsored them to power.
The affected lawmakers are Michael Etaba; Legor Idagbor; Eteng Jonah William; Joseph A. Bassey; Odey Peter Agbe; Okon E. Ephraim; Regina L. Anyogo; Matthew S. Olory; Ekpo Ekpo Bassey; Ogbor Ogbor Udop; and Ekpe Charles Okon.
Others are Hillary Ekpang Bisong, Francis B. Asuquo; Elvert Ayambem; Davis Etta; Sunday U. Achunekan; Cynthia Nkasi; Edward Ajang; Chris Nja-Mbu Ogar; and Maria Akwaji.
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Speaker of the House of Representatives, National Assembly, Clerk of the National Assembly, Cross River State House of Assembly, Clerk of the Cross River State House of Assembly and the All Progrssives Congress (APC), were also joined as defendants in the suit.
Though, in their defence, the lawmakers argued that there was rancour in the Peoples Democratic Party  (PDP),which led to their expulsion from the party, the judge held that the defendants had intentions to mislead the court. He said he found gaps and loopholes in their defence as they tried to twist events to suit their own narratives.
“They wined and dined under the umbrella of the plaintiff who also gave them shelter,” he said.
Taiwo noted that they not only defected loudly, “they took pictures of their defection and were received by the officials of the 26th defendant”.
“There is no doubt that the defendants can belong to or join any political association and assembly as they are free to do so,” he ruled.
“I consider the attempts of the 6th – 25th defendants to justify their defection, feeble in the circumstances of this case.”
Taiwo said the public voted for the lawmakers through the plaintiff who sponsored them and they were not elected as independent candidates.
“They had a vehicle which conveyed them and that vehicle belongs to the plaintiff. They cannot abandon the vehicle,” he held.
Justice Taiwo’s judgment remains a landmark and precedent to determine whether the 27 Rivers State House of Assembly members elected on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), have the locus to publicly decamp to the All  Progressives Congress (APC) and still retain their seats in the House as elected and honourable  members of the House.
Though concerned groups are challenging the legality of the 27 decampee legislators to constitute a legitimate House of Assembly with the  affected members having the  capacity  and audacity to still hold legislative functions, it baffles  me that they constitute themselves into what seems like a parallel administration and a distraction to Sir Siminalayi Fubara-led Rivers State Government, instead of thinking about how they would get nominations on the platform of their new political party and win the bye-election for their seats that will be declared vacant by the Independent  National  Electoral Commission (INEC), if the judgment and the dictates of electoral law and Constitution can find expression in the Rivers 27.
If it is true that the aroma of the fart tells the substance of the poor, then, the judgment of the Federal High Court, Abuja should send a warning to the defectors in the Rivers State House of Assembly to swallow their vomit or start packing to vacate the reins of legislative functions in the House.
The wise man learns from the experiences of others and  history. History repeats itself because people have refused to come to understanding. They are close-ended in learning. The essence of history is to avoid a reinvent of the negative past, use the ugly past to reconstruct the future.
Legislators are elected to represent constituency consisting of people of all walks of life. They should rather strive to serve the people, solicit the consent of popular opinions on critical issues rather than thinking for the people and serving their selfish interests. Those elected should see themselves as stewards and as stewards, they are accountable to the people and God, not their political godfather with attendant characteristics to mislead and self-serving.
It is high time our political leaders knew that the legitimacy of their positions is derived from the magnanimity of the people. They should therefore not take decisions without taking into cognisance the interest of the people they are representing,  through intentional consultation.

By: Igbiki Benibo

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Poverty: Manipulative Tool Of  Oppressive Ruling Class

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Poverty has been seriously weaponised to achieve total control of the masses by their rulers. And the poor have been made to believe by state operators, who in the first place rendered them poor and hopeless, that they are the only ones that can change their conditions for good. They get them close, just enough to exercise influence and control, throw chaff and crumbs as to the chicken, in quantities barely enough to keep them from dying, deceive them into keeping the hope alive to remain attached to their apron strings, and then pull them to any direction they wish.
For instance, is there anyone who is busy and self sustaining that would have time to attend all the meetings, rallies and party events by the hypocritical power elite, or go to their homes to spend hours to fawn at them, shouting “Honourable!” “Leader!” Capacity! clap, sing, drink and dance for hours, just for caps, T-shirts or some few cups of rice or packets of noodles? Idleness makes for such availability. That is why they are never serious at creating any mass employment for the youths. That is why you see 60-year old attending without shame party youth meetings. He is idle, jobless, economically impotent, totally with no means to assert anything and a beggar. He is totally hopeless but is made not to realise that who actually is responsible for his situation is the man he vainly looks up to for a change in his fortune. He is thus fooled to develop the strongest type of the Stockholm syndrome for his captors and oppressors that he now sees as his messiah.
For instance, when I first came home to Igbo-Etiti, I saw many who have been under the political ‘boyiboyiship’ of some so-called leaders for decades. Note they exist everywhere and not just my place. They had given their all. And now aged and progressing towards their graves, they have nothing to show for these many years of political servitude and enslavement. Their entire lives are a wreck; arrested and systematically destroyed by some wicked leaders who from the onset never had any real intentions to help them progress beyond the level of the carpet. Why? They need them exactly there to function optimally as minions and ground holders, as they and their children fly far and thrive, enjoying the limitless perks of the various positions they navigate from one to the other.
The most heart-rending part of this is that some who are seen as very useful and effective in some ways in the political activities of these types of leaders, are deliberately made and kept poor. These associates are made to look special but in actual sense are of no real substance. They are given hollow relevance and are left at that level they are neither rich nor poor. Their captors never give them any real job even when they can easily do so beyond the ones that will create a semblance of motion, without movement. Real jobs would lead to being free and possibly independent. And this means the loss of a political tool of high utility.
This has become so annoyingly pervasive that a lot of very wretched people are now friends and associates of these big men of power, they follow around to sing for and hail in shameless shows of public adulation. They look well fed from the continuous food and drinks made available to them all the time, but have nothing to fall back on the moment their political umbilical attachment to their benefactors are severed. As the first to get “palliatives,” they consider themselves highly privileged and lucky to be associated with the big man, never bothering to consider that it was not palliatives that gave the man his mansions and SUVs. This is just as they never bother to pause to ask themselves what those that get palliatives truly are; that the hopelessly poor reduced to near refugees in their own rich homelands and are like the proverbial man in the river that could not wash the soap suds off his eyes.
Fortunately though, more  are beginning to ask themselves how they came to this sorry pass. Even while they still keep their attention on the rice and noodles their tormentors occasionally bring, they are now beginning to connect them with their abysmal conditions. That was why the last election was as revolutionary as it was, with many politicians getting the boot from the people who no longer clap as they steal them blind and give them crumbs. The people are gradually realising how they rendered everyone poor and drained of any real zeal to bother about whatever they do in office.
For sure, poverty weakens the people in many ways, to the advantage of their oppressors in power. A poor folk will be too hungry to bother about his patriotic duties and obligations as a citizen.
He would thus easily switch allegiance from the impoverished community to the political crooks who give him ‘surviving palliative’ to just keep him alive and under control. He fights anyone at his behest, including his fellow wretcheds of the earth, to get his attention, hoping to get more patronage. As that never comes to permanently help him, because it would empower the poor folk to gravitate out of his sphere, the eternal trap remains.
So, the typical politician we have in Nigeria, for instance, cannot empower his thug alive to grow above doing that as no one would do the job of thuggery for him when the time comes. But, folks are beginning to understand why their children are never thugs. They are realising it is because, thuggery is more dangerous than it is sustainable as a career.
So, that day the people would fully realise these tricks and manipulations of the political elite would be when their emancipation would come. It is good that the awareness is on the increase. The people are no longer given to the bandwagon followership of every politician as integrity and track records of trust in public service now matter. For sure, many more would still be rejected in the coming polls.
Amaechi, a contributor wrote in from Port-Harcourt.

By: Wordshot Amaechi

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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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