Penultimate Tuesday, not a few Nigerians woke up to the news that President Muhammadu Buhari had ordered the sack of the managers of Abuja Electricity Distribution Company (AEDC) following a strike by its workers over non-remittance of the firm’s counterpart contribution to their retirement savings for nearly two years, among other grievances.
This action by the local branch of the National Union of Electricity Employees (NUEE) was said to have resulted in power outage in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Niger, Kogi, Nasarawa, and parts of Kaduna and Edo States for close to 14 hours before some federal government officials intervened to reassure the workers on efforts to resolve the matter within 21 days.
A number of power sector experts had swiftly reacted to the presidential directive, calling it an overzealous meddlesomeness that was capable of sending wrong signals to existing and potential investors in the sector. Of particular note was the former Chairman of the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC), Dr Sam Amadi, who said that the president lacked the power to sack the authorities of a firm in which the government held a minority 40 per cent stake.
The trailing avalanche of criticisms may have prompted the Presidency to issue a rebuttal on Wednesday in which it claimed that Buhari never directed and was not inclined to authorise the sacking of the management board of AEDC or any private organisation for that matter. Power Minister, Abubakar Aliyu, who had been quoted in an earlier statement as confirming the president’s directive to BPE, would later clarify that the board reconstitution was rather at the behest of UBA Plc following a loan repayment default by AEDC.
Electricity crisis has been with this country since the early post-Independence era when the utility was managed by the Electricity Corporation of Nigeria (ECN). And as if the name had anything to do with its persistent woes, the giant monopoly was later christened the National Electric Power Authority (NEPA) in the 1970s which simple, yet notorious acronym has remained on the lips of Nigeria’s electricity consumers to this day.
Even the NEPA name would later morph into Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) on July 1, 2005 following the power sector reform act which saw to the establishment of several Independent Power Projects (IPPs) across the land by the President Olusegun Obasanjo administration from 1999. But considering the humongous dollar sum touted to have been expended on these undertakings, with no significant alteration in the dire power situation, electricity consumers began to demand an unbundling of PHCN.
This call was answered in 2013 when President Goodluck Jonathan’s regime split the electricity behemoth into seven generation companies (GenCos), 11 distribution firms (DisCos), one transmission outfit (TCN), an electricity trading firm (Nigerian Bulk Electricity Trading Plc), with NERC serving as the industry’s regulator.
With this, Nigerians had heaved a sigh of relief while believing that there would be a radical departure from past experiences as was witnessed in the communications industry with the arrival of telecoms outfits like Econet, MTN, Etisalat and Glo, among others. What many did not realise at the time was that, unlike the telecoms industry where a consumer can easily port between network providers, the power sector has no such room for migration from one DisCo to another. This means that an electricity consumer is practically stuck with the distribution firm operating in his place of residence.
The power companies have, therefore, brazenly presented their hapless customers with outrageous monthly bills – aided by NERC which keeps raising electricity tariffs every other quarter without regard to the poor service delivery by these firms. What’s more, the power firms had often blamed the power shortfall and high bills on unreliable gas supply, accumulated debts by military formations and MDAs, energy theft mainly occasioned by meter bypass, and rising dollar cost of facility retooling.
Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana and a number of other West African countries are said to be far better off in terms of access to reliable electricity supply. It was even advanced as one of the reasons firms like Dunlop and Michelin left Nigeria for Ghana. Indeed, it was once circulated that a power firm in Ghana, GRIDCO, celebrated 10 years of its stable supply of electricity to the country.
But this is not to say that the former Gold Coast does not have its own share of prolonged outages. Between 2012 and 2016 the country reportedly suffered its worst erratic power supply, prompting consumers to stage protests in the country’s major cities over what they called Dumsor (translated as ‘off and on’ in the local Akan language); while down here, all we do is to mutter ‘bring and take’ with listless resignation.
As at last year, it was reported that 85 per cent of Ghana’s population had access to electricity; making it one of the very few African nations tipped to most likely attain 100 per cent universal access by 2030. The bottom line here is that Ghana has managed its power supply system far better than Nigeria such that we may need to consider hiring some experienced Ghanaian engineers and energy administrators to come overhaul our power supply and billing system.
There really should be no shame in doing this. After all, the British did hire a Canadian and former governor of the Bank of Canada, Mr Mark Carney, to head the Bank of England for seven years, from 2013 to 2020. Or was a Nigerian jurist, Emmanuel Fagbenle, not appointed Chief Justice of The Gambia between 2015 and 2017?
We surely need to be rescued from our hopeless power generation and supply situation. And I don’t care if such rescuers come from Ghana or wherever.
By: Ibelema Jumbo
Still On Modification Of Journalism
Would it be fashionable, in this era of “fake news”, for any university offering journalism-related courses not to develop the verification and fact-checking skills of its students? Can you train a medical doctor without the skill of diagnoses? Can you produce a lawyer without the skill of differentiating fact from fiction? So, the idea of mainstreaming fact-checking and media literacy into the curriculum of Universities offering journalism related courses is not out of place. The challenge of information disorder – with labels such as fake news, misinformation, disinformation, mal-information, satire, propaganda, imposter contents especially in the digital public sphere – is universal. Nigeria is having its fair share of this challenge in all spheres of her national life – politics, religion, governance, economy, social, tribal etc. There has been hue and cry about how this phenomenon is not only polarising the nation but also frustrating efforts at putting the nation back on track. There have been different proposals on how the virus of “fake news” could be curtailed including using a legal approach (proposal of death sentence) to stem the tide of the alarming rate at which it is being weaponised to create and spread fear, discord, diseases and even death.
Why should we then as intellectuals, ignore a well acceptable solution to this problem? Fact-checking and media literacy are undeniable models in combating the challenges associated with information disorder which has also found its way to the mainstream media. Fact-checking was institutionalized into the Nigeria media operations in 2016 by Africa Check and it has now been expanded by Centre for Journalism Innovation and Development (CJID) with Dubawa fact-checking project. I conducted a study in 2020 documenting the efforts of media organisations in Nigeria at combating information disorder. The findings exposed challenges encountered by these organisations in responding to the problem. One of the challenges is the lack of verification and fact-checking skills among journalists in Nigeria, inadequate professional fact checkers and geometric spread of misinformation with no corresponding growth of the fact-checking landscape. Purveyors of disinformation take advantage of media illiteracy of Nigerians to up their games. Thereby making their victims willing tools for their dastardly act.
A study conducted by eight communication scholars including the founder of Africa Check, Peter Cunliffe-Jones also noted the low mark Nigeria scored integrating media into schools’ curriculum. Part of the research titled: “The State of Media Literacy in Sub-Saharan Africa 2020 and a Theory of Misinformation Literacy”, explains the limited elements of media and information literacy (MIL) that are included in the curricula in the seven countries including Nigeria. “The authors propose six fields of knowledge and skills specific to misinformation that are required in order to reduce students’ susceptibility to false and misleading claims. Identifying obstacles to the introduction and effective teaching of misinformation literacy, the authors make five recommendations for the promotion of misinformation literacy in schools, to reduce the harm misinformation causes.” As it stands, media, fact-checking and non-governmental organisations have over the years invested in media literacy projects but tertiary institutions in Nigeria have not done much in this respect. Aside from researching this phenomenon, tertiary institutions offering journalism related courses have the obligation to mount fact-checking and media literacy courses to bridge the knowledge and skill gaps in the Nigeria media information ecosystem.
We should provide locally made reading and course materials for specific needs of our tertiary institutions. We can build on UNESCO’s training handbook manual on fact-checking edited by Professor Lai Oso of the School of Communication, Lagos State University (LASU). Be it public relations experts, advertising practitioners, development communication experts or professional journalists, fact-checking/verification skill is a must. So, if this is the case, asking departments, colleges or faculties offering communication-related courses in integrating fact-checking and verification into the 30 percent course allowance is timely. The long term goal is to convince the Nigerian Universities Commission (NUC) to include fact-checking and media literacy to the 70 percent in the Core Curriculum Minimum Academic Standards (CCMAS). And if hazard of journalism is so pronounced, why would trauma literacy not included in its curriculum? To justify why trauma literacy should be included in communication-related courses in the CCMAS by the NUC, I will quote extensively from the call for papers for an international conference and knowledge exchange event scheduled for 15th to 16th June, 2023. It is organised by the Journalism Education Trauma Research Group (JETREG) and hosted by the Department of Journalism Studies at the University of Sheffield, UK in partnership with the University of Lincoln, UK. The conference titled: “Living to tell the tale – building community resilience in journalism” responds to the persistent work-related problem of emotional and psychological stress in journalism practice:
“Journalists are one of the first responders to traumatic events and the last to leave, but they are the least likely to receive training in trauma informed literacy and resilience, unlike their counterparts in the police, nursing, ambulance services and fire brigade.” “Previous studies show that many journalists are reporting either post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), associated symptoms, depression, and/or substance use while many journalists feel ill-prepared for assignments, which involve reporting on critical incidents and events that carry a risk of being traumatised.””Some scholars have blamed journalism’s deep-seated objectivity norm, which is central to journalism education and the ‘macho’ views to be found in some newsrooms, as one of the reasons why journalists are reluctant to talk about the emotional and psychological effects of exposure to traumatic events on their health and wellbeing.””Studies show that journalism students are also ill-equipped to deal with their own emotional reactions and to assess what they experience from an ethical perspective.” “The academic conference aims to highlight current multidisciplinary research into trauma, emotion and resilience in journalism and media work; psychological and emotional safety of journalists/media workers, pedagogical approaches and best practice to trauma literacy in journalism education/training and the various experiences of trauma, emotional labour or (un)happiness in journalism/media.” “We also seek the perspectives of scholars from different disciplines, practicing journalists/freelancers/editors on coping strategies and/or newsroom support that may have pedagogical relevance.” Six out of the 13 topics of the conference relevant to this advocacy are: Trauma informed journalism practice and pedagogy and challenges to normative assumptions around objectivity and detachment; Skills and capacity to cope with the effects of exposure to traumatic events; Addressing barriers to trauma literacy in journalism practice and education. Others are: Emotional literacy and psychological safety in journalism; Best practices and innovation in journalism pedagogy in building emotional resilience; and Mental health/wellbeing among journalists and journalism students/trainees. So, if journalism safety is of interest to universities offering communication-related courses, then the integration of trauma literacy should be considered in the new CCMAS.
By: Folarin Jamiu
Jamiu is a lecturer in the Department of Mass Communication, Crescent University, Abeokuta, Ogun State.
NNPC And The Road Task Scheme
What do we call the recent story about the federal executive council (FEC) approving N621.2 billion for the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) to take over the reconstruction of 21 federal roads across the six geopolitical zones of the country? Misplaced priority? Another drain pipe? Or what? As usual, a beautiful story was coined and sold to Nigerians to make them see reasons with the plan. The interesting tale is that the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG) had decried the loss of its members and property to dilapidated roads — but NNPC appealed to the union to shelve the planned strike and accepted to rebuild some roads.
The Executive Order No. 007 signed by President Muhammadu Buhari in 2019, was latched on by the NNPC to embark on the construction of 21 roads across the country. E07 of 2019 or “the scheme”, according to records is a strategic intervention under the Federal Government Road Infrastructure and Refreshment Tax Credit Scheme which allows the private sector to deploy in advance the taxes they would pay for infrastructure development. While some people criticised the initiative, others have applauded it, saying it will bring about speedy infrastructural development in the country.
But the purpose of this article is not to examine the pros and cons of Executive Order No. 007. My concern is rather why the national oil company should dabble into road construction when it has not delivered on its primary responsibility of ensuring energy security in the country. Currently, none of the nation’s four refineries is working. Sometime last year, the government announced for the umpteenth time that the refineries would soon come back to life. The Minister of State for Petroleum, Timipre Sylva, specifically told the nation that the Port Harcourt refinery would become operational again before the end of the year.
That was never to be. Some days back, yet another promise was made. This time around the Group Chief Executive Officer of the Nigerian National Petroleum Company (NNPC) Limited, Mele Kyari, stated that the facility had been completed and that operations at the 60,000 barrels per day refinery would commence in the first quarter of 2023. No thanks to the Russian/Ukrainian war, many oil producing countries have become richer as the war has resulted in the increased price of oil in the international market. But here, in Nigeria, we have gained nothing. Instead, we are suffering even more than those that are not blessed with crude oil because our refineries are not working. We have to export our crude oil and import the refined product at a very high
Fuel scarcity has become almost a permanent thing in many parts of the country. In the Federal Capital Territory for instance, there has not been a whole month of lack of fuel since February last year. Currently, the situation in the FCT is very precarious. People spend hours/days at petrol stations struggling to get the product for their daily uses. Even in the states where there is no scarcity, the price of the commodity is way above the approved pump price. In some places, it is sold for as high as N300.00 per liter at the filling stations. Owners of filling stations now seem to be at liberty to fix whatever prices they like for the product.
The big question is, since NNPC is so buoyant, why don’t they fix the refineries so that importation of fuel will stop and Nigerians can have petrol in their cars without hassles? Meanwhile, the same NNPC, now a limited liability company, is reported not to have made any remittances into the federation account from revenues generated for several months now, blaming it on billions paid as a shortfall for the importation of petrol (subsidy). Again, since under the watch of the NNPC, even with the president as the Minister for Petroleum, the nation’s refineries have remained non-functional for many years, what is the assurance that the roads they will construct will work?
What will be the quality of these roads? Will this not go the way of other government projects in the country where one project is budgeted for almost every year with outrageous sums of money released, yet there will be little or nothing to show for it? Who will monitor these projects to ensure compliance with the best standard? As some people have also rightly asked, is the NNPC now so free to dip its hands into the nation’s oil revenue and use funds generated for the nation and expend the funds to build roads rather than paying it into the nation’s account and allowing the Federal Ministry of Works to perform its constitutional role?
Some valid concerns have also been raised about the spread of the projects across the various geopolitical zones in the country. According to the Minister of Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, nine of the selected projects will be in north-central, three in north-east, two in north-west, two in south-east, three in south-south, and two in south-west. Is there any reason why one zone will have nine of its roads constructed while another zone will get only two? What is the rationale behind it? Those that should know have always posited that the cost of road construction in the Southern part of the country far outweighs that of the north because of the topography of the regions and other environmental factors. The same goes with the durability of the roads.
It therefore should have been expected that the southern part of the country, particularly the South- South should have been considered more in the allocation of the project or better still, let every zone get equal attention. Yes, almost every part of the country has some death traps called roads but some are worse than the others. For instance the Enugu/Makurdi/Abuja road is in a very sorry state and it is shocking not to see it among the roads to be handled by the benevolent NNPC. Any reasonable person that plies this road would wonder how an important road that links the South-East with the North and vice versa should be allowed to deteriorate so much.
From Otukpa, Benue State down to Obollo Afor Enugu State, the road is a no, no. The worst spots are Inyi and Amala Egashi, Enugu State. The coal tar on these portions of the road had since been completely washed out and the road had turned deep gullies. You ply the road with your heart in your mouth, seeing heavy duty vehicles and trailers drive through the gullies with their loads. Nigeria is in dire need of unity and those in authority both now and in the future should be seen to be championing the course of a united country through appointment of people into government offices, allocation of projects and many more.
All this lopsidedness in the affairs of government, favouring one particular region or tribe at the detriment of others can only fuel the cry for marginalization and deny the country the much needed peace and unity. Most importantly, NNPC should first of all tackle the issue of the crisis in the energy sector in the country – oil theft, non-functional refineries, fuel scarcity, corruption and many more, before talking of constructing roads. Again, the Road Infrastructure and Refreshment Tax Credit Scheme of the federal government may be a good idea but considering the level of corruption and insincerity in the country, will it yield the best result?
By; Calista Ezeaku
Peace In South East: That Soludo’s Offer
Which reasonable person is not perturbed about the level of insecurity in the South East? Which person, which leader who means well for Nigeria would not be worried that lawlessness has been the order of the day in a section of the country for about two years now? From available records, no fewer than 37 police officers have been killed in the five states that make up the zone and over 35 police stations burnt or destroyed since 2021 when the insecurity situation in the area escalated. Just last Sunday, hoodlums reportedly burnt down the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, office in Enugu South Local Government Area, LGA, Enugu State. The gunmen also shot and killed one of the security men guarding the commission’s premises.
For people living in Enugu, Abia, Imo, Ebonyi and Anambra States, it has been a hellish period for them as they have been forced to sit at home every Monday since August 9, 2021, by the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) following the arrest and imprisonment of its leader, Nnamdi Kanu. In a statement declaring the sit-at-home day, IPOB vowed to cripple the economy of the country until Kanu was freed and that is what has been seen in Igboland for about a year and half now. Not even a dying person is allowed access to the hospital on a Monday. Schools, banks, markets, offices and so on remain closed on Mondays.
Though there were stories about IPOB’s call – off of the sit-at-home order in April last year, the “ghost Monday” has not ceased to exist. Rather, a faction of the secessionist group led by one Finland-based Simeon Ekpa, has taken the “agitation” to the next level by sometimes declaring a whole week as sit-at-home and wasting innocent lives for whatever reasons within those days. A friend’s only brother was killed in Onitsha, Anambra State during one of such periods and is yet to be buried. There are also insinuations that some hoodlums have been perpetrating all manners of crime in the zone – kidnapping, killing, maiming etc. wearing the toga of IPOB and ESN. The just celebrated yuletide season was a far cry from what it used to be in the South East as many people from the region did not travel home for fear of falling victims of criminal activities perpetrated by unknown gunmen and other criminals who have taken over the land. Some who dared to travel are still narrating their ugly experiences at the hands of the criminals who abducted them.
In view of these, one had expected widespread commendations for the governor of Anambra State, Prof. Chukwuma Soludo, for his efforts towards ending the insecurity in the South Eastern Region. In a recent appeal to the federal government for the unconditional release of Kanu, who has been in detention since 2021, though the Appeal Court discharged him, Soludo said, “I am making a passionate appeal to the Federal Government to release Mazi Nnamdi Kanu unconditionally. If he cannot be released unconditionally, I want him be released to me and I will stand surety for him. We need Nnamdi Kanu in the roundtable conversation to discuss the insecurity in the South East. We must end insecurity in the South East and we need Nnamdi Kanu to be around.”
But his appeal incidentally, did not go down well with members of the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, who through its Media and Publicity Secretary, Emma Powerful, was quick to disagree on Soludo’s appeal contending that their leader, Kanu, was discharged and acquitted by the Court of Appeal and therefore needs no surety to be granted freedom. Of a fact, the reason given by the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubarkar Malami, for the continued detention of the IPOB leader is very ambiguous. Malami had claimed that the Court of Appeal only discharged Kanu, in its judgment but did not acquit him of the charge for which he was facing trial and that new legal grounds would be explored to nail Kanu.
The federal government had since filed an appeal before the supreme court to challenge the appeal court’s judgment. It also filed an application seeking to stay the execution of the appellate court’s judgment which was granted by the court of appeal.Many Nigerians, lawyers inclusive, have not stopped frowning at the action of the AGF, terming it a violation of the rule of law. Worthy of mention is the comment of the Chairman, Board of Trustees, BoT, of International Society for Civil Liberties and Rule of Law, Intersociety, Emeka Umeagbalasi. He said, “It must be clearly and strongly stated that the only option available to Nigeria’s Attorney General as the Law Officer of Nigeria is to fully consent to the landmark judgment or go on appeal within the stipulated time frame. Consenting or not consenting to the landmark judgment is however immaterial to the order of the three Justices-led Court of Appeal.
“Should the Nigerian Government decide to head to the Supreme Court in the exercise of its right under the country’s body of laws, then Nnamdi Kanu must, first of all, be set free- the worst-case scenario is to place him in civil liberties-compliant movement surveillance if in the sincere opinion of the Nigerian State, granting him total freedom of movement, expression and association will be injurious to the pendency of the apex appeal (if any) and its final determination”. Incidentally, the federal government did not heed to the advice. Kanu is still in detention as the Supreme Court is yet to rule on the case.However, maintaining a hard stand by both IPOB and the government will only continue to prolong the carnage going on in Igboland. Going by the narrations above, IPOB may not be right in insisting that Kanu does not need a surety to be released.
What anybody who truly loves Igboland should be seeking for at the moment is an amicable resolution of Kanu’s case so that he will be released and hopefully peace will return to the region. Of course, the return of peace to the region will not be automatic knowing that a lot of water has gone under the bridge but it will surely make a whole lot of difference.Meanwhile, it must be stated that causing chaos in the society is never a good way to register grievances against the authorities. South East, just like people from other parts of the country, have every right not to like the leadership style of President Muhammadu Buhari; they may not be happy with the nepotism, sectionalism, tribalism, injustice and unfairness that have characterised Buhari’s government; they may be sad about the increasing economic hardship in the country, the insensitivity of the government to the plights of the citizens, but making the region ungovernable, subjecting the people to untold hardship is never the way to go.
What will the country be like if every zone, every ethnic group that has grievances against the government takes laws into their hands? On its own part, the federal government should, in the interest of peace and security in the South East Zone and the country at large reconsider its position towards the release of the IPOB leader in accordance with the Appeal Court judgement. It does not speak well of a government not to obey court judgements as has been seen severally in the current administration. What about solving the matter politically which has been canvassed by many groups and persons.
As the founding Chairman of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), Chief Chekwas Okorie, admonished, “The time for President Muhammadu Buhari to show magnanimity and leadership in the vexed issue of Mazi Nnamdi Kanu is now. “The presidenti just returned from Mauritania where he received an “African Award for Strengthening Peace’’. Let him justify the award by taking every step to ensure peace and security in the South East and other parts of the country, especially as the election dates draw near.
By: Calista Ezeaku
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