An Unforgettable 2021
As we prepare to transition to 2022, we are grateful for the friendships, strengthened partnerships, and progress accomplished toward U.S. and Nigerian goals this past year. On behalf of the entire U.S. Mission, I extend our warmest wishes for a healthy, peaceful, and joyous holiday season.
At the outset of 2021, we all had high hopes of controlling the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, another variant has come to the centre stage of global concern. However, thanks to renewed global health collaboration efforts, vaccine development and distribution is gradually making headway.
At the U.S. Mission, we are fortunate to have dozens of our staff working side by side with our Nigerian counterparts to monitor and respond to the pandemic. The strength of our support is reflected in the over $130 million we have contributed towards the COVID-19 health response and the hard work of staff who provide expertise, technical assistance, and logistics support. So far, we have pledged 36 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine to Nigeria — of which 18 million have been delivered to date, and the balance of 18 million will be shipped in the coming weeks. The pandemic has shown us how interdependent our world is. No one is safe until everyone is safe. Through robust global dialogue and ingenuity, we will continue to build global health security in the New Year together.
I firmly believe that, together, the world will overcome COVID-19, the same way that we have overcome other global health challenges. Together, we have brought HIV/AIDS to a point where epidemic control is within our reach. We achieved the eradication of wild polio virus as all of Africa is now certified as wild polio virus free. In Nigeria, the United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) has invested more than $6 billion in the national HIV/AIDS response, where measures of our success include more than 1.6 million men, women, and children currently on HIV treatment. In partnership with the Federal Ministry of Health, we remain committed to completing the task of placing all people living with HIV on treatment and to strengthening capacity and commitment at all levels.
In fact, we have many reasons to remain positive about the progress made this year toward our shared goals. This past year, I had many opportunities to engage with Nigerians from all walks of life, from Kebbi to Akwa Ibom, and Ife to Jos. One common theme inevitably prevails – Nigerians seek a more secure living environment to raise and educate their children, earn a decent living, and strengthen their communities. We have done our utmost to address these concerns through a variety of mechanisms.
Countering violent extremism in Nigeria remains a top priority for both our countries. We were proud to support such efforts with the delivery of twelve Super Tucano aircrafts, which are already being employed to assist the Nigerian Air Force in their fight against violent extremist organizations. We have also worked with civil society, civilian law enforcement, the judiciary, and corrections officials to combat insecurity, strengthen effective and equitable access to the rule of law and justice, protect human rights, and together create a safer Nigeria.
Nigeria is the United States’ second largest trading partner on the continent, and we seek ways to further deepen this vital economic relationship. During 2021, we strengthened this partnership in important sectors such as agriculture, healthcare, information and communication technology, and renewable energy. On this latter issue, together our nations recognized the impact of climate change. We welcomed President Buhari’s commitment to strive for zero carbon emissions by 2060 at the COP26 summit, as the United States agreed to slash methane emissions by 30 percent by 2030. Separately, we welcomed the arrival in Nigeria of well-respected American brands such as United Airlines and Burger King. United Airlines’ direct flight from Washington, D.C. to Lagos – already booked solid for weeks ahead – is a testimony to our strong economic and people-to-people ties.
Simultaneously, we worked with organizations such as the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)-funded West Africa Trade Hub to co-invest in existing rice and tomato companies to improve yield, resilience, and to create more jobs for Nigerians. Perhaps the most significant U.S. economic and development commitment in the past year was the launch of a five-year, $2.17 billion Development Objectives Assistance Agreement between Nigeria and the United States. As USAID celebrated its 60-year anniversary in 2021, we similarly recommit to our shared goal of a healthier, more educated, more prosperous, more stable, and more resilient Nigeria – this new agreement helps us get there.
In 2021, and despite the challenges of COVID-19, we were extremely gratified by the great number of high-level, in-person and virtual meetings between U.S. and Nigerian leaders, which touched on our shared political, military, civil society, and economic goals. During his visit to Nigeria, Secretary of State Antony Blinken articulated our shared policy goals, and met with civil society and tech innovators who are contributing to a stronger, more inclusive democracy in Nigeria. Deputy National Security Advisor Jon Finer, Commander of the United States Africa Command, General Stephen J. Townsend, and others also visited Nigeria and similarly underscored the Biden Administration’s commitment to partnering with Nigeria to solve global challenges and advance shared interests.
As we look forward to the coming year, we are proud to be breaking ground on a new, more accommodating, and modern Consulate in Lagos that reflects the centrality of Nigeria to our foreign policy goals and will better serve the Nigerian public. Finally, we look forward to continuing our robust, inclusive, and issue-based dialogue at the African Leaders Summit hosted by President Biden. This ongoing conversation remains so vital to Nigeria’s own democracy strengthening efforts as the 2023 presidential elections approach.
On behalf of the U.S. Mission in Nigeria, I extend our appreciation for the friendships and partnerships which have formed throughout the year. We wish you a peaceful and prosperous holiday season and New Year.
Leonard, US Ambassador to Nigeria, wrote from Abuja.
By: Mary Beth Leonard
·Of Happy Endings And New Beginnings
May 29, 2015, was like every other day in Nigeria; nonetheless, it was very remarkable because, on that day, one who could accurately be called the Anti-Nigerian was given the reins of power. His reemergence after a 32-year hiatus in political Siberia, (following his first coming as head of state) warmed the heart, of millions of Nigerians who had the misconception that he was a disciplined man, a man who favoured law and order, a man who was capable of taking charge, (unlike the one many openly called a ‘woman’ due to his peaceful disposition). The hyping was so much that a political whiz like former President Olusegun Obasanjo was so deceived that he commented that “even if Buhari fails in everything, security won’t be one of them”. But we now know better.
However, under President Buhari, Nigeria was dealt a bad hand. In the past eight years, Aso Rock has been occupied by a President who had been overseeing the flow of blood like a river in the mountains of the Plateau, the savannah forest of Southern Kaduna, in the Benue Valley, and across every nook and cranny of this country. Under his assumed incorruptible posture, Nigeria has been fleeced by the most fantastically corrupt administration in her history. This is in terms of the spread, and value of what has been stolen from our commonwealth. In other words, under President Buhari’s administration, corruption was deep and wide. As if all that were not enough, the economy has been left in tartars, and the dollar he promised Nigerians would be able to exchange for one naira, now goes for almost eight hundred naira leaving millions in abject poverty. Today, Nigeria is not just the poverty capital of the world, it is estimated that under President Buhari, Nigeria is also home to 133 million multi-dimensionally poor people.
Things have fallen so far apart that those who were gloating over President Jonathan, and cheering when hurricane Buhari made landfall (according to one newspaper headline on April 13, 2015) are now discombobulated. I am sure the editor who coined the infamous headline would forever be self-loathing for being a prophet of doom. Thankfully, Nigerians are resilient. The average Nigerian, according to Fela Kuti, knows how to smile in the midst of suffering and tyranny. But like the Holy Bible says in the Book of Ecclesiastes: “To everything, there is a season and a time to every purpose under the heaven. A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.” For most Nigerians, this week is a joyous week, full of laughter and dancing, for the singular reason that they survived the Buhari years against all odds. Just as in nature and the seamlessness of the cosmos, specifically as it relates to endings and beginnings, so also is history being made once again before our very eyes as we witness the peaceful transition of power one more time in our country.
The curtain is brought down on Buhari, yet there is no vacuum because Act-1 and Scene-1 of the four-year tenure of Bola Armed Tinubu as president begins. It is a miracle of unfathomable proportions, and we must, in spite of our national aches, pains, and miscarriages of justice, and the apparent lack of a cohesive national story after 62 years of nationhood, thank God for what we have. If you are in doubt of our blessings despite the conglomeration of forces both within and without, working unremittingly to derail the destiny of the largest black nation on earth, look no further than Chad, Mali, Sudan, Congo, and Somalia. It must be noted, that the civil war in Somalia and Congo has been on for more than 30 years. Even though we are stepping into the unknown with the new Commander-in-Chief, in the person of Bola Armed Tinubu, we must count our blessings, and see what God has done for us.
Coming back to Rivers State, even though we can not say it’s a garden of bloom, we have every reason to be thankful. In fact, about a fortnight ago, I was in gathering where someone was reeling out what he felt was the state’s litany of woes. But to his shock, a response came from a most unlikely place, Abia State; and the response was: “Una dey see flyover everywhere and other projects, una still dey talk, come to Abia state, just go to Aba alone, you will weep for us.” That response in its simplicity has vindicated Governor Wike a million times. However, Governor Wike’s Legacy is beyond brick and mortar. Governor Wike once said: “Now that we have become victorious and have arrived at the homeward end of our beautiful water-side, it is time to work, to erect landmarks of progress and prosperity. Yes, it is time to deconstruct, reconstruct, rehabilitate, and restore…our commonwealth. Now is the time for us to rebuild our state; to rebuild our educational and health institutions; to rebuild our occupations, and to rebuild our infrastructure. It is time to provide new opportunities to maximally touch the lives of our people. It is time to restore hope.”
To this end, Governor Wike specifically promised to, “subject to available funds, prioritise the completion of all ongoing road projects; construct the Trans-Kalabari coastal road network, dualise the Ahoada-Omoku road; Saakpenwa-Bori road; and Oyigbo-Afam road, among others. We shall also tackle the challenges of urban renewal, road congestion, and traffic gridlock in PortHarcourt City, Obio/Akpor, and other major population centres in Rivers State”. Did he keep his word? Overwhelmingly. Governor Wike started, finished and commissioned Phase 1, of the Trans-Kalabari Road which was only in the realm of possibility until he made it a reality with N14 billion. Other roads started from scratch and completed includes: the Obiri-Ikwerre-Airport Dual Carriageway, Chokocho-Umuechem-Ozuzu Road, and Chokocho-Igbo-Etche-Rumuokurushi Road, Igwuruta-Eneka-Rumuokurushi dual carriageway, the Federal Government-owned Igwurura-Chokocho Road, Iwofe-Rumuolumeni dual carriageway.
He also completed the reconstruction and dualisation of Creek Road, which was awarded by the previous administration but abandoned due to paucity of funds, Bori Skpenwa Road, and the ongoing phase two of Ahoada-Omoku – Egbema Road and the Emohua-Tema Junction Road projects that are ongoing are at the cost of N80bn.His giant strides in the Judiciary, where he rehabilitated existing facilities, built new ones and made both judges and magistrates comfortable enough to deliver justice without being needy. He also made lawyers and litigants happy by building an industrial court in the state. But the crowning jewel of his efforts in the Judiciary is without any doubt, the brand new N17 billion Nigerian Law School, Port Harcourt Campus that has been handed over to the Federal Government. In the Health Sector, thanks to Governor Wike’s effort, River State is set to become a regional destination for health tourism. The state is now home to two teaching hospitals three colleges of medicine, and several centres of tertiary health care: namely the Dr. Peter Odili Cancer and Cardiovascular Diagnostic Treatment Centre, the 258-bed Mother and Child Hospital, the Maxilo-Facial and Dental Hospital, the completion of six zonal specialist hospitals. Rivers State is poised to enjoy superb health care delivery and proper training of medical personnel for a long time to come.
His giant strides permeate every facet of the economy of Rivers State, which this article has only managed to skim. He touched Oil and Gas, Education, Agriculture, and ICT. By his exceptional approach to governance, Governor Wike has already made his protégé, Sir. Sim Fubara a successful governor even before he took the oath of office. Sadly, President Buhari will bequeath a house of cards (Nigeria) to Bola Armed Tinubu. In the end, it’s a happy ending because we survived, and a time of honour for the old boys and girls of Comprehensive Secondary School Opobo Town, my alma mater. We have produced a governor, His Excellency Sir. Sim Fubara.
By: Raphael Pepple
Nigeria’s Dev: Task Before Bola Tinubu
Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu coming on the political stage as Executive President of Nigeria on this day, May 29, 2023, is heralded by much expectations from the people of Nigeria on what he can do to salvage the oil and gas-rich country. He is perceived as the man that will fight corruption, fix the porous economy, provide adequate security and build the long forgotten nation. Since Nigerians expect much from Tinubu’s administration in this regard, he should not disappoint. The stakes, are indeed, so high and to whom much is given, much is also expected. Nigerian electorates have through their votes expressed their trust and love for Bola Tinubu. It is time for him and his team to reciprocate that gesture in equal measure.
This is the time for the president elect to unite the people that have been fractured by ethnicity, religion and politics. He should give the people a sense of belonging in the country especially those at the rural communities of the country and to lay to rest all divisive tendencies that have worked against the growth and progress of Nigeria. To move the country forward, the President should run all- inclusive type of government in his dispensation as President of Nigeria.
The winner-takes all types of leadership in the country previously have not helped our cause; hence he should be optimistic in his quest to resuscitate Nigeria’s battered image that had torn the people apart. This is time for radical change; and a change in this direction is apt and timely.
It is necessary to stress that Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu can only rebuild the country if he can set up credible and formidable team of technocrats to work with. He should put the best men and women to the work of revamping the economy to stimulate growth.
Tinubu should put the best materials in key positions for him to achieve his government’s objectives. His promise to run a transparent and listening government will aid him immensely if he abides by it. Let the political leader in the country bear in mind that he is now President of Nigeria and not that of the All Progressives Congress (APC).
He should act as the leader of the entire nation of Nigeria and treat all parts of the country as his constituency. He should set achievable goals based on his early promises during electioneering campaign that brought him this far. There is no doubt that the country’s citizens and residents are so eager to have the power sector, security, education, youth and women development, job creation and the establishment of cottage industries in the 774 local government areas of Nigeria, among other demanding necessities given priority attention this time around.
If these sectors are taken care of, the rest will fall in shape with time. There is no point for the administration to bite more than it can chew. Our past experience has shown that setting too many objectives can only lead to failure to achieve sufficient results in any of them. The time for rhetoric is, indeed, over, this is time for practical action. Let the President, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu and his yet to be formed team make a positive difference in the Nigeria’s story. Since government is a continuum, Bola Tinubu should continue with his predecessors’ good programmes and complete them. The bane of government in this part of the globe is lack of continuity of good and result- oriented programmes from one administration to another.
Let the Tinubu- led government retain his predecessors’ quality governance and improve on them while initiating his own roadmap. The continuing fall in power and water supply in the country previously dictates that Nigeria reliance on this, will not augur well for the country’s economy. Therefore, Bola Tinubu should map out adequate and pro-people development programmes to actually diversify the nation’s economy.
Exploitation of solid minerals that abound in some parts of Nigeria will be a right step in the effort to rebuild the country’s stagnated economy.
Another gold mine waiting to be tapped in Nigeria is agriculture. The nation’s agricultural potentials, if well harnessed can fetch us more foreign exchange than any other thing. Fortunately, Nigeria has enormous arable land for mechanised farming especially in the rural communities. The future of the country’s economy solely lies in agriculture and manufacturing. Government should tap our other natural resources which are more largely wasted to boost the ailing economy. Our fishing equipments should be made to work and new ones built to end the culture of exploitative petroleum and power subsidy by importation of fuel.
Above all, Bola Tinubu as President was elected by the people of Nigeria on the belief that he will fight corruption, which has been the bane of development in Nigeria. He must not disappoint the people in this regard now that democracy has entered its crucial stage as far as development remains paramount. In the same vein, he must be civil and careful to respect human right and stay on the side of the electorate. The task before Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu to choose the right and God-fearing leaders are indeed, huge, but they are not insurmountable. We therefore enjoined him to carefully monitor his team to ensure that they remain on track. He must make himself clear on his ministers and other political appointees and ensure zero tolerance for corruption and incompetence.
Bola Tinubu must also remain resolute and focus on his objectives to ensure that he is able to make a positive impact on the lives of the people of the country, especially those of them in the rural areas in his administration. We, congratulates Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu on his election victory at the polls and wish him and his team of technocrats great successes in their administration of Nigeria.
By: Bethel Toby
Drug Abuse: Bayelsa State At A Tipping Point? (II)
This is the conclusion of this article first published on Wednesday, May 17.
This is the concluding part of the opinion piece on the ongoing drug-related crisis in the State of Bayelsa. The initial instalments of this article were drawn from news stories in the past few months of 2023 to show that all is not well in the war against drug trafficking, and drug abuse in the state. This huge mortal problem is staring us in the face, such that the average Bayelsan might be compelled to ask if there is any hope. Yes, there is hope, but not with old approaches that have been tried and proven ineffective. Preventing the growth of substance use and dependence in the state, as well as the zone calls for a multi-pronged approach that must entail thinking outside the box.
In my opinion, the major key to tackling the monster of drug addiction in South-South is to set up a special regional task force, drawing men from all the relevant agencies and governments within the zone, and give them resources and clear targets, which must include making it hard to access drugs, reducing the prevalence rate of any drug use in the zone to a single digit. Firstly, it must be made clear from the onset that the purpose of the task force is to save lives. Secondly, since the 2018 report mentioned the paucity of rehabilitation centres, states in the zone must improve existing facilities, or put new ones in place.
Thirdly, two key lessons learnt during the COVID-19 pandemic must be brought to bear. In the first instance, there must be daily state-wide randomised drug testing (using a fingerprinting technology uniquely designed to expose substance abusers using what is called the fluorescence-based lateral flow competition assay) in every local government to constantly track prevalence, and death rates through the duration of the task force.It must be noted that in spite of the losses during the recent global COVID-19 pandemic, the experince was a major teacher in that, it show the world how, and how not to manage a global health crisis. For instance. The Diete- Spiff administration appointed and recruited seasoned academics, administrators and technocrats to join in the task of building the nascent State particularly after the civil war. COVID-19 pandemic, the experience was a major teacher, in that, it showed the world how, and how not to manage a global health crisis. For, instance, with hindsight, medical practitioners and policymakers across the globe can to a reasonable extent agree that lockdowns does not work.
But then, on the other hand, the world saw what difference testing made, especially in isolation and the treatment of the infected. The same can be applied to the ongoing drug abuse crises in the Bayelsa State.The Health and Safety departments of most corporations have been managing alcoholism and drug abuse for decades using on-the-spot testing, during accidents for drivers, and routine and impromptu testing of members of staff. The merit of this approach is that alcoholic beverages like beer remain in the blood for eight hours and spirits, like whisky and brandy, can last up to 20 hours in the bloodstream. Interestingly, this technology is not exclusive to the safety departments of multinational corporations.
Currently, a fingerprinting technology uniquely designed to expose substance abusers has been developed. The system is designed to work with the process by which the human body metabolises substances to generate a plethora of metabolites, some of which are excreted through the sweat glands. Currently, the system is only able to capture amphetamines, cannabis, cocaine, and opiates.Like alcohol, different drugs are metabolised by the body in a variety of ways, generating a myriad of metabolites, some of which are excreted through the sweat glands. For instance, Tetrahydrocannabinol, the primary psychoactive component in cannabis can be detectable in the sweat of an individual following consumption for up to a week in most cases; while cocaine can passively diffuse through capillaries into sweat glands in its non-ionised form and can diffuse directly through the skin.
Similarly, opiates such as heroin produce the major metabolite 6-acetylmorphine, which is the main indicator in the sweat that confirms opioid use. Opiates too are generally detectable within two hours and up to a week in the sweat following consumption. Cocaine and ethyl methyl ecgonine are detectable in the sweat as soon as two hours following consumption, whereas benzoylecgonine is detectable in four to eight hours. The metabolites are detected by performing a lateral flow assay, utilising fluorescent tagged probes to indicate that particular complementary molecules are present in a sweat sample. In plain language, this test is akin to the instant pregnancy test available at pharmacies.
The taskforce must also work in collaboration with telecommunication companies and every media house in the zone to keep the public informed on daily basis. To achieve a downward trend in the prevalence rate quickly, every state governor must use this daily information to put their local government chairmen to work. They must be held accountable for using this information in driving awareness at every level in their various local governments, including churches, mosques, and markets. Since most of the victims are from institutions of higher learning in the states within the zone, they should be viewed as epicenters that merit extra attention. Consequently, that taskforce should work with the management of these institutions to make one random testing mandatory for every student, at least once every semester.
On the face alone, since the students might be invited for drug tests without prior information, it would serve as a major deterrent. Beyond that, because of the consequences tied to it, truant students might also rethink their movements, especially if reporting to parents, guardians, or scholarship bodies happens to be one of the consequences.The testing is not an end in itself; rather, it is also a means to apprehend the dealers on the street. Therefore, for everyone who tests positive for any drug, the intention is to extract actionable information to arrest his/her dealer with confidentiality guaranteed. Just imagine that 100 tests reported a positive result, across various local governments within a state, and the users volunteer valuable information about their dealers, this war can easily be won in six months.
But then, the fourth term of reference for the taskforce is most critical, because it deals with those who are already vulnerable, or dying due to the miseries of extended drug abuse or substance dependence. It is very important that each state within the zone puts in place an emergency medical unit ready to move at a moment’s notice in every Senatorial District at least. The purpose of this team is primarily to save lives, and they should be given all they need to enable them to save lives.Furthermore, Local Government Areas must regularly hold seminars in schools, churches, mosques, and markets to educate their people on the current drug epidemic ravaging our region.
It is in the general interest of parents, Pastors, Imams, and community leaders to be fully aware of how far this cancer has eaten into the fabric of society. It is also very important for leaders to understand what is about to happen to our common way of life if the average youth on the street is a druggy. Clearly, Bayelsa State is at a tipping point, but almost all other states within the zone are more or less next-door neighbours to each other, therefore is safe to assume that other states are not faring better. This is more reason all the states in the region must work together to end the menace of drug trafficking and drug addiction. Lastly, the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) and other security agencies should take the war against drugs personal, because the next victim might just be a member of their family.
By: Raphael Pepple
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