Following the painfully obvious failure of the Federal Government and its security agencies to rein in those behind illegal oil bunkering and artisanal crude oil refiners in Rivers State, the Governor, Chief Nyesom Wike, lately declared war against operators of the crude oil refineries in the state.
The audacious action of the governor specifically aims at tackling the environmental threat induced by soot, emanating from the illegal refining of crude oil in parts of the state. Consequently, Wike directed the chairmen of councils to go after all the illegal crude oil refining sites and shut them with immediate effect. The state Chief Executive made this declaration in his 2022 New Year address to the state.
Measures were outlined and effected to tackle the soot, which have been successful so far. The Rivers State Task Force on Illegal Street Trading has been executing hit-and-run raids on some illegal crude oil refining sites in Port Harcourt and arresting several persons. Again, many identified illegal crude oil refining spots and activities in the state have either been shut down or virtually destroyed.
Governor Wike had recently declared 19 persons wanted for operating illegal crude oil refining locations, directly responsible for soots prevalent in the state. Barely 24 hours after the declaration, the Rivers State Police Command officially announced that its operatives arrested and paraded 18 persons implicated in illegal oil refining activities in various parts of the state.
Recall that a report by a technical committee set up by the state government to investigate causes of soot in the state a few years ago disclosed that the soot was engendered by subversive activities of illegal refiners and the alleged complicity of security agents, among others. A reviewed report of Prof. Roseline Konya’s findings indicated that about 22,077 persons had suffered needlessly from respiratory-related ailments in the last five years.
Medical experts have associated the persistent soot in the state with rising cases of cancer and infertility. Their assertions were corroborated by a recent study published in the Journal of Health and Pollution titled: “Exposure to Heavy Metals in Soot Samples and Cancer Risk Assessment in Port Harcourt, Nigeria.” According to the researchers, the study was carried out to determine the presence and levels of heavy metals in soot along with a cancer risk assessment of heavy metals exposure in Port Harcourt.
A specialist and consultant surgeon at the Rivers State University Teaching Hospital (RSUTH), Port Harcourt, Dr. Ibifuro Green, said about six million residents of Rivers State faced the risk of developing cancer of the lung and other respiratory problems, following the never-ending raining of cancerous hydrocarbon elements, commonly referred to as “black soot” on their environment. This startling revelation should be of genuine concern to all.
Meanwhile, the gloomy predictions by many health professionals are that if nothing is done urgently to halt the soot, many residents might experience chronic respiratory diseases, heart problems and an increase in mortality rate. This is becoming real as some persons, who have found it very difficult breathing while in Port Harcourt, have relocated to other places.
We commend the governor for listening to the cry of Rivers people by resolving to take on all crude oil thieves and refiners precipitately. While successes recorded in the war against oil thieves are acknowledged, we urge security agents to collaborate closely with council chairmen and traditional rulers to complement the governor’s efforts towards ending the public nuisance in their locations.
Rivers people cannot be their own implacable enemies. We must collectively fight this peril. The hazard we are faced with is becoming worrisome. Everyone who lives and does business in Rivers State should be solicitous about the soot and its effects. Time has come to end the impending catastrophe. It is necessary to know that the combined effect of soot and COVID-19 poses an existential threat to all residents of the state.
Those aiding and abetting illegal bunkering activities in different parts of the state who have been identified should be named, shamed and prosecuted, regardless of their political affiliations and status. Wike has shown that he is decisive and firm in prosecuting the fight, as a success in the war cannot afford favouritism. Residents must report shrewd operators of illegal crude oil refineries and other damnable activities to task forces set up at the state and local government levels for immediate action.
Furthermore, a strong institutional capacity for the judiciary is imperative. The Rivers State Assembly should exercise effective oversight, insist on the swift prosecution of offenders, and demand accountability from all recognised groups and institutions involved in the anti-soot crusade. Civil society organisations in the state should not give up but join the fray through unrelenting public engagements. There should be no cover-ups and sacred cows.
There is a need for the Federal Government to vigorously collaborate and assist the Rivers State Government in finding a lasting solution to this crisis. It is quite amazing why the federal authorities, whose security agencies have further complicated the soot situation by their collusion, have failed to take interest in ending this challenge. This is mainly the Federal Government’s business that requires a collective and inclusive solution as quickly as possible.
Averting Looming Strike In Aviation Sector
Airlines operating in Nigeria, under the auspices of Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON) had recently
disclosed plans to close down operations over the high cost of aviation fuel. The group revealed this in a statement issued lately, claiming that aviation fuel, also known as JetA1, had attained an all-time high of N700 per litre and informed travellers to use roads to avoid being deserted at airports.
“It is with a great sense of responsibility and patriotism that the Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON) have carried on deploying and subsidising their services to our highly esteemed Nigerian flying public in the last four months despite the steady and astronomical hike in the price of JetA1 and other operating costs. Over time, aviation fuel price (JetA1) has risen from N190 per litre to N700 currently. No airline in the world can absorb this kind of sudden shock from such an astronomical rise over a short period.
“While aviation fuel worldwide is said to cost about 40 per cent of an airline’s operating cost globally, the present hike has shut up Nigeria’s operating cost to about 95 per cent. In the face of this, airlines have engaged the Federal Government, the National Assembly, NNPC and oil marketers with a view to bringing the cost of JetA1 down, which has currently made the unit cost per seat for a one-hour flight in Nigeria today to an average of N120,000.
“To this end, therefore, the Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON) hereby wishes to regrettably inform the public that member airlines will discontinue operations nationwide with effect from Monday, May 9, 2022, until further notice. AON uses this medium to humbly state that we regret any inconveniences this very difficult decision might cause and appeal to travellers to kindly reconsider their travel itinerary and make alternative arrangements,” the statement read.
Recurring aviation fuel crisis in the country is disquieting. While the Federal Government should promptly take far-reaching decisions to rest the matter permanently, it is gratifying that AON has acceded to requests to withdraw the action temporarily to allow for a fresh round of dialogue with the government to reach an amicable solution. Any strike in the sector will inflict more pain on our already distressed economy.
Furthermore, we are concerned about the difficulties being faced by the airline operators in procuring aviation fuel, resulting in spiralling costs in air transportation. It must be acknowledged that the airline operators are in the business to make profits. They service the very critical sector that is not only the preferred mode of transport for most Nigerians, but also the main international gateway to the nation.
We salute the patriotism of AON and conclude that members of the association are indeed patriots who have kept on bearing the brunt of an unfavourable oil market. The government has to reciprocate by ensuring that foreign airlines operating in Nigeria are provided with logistics and services for their operations without disruption. The authorities should step in and be devoted to the constant expansion of the aviation industry, where airlines and other service providers operate in a competitive environment.
The Federal Government, the National Assembly, the Nigeria National Petroleum Company (NNPC) Limited and oil marketers should work towards bringing the cost of JetA1 down, that has currently raised the unit cost per seat for a one-hour flight in Nigeria today to an average of N120, 000. This cost is exorbitant and cannot be fully passed on to passengers, already experiencing numerous difficulties. The rate is unsustainable; the airlines cannot absorb the pressure.
Nigerians do not wish for more industrial actions. Hence, the demand of the workers should be looked into for peace to reign in the sector. Striking has become essential for unions and workers dissatisfied with labour conditions. Already, members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) have been on a nationwide strike. Other unions in our higher institutions are restive. If care is not taken, ASUU could be joined by workers in the aviation industry. This may be unhealthy.
The Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, implored the aviation unions for time to explore means of resolving the challenge. He, however, noted that, unfortunately, aviation fuel supply was not within the purview of the Ministry and so the much he could do in the circumstances was to engage with agencies, institutions and individuals in a position to provide succour to the airlines. Sirika must not renege on his promise.
Oil marketers, under the aegis of the Major Oil Marketers Association of Nigeria (MOMAN), had attributed the recent surge in Automotive Gas Oil (AGO), otherwise known as diesel and JetA1 (aviation fuel) to the difficulty in accessing foreign exchange and the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine. Executive Secretary of MOMAN, Clement Isong, said the war in Ukraine had caused an increase in global crude oil prices and all its derivatives, including diesel and aviation fuel.
Again, some experts have explained that the continuous importation of aviation fuel coupled with the inability of airline operators to have easy access to foreign exchange and airport taxes, among others, have been attributed to the costly price of the product in Nigeria. Other reasons include handling equipment like refuellers, hydrant dispensers/servicers and filtration systems.
For a country that is the largest oil producer in Africa and 7th globally, this is distasteful and scandalous. It may not be improper to know why the nation exports crude oil and gets only premium motor spirit (PMS) in return. What happens to the other derivatives from crude oil, like aviation fuel and the like? This brings to the fore the contentions on the state of our refineries and the need to decide on them.
If our refineries were working, the war between Russia and Ukraine would not serve as a reason for the unavailability of aviation fuel in the country. Just as there are modular refineries for PMS, similar ones should be established for aviation fuel to meet the ever-increasing demand for local consumption. Easy access to forex, especially for aviation fuel importers, which is one of the major reasons for the hike, is imperative.
Emefiele, Resign Now
The ambition of the Central Bank of Nigeria’s (CBN) Governor, Godwin Emefiele, to participate in the
party primary towards the presidential election in 2023 has been eliciting mixed reactions from both politicians and industry watchers, as concerns mount over possible conflict of interest on his regulatory and supervisory role on Nigerian banks.
In his suit confirming his political ambition, Emefiele sued the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) asking the court to restrain them from compelling him to resign as the CBN governor to run for office in 2023. His lawyer, Mike Ozekhome, expressed fears that the INEC and the AGF were making “frantic efforts to disqualify” Emefiele “from participating in the presidential primaries scheduled for June 3, 2022, for not resigning from his office before the parties’ primaries.”
Emefiele was reported to have joined the list of presidential aspirants who had picked the expression of interest form of the ruling party, the All Progressives Congress (APC). Although the form was said to have been picked on his behalf by a group, the apex bank governor had gone to the Federal High Court in Abuja seeking to retain his office as the Central Bank governor while pursuing his interest in the presidential race.
Emefiele, through his counsel, Ozekhome, is seeking the court’s interpretation as to whether by the provisions of Section 84 (3) of the Electoral Act, 2022, a political party can by its constitution impose any nomination qualification criteria or measures on aspirants or candidates, including him who is in centrally the constitutional provision.
He is also seeking the court to clarify whether he can be compelled to resign his position as Governor of the CBN earlier than 30 days before the political party primary, in line with the provision of Section 84 (3) of the Electoral Act, which is against Section 137 (1) of the Constitution of Nigeria as amended, which requires a public officer to resign, withdraw, retire at least 30 days from the date of the presidential election.
However, the Federal High Court refused to shield Emiefele from being disqualified to contest for the presidential ticket of any political party ahead of the 2023 general elections. Ruling on the ex parte application, the judge, Ahmed Mohammed, ruled that he would rather order INEC and the AGF to appear to state their side of the case instead of granting the CBN governor’s request.
The Federal Government had last Wednesday through the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Boss Mustapha, issued a circular directing serving Ministers in the cabinet, heads of government agencies, ambassadors and other political appointees of the administration, coveting political ambitions in 2023 to resign from the government. Soon after the directive, the CBN boss reportedly met with the President.
In our opinion, Emefiele’s action, if unchecked timeously, portends great danger to the fragile economy of the country. There is everything morally and legally wrong with his ambition to become Nigeria’s President while still occupying his current position. Looking at the handwriting on the wall, it is clear that the CBN governor has been a partisan politician to the disadvantage of the country.
Section 6 of the CBN Act says that the Governor of the Central Bank should not pursue any interest that would make him conflict with his official duties. The Act further states that the office should be autonomous and independent. Emefiele must understand that he is the number one banker in the country and chairman of the Bankers’ Committee as well as head of the financial regulations in Nigeria that determine exchange and inflation rates.
The CBN governor must realise that it is improper for him to declare a partisan interest with the sensitive position he occupies. The apex bank is like INEC which should not be under the control of any political influence or party. Indeed, sensitive security documents for the conduct of eletions are deposited in the Central Bank by INEC before any elections. Nigerians must know that Emefiele has the powers to remove the managing directors of banks and can use his position to punish or witch-hunt any bank. Why would a man who keeps in custody the nation’s foreign exchange submit himself to partisan politics?
The apex bank boss demonstrated his partisan posture during the #ENDSARS protest. Recall that Emefiele asked the leaders of the group to shelve their protest, which they refused to comply with. They then had their accounts blocked by the CBN, having gone to court to secure an ex- parte order to do that. This is because they refused to yield to his demand to halt the protest.
Already, and rather unsurprisingly, local and international media have picked up the news of Emiefele’s reported interests and his unwise responses to his linkage to partisan politics. It is needless to say that his alleged aspiration while holding office as governor of the apex bank is a very weighty turn of events. It can potentially erode the confidence in the Nigerian monetary system, which is expected to be administered by non-partisan experts with the CBN governor as the dominant head of the team.
When the CBN Governor assumed office in 2014, he set a target to achieve single-digit inflation and maintain a stable Naira. But the national currency is trading at N590 per dollar on the unofficial market and N415 at the official window. There are also profound implications for the confidence of investors, both foreign and local. Moreover, the Central Bank is an institution that needs to earn the trust of all stakeholders in the economy, irrespective of their political affiliation, creed, gender, religion, ethnicity or vocation.
The economy is yet to recover from the shocks of the COVID-19 pandemic. The disparity in rates has created a paradise for forex brokers and currency speculators. The business of forex roundtripping is also flourishing. There is a liquidity crisis in the forex market on a scale never witnessed before. We cannot afford to worsen the current economic situation with a Central Bank that is entangled in the controversy of political partisanship. In the circumstances, the most respectable course of action for the CBN governor is to resign to preserve the integrity, credibility, independence, neutrality and professionalism of the bank.
17 Oil Wells: Kudos To Wike
Rivers State Governor, Chief Nyesom Wike, and Rivers people are still luxuriating in euphoria over the Supreme Court’s verdict on the 17 disputed oil wells between Rivers and Imo States. The apex court on May 6, 2022, declared the ownership rights of the oil wells in Ndoni and Egbema communities to Rivers State, terminating the political arrangement on the sharing of revenue from the facilities.
There was a political trade-off put in place by the Governors of Rivers and Imo State in 1999 to ensure that revenues from the disputed wells were rationed equally between the two states. However, when Emeka Ihedioha became governor in 2019, he instigated a presidential memo that ordered that all incomes would have to be paid to Imo State. indeed, he also requested that Rivers State pays Imo State N15 billion royalty received from the disputed oil wells. The Rivers State Government swiftly filed a suit against the presidential directive.
Hailing the decision in Port Harcourt, Wike explained that the state was in court with neighbouring Imo State, not to claim victory, but to defend its ownership rights of oil wells in Akri and Mbede communities. The governor said: “It bears repeating that the quest to defend our ownership rights through the courts over the Akiri and Mbede oil wells was not intended to claim victory over Imo or any other state.
“To actualise the spurious claims, he (Ihedioha) stealthily wrote a letter dated August 9, 2019, to President Muhammadu Buhari and requested the refund of N15 billion from Rivers State to Imo State as backlog of proceeds from the 13 per cent derivation revenue of the oil wells. Acting on Ihedioha’s letter, the President warranted a letter to be written to the Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) through the late Chief of Staff, Mr Abba Kyari, to alter the status quo in favour of Imo State without reference to the subsisting dispute and agreement between the two states.”
The Tide is, indeed, delighted in the apex court’s verdict, hoping that both Buhari and Governor Hope Uzodimma would graciously accept the outcome. In line with Governor Wike’s offer of a concession, Imo State can explore ways to accommodate that option. “This, we may readily oblige, notwithstanding Ihedioha’s action, who, despite the extensive support and goodwill he received from the government and people of Rivers State to become governor, led the onslaught and created a wedge between two brotherly states,” said Wike.
Rivers people are upbeat about yet another victory Wike has secured for the state by legally protecting and retrieving its oil assets. We commend the governor for his magnanimity in offering to share the proceeds with Imo State in the spirit of brotherliness and for his extraordinary courage in pursuing the matter to the Supreme Court where victory was attained.
A good and courageous leader like Wike always makes history from which useful lessons can be learnt. The governor has constantly demonstrated resilience and is known for his doggedness in fighting for what belongs to the state even in the face of formidable challenges. Wike is a valid instrument God has utilised to take Rivers State to a greater height of success.
In the judgment prepared by Justice Helen Ogunwumiju but delivered by Justice Emmanuel Agim, the apex court dismissed the counter-claim of ownership put forward by the Imo State government. The oil wells located in the territories of Rivers and Imo States had been a subject of litigation at the apex court, which served as a court of first instance with seven justices in the panel.
The court agreed with Rivers State that the correct instruments, map and documents to be relied upon in determining the boundary between Rivers and Imo States were those used by Rivers State in delineating the boundary line between the two states, including Decree 14 of 1967, Decree 12 of 1976, the White Papers/Conclusion of the Federal Military Government on the Irikefe and the Nasir Boundary Commission/Boundary Adjustment Commission, the Eastern Nigeria Map, the Map of Owerri, Warri Province, Onitsha and Rivers Provinces, as well as the Ahoada District Map and Aboh Division Map.
Recall that in 2020, the Supreme Court struck out two suits the Bayelsa State Government filed to reclaim ownership of disputed Soku oil wells, which it was earlier directed to hand over to Rivers State by the Federal High Court in Abuja. Bayelsa State had approached the apex court to stop the Federal Government from further paying monthly statutory allocation from the oil wells to Rivers State.
Similarly, a Federal High Court sitting in Port Harcourt had declared that it was the Rivers State Government (RSG) and not the Federal Inland Revenue Services (FIRS) that should collect Value Added Tax (VAT) and Personal Income Tax (PIT) in the state. The court, presided over by Justice Stephen Pam, also issued an order of perpetual injunction restraining FIRS and the Attorney General of the Federation, both first and second defendants in the suit, from collecting, demanding, threatening and intimidating residents of Rivers State to pay to FIRS, PIT and VAT.
While we laud the Supreme Court justices for their display of courage and for being on the side of the truth, we denounce the obvious lackadaisical approach of the National Boundary Commission (NBC) to the boundary dispute between Rivers and Imo States. As Wike rightly observed, the fraudulent actions of the Commission created more problems than they resolved. Sadly, while the dispute lingered, NBC did nothing in demarcating the boundaries to establish the proper location and title to the disputed oil wells. This quirky conduct largely exposes all that is wrong with the establishment.
Rivers people must particularly appreciate Governor Wike’s hard work and all-consuming love for the state. We must remember that the previous administrations were indifferent about this issue. It is highly estimable that the present leadership in the state has secured at least a composite 30 oil wells domiciled in Rivers State through litigation. The governor must not let go of his advocacy of his people’s rights. His victories at the courts depict him as the veritable conscience of the nation.
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