Some civil servants in Rivers State are currently on massive voluntary retirement from service to beat
the June 2022 deadline for the implementation of the Defined Benefit Scheme (DBS) also known as the old pension scheme. Given the development, the state Director-General of the Pension Board, Ijeoma Samuel, advised the workers against rushing for discretionary retirement.
In a goodwill message at the 2022 Rivers State Civil Service New Year Thanksgiving/Dedication Service held recently at the Ministry of Justice hall in Port Harcourt, Samuel persuaded the civil servants to expect better days ahead and be productive to justify the government’s gigantic investments in them.
She revealed Rivers State Government’s plan to appraise and review the state pension law to ameliorate the challenges of civil servants. According to her, the law, when amended, would cover civil servants who would retire between June 2022 and 2025. By implication, the current mass retirement will push to the limit the finances of the state, since no budgetary provision may have been made for such venture.
The proposed review of the state pension law is indeed a laudable initiative. This will take in more civil servants under the DBS and give ample time for the implementation of the contributory scheme which has not been enforced since it was enacted. With this decision, we beseech civil servants in the state who are still contemplating leaving the service to have a rethink.
We advise the government to expedite action on the bill for the amendment of the law by forwarding it to the State House of Assembly for passage. No doubt, the amendment of the contributory pension scheme law will undertake the challenge being faced by civil servants in the state who have long retired under the law. We also impel quick enforcement of the amended law to stem untimely retirement from the service.
With a bloated civil service of more than 50,000 workforce and a growing army of pensioners, Governor Nyesom Wike inherited a pension’s problem that had persisted before 2007. The governor introduced a reformed scheme to tackle the situation. Pensions payment in Rivers State, like in many states, has been a thorny issue, with most of the affected retired workers going for months of unpaid pensions until the Governor Wike assumed office and cleared the arrears owed by his predecessor, Chibuike Amaechi, in 2015.
One major attraction in public service, despite its poor remuneration package, is the benefit of receiving a pension and a gratuity after retirement. But over the years, such a prospect has become problematic and uncertain in Nigeria. And this has worsened the woes of retired civil servants. It was in a bid to move beyond this tragic situation that the Pension Reforms Act of 2004 was enacted.
The new law was designed to address the failures of the old scheme — DBS. In its place, the Contributory Pension Scheme (CPS) was introduced wherein both the government and the workers are to save up a given amount of their earnings towards building up an accumulated funds reserve which the worker can fall back on after retirement.
But many workers dread the CPS option not only in Rivers State but across the nation because they lack adequate understanding of its workings coupled with the fact that it is successfully operated by only a few states. Indeed, in places where the scheme is successful, on retirement, the states would have computed the emoluments of the beneficiaries and disburse them to pension funds administrators (PFAs) without delay.
The significant shortfall in the number of eligible subscribers to the CPS calls for the need for operators to embark on mass education and awareness creation to reverse the prevailing negative attitude towards it. The scheme, which would be 18 years in a few months in Nigeria (June 2004 – 2022), is yet to be adopted wholeheartedly by several employers and their employees. Many state governments and their workers lack faith in the scheme to date.
Available statistics from the National Pension Commission (PenCom) estimated Nigeria’s working population at 70 million, out of which, about 45 million work in the formal sector that are eligible contributors to the CPS. However, only 9.4 million have keyed into the CPS scheme, meaning that over 40 million formal sector workers are outside pension coverage.
Among the informal sector workers, most of who are eligible contributors to the Micro Pension Scheme (MPS), recent statistics released by PenCom said only 73 million have registered in the MPS. Pension sector analysts said this goes to show the long gap between eligible contributors who are already captured in both the CPS and the MPS and those outside them.
The provisions of the Pension Act demands that the government issues bonds in favour of retired workers, which will be redeemed to the PFAs which will credit the same to the accounts of the individual staff. Therefore, the non-remittance of the deductions of staff is a clear breach of the provisions of the Pension Reforms Act and that perhaps explains why pension liabilities in the country today run into hundreds of billions of Naira, making it undesirable.
Rivers State has no reason to be found in that category. Beyond amending the pension law, we exhort the Rivers State Government to keep faith in its obligations to retirees. While we highly commend the governor for the regular payment of salaries and monthly pensions, which is critical to workers’ welfare, it is only fair and just to enlist more retirees on the monthly payroll, pay gratuities and other benefits to soothe the nerves of retired persons, especially after the workers had been faithful in making appropriate contributions to the state while in active service.
Hurray! Rivers Is 55
FRONT PAGE COMMENT
Today, Friday, May 27, 2022, is the 55th anniversary of the creation of Rivers State by the former Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon, GCFR. States’ creation on May 27, 1967, was the biggest successful undertaking to conserve and guarantee the interests of the minorities in Nigeria. It was also an onslaught on the backbone of the four regions at that time in the country. They were Northern, Western, Eastern and Mid-Western Regions.
The founding of 12 states was one of the most audacious and remarkable initiatives of the military regime. This resolution was indicative of the desire of Nigerians to gain greater autonomy and self-determination. The development is a heartfelt reflection of one of Gowon’s most deeply held intentions for his initiative, which was to ameliorate the often-expressed fear of regional hegemony of the South by the North in the political affairs of the nation. As an effect, the introduction of a balance in the regional order through the creation of six Northern states and six Southern states was carefully considered.
The 12 states were the North-Western State, North-Eastern State, Kano State, North-Central State, Benue-Plateau State, Kwara State, Western State, Lagos State, Mid-Western State, Rivers State, South-Eastern State, and East-Central State. However, the twelve states have since metamorphosed into thirty-six federating units, giving new and more fundamental relevance to the original intention of Gowon’s definitive action.
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Gowon’s desire to strengthen national unity and prevent more instability led him to explore support for the states’ creation exercise from an extensive cross-section of regional leaders before declaring the new order. In the Eastern Region, the whimper for the creation of the Calabar – Ogoja – Rivers (COR) State had sprouted increasingly vocal and in the North, the aspirations of the Middle Belt movement had also become a major source of prominent dissatisfaction in the region.
The battle, agitations, and creation of Old Rivers State, now Bayelsa and Rivers, commenced in about 1939 and climaxed in 1967. The state as constituted then was under the Eastern group of provinces in 1939 with administrative headquarters in Enugu. The group of provinces later became the Eastern Region of Nigeria, made up of Ibos, as the dominant ethnic nationality with other minorities comprising the region. The minorities included the Ijaw, Ibibio, Efik, Anang, Ogoja, Ikwerre, Ibani, Ekpeye, Engenni, Ogba, Kalabari, Nembe, and Ogoni, among others.
Rivers State in the Niger Delta region is unique. Popularly known as the Treasure Base of the Nation, the state’s uniqueness is not without basis. The abundance of human and natural resources coupled with the hospitality of its people, among other considerations, make the state standout shoulder-high among its contemporaries. Its proclamation by Gowon as a distinct state was, indeed, a realisation of the vision of the founding fathers, who over several decades, bemoaned the marginalisation by the prominent ethnic groups in the Nigerian project, particularly the Ibos, who co-habited the then Eastern Region with its capital in Enugu.
Starting up with its first Military Governor, Navy Commander Alfred Papapriye Diete-Spiff in 1967 to the present administration of Governor Nyesom Wike, successive administrations, both military and civilian alike, have made significant contributions to making the state the enviable one it is today. From the creation of Bayelsa State in 1996 to the exponential growth in the education sector, human capital development, infrastructural revolution, health sector development, national political relevance, active participation in the global economic renaissance and bold presence on the world entertainment stage, Rivers State can indeed be said to have come of age.
Perhaps except for the epoch of the pioneer administration, at no other time in history has the state experienced so great a level of transformation of its landscape as is being realised under the present administration of Governor Nyesom Wike. From an extensive urban regeneration effort that has seen the rebuilding of state-owned assets and city roads to meet present-day needs and the building of nearly ten new flyovers to the vast road infrastructure being built in all parts of the state, the Wike’s administration is truly working hard to realise the objectives of the founding fathers of the state.
By the effort of the state government, Opobo and some adjoining communities have been made accessible to the state capital by road while the same fortune is soon to be enjoyed by erstwhile disconnected people of the Kalabari Kingdom through the construction of the Trans-Kalabari Road. By the same token, a courageous move has been initiated to create more urban centres in Rivers State through the siting of campuses of the Rivers State University in Etche, Ahoada and Emohua.
The political class in the state, in particular, must utilise this event of the 55th anniversary of the creation of the state to evaluate and determine to eschew bitterness, rancour and acrimony in their contention for political power and leadership over the people. The struggle for the creation of Rivers State accomplished the desired results because the Rivers political elite, traditional rulers and the youth of the time shared a rare and uncommon sense of oneness, purpose, selflessness and indeed drive for service to the fatherland.
That widely acclaimed Rivers spirit of love and commitment to selfless service have waned significantly, leaving in their stead, a threat to public peace activated by political greed, selfishness and an unguided quest for personal and sectional aggrandisement far and above love for the state. The clarion call is, therefore, for leaders at all strata to introspect and purge themselves of all tendencies that are inimical to the overall development and prosperity of the state.
We must remind ourselves, especially the political class, that it took selfless sacrifices, personal denials and unrelenting activism from the foundational leaders to achieve for us the state that we now call our own. All must, therefore, embrace peace, tolerance, and good brotherliness and seek civil and lawful means to address all grievances and disagreements because strife, violent confrontations and aggressive engagements will only destroy the time-endured bonds of togetherness that have bound our people for years.
The founding fathers’ relentless struggle to question the imbalance and injustice of the Nigerian federation remains the philosophy behind the creation of the state. Their mission and vision were to ensure that Rivers State gets its pride of place in the geo-political entity called Nigeria. The question to date, however, remains whether that vision has been achieved or not. More than any other time in our history, the need to re-enact and revive the values, sentiments, philosophies, and spirit that formed the driving force of the founding fathers to victory is now.
On the whole, The Tide congratulates the government and people of Rivers State on this momentous occasion of the 55th anniversary of the state’s creation. All hands must be on deck to make the state a habitation of safety, security, peace, prosperity and an unhindered opportunity for the pursuit of happiness for everyone who lives and does business in it.
Task Before Peseiro
Little over a week ago, the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) announced that Portuguese born football coach, Jose Vitor dos Santos Peseiro would take charge of the Nigerian national team, Super Eagles. This announcement- cum confirmation came on the heels of recent disengagement of the coaching crew of the Super Eagles led by Coach Augustine Eguavoen and Emmanuel Amuneke.
The crew and their team had failed to qualify the country for the 2022 FIFA World Cup billed to hold in Qatar later in the year, after losing out to the Black Stars of Ghana on away goals rule in one of the final qualifying matches in the continent.
Interestingly, this would not be the first time Peseiro would be associated with the NFF and Super Eagles. The well-travelled coach was said to be as line to take over from Eguavoen immediately after the recent African Cup of Nations staged in Cameroon. After the team flattered to deceive at the continental championship, exiting in the first knockout stage, Peseiro was not to be an Eguavoen, who was in charge on interim capacity, was mandated to continue as Head-coach.
Now that the Portuguese gaffer has been handed the opportunity to lead the Super Eagles, one of the top promising sides in the continent, despite the fact that many observers see him as a failure. It is our expectation that he would hit the ground running and return performances and mood in the national team to upward swing once again.
Indeed, the curriculum vitae of Coach Peseiro looks rich with exposure and experience, having coached top football clubs and national teams across Europe, Asia, Africa and South America. His trophy cabinet is more of being half empty than half full. However, with a Degree in Physical Education/Sports Sciences top level coaching qualification and cognate coaching experiences in clubs such as Sporting Lisbon, FC Porto, Panthimaikos, Rapid Bucharest, Sporting Braga, Victoria Guimarais, Al Hilal, Al-Wahda, Al-Ahly, Cairo, Sharjah FC and Real Madrid, as well as Saudi Arabian and Venezuelan national teams, we expect that his glory count would begin with the Super Eagles.
Though the process of engagement and choice of the coach witnessed some measure of resentment from the Federal Ministry of Sports, and his contract, without stipulated duration, raises more questions than answers, there is huge expectations of Nigerians from him. The NFF in a statement had stated that Mr. Peseiro’s appointment was with immediate effect, subject to the signing of agreed terms between him and the Federation.
This is why we want the coach and his immediate employers, the NFF, to ensure that they cross all the ‘t’s and dot the ‘i’s early enough in order to ensure mutual understanding and good working relations.
It is unfortunate that the nascent Super Eagles Coach would be taking charge soon after the Qatar 2022 World Cup qualifying disappointment, coupled with low morale and anguish amongst the team and Nigerians. We, therefore, urge Peseiro to swing into action immediately and coax the team to life without delay, considering the imminent 2023 AFCON qualifying series.
The new coach will, in his official outing lead out the Super Eagles in a double-headed friendly games in a tour of the United States of America against the Mexican and Ecuadorian national teams, beginning this weekend. The Eagles will flex muscles with the EL Tri of Mexico at the AT&T Stadium in Dallas on Saturday before flying to New Jersey to confront Ecuador at the Red Bull Arena in Harrison on June 2.
These friendlies, we believe are opportunities for Peseiro to announce himself not only to Nigerians but fans of the national team all over the globe. He should see the matches beyond being mere friendlies but use them to make a bold and early statement of intent and show what he can bring to the team.
From the 2021 AFCON to the 2022 Qatar World Cup disappointments, it was obvious that what the Super Eagles lacked were neither quality nor enthusiasm, but tactical and technical edge to manouvre beyond stubborn and well organised opposition. Peseiro must show that he has really studied and understood the Super Eagles not by winning the forthcoming friendly matches, but by making statements with the overall performance of the team as a unit.
Beyond the friendly games, the new coach should be ready to identify and harness the plethora of talents within and outside Nigeria to ensure that any player invited to the national team truly deserves to don the national colours. Moreover, football fans in Nigeria follow and see the game as an elixir, a unifying factor that offers momentary escape route from the challenges of life. They will expect the coach to always deliver, while paying little or no attention to any of his handicaps or challenges.
Thus, we expect him to consult and compare notes with identified stakeholders, particularly his immediate predecessor, who is still around as the Technical Director of the NFF. In all, we demand that merit and not favouritism should be the yardstick in inviting players to camp, no matter where such player plies his trade. He must be fair and firm in his decisions as far as squad and team selections are concerned without leaving a window for manipulation from interests within and outside the NFF. We say so because at the end of the day, he will be held responsible and take the glory or otherwise of the team’s success or failure.
Beyond the Super Eagles, we think that the domestic league should feel the impact of the new coach. There should be one or two elements that we expect from him to rub off on the league apart from giving opportunities to players from the league and watching domestic matches live, from time to time.
The NFF, we also believe must pull necessary positive strings to ensure that the coach not only succeeds but leads the national team to the next level. Availing the coach a free hand and conducive atmosphere is not negotiable as well as setting out their terms of contract targets and goals from the onset.
While we agree that Coach Peseiro must earn his stripes and prove that he deserves to lead the Super Eagles of Nigeria, the NFF, other critical stakeholders and indeed, all Nigerians must not only show him support, he should be accorded all necessary assistance to lift the Super Eagles and place them on the path of glory again.
Deborah: Let Justice Be Served
Once again, religious extremism in Nigeria has been clearly discernible for its ultimate purpose in the expression of violence by the actors. The penultimate week, some Muslim students of Shehu Shagari College of Education, Sokoto, in Sokoto State, stoned and battered Deborah Yakubu Samuel, a 200-level student of Home Economics, to death for alleged blasphemy. Shortly thereafter, the murderers set the lifeless body on fire. It was one of the most horrific murders to contemplate, but not the first cold-blooded savagery.
Deborah reportedly protested the exhibition of religious messages on the student’s WhatsApp platform. Her howling exacerbated certain Muslim students, who mobilised and then killed her. The unmannerly killing of the young female student is not a sequestrated incident. Many Muslims and non-Muslims judged to have slandered Islam, or its prophet, have accepted a similar fate in the region. This evil is in direct contrast with a just and civilised culture.
That such bestial behaviour occurred in a citadel of learning and in daylight is not only regrettable, but is symptomatic of the omnipresent nature of religious extremism in Northern Nigeria. Unchecked, it has birthed and sustained a 13-year-old bloody jihadist insurgency that has spread from the North-East through the Northern region and earned the country stardom as the world’s third most terrorised nation.
Similar incidents often occur in Northern Nigeria. In 2007, Muslim students in Gombe lynched their Christian teacher for defiling the Quran. There have been other cataclysmic attacks and killings of alleged blasphemers in predominantly Muslim areas in Kano, Niger and other parts of the North. Those charged with blasphemy were sentenced to death by the Sharia courts in Kano. Others, such as Mubarak Bala, were sentenced to lengthy jail terms. Some Muslim clerics and state officials have publicly approved the execution of blasphemers.
Gideon Akaluka was decapitated in Kano in 1995, falsely accused of defiling the Quran. Sharia riots in the year 2000 left over 4,000 persons dead across several Northern states. In 2002, by protesting against the Miss World beauty contest billed for Kaduna that year, the fanatics killed more than 250 people. Furthermore, in 1987, a female Islamic zealot accused a speaker at a Christian fellowship at the College of Education, Kafanchan, of blasphemy. Her fellow Muslims mobilised and burnt churches and relaxation centres across Kaduna and other states. Scores died.
There has been expeditious, unambiguous expansive denunciation of the outrage, including from significant Northern and Islamic chieftains like the Sultan of Sokoto, Sa’ad Abubakar III, and the Sokoto State Governor, Aminu Tambuwal. Commendably, esteemed Islamic clerics insist that the action of the mob does not reflect their religion. But prevarication and extenuation are still emerging from certain quarters.
President Muhammadu Buhari reacted belatedly to Deborah’s horrible murder over 36 hours after the despicable act. Although he denounced the murder, nevertheless, with a pontification to religious and community leaders to draw people’s attention to the need to exercise the right to freedom of expression in a responsible manner. That was rather disconcerting. Inadvertently, the President’s answer may have set the stage for politicising or escalating blame, especially on the victim.
The infelicitous action of the mob is definitely a crime. It is incumbent upon the government to identify those who perpetrated this heinous crime. They should be apprehended and brought to trial in haste. The next step is to determine if there has been negligence on the part of the school authorities and the police and to take appropriate action. Buhari and Tambuwal need to let religious fanatics know that Nigeria remains an amalgamated secular state.
At the instigation of certain religious extremists, Deborah’s killers assembled in parts of Sokoto to protest the arrest of only two of the killers, demanding their release. During this process, a person was killed and churches were attacked while businesses were plundered. They surrounded and tried to burn down the palace of the Sultan, as well as the church and office of the Catholic Bishop of Sokoto. Only an immediate security response rescued the situation.
Carnage by extremists in Northern Nigeria must end. Human rights activist and Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Femi Falana, has demanded justice for Deborah. Reacting in a statement, Falana urged Governor Tambuwal and other relevant stakeholders to ensure that justice was served in the matter. According to him, out of the 190 victims subjected to mob justice and killed in Nigeria in the last two years, Sokoto is ahead of other states with 13 cases.
Under former United States President, Donald Trump, the United States had taken a renewed interest in religious freedom issues worldwide, with a specific focus on persecuted Christians. Trump released an executive order on advancing international religious freedom. The order directed the State Department and United States Agency for International Development to act to combat religious freedom violations and called for a budget of at least $50 million for programmes to fight religious violence and persecution abroad and protect religious minorities.
But the U.S. efforts have borne little fruit so far in Nigeria. Multiple reports have been coming in of increased killings. According to a report by the United Kingdom-based Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust, more than 1,000 Christians were killed in Nigeria in 2019. The organisation further reported that at that point, 6,000 Nigerians had been killed and 12,000 displaced since 2015. Attacks on Christians have spiked under Buhari’s administration.
Religious fanaticism prevails in the North because the violators are not severely punished. Instead, they are permitted to go scot-free. State governments aggravate the situation by promoting religion, which violates the express provision of Article 10 of the 1999 Constitution: “The government of the federation or of a state shall not adopt any religion as state religion.” The Nigerian State must dissociate from religion. There should be mass education and zero-tolerance for lawlessness.
We reject any suggestion of validation of Deborah’s killers and their motives. In a secular society, blasphemy should not be a criminal offence. Each religion is exclusive, and its followers operate according to pig-headedly held beliefs. Consequently, all classes of society must take concerted action against this heinous killing; strong enough to prohibit others permanently. All Deborah’s murderers must be apprehended and charged immediately. The Federal Government needs to put an end to this crudity.
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