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Editorial

Ending The Scourge Of Malaria 

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The fight against malaria experienced some setbacks worldwide in 2020. The outbreak of Coronavirus
shifted global attention towards its fight and prevention and away from several other diseases.  The result was an increase in deaths from malaria from 558,000 in 2019 to 627,000 in 2020. Moreover, the number of cases increased from 227 million in 2019 to 241 million in 2020. This shows a 6.17% increase in incidents and a 12.37% increase in deaths to malaria in 2020.
To put the world back on track, this year’s World Malaria Day (WMD) is tagged “Harness Innovation to Reduce the Malaria Disease Burden and Save Lives.” This aims to rechannel funds, efforts, and attention towards the fight against malaria to eradicate it by 2030. The World Health Organisation (WHO), which established April 25 each year as WMD in 2007, explained that this is to underscore the collective energy and commitment of the global malaria community in uniting around the common goal of a world free of malaria.
Given the ravages of the disease globally and particularly in Nigeria, this project should be strongly prosecuted and with many more resources. Experts are disturbed that despite efforts to contain the illness, Nigeria loses over $1.1 billion (N645.7 billion) yearly to prevention and treatment of the disease and other costs. According to them, malaria killed no fewer than 200,000 Nigerians and afflicted 61 million others in 2021. They also said Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo), Tanzania and Mozambique accounted for over half of all malaria deaths.
Malaria is a life-threatening disease. It is caused by a parasite transmitted to humans through the bite of an infected female Anopheles mosquito. It is the most deadly creature in the world in casualty rates. Through its bite, it injects the plasmodium parasite in humans, which has five species, with P falciparum, the most deadly. WHO said there were 241 million cases of malaria reported worldwide in 2020. It killed 627,000 persons that year. Not surprisingly, 95 per cent of the cases were found in sub-Saharan Africa and 96 per cent of the deaths.
The World Malaria Report 2021 reaffirmed the sorry reality of Nigeria and other sub-Saharan African countries: 80 per cent of all malaria deaths in the region were of children under age five. This is an unacceptably high toll that should be reversed at all costs. President Muhammadu Buhari and all the state governors should pay attention to these appalling figures.
Nigeria, with 31.9 per cent of the total, led three other African countries to account for over half of the total global deaths. It was followed by Congo DR’s 13.2 per cent; Tanzania’s 4.1 per cent, and Mozambique’s 3.8 per cent. One study described malaria as Nigeria’s topmost public health challenge, accounting for 30 per cent of all under-five deaths, 25 per cent of deaths in infants and 11 per cent of maternal mortality.
The United States Centers for Disease Control declared, “Costs to governments include maintenance, supply, and staffing of health facilities; purchase of drugs and supplies; public health interventions against malaria, such as insecticide spraying or distribution of insecticide-treated bed nets; lost days of work with resulting loss of income; and lost opportunities for joint economic ventures and tourism.” It estimates combined direct costs to the afflicted areas at $12 billion each year.
In addition, malaria increases Africa’s GDP by 1.3 per cent yearly. This is heart-wrenching for a continent that lags behind all others on the development index. Nevertheless, the good thing is that the disease is both preventable and curable. Following the disturbing statistics from the global health body, Nigeria must purposefully trigger and restart old operations.
Nigeria has been unable to utilise global interventions to reduce the intensity of the disease. Sadly, both the 1998 Roll Back Malaria project aimed at malaria burden reduction by at least 50 per cent, and the 2005 Abuja Declaration to upturn malaria encumbrance, were improperly implemented. To date, the country has not done much to reverse the trend. Like other national programmes, inconsistency and poor enforcement have dogged it.
Both the federal and state governments have to carry out actions to exterminate malaria. They should execute programmes to preserve a healthy environment for vector control, make insecticide-treated nets available free to homes, finance preventative and remedial medicines, and rigorously embrace the WHO regulations on malaria control. Corrupt government officials who misappropriate donated insecticide-treated nets for personal profit should be prosecuted.
Hospitals need to be equipped, while medical workers should be motivated. There is a need to clear drainages and retool the Primary Health Centres to turn the tide against malaria. Local governments should fund health centres, accompanied by effective sanitation activities. The sanitary inspection system that was effective in the First Republic should be revived, upgraded, well-funded and its staff trained and encouraged.
In a goodwill message on the occasion, the Rivers State Government reiterated its political will and commitment to reducing the disease burden of Rivers people. The Deputy Governor, Dr Ipalibo Harry Banigo, stated this in Government House, Port Harcourt, to commemorate World Malaria Day 2022. Under the watch of the state governor, Chief Nyesom Wike, the prevalence rate of malaria had reduced significantly to 11.3 per cent against the national prevalence of 24 per cent, she noted.
Further statistics from WHO State Coordinator, Dr Okafor Chinenye, revealed that Rivers State was closest to achieving WHO’s pre-elimination phase of 5 per cent positivity rate. Chinenye, who was represented by WHO’s Information, Planning, Monitoring, and Evaluation Focal Point in the state, Mr Akuneto Reagan, said the last national survey of 2018, showed that the state had the lowest malaria prevalence in the entire South-South zone at 11%.
With that, Rivers modestly ranks among the best five states in Nigeria. This gigantic success, no doubt, is credited to Governor Wike whose robust health policy in the state is second to none. While we sincerely commend the government for the monumental achievement, the good news is a reason to be more cautious to ensure that more is done to keep the state continuously on the malaria elimination track.
As part of our commitment to the reduction of the malaria burden and saving lives in the state, Rivers people must take responsibility to keep their environment clean, get rid of stagnant water, sleep under insecticide-treated bed nets, and test for malaria before medication in the quest to control and eliminate the ailment. Importantly, the federal and state governments should fund preventive treatment during pregnancy to decrease the burden of malaria in pregnant women, as experts say pregnancy reduces a woman’s immunity to malaria.

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Editorial

Emefiele, Resign Now

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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.

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Editorial

17 Oil Wells: Kudos To Wike

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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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Editorial

APC’s Insensitive Form Price

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The sale of the expression of interest and nomination forms for aspirants contemplating various elective positions on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC) is not only outrageous, but it is also against Nigerian youths interested in contesting in the 2023 general election. The announcement sparked verbal attacks on the ruling party, with many questioning the rationale behind the fixing of the amount, which has been described as “ridiculous”.
The APC has pegged the amounts for expression of interest and nomination forms for presidential, governorship, Senate, House of Representatives and State Houses of Assembly seats for N100 million, N50 million, N20 million, N10 million and N2 million respectively. Except for a criminal and a corrupt person, an average Nigerian cannot contest for a position in the ruling party, further exposing its depraved tendencies.
Clearly, the outrageous cost of forms vitiates the principles upon which the party campaigned and was voted into power. Nigerians should be concerned that the APC, which was supposedly founded on the values and ideals of progressive philosophy, would make pre-qualification for elective offices – at state and national level – the exclusive preserve of party members with either great personal wealth or that have unlimited access to other sources of funding.
Some persons have argued that the reason for the exorbitant cost of nomination forms was simply to prune the number of contenders or to delineate the pretenders from the contenders. However, we insist that the argument is flawed. There are ample objective criteria such as integrity, experience, character, political antecedents, empathy, intelligence, and goodwill, among others, which could be employed to enable the emergence of genuinely qualified candidates.
The danger this poses to the party is that many prospective and otherwise eminently qualified office-seekers that do not possess enormous personal wealth will, in every practical sense, be precluded from seeking party nomination, regardless of the depth and breadth of their popular support. Personal wealth was not the yardstick of assessment that enabled President Muhammadu Buhari to emerge as the flag-bearer of the party in 2015 and 2019.
The APC owes it to itself and the teeming Nigerians who voted it into power for two consecutive terms, to remain a party of true progressives and a true party of progressives. The current party position on the cost of forms for expression of interest and nomination for elective offices appears to vitiate the very principles upon which the party campaigned and was elected.
For the 2019 general election, the party pegged its presidential form at N45m, while in 2015, it collected N27.5m. Recall that President Buhari had, while picking the form in the build-up to the 2015 general election, lamented its cost and also claimed to have taken a loan to buy it. Unlike the ruling party, the leading opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) had pegged its presidential forms for the 2023 general elections at N40m. In 2018, the party sold it for N12m.
A Nigerian President receives a total salary package of N1.17 million monthly. This sum is inclusive of a basic monthly salary of N292,892, a hardship allowance of N146,446 monthly, and a consistency allowance of N732,230 per month. The annual salary of a Nigerian President stands at N14.05 million. In seven years, the figure would jump to N98.5 million. In four years, the maximum a President can earn is N56.2 million, slightly above half of what APC is asking presidential aspirants to pay to get the country’s top job.
Undoubtedly, the imposition of such exorbitant costs will embolden fraud and become a vehicle to completely marginalise and exclude some people from the presidential race. Moreover, the cost of the forms is not part of the several billions of Naira aspirants will incur to campaign around the country. They fly chartered aircraft and pay high accommodation costs to lodge their guests and mobilisers.
It is heartrending that President Buhari, who rode into office in 2015 on the promise to fight corruption, has kept mum about the outrageous cost of forms. In 2014, Buhari described the N27.5 million fee for the forms as exorbitant, confessing he had to take out a bank loan to purchase his party’s intent form for the presidential race. The N100 million pegged for the 2023 presidential intent form is several per cent higher than what the party collected for the 2015 election.
Denouncing the astronomical cost of nomination and expression of interest forms of the APC, National Publicity Secretary of Afenifere, Jare Ajayi, said only dishonest politicians could afford it. We agree with him, no less. The APC’s despicable decision only aims at marginalising youths, women and the average citizens who have clamoured to improve opportunities to exercise their rights to declare their interests and contest in the elections.
The cost of the forms has defeated the essence of the Not Too Young Act, signed by the President on May 31, 2018. This administration signed the Not Too Young To Run Act to give youths a chance at participating in the political process. Now, what kind of job would a youth of perhaps 30 years have done to save as much as N50 million regarding the APC? It is hard to imagine a young person who can muster the courage to buy the form at such an enormous cost.
Given the high price of the forms, the ruling party is simply saying that politics is not for the poor but the rich. It also means that anybody who gets into office after paying such a tremendous nomination fee will have to recoup their money, thereby enabling corruption in public offices. This party has devalued and destroyed the Naira and might want to erode it further.
The only reasonable alternative left is for the National Working Committee (NWC) of the party to rethink its position on the matter, which is already generating a lot of debate and controversy from within and without the party. It is never too late to reduce the cost and make refunds. Truly, the APC has inadvertently been made a party of the wealthy by the wealthy for the wealthy.

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