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Editorial

Declining Fortunes Of Press Freedom 

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This year’s World Press Freedom Day (WPFD) was observed yesterday, May 3, 2020, to high light the fundamental principles of press freedom, and to defend the media from attacks on their independence. WPFD is also known as World Press Day. The day similarly honours journalists who were killed and aims at spreading awareness about the primacy of press freedom.
WPFD is a scheme from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) to bolster and think about the function of media organisations and professionals. Its objective is to hold governments to account for their undertaking to freedom of the press and to enable the press to reflect on professional ethics. Freedom of the press fosters a more democratic, stronger and inclusive society and is essential for the protection and promotion of human rights.
The theme of this year’s International Press Freedom Day is “Journalism Under Digital Siege.” The goal is to underline the role of information in an online media environment. Many independent and dedicated journalists and media workers around the world keep exposing injustice in their countries and contribute to building a better future. A lot are encountering daily assault, brutality and stalking, both online and offline.
World Press Day was proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in December, 1993, following the recommendation of UNESCO’s General Conference. Since then, May 3, the anniversary of the Declaration of Windhoek, the Namibian capital, has been celebrated worldwide as World Press Freedom Day.
Freedom of the press is widely acknowledged to be the engine of democracy. Thomas Macaulay, the British statesman and historian in the 19th century, said, “The Fourth Estate ranks in importance equally with the three estates of the realm, the Lords Spiritual, the Lords Temporal and the Lords Common.” As the French writer, Benjamin Constant, noted, “With newspapers, there is sometimes disorder; without them, there is always slavery.”
Regrettably, press freedom has come under relentless onslaughts in Nigeria despite clear provisions of the 1999 Constitution in Section 39. For instance, the two journalists shot to death in July, 2019 and January, while covering the demonstrations of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria, are only two extremes.
Police, military and other security personnel regularly harass journalists and media outfits. In January, 2019, armed soldiers and Department of State Services (DSS) agents raided the Daily Trust offices in Maiduguri, Borno State and Lagos at the same time. They apprehended two journalists, alleging that the newspaper “leaked classified military information and sapped national security.”
Police in Ebonyi State, following threats by Governor David Umahi to “ban” the duo for alleged inauspicious reports, independently arrested the correspondents of The Sun and The Vanguard newspapers in Abakaliki, the state capital. This is not all. Journalists also learnt of Governor Ben Ayade’s rant and rave in Cross River State, where one of them, Agba Jalingo, was suspected of treason.
In February, 2020, the Committee to Protect Journalists disclosed how the police and the DSS had been improperly using the Nigerian Communications Act 2003 to tap into phones to track and lure journalists into detention. The law requires network service providers to help security agencies with crime prevention and national security, but it has often been used to badger the media.
Subsequent to the extensive attacks on journalists after Jones Abiri, Agba Jalingo and Omoyele Sowore, an online editor, were detained, The Guardian of London cautioned that under the regime of President Muhammadu Buhari, a “climate of fear” appeared looming as continuous attempts to gag the press “could herald a return to the dark days of military rule.”  We agree. These may be well-known in dictatorships, but they are the very converse in democracies.
The mugging has to stop. Harassment should be combated by the appropriate use of the law. Like the illustrious human rights lawyer, the late Gani Fawehinmi, took up the case of Minere Amakiri, a journalist who was sequestered, whipped and forcefully shaven on the orders of the then military governor of old Rivers State, Alfred Diete-Spiff, public-spirited lawyers should provide services to oppressed journalists, especially smaller ones, and online outlets.
There is no hesitancy that Buhari would not have been President without a free press. Power is short-lived; Buhari has long been in opposition. As spokesman for the opposition party, Lai Mohammed used the free press and social media with merciless ardency against the Goodluck Jonathan administration. Leaders should expand on the democratic space instead of shutting it down.
Maria Ressa, a journalist, and founder of the news organisation, Rappler, in the Philippines, said in 2018: “You don’t really know who you are until you’re forced to fight to defend it … We will hold the line.” Nigerian journalists should hold the line here as well. All Nigerians have a duty to defend the rights to free expression and the press. That is where we stand!

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Editorial

Enough Of Legislative Rascality In Rivers

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The political deadlock in Rivers State is showing no sign of abating, with the State House of Assembly voting once more to nullify Governor Siminalayi Fubara’s veto of the Rivers State Assembly Service Commission Bill. This is in addition to the one that occurred in January, when the legislators went against some of the governor’s decisions about four other bills, claiming it could cause chaos and violate certain laws.
The four bills include the Rivers State Local Government Law (Amendment) Bill; Rivers State Traditional Rulers’ Law (Amendment) Bill; Rivers State Advertisement and Use of State-owned Property Prohibition (Repeal) Bill and Rivers State House of Assembly Fund Management Bill. Unlike before, the amendment to the Assembly Service Commission Law now permits the Assembly to appoint the chairman and members of the Commission, not the governor.
But legal experts say that the amended law violates the 1999 Constitution, which prohibits the Assembly from overstepping the governor’s authority to appoint the chairman and other members of the Commission. If that position is accurate, then the Rivers State House of Assembly Service Commission (Amendment) Law, 2024, is legally void. The question is: why is Rivers State different if the President, working with the National Assembly, nominates members of the National Assembly Service Commission?
In yet another controversial move, the State Assembly has passed a bill to amend the Rivers State Public Procurement (Amendment) Law No. 1 of 2021. The bill, which was put forward at the 127th sitting, aimed to delete Section 3 of the 2021 Amendment Law to limit mobilisation fees to suppliers or contractors to not more than 20 per cent. We condemn this ill-motivated enactment, as the same Assembly had previously amended the law in 2021 to allow for 100 per cent payment of mobilisation fees to contractors.
While the House maintains that the laws are intended to bring more balance of power, we perceive it as an audacious endeavour to humiliate the governor and diminish his position. This power contest between the legislative and executive arms is unsettling and detrimental to the state. It is incomprehensible why the same Assembly members failed to challenge any bills during former Governor Nyesom Wike’s tenure, which period they also served as lawmakers.
We advise the state lawmakers to be wary of their actions and always prioritise the well-being of Rivers people by operating collaboratively with Governor Fubara. They should set aside their deep-rooted prejudices and concentrate on enacting good legislation to benefit the citizens. We insist that the governor should be allowed to administer the state freely in line with his constitutional mandate to ensure stability and progress in the state.
It is time for our renegade legislators to pay attention to their duties and not allow their paymaster to manipulate them for his narcissistic purposes. We find it disappointing to see those in power succumb to high-level corruption and disregard the people’s needs because of politics. What we need now is unity and cooperation, not the constant harassment of Fubara to create tension and division.
When individuals who are supposed to uphold the law and safeguard the people’s interests are being used as pawns in a murky political game, it is a sad state of affairs. The lawmakers need to understand that they owe it to the people of Rivers State to buck any attempts to jeopardise their integrity and independence. The trust of the people they represent is undermined by letting themselves be controlled, which also erodes their credibility.
Repealing and re-enacting laws without careful consideration by these lawgivers is reckless and unacceptable. Their actions could cause a crisis in the state, making governance more challenging. They need to understand that any problem they ignite will not only affect the general public but also themselves and their loved ones. That is why the legislators must contemplate the repercussions of the laws they revoke or make and how such statuses will impact their interests and all residents of the state.
Speaker Martins Amaewhule and his cohorts are pushing the boundaries of their rascality too far. After elections, politics in most states ends, allowing for genuine governance to take over. Unfortunately, this is not the scenario in Rivers, where political turbulence is destroying the state’s economy. If these parliamentarians truly cared about the state in which interest they have always claimed to act, they would end the ardent political imbroglio and unnecessary power struggles causing divisions and increased insecurity
Political tenseness in a state can sidetrack the attention of the government away from enforcing impressive policies to tackle challenges and promote progress. It is estimated that Rivers State has lost about N2 trillion in public sector investments over the past 12 years due to unrest in the political arena. Numerous projects valued at over N1.91 trillion have been impeded, along with other economic activities that could have profited many.
Some of the losses include the N250 billion bond approved in 2010 to build listed projects. However, a political dire straits in 2012 compelled the state to resort to bridging loans from commercial banks, as opposed to Lagos State that took bonds. The World Bank water project, that was supposed to transform Port Harcourt into a modern city, was allegedly not endorsed by the Goodluck Jonathan administration following political upheavals in the state.
To transform Port Harcourt into a fast and efficient transportation centre, the government invested over N20 billion in the monorail project. However, once Wike became the governor, he abandoned it. Former Governor Chibuike Amaechi used to set aside N100 billion each year for the Greater Port Harcourt City project, but Wike, following political disagreements with his predecessor, neglected it and instead used it as a means to reward his supporters. The unstable political climate prevented the realisation of these public sector investments, which could have greatly expanded the state’s economy.
Rivers people are indeed fed up with waking up every day to distressing news from the political space. Amaewhule and his troublesome allies must be told that enough is enough. The inept lawmakers should put aside their personal interests and those of their principal and work with Governor Fubara, who has been brandishing the olive branch to advance the state. Rivers State needs peace and development.

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Editorial

Another Look At Capital Punishment

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There are far too many prisoners in Nigeria’s correctional facilities. Thousands of them are awaiting trial inmates, while others are either serving their jail terms or have received death sentences. The approximate number of death row convicts in custodial facilities around the nation as of July 2022 was 3,145. Of the figure, 3,084 were men and 61 women, according to the Nigerian Correctional Service. This has over time put the process of decongesting the correctional facilities all but impossible.
As governors decline to sign the death warrants for the condemned, the number of the individuals on death row is growing, sparking reservations among human rights advocates and attorneys about what might happen to the prisoners. A few of them have proposed converting the death penalty to life in prison. Others contend that the death sentence ought to be abolished under the constitution if the governors are unwilling to sign the warrants. Femi Falana, SAN, maintains that keeping a prisoner on death row for a considerable amount of time is torture.
Despite repeated calls by the Federal Government for state governors to exercise their constitutional responsibility of signing death warrants of criminals condemned to death by courts of competent jurisdictions, no death row inmate has been executed in the last 10 years. Governors are delaying the wheel of justice and contributing to congestion in correctional centres by refusing to sign the death warrants. States should share in the burden of decongesting custodial facilities in the country.
Crimes that are punishable by death include homicide, kidnapping, and murder. The governors must still sign the warrants after the judges issue these orders for the execution to proceed. Over time, the governors, who are liable for confirming execution orders, have been dodging their role, which has made the already cramped jails even more cluttered. They justify their refusal to append the warrants by citing political correctness and feelings.
One of the most contentious and frequently discussed subjects in the world is the death penalty. Numerous organisations observe that it is cruel and barbarous. Its opponents frequently compare it to murder, pointing out that it has no effect on homicide rates and that the ends do not always substantiate the methods, particularly when people are wrongfully condemned.
Since Nigeria is yet to consider abolishing or suspending the death penalty, the onus is on the governors to take the correct course of action. The number of nations that have done so is expanding. According to the Death Penalty Information Centre, almost 70 per cent of nations worldwide have either outlawed or discontinued the death penalty. Kazakhstan and Papua New Guinea are among the most recent nations to ban it.
By the end of 2021, 108 countries had abolished the death penalty for all crimes under the law; 144 countries had done the same in practice; 28 countries had done so in effect by not carrying out an execution in the previous ten years; and 55 countries still applied the death penalty for common crimes. This information comes from data provided by Amnesty International.
However, proponents of capital punishment often view it as a necessary evil to protect society from individuals who commit the most heinous crimes. Despite the declarations from former Governors Seriake Dickson of Bayelsa State and Simon Lalong of Plateau State that they would not hesitate to approve the death penalty for convicted kidnappers, there is no concrete evidence of them following through on this promise. The only elected governor in recent Nigerian history known to have signed a death warrant was former Governor of Edo State, Adams Oshiomhole, which sparked criticism from various groups.
During his tenure as President of Nigeria, Goodluck Jonathan made a controversial statement urging state governors to sign death warrants for criminals condemned to death. Speaking at a Fathers’ Day Sunday service in 2013, Jonathan reminded the governors that their role as leaders involved both pleasant and unpleasant tasks. Jonathan’s call serves as a reminder of the dual responsibilities that come with leadership and the need for critical reflection on the consequences of such decisions.
Governors play a crucial role in the criminal justice system when it comes to deciding the fate of individuals on death row. They are faced with the weighty decision of either approving the death warrants of those who have exhausted their appeals process, converting their death sentence to life imprisonment, or offering them clemency. Failure to act on any of these options should result in the removal of Section 33, which permits the death penalty, from the constitution.
State governors must set aside personal emotions and make decisions based on the principles of justice, fairness, and compassion. Approving death warrants should only be done after careful consideration of all facts and evidence in a case, ensuring that justice is served. However, if governors find that there are mitigating circumstances or doubts about guilt, they have the option of converting the death sentence to life imprisonment or offer clemency. This allows for the possibility of exoneration or further legal proceedings to rectify any injustices.
Clearly, then, the death penalty in Nigeria should be re-evaluated. The lack of execution and the potential for injustices highlight the need for a more humane and effective form of capital punishment. Life imprisonment could provide a better alternative, ensuring that criminals are still held accountable for their actions while avoiding the risks and controversies associated with the death penalty.

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Editorial

Actualising Fubara’s Employment Directives

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Good times are here again as youths in Rivers State are feeling enthusiastic and optimistic following the proclamation made by the governor of the state, Sir Siminalayi Fubara, that 500 young people would be employed in the civil service. This news signifies a new beginning and a brighter future for many individuals who have been passionate about contributing to the development of their state.
Commendably, the governor has decided to employ 500 individuals in the state healthcare sector, as this will bolster the standard of healthcare services and deal with the issue of youth unemployment. The engagement of these young people will not only provide them with a stable source of income but will also empower them to effect meaningful improvements towards the well-being of the people. To show assurance of his promise, the governor gave three weeks as the timeline to complete the process and ensure that those engaged commenced work.
The allocation of the new staff between the Rivers State University Teaching Hospital (RSUTH) and the Rivers State Health Management Board (RSHMB) demonstrates the government’s commitment to improving healthcare infrastructure and services across the state. By investing in the health sector and providing employment opportunities for the youth, the government is not only addressing the immediate needs of the populace but also laying a strong foundation for long-term sustainable development.
Earlier, Governor Fubara had approved the promotion process for staff members of the RSHMB and RSUTH. This decision aims to boost employee morale, improve retention rates, and enhance the quality of healthcare services in the state. The promotion process was set to be concluded by March 2024. No doubt, the proactive approach will attract top talents to the institutions, further strengthening the health sector workforce of the state.
Recall that the immediate past administration of Nyesom Wike was marked by neglect of labour matters and the welfare of civil servants. One of the most concerning issues was the unjustifiable refusal to promote civil servants for a staggering eight years. This lack of promotion not only affected the career progression and morale of the workers but also had a huge impact on their financial well-being. There were controversies surrounding the implementation of minimum wage and failure to carry out employment in the civil service.
Thankfully, the present administration has taken swift action to address these wrongs and prioritise the welfare and proper treatment of civil servants in the state. There is a renewed sense of urgency to ensure that workers are promoted based on merit and are given fair compensation for their hard work. The government has also effected the N30,000 minimum wage among local government staff and addressing the backlog of pensions and gratuities to provide financial security to retirees who have dedicated their lives to public service.
We understand the difficulties faced by Rivers youths and others in the country and we commend the governor for his decision to immediately employ 10,000 applicants who have met the necessary requirements to be recruited into the State Civil Service. This move will undoubtedly enhance the living conditions of Rivers youths and provide them with much-needed employment opportunities.
The Rivers State Civil Service Commission had initiated the physical verification process for 10,000 civil service jobs, with 2,000 slots already allotted to the state primary and post-primary schools boards for teacher recruitment. While this is a positive step, we suggest that the governor consider increasing the slot allocation for education since it is an essential sector that requires more attention and investment.
Governor Fubara’s directive for the review of the sacked Ignatius Ajuru University workers is an additional necessary step towards ensuring fairness and transparency in the employment process. It is imperative that the appropriate authorities act swiftly to effect this particular directive without delay, as it is in the best interest of the state and its citizens.
The state government’s observation that all issues of irregularities in the employment process should be resolved is laudable. It is required to address any discrepancies in the recruitment to ensure that only deserving and qualified individuals are employed in the university. Conducting a thorough review of the workers’ cases will enable the state government to rectify any past mistakes and uphold the integrity of the institution.
Furthermore, the issue of ethnic imbalance must be addressed to promote inclusivity and diversity within the university. It is proper to ensure that individuals from all ethnic backgrounds have equal opportunities for employment and advancement within the institution. If this matter is tackled properly, the state government can create a more encyclopedic and representative workforce that reflects the variegation of the state.
As Governor Fubara’s dedication to the employment of Rivers people is laudable, there is a disturbing issue with the state-owned media houses being neglected in the current employment efforts. These media organisations are understaffed and heavily rely on casual workers to function. Given their importance in broadcasting government programmes and policies, it is necessary that they receive support to fulfil their duties effectively. Making them beneficiaries of the employment process will greatly advance both the government and the people of the state.
Furthermore, the governor should reexamine the situation concerning the dismissed Demonstration School teachers in the state’s higher institutions. The teachers have been experiencing immense pain, agony, trauma, and worry since their dismissal. Former Governor Wike had instructed in February 2016 for the teachers’ salaries to be removed from their universities’ payroll. We urge the governor to ensure justice for the affected workers and return happiness to their lives.
Every effort should be made to uphold Fubara’s directives regarding employment in the state. This is because a thriving civil service is essential for the prosperity of any state. As a former civil servant himself, the governor understands this importance and is dedicated to improving the service. He remains focused on his goal of making the civil service a model for the country. His popularity among the people is a result of his commitment to their needs. Opposition parties have even joined forces with him due to his impressive track record.

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