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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

Congratulations, Justice Mary Peter-Odili

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The learned Justice Mary Ukaego Peter-Odili of the Nigerian Supreme Court, officially left the
country’s judiciary on Thursday, May 12, 2022. Justice Peter-Odili, who is one of the earliest women to be elevated to the Supreme Court bench, stepped aside having attained the mandatory retirement age of 70 after serving at the apex court for 11 years. The Imo State-born jurist, whose meritorious milestone judgments have shaped the political, economic and social terrains of the nation, was hosted to an elaborate retirement event on the day.
The apex court officials had a farewell session worthy of her. The sitting was chaired by the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad, in the main courtroom of the Supreme Court that Thursday morning. Distinguished Nigerians, especially the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Body of Benchers, and Body of the Senior Advocates of Nigeria, among others, graced the valedictory court session.
Spanning 45 years in the legal profession, her total journey to the Supreme Court tracked a steady climb through the Nigerian Law School, Victoria Island, in 1976 and was called to the Bar the following year. Shortly after, she enrolled in the mandatory National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) and accomplished her primary assignment at the Ministry of Justice in Abeokuta, Ogun State, before proceeding to the Ministry of Justice in the old Bendel State as a pupil state counsel.
Upon being called to the Bar on July 1, 1977, Mary saw her dream of seeing her family become a reality. She and Dr Peter Odili, who had long been acquainted right from their days in the University of Nigeria, Enugu campus that housed both the medical and law colleges within it, decided to be joined in holy matrimony in Benin City, two months later (August 26, 1977). Both were said to have met at a campus feast and began a lasting relationship that resulted in a marriage. They received their first baby, Adaeze, in 1979. Not long after that, they had three more children — Chinelo, Peter, and Njideka.
For the first time since she became the second most senior justice of the Supreme Court, she had the privilege to speak about herself and the nation she had served dispassionately for over four decades. Born May 12, 1952, at Orieonuoha Maternity, in Onicha Ezinihitte-Mbaise, Imo State, young Mary’s father, Bernard Chigbu Nzenwa, was a reputable lawyer, sports enthusiast and traditional ruler while her mother, Bernadette Nwatuma Nzenwa, was a seamstress and textile trader.
Mary, a kind lady of glamorous qualities and eminence that surpass the legal profession, was well known for her irresistible voice in the temple of justice. She has offered the best of her intellect to the improvement of the legal profession through her many years of unparalleled rulings at various levels of courts in Nigeria. The retired legal giant is a specimen of hard work, industry, discipline and moral rectitude. We commend her for her contributions to the judiciary in Nigeria.
As well, Mrs Odili is a dedicated jurist and an example for the public service. She is an exceptional judicial icon whose service on the Bench will continue to be referenced as a result of her sense of balance, fairness, integrity and confidence in the nation’s judiciary. She has left the Bench as an outstanding jurist. Her devotion to duty took her to the peak of her career, having served creditably as a magistrate, high court judge and justice of both the Appeal Court and the Supreme Court of the land. Her support for women, advocacy for legal reforms and her crusade for positive change in society are part of her legacy that will continue long after her retirement.
Attesting the virtue of the retired jurist, the Rivers State Governor, Chief Nyesom Wike, revealed that Justice Mary Odili saved his political career in 2004, and vowed to remain grateful to her. The disclosure was made at the 70th birthday and retirement thanksgiving mass of Mary Odili as Justice of the Supreme Court at Our Lady of the Holy Rosary Chaplaincy, Catholic Institute of West Africa (CIWA) in Port Harcourt.
Wike posited that in 2004, he cried to Mrs Peter-Odili after he got the clue that his name was left out from those approved to contest either as first term or second term chairmen of local councils in the state and the retired judge listened to him and took the complaint to her husband, Dr Peter Odili, who was then the Governor of Rivers State. Wike explained how the Mary’s presentation of the case led her husband to act immediately.
Citing a vital lesson of life he learnt from Justice Peter-Odili as the determination to build the capacity to be successful in one’s career while not ignoring giving requisite attention to the family, Wike said: “I have seen somebody who is very compassionate and very caring. The moment you are around her husband, she takes care of you. She sees you as her husband’s person, and so she will always relate with you. Some of us are direct beneficiaries of the care through our relationship with the husband.”
However, Justice Peter-Odili’s career was not exempt from a number of notable controversies. Her status as a judicial officer married to someone politically exposed made her an easy target in the intrigues of her husband’s and his party’s political rivals. An example was the knock-on effect from the All Progressives Congress (APC) following the Supreme Court judgment of February 13, 2020, that sacked the APC’s David Lyon as governor-elect of Bayelsa State, barely 24 hours to his inauguration. Justice Peter-Odili led the panel of the apex court justices that decided the matter.
The Tide joins all well-meaning Nigerians, the judiciary, the NBA, the international community and all illustrious sons and daughters of Rivers State to specially celebrate and congratulate our very own, Hon. Justice Mary Ukaego Peter-Odili, on her 70th birthday and her exit from the Supreme Court. Indeed, it has been a sojourn, and we are proud of her. She has made her indelible marks. Our best wishes for a successful and exceptional retirement.

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Editorial

Averting Looming Strike In Aviation Sector 

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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.

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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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