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.
Checking Rising Child Defilement
A day hardly passes by without unpleasant news of child defilement, particularly against the girl-child
in Nigeria. Child desecration has assumed startling heights that deserve vigilance by the government. Child sexual abuse is an offence under several sections of Chapter 21 of the Criminal Code. These psychopaths deserve swift and severe retribution. There should be tougher penalties exacted on paedophiles and their enablers. The authorities must carry out inflexible laws to stamp out this evil.
The United Nations Children’ Fund (UNICEF) revealed in 2015 that one in four girls and one in 10 boys in Nigeria had encountered sexual violence before the age of 18. According to a survey by Positive Action for Treatment Access, over 31.4 per cent of girls said that their first sexual experience had been rape or forced sex of some kind. The Centre for Environment, Human Rights and Development recounted that 1,200 girls had been raped in 2012 in Rivers State.
Children are considered to be a source of enormous exhilaration to their families and future leaders of the nation, but many of these children remain victims of different forms of abuse, violence, and exploitation. Section 218 of the Criminal Code Act defines child defilement as the unlawful carnal knowledge of a girl under the age of 13 while the culprit that immerses in the act is guilty of a felony and liable to life imprisonment.
Defilement is traumatic and often associated with psycho-social problems in children. Defiled children, more often than not, have negative outcomes in terms of poor academic performance, low self-esteem, depression, and poor social relationships. They show cruelty to animals, have attention deficit, hyperactivity disorders, and teenage pregnancy, among others.
Some identified causes of defilement include carelessness of parents, improper dressing, drug abuse, absence of sex education, lack of cordial relationship between parents and children, inability to exercise self-control, and promiscuous lifestyles by parents. At times, offenders are found to engage in the dastardly behaviour for ritual purposes because they have got themselves involved in what they should not.
The culprits are usually the same – teachers, uncles, parents, clerics, neighbours and drivers. These are protectors who become predators. This is sheer wickedness! The 2014 UNICEF National Survey on Violence Against Children said one in four girls, and one in 10 boys, had also experienced sexual violence. The report added that more than 70 per cent of the victims experienced the violence repeatedly.
Regrettably, 60 per cent of child abuse cases are never made public. This allows a vast number of child abusers to go unpunished. Beyond the physical damage, studies have shown that sexually abused children develop psychosocial challenges. Some become sex addicts due to this premature exposure, while others turn to prostitution as they lose their sense of self-worth and self-dignity. Early signs include a drop in academic performance, depression and suicidal thoughts, say experts.
This crime is a global phenomenon, attracting diverse counter-measures by governments. Consequently, Nigeria’s federal and state governments need to step up measures as it has reached near-epidemic proportions in the country. Every other segment of the society, formal and informal, must join the crusade. Parents and guardians must take personal responsibility for the safety and security of their children and wards.
Regular medical check-ups can assist uncover evidence of defilement. Parents must fight frivolous and salacious compliments on their children by randy caregivers and neighbours passed off as jokes. Where a case of abuse is established, they must never consent to secret pacts and settlements. These embolden paedophiles to source more victims. Faith-based organisations, community leaders and traditional rulers should leverage their leadership positions for constant sensitisation against the plague.
Legal experts observe that there are certain provisions in the laws that are both adequate and inadequate and that one of the limiting factors associated with the criminal and penal codes is that they cover rape in general and not defilement. They say there are other things about child defilement that are not captured by the Act. Such include limitation of time at bringing up criminal allegations and charges against suspected persons in the court. The criminal code makes provision for only two months as its limitation period. This statute-barred barrier should be tackled.
What it takes to curb child defilement is a combination of strategies and efforts by everyone in society. In specific terms, people must desist from engaging in vicious acts such as going into rituals. They should be governed strictly by godly living. Victims of defilement should be spirited enough to report their unpleasant experiences to relevant governmental and non-governmental bodies for rehabilitation. They should expose perpetrators.
Parents should be intimate and more sensitive to their children’s needs. They should also instruct their children on sex education and scrutinise what they watch in the media and on the internet to be free from pornography and dangerous elements. Adults should have self-control, while parents have to avoid living promiscuous lifestyles that could influence their children negatively. Available laws and legislation need to be strengthened.
Publicly naming and shaming convicts will serve as a deterrent. Every state should have a regularly updated sex offenders list. Public advocacy groups should step up their activities. Paedophiles must be ostracised and made to face the full wrath of the law. Again, all states should domesticate the Child’s Rights Act and make its implementation easy, while the tie-ups militating against the smooth prosecution of cases in law courts should be discarded to successfully fight the menace in the country.
That INEC’s Move To Protect Electoral Materials
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) lately declared that it would no longer reserve sensitive electoral materials in the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). The commission’s chairman, Professor Mahmoud Yakubu, announced this at a symposium tagged, “The Electorate: A Conversation on Elections in Nigeria,” held at the Musa Yar’Adua Centre, Abuja. He said the decision would take effect with the just-concluded Ekiti State governorship election.
Sensitive materials stored with the CBN before elections include ballot papers, results sheets, and a braille ballot guide for visually impaired persons, among others. This development is strongly believed to have arisen from the controversy encompassing the interest of the CBN governor, Godwin Emefiele, to contest the 2023 presidential election under the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC).
“We are not going to use the CBN for Ekiti elections. The materials will be moved from our headquarters in Abuja to the airport and then to our state office,” Yakubu said at the event. “We are experimenting better ways in which we can secure the processes, so it is not necessarily related to what is happening in the Central Bank. Our intention is to always improve and take complete ownership of the process,” he stated.
Recall that Emefiele had reportedly purchased the N100 million nomination and expression of interest forms for the presidential ticket of the APC. His action was the culmination of several months of overt and subterranean marketing of his candidature, even while retaining his strategic CBN position. Many Nigerians considered the move unconscionable and inimical to the country’s interest to entangle the apex bank in partisan politics. That led to widespread calls for his resignation.
Emefiele attributed the payment of the N100 million presidential nomination form to a group of farmers lobbying him to run for the highest office. Documents filed before the Abuja Division of the Federal High Court by his lawyers, Mike Ozekhome Chambers, showed the CBN chief had been actively seeking to be president. This generated grave concerns about the sanctity of election materials being stockpiled at CBN’s facilities across the country.
Public suspicion of the CBN governor’s presidential ambition heightened when posters, billboards, and inscriptions on vehicles and business premises, promoting his candidacy appeared in cities across the country. In response to justifiable complaints that a sitting CBN governor should never, or even appear to have a partisan political affiliation, Emefiele had occasionally issued lame, unconvincing rebuttals. He did not exhibit the expected vigour necessary to shut down the “amorphous” campaigners.
The CBN Act expressly protects the bank and its governor from political influence, granting it considerable autonomy, including protection from arbitrary removal. But by being linked with any party, its vaunted independence is compromised, and its reputation takes a further battering. Citing the CBN Act, Chidi Odinkalu, a law professor, said the CBN governor is legally precluded from political activities and is required to give three months’ notice of resignation if he seeks to engage in political activities. Besides, the law expressly bars serving civil servants from politics without resignation.
INEC deserves commendation for its bold stride to relocate election materials from the CBN, currently headed by a consummate politician. There is no how those sensitive documents would not have been jeopardised if left in the hands of Emefiele who is now a full-blown political player. Moreover, ballot papers and biometric equipment are among materials considered sensitive and highly sought by criminals seeking to influence elections at different levels.
If a document or sensitive electoral material is in the custody of someone and the person is politically partisan, it speaks volumes. Even if such a one is righteous, has integrity, and is strict when it comes to keeping the materials, it still paints the picture of a tainted process. Surprisingly, sensitive election materials were always kept in CBN offices nationwide by INEC, unknown to Nigerians that Emefiele as governor of the apex bank had been a politician all his life.
Having divulged his initial intention to be elected president in February 2023, and exposing himself as a prejudiced political operative of the APC, the CBN governor should be kept under intense public scrutiny. Sadly, President Muhammadu Buhari has constantly rebuffed calls demanding Mr Emefiele’s resignation to avert further damage to the bank’s reputation as the country’s preeminent financial sector regulator. Experts said Emefiele’s ambition to be president has thrown the country into uncharted traits, as no incumbent CBN governor has ever sought partisan political office.
Voter apathy is blamed largely on a lack of trust in the electoral system and the calibre of people it produces as leaders. Therefore, bringing back the trust of the people is one of the key challenges before the commission. One way to ensure confidence in the system is to safeguard all the sensitive election materials. Building INEC to become an institution impervious to outside influence, including from the executive, should be fast-tracked. INEC must not only become an impartial institution but it must also be seen to be so.
The commission must take full control of the entire electoral process, leaving no aspect of it to any other institution to manage. A free and fair election does not only begin and end with voting, it also includes the storage, security, movement, and handling of sensitive election apparatus. The electoral body must understand that it has a gigantic responsibility to guarantee the safety and security of sensitive voting paraphernalia by collaborating with security agencies to prevent electoral fraud.
Ekiti Poll: A Post-Mortem
At last, the 2022 Ekiti State gubernatorial election scheduled for June 18, 2022, to elect the next governor of the state has come and gone. Former Secretary to the State Government, Abiodun Oyebanji, of the All Progressives Congress (APC) was declared the winner by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). Oyebanji attained victory for the APC by a 30 per cent margin over first runner-up and Social Democratic Party (SDP) nominee, former Governor Olusegun Oni.
Recall that the primaries were scheduled for between January 4 and 29 with the All Progressives Congress nominating Oyebanji in a direct primary on January 27 while the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) nominated former Commissioner for Environment, Bisi Kolawole, in an indirect primary on January 26. Both primaries were beset by accusations of candidate imposition. However, Oni, who came second in the PDP primary, repudiated the results before leaving the party to accept the SDP nomination.
Nigerians, particularly indigenes and residents of the state, have been sharing mixed feelings about the outcomes since they were declared. According to political analysts, the PDP’s defeat was caused by candidate imposition and internal issues, while the ruling party won the poll based on party reputation and the achievements of the incumbent governor, Dr Kayode Fayemi. According to another set of public and political affairs observers, the ruling party won the election because of the approbation of Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the APC presidential candidate.
Information from observers disclosed that the general election was characterised by its incredible logistical organisation and peaceful voting, despite a turbulent campaign period marked by notable interparty clashes. By the early morning of June 19, collation had been completed and results declared. In total, Oyebanji obtained about 187,000 votes and 53 per cent of the vote as runner-up Oni received around 82,000 votes and 23 per cent of the vote while Kolawole came third with over 67,000 votes and 19 per cent of the vote. The ruling party won in 15 of the 16 local governments, and the SDP candidate only in one.
Before the ballot, 989,224 persons were registered to vote, according to INEC. An aggregate of 36.94 per cent of this group took part in the election. This means that the decision was determined by less than half of the registered voters. Qualified voters must carry out their civic responsibilities diligently. Sadly, those in the state, particularly youths, who used social media to express their opinions about the election were unable to mobilise themselves for physical voting. The result suggests that elections cannot be won through social media platforms.
A few unique things about the 2022 Ekiti governorship ballot are that it is the first election to be conducted by INEC under the new Electoral Act 2022, as well as the Regulations and Guidelines for the Conduct of Elections, 2022. It was also the second time INEC would be deploying the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) device statewide after the November 6, 2021, Anambra State governorship poll. Thankfully, unlike in Anambra, the equipment worked satisfactorily in Ekiti.
Many accredited journalists and observer groups including the electorate have commended the election as being free, fair, inclusive, credible and peaceful. INEC has been further lauded for getting the logistics right, as most polling units were reported to have opened by 8:30 a.m. when the voting exercise commenced. Electronic results transmission was effective. Again, INEC was fast in vote tallying and subsequent declaration of the election results. It could be the fastest gubernatorial poll conclusion in our history. This is a further confirmation of the efficacy of the electronic transmission of results.
An election monitoring group, under the auspices of Yiaga Africa, has described the governorship election as transparent and fair enough, going by statistics generated by over 500 ad hoc staff deployed on the election day. Also, the Centre for Democracy and Development said its data from election observation from the state indicated that 86 per cent of INEC officials arrived at their polling units by 8:30 a.m.
BVAS was also said to have worked optimally, although few people could still not be accredited. It is also heartwarming that the electoral body was able to provide assistive devices for persons with disabilities and that priority voting was accorded to the elderly, nursing mothers, and pregnant women. The acceptance of defeat by the PDP’s candidate yet underpins the credibility of the poll.
However, Ekiti 2022 was not all about successes. Although it is said that INEC is yet to get the redistribution of voters into the polling units right, unlike in Anambra and FCT Area Council elections where the commission said there would be no deployment into some polling units because they had no voters, there was no such thing in Ekiti. Regardless, there was lopsidedness in the redistribution exercise. Instead of having a maximum of 750 voters per polling unit, some units still had between 2,000 and 3,000 registered voters.
Furthermore, there was unbridled and open use of money by politicians, and their agents to buy votes as other routes of election manipulation, especially in votes transmission by INEC, appear blocked by e-transmission. There is a need to make scapegoats of those who commit this heinous offence. It is both an economic and political crime to engage in vote-trading. It has been criminalised by Sections 121 and 127 of the Electoral Act 2022. Under the law, both the giver and the taker are complicit and could go in for 12 months imprisonment or a N500,000 fine or both.
Nevertheless, we commend the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for the arrest of some mercenaries deployed by political parties to buy votes. We urge the anti-graft and security agencies to investigate and prosecute all citizens involved in electoral fraud, especially those implicated in vote-buying. We equally applaud the professionalism of the security agents who worked tirelessly to maintain peace on election day. They should remain non-partisan and professional towards the Osun governorship election next month.
Both the Ekiti people and INEC deserve gratitude for their resilience and commitment to a non-violent, free and fair election. Specifically, we encourage the voters to sustain their participation in the electoral process beyond the elections by holding political parties and candidates accountable for their campaign promises. INEC should always uphold the principles of transparency in all elections in the country. In all, the Ekiti governorship election sets a new benchmark for the conduct of elections in Nigeria.
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