Just when the world thought it had taken a furlough from global pandemics, and to an extent had accepted that COVID-19 was here to stay, the monkeypox disease suddenly reared its hideous head. The recrudescence of the virus is rapidly generating anxiety that could likely put the entire world on alternate health surveillance. Little is known of this disease, except that it does not spread as rapidly as the Coronavirus, but has obvious symptoms without a cure.
A reported case of the virus by the United Kingdom Health Security Agency (UKHSA) in London has snowballed into a substantial epidemic of another round of the malady in Nigeria, following its corroboration by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC). The report raised immediate questions over speculation that monkeypox may be disappearing on a global scale. Strangely enough, UKHSA stated that the patient had recently departed Nigeria. Why was the malady not detected in Nigeria?
Already devastated by many other deadly infections, the eruption of the monkeypox virus this year is adding to Nigeria’s alarming health problems. According to the NCDC, as of May 29, there had been 21 confirmed cases in nine states and the Federal Capital Territory. The only death was a 40-year-old patient with an initial substrate condition. The nation’s anti-disease mechanisms must be activated to contain this illness and others.
Nigeria is plunged into health wars on many fronts, spurred by poor health infrastructure, inadequate investments in health care, inaccessibility of quality health services and a stagnant health workforce. Diseases are dispersed across the country. These include Lassa fever, cholera and measles, to name a few. Our country has also been impacted by COVID-19. Now, monkeypox has declared its disturbing presence.
Monkeypox is a transmissible viral zoonotic disease (transmitted to humans by animals) caused by infection with the monkeypox virus. It is transmitted to humans by infected animals, usually rodents. There is also the potential for human-to-human transmission of the disease when one person comes in contact with another who is infected with the virus. The disease can also be acquired in association with materials contaminated by the virus which causes it.
Experts say the symptoms of monkeypox are similar to those of smallpox. They include fever, rash, headache, back pain, swollen lymph nodes, chills and unusual tiredness, etc. These signs can last two to three weeks as a period of manifestation. This means that the incubation period (infection to manifestation of symptoms) is about 14 to 21 days – that is how long it takes for someone to know if he or she has monkeypox.
In the aftermath of the outbreak, the Federal Government banned the sale and consumption of bushmeat to prevent the spread of the monkeypox pathogen. The ban was issued by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development after the disease was officially confirmed in the country.
The Minister of Agriculture, Dr Abubakar Mohammed, issued a statement urging hunters and bushmeat traders to suspend the endeavour. The ban should be sustained as the virus is thought to be disseminating in some rodents and squirrels. The consumption of such animals for food purposes may be a source of transmittance.
There is a need for Nigeria to avoid a repeat of the dereliction that enabled Coronavirus to gain easy access into the country despite weeks of advance warning to put premonitory preventive measures in place. The country has gone through complete or partial lockdowns in its most productive states and has spent monumental sums of money battling the plague and furnishing services to assuage its effects. Such blunders, including the failure to purchase, stock and make adequate arrangements to administer vaccines, should be prevented from occurring.
Recently, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control implemented a series of measures, including the isolation of suspected cases, the accumulation of smallpox vaccines and a community awareness campaign. Nigeria can do the same through containment measures to reduce the spread. Although general vaccination has been excluded for the moment, the government at all levels should quickly acquire medicines and isolation centres to manage the disease and the victims.
The authorities should not wait until the state of affairs worsens before assuming their responsibilities. The anticipatory measures already put in place should be maintained to stem a public health concern which could weaken a large part of the population if not controlled. Nigerians travel extensively in all parts of their country, which is why the disease has the potential to spread easily.
Monkeypox is endemic in West and Central Africa. It was first identified as a laboratory monkey in 1958. The first human infection occurred in 1970 in the Democratic Republic of Congo. An outbreak in the United States in 2003 was attributed to a pet store selling imported Gambian rodents. Controls include isolating suspected or confirmed cases, strict adherence to universal precautions, especially frequent hand washing with soap and water, and the use of personal protective equipment.
Experts say there is as yet no single confirmed cure for monkeypox, but they support the use of drugs used to treat smallpox and other remedies. Some physicians are hopeful that the smallpox vaccine will be useful for monkeypox. Consequently, surveillance measures should be enhanced to ensure the adequacy of all essential medicines. A task force similar to the Presidential Steering Committee on COVID-19 should be established to coordinate the anti-monkeypox fight.
The Nigerian government should be proactive in controlling the monkeypox epidemic in the country. Since the virus encompasses countries all over the world, it should be seen as important to global public health. In this regard, we strongly advise the nation’s health authorities to raise awareness of the disease, prevention measures and treatment options available. All travellers from countries with an outbreak of the virus must be screened prior to admission to the country.
Lessons From CJN’s Resignation
On June 27, 2022, news broke that the number one judicial officer and 16th Chief Justice of Nigeria
(CJN), Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad, had resigned his position, citing ill-health. Expectedly, the information, indeed, came as a shock to many stakeholders including top lawyers, politicians, and technocrats. Although health challenges are natural phenomena, many doubted if ill-health was the principal ground for his decision.
Following Muhammad’s resignation, President Muhammadu Buhari swore in Justice Olukayode Ariwoola, the second in the Supreme Court ranking, as the acting CJN. Indications that all was not well emerged with the absence of the ex-CJN who was billed to speak at the opening programme of the training on alternative dispute resolution for judges at the National Judicial Institute (NJI) in Abuja. Muhammad failed to appear at the function without prior notice and did not send a representative either.
Assuming office as CJN under controversial circumstances, Muhammad stepped down in an even more contentious manner. He became a Justice of the Supreme Court in 2007, from the Court of Appeal where he served for 13 years, and became the Chief Justice of Nigeria, first in an acting capacity on January 25, 2019, and then substantively on July 24, 2019. He succeeded Justice Walter Samuel Nkanu Onnoghen whose departure from the apex court is probably the most questionable ever in the history of the nation.
It would be recalled that less than two weeks before his historic resignation, 14 Justices of the Supreme Court confronted former Chief Justice Muhammad over his style of administration which they claimed disregarded their welfare. The development was, however, the culmination of a simmering crisis that had been on since last year, and the apex court Justices, after being pushed to the wall with no solution in sight, decided to write a formal memo to the ex-CJN.
In the internal memo jointly signed by the 14 protesting justices of the court, they complained of non-replacement of poor vehicles, accommodation problems, lack of drugs at the Supreme Court Clinic, epileptic electricity supply to the Supreme Court premises, increase in electricity tariff, no increase in the allowances for diesel, lack of internet services to residences and chambers and poor take-home pay that could no longer take them halfway, among others.
Many Nigerians, to say the least, were scandalised when the memo hit the media. They could not believe that the nation’s temple of Justice could be desecrated and tainted with allegations of maladministration with a tinge of corruption allegations. However, the nation was not kept in suspense for long as the CJN, through his media aide, Ahuraka Yusuf Isah, gave a response to the memo from the Justices. The CJN said he had managed the resources at the disposal of the apex court judiciously and that there was nothing to hide.
But the point had been made in some quarters that perhaps Justice Muhammad was pushed out of the door, and not for health reasons, because his brother Justices, who had lost confidence in him, were beginning to show signs of anger and restlessness. They even threatened to stop sitting. Imagine Justices of the Supreme Court of Nigeria going on strike!
Regardless, Tanko deserves commendation for voluntarily quitting his office following his inability to continue. After all, what has been reported is simple: he resigned on health grounds. Ordinarily, that should be enough. The job of a Supreme Court justice requires that he should be compos mentis and enjoy the agility of the highest order to lead a nationwide body of judges, provide leadership at the Bar and the Bench and simultaneously run the activities of the apex court of the land.
Muhammad’s resignation is a positive development. It is rare in this part of the world to see someone resign honourably and voluntarily from an exalted position. Clearly, he acted for the overall benefit of Nigeria’s judiciary and the nation at large, since he could no longer continue in office. Muhammad knew that his ill health was interfering with his job and he might not easily cope going forward. Nigerians must learn the lesson of putting safety and health first before any other considerations.
For the high office of the embattled former CJN, events of the last few months will unsettle anybody who has integrity, regardless of what might have happened. So, he has, by disengaging, in a way, rescued the total image of that institution. It shows that for people of honour, whenever their integrity is challenged or questioned, they will do what is right and put the institution above their interest. We hope other public officers of high standing like the ex-CJN in other arms of government, when the occasion calls for it, will have the respect for due process and institutional integrity.
Regrettably, however, the latest developments in the Supreme Court call for sober reflection and a need for an investigation into the situation is not improper. The allegations against the retired Chief Justice should be investigated to promote the administration of justice. The NJC, the Body of Benchers, and the anti-graft agencies should commence their separate duties. If found culpable in the end, he should be sanctioned. This is necessary to serve as a deterrent to others.
The crisis brewing between the former CJN and his colleagues is not only an embarrassment to the entire judiciary, but also a disgrace to Nigeria. The watershed at the nation’s apex court confirms that the general arbiter who, for decades remained the last hope of ordinary Nigerians, has turned against itself. If anything, it seeks to erode public confidence in this all-important arm of government. In other climes where conscience matters, this would be an additional reason for Muhammad to have left office, especially since his colleagues had lost confidence in him.
To restore the almost-lost public trust, the judiciary, especially judges at all levels of the system, must put their act together and redeem the dented image of this structure of government. The third arm of government should look inward and provide the moral rectitude for the other two arms – the Executive and the Legislature. It is time for Nigerian judges to be exemplary in character to command moral authority over citizens. Whatever it is, there is still some unfinished business around and about Muhammad’s resignation.
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.
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