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2023: Need For Sustained Governance

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The Rivers State Governor, Chief Nyesom Wike’s admonition to the newly sworn-in Commissioners in the state to recommit themselves to the tasks assigned to them to achieve desired results is apt. The governor spoke while addressing 18 new commissioners during their swearing-in ceremony at the Executive Council Chambers of Government House, Port Harcourt, Wednesday, last week.
Governor Wike observed that because some members of the State Executive Council did not appreciate the enormity of the task given to them, they took to sycophancy while abandoning their duties. “This is the last lap of our administration. We have only seven months to end the tenure of this administration. It is very important for you to understand that you have to double your efforts to make sure that what we have started will be completed.”
This is a timely call as already, many public officeholders at the federal, state, and local government levels have altogether abandoned governance or service delivery and plunged headlong into politicking ahead of the 2023 election cycle. The governor’s clarion call to his new commissioners should trickle down to all strata of government, particularly the federal, while other state governors should follow suit in their respective jurisdictions.
The charge raises several questions concerning governance in the country, especially viewing the many unfinished and abandoned plans and projects. With the onset of the party primaries and later political campaigns, it became apparent that the pace of activities in some ministries, departments, and agencies had slowed, and political officeholders should focus on their immediate responsibilities.
At a time when public confidence in governance in the nation is waning because of the government’s inability to meet its commitments and other reasonable expectations, continued attention is required to the execution of policies and programmes to achieve service delivery goals. Governor Wike specifically emphasised the need for a proper handover to the succeeding administration to be done early and charged the new and old members of his cabinet to ensure the quick conclusion of their reports.
It is unsurprising that despite intense electioneering towards next year’s general election, governance in Rivers has not waned as the governor has been executing and commissioning projects in the state. This is a rare feat that has enhanced the governor’s profile. For this reason, he has continued to receive accolades for his unprecedented achievements in the delivery of impactful projects with candour in the face of glaring challenges.
Rather than quit governance in the short time left, political officeholders including President Muhammadu Buhari can redeem part of their battered image by correcting their misgoverning and the wrongs they have committed against Nigerians and possibly completing several projects as their heritages. This should be devoid of chicanery or false declarations of completion.
Curiously enough, Buhari also recognised the imperatives of sustainable governance regardless of the ongoing campaigns for the 2023 general election. He charged his ministers, permanent secretaries, and heads of government agencies to refrain from abandoning their primary assignments for political campaigns ahead of the 2023 general elections. He accentuated that despite the campaigns, the business of governance must continue to receive the necessary engagement.
But the President should see through his many promises in 2015 and 2019 to improve the fortunes of Nigerians. For example, the administration virtually abandoned the privatisation it promised in its over seven years in office. It can initiate the process before leaving the office. Buhari’s pledge to improve power supply through the Power Transmission Rehabilitation and Expansion Programme, and to raise power generation to 25,000 megawatts in partnership with Germany’s Siemens AG has remained unfulfilled.
The Federal Government’s report card on the four refineries in Port Harcourt, Warri and Kaduna is scandalous. Since taking office in 2015, it has wasted N1.3 trillion on moribund refineries. But being in oblivion, the country spends billions of dollars importing refined products and trillions of naira to subsidise the price of imported petrol. The Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI) said Buhari has so far spent 6.88 trillion naira on subsidies and is on the way to raising it to 10.97 trillion naira.
Many governors are guilty of practically abandoning their official duties to pursue re-election or Senate seats. They must ensure that the business of government continues to receive the needed attention, notwithstanding that the nation has entered the peak period of electioneering campaigns. Guaranteeing that government business remains on course is crucial at this point because of the implication a properly arranged performance has for the transition to another administration.
Governance suffers when governors and other political office holders in the country abdicate their responsibilities for transition politics. It is irresponsible that some states at the centre of insecurity still find time to shine on the national stage while their people are murdered in droves. Those who play the role of political “kingmakers” participate in endless meetings and negotiations outside their bases.
From 1999 to the present, democratic practice in Nigeria has barely lived up to its commitments, whether in terms of representation, popular participation, people-centred planning, distribution and use of resources, security of life and property, or the preservation of fundamental freedoms and liberties. Politicians despise the people and their concerns. This mindset should change. The people themselves should hold public officials accountable through legitimate civic activism and pressure groups.

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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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Editorial

Alleged Budget Padding: Need For Transparency 

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Senator Abdul Ningi’s revelation about the padding of Nigeria’s 2024 budget with an enormous N3.7
trillion has sent shockwaves throughout the country. Budget padding has unfortunately become a regular occurrence in Nigeria since the return of democracy in 1999. Even former President Olusegun Obasanjo had criticised the National Assembly for their practices of budget bloating during his time in office between 1999 and 2007.
The budget padding scandal started off quietly with a meeting between the Northern Senators Forum and President Bola Tinubu regarding the alleged N3.7 trillion insertion in the 2024 appropriation. Senator Ningi revealed that the budget passed by the Senate for 2024 was N25 trillion, not the N28 trillion being implemented by Tinubu. The discrepancy raised concerns about transparency and accountability in the budgeting process.
Ningi’s interview with the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) Hausa Service exposed the deal and sparked concern among the Senate leadership. In the interview, the senator mentioned that the Forum would look into the “additional sum of N3 trillion” and other budget items that were not previously disclosed to the Senate. This caused a push to penalise him, with backing from the Presidency. Many Northern senators chose to distance themselves from Ningi rather than support him.
Apart from the budget lining accusations, Senator Jarigbe Agom-Jarigbe disclosed during the debate on the breach of privilege motion raised by Senator Olamilekan Adeola against Ningi for his interview with the BBC, that senior senators received N500 million each. Additionally, there were claims that the government authorised N2.5 billion for Senate President Godswill Akpabio to procure deep freezers, generators and other items for his constituency as part of empowerment projects.
Budget padding continues to be a persistent challenge within the National Assembly, a fact that has been acknowledged by previous Presidents. In 2016, the chairperson of the House of Representatives Committee on Appropriation, Abdulmumini Jibrin, made accusations against the former House of Representatives Speaker, Hon. Yakubu Dogara and three other officials. Jibrin claimed that they fraudulently took N40 billion from the N100 billion allocated for constituency projects. This scandal caused a major uproar and Jibrin was subsequently removed from his position for exposing the supposed fraud.
Projects worth N480 billion were fraudulently inserted into the budget during the defence sessions that year. In 2019, fraudulent projects worth billions were discovered in Nigeria’s defence budget. Former President Muhammadu Buhari accused the National Assembly of increasing the budget by N90 billion, making it difficult to achieve his government’s Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP).
Buhari also conveyed his disappointment with the modifications made to the budget by lawmakers in 2022. These changes included a N400 billion increase in federal independent revenue, a reduction in allowances for the Nigerian Police and Navy and the addition of new provisions for National Assembly projects. During the signing of the 2023 Appropriation Bill on January 2, federal lawmakers introduced new projects totalling approximately N770.72 billion and estimates provided by MDAs were raised by around N58.55 billion.
Regrettably, President Tinubu addressed allegations of the budget alterations by asserting that those levying such accusations lacked a comprehensive understanding of budgetary processes. He stressed that the budget figures were meticulously calculated and grounded on a strong basis, while also affirming the senators’ integrity. Tinubu’s comments were intended to elucidate any misconceptions and uphold the transparency of the budgeting procedure. However, the President’s stance on the issue may inadvertently foster corruption among the legislators.
Senator Ningi’s suspension lacks legitimacy and therefore he should be reinstated immediately. Rather, the Senate leadership should address his allegations of budget padding sincerely and stop chasing shadows. If BudgIT’s report is accurate, the Senate must allocate the N3.7trillion towards essential areas like education, health and poverty alleviation. We commend Senators Ningi and Jarigbe for speaking out. We think that an independent panel of inquiry should be established by the Federal Government to investigate their concerns.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) are well aware of their responsibilities and do not need to be instructed before discharging them. They have to apprehend and prosecute all individuals involved in the alleged budget fraud to end the corrupt practice. No one should be exempt from investigation, as there should be no sacred cows in the fight against budget graft.
Our lawmakers must shun this rip-off because it diverts funds from essential sectors to projects that may not serve the public interest. This is detrimental to economic development. It worsens inequality, undermines public trust in government institutions and can lead to inflation by injecting unauthorised funds. It can also reduce citizens’ purchasing power, divert resources from productive investments, hinder progress, perpetuate poverty and facilitate corruption within government agencies.
To prevent budget padding, oversight mechanisms such as the Budget Office of the Federation and the National Assembly should be strengthened. Transparency and accountability in the budgeting process play a critical role in identifying and preventing padding. Legislative reforms should be put in place to streamline the budget process and ensure compliance with fiscal discipline. The establishment of independent budget monitoring committees can also help enhance accountability and curb the menace.

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