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Underaged Voting: Going Beyond Rhetorics

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It is always a delight listening to the popular and revered Kenyan orator, Prof. Patrice Loch Otieno Lumumba. He has a way of addressing the deep-rooted African problems including neocolonialism, corruption, poor leadership and others. A few days ago, for the umpteenth time, I listened to him on the radio talking about the greed and selfishness of African electorate who prefer crumbs from politicians’ tables to ideas that will guarantee a better future for their countries. According to the professor of law who once headed Kenya Anti Corruption Commission, “The electorate have an insatiable thirst and hunger for things that they have not worked for.
They have been trained and they no longer listen to ideas. “…Many times, when you address the electorate and you are waxing eloquently telling them: ‘When I am elected, I am going to ensure that we have good health services; we are going to ensure good schools; we are going to ensure that we create opportunity for innovation and invention and create opportunity for young men and women.” They are waiting for you to finish. They will tell you: ‘We hear you. We know you are going to do all those beautiful things but in the intervening period, I must eat.’“And therefore, no matter how beautiful your ideas are, if you do not carry money on that day, your ideal, like the elephant will never fly.”
Is that not the key problem with electorates in Nigeria? Nigerians are good at complaining about the numerous ill in our society, the age long poor leadership, the failure of those in authority to handle the lingering insecurity in the country, our dwindling economy, lack of adequate attention to the education, health and other sectors of the economy and many others. We lampoon our elected leaders for their greed and selfishness and lack of interest in the affairs of the citizens, yet when it is time for us to elect those who will manage the affairs of the country, we put behind all reasonable considerations about a better Nigeria and prioritise our selfish interests. We stop thinking about Nigeria but rather focus on me, myself and I. The questions will become, who will butter my bread? Through who shall partake of the national cake. Hardly do people bother about what should be done to ensure that every Nigerian has a taste of the national cake .
Yes, Nigerian leaders, both past and present are largely responsible for the present sorry state of the nation but the led cannot be exonerated. Just look at the issue of underaged registered voters in the recently released preliminary voters register by the Independent Electoral Commission (INEC). There have been allegations by some Nigerians including members of some political parties and Civil Society Organisations that there are obvious pictures of underaged persons on the register among other irregularities. Even the electoral body acknowledged that there are children voters on the register. “The essence of putting out this is for Nigerians to help the Commission further clean up the voters register. We want people to look at the register and assist the Commission to check whether their names have been properly spelt; whether their personal particulars have been properly captured; whether some pictures are not upside down; whether there are still names of deceased persons on the register; whether there are obviously underage persons on the register so that we can correct them,” said INEC’s National Commissioner in charge of voter education and publicity, Mr. Festus Okoye.
The problem of underaged voters is not novel to Nigeria’s politics. It rears its head during virtually all general elections in the country. During every election, video clips and pictures of children below the approved voting age of 18, queuing up to cast their votes make the rounds in both social and traditional media. Initially, it was associated with the northern part of the country, today, like cancer, the menace has spread to other parts of the country. And a basic question that needs to be asked is, who are the parents of these children? Why should parents allow their underaged children to register as voters? Why should parents allow desperate, so-called selfish politicians, who they despise for making life unbearable for them, to use their children to achieve their ulterior motives and jeopardise the process of electing credible leaders that would take the country out of the woods? Is it possible that they were paid by some politicians for those children to be used to beef up the votes?
The truth is that many Nigerians have lost their values. We teach our children to tell lies, to cheat and do others bad things because of money without seeing anything wrong with that. Recently, during a school’s common entrance examination, pupils that were less than 10 years old were asked not to take part in the exam because they were underaged and would not be admitted in that school. Shockingly, some parents, mothers for that matter, drew their children aside and started telling them to claim they were 10 years and above when they were not. If we must get it right in this country, if we must have a country of our dreams where things work well and the citizens are happy, we must begin to change our orientation and value system. We cannot continue to place money over integrity, human dignity, national unity, patriotism and values of the national ethics and integrity policy and expect things to go well in the country. The 2023 general election is by the corner. Politicians are going round selling their ideas, their vision and plan for the nation. Is it not high time Nigerians weighed through these ideas and queue behind the candidates who have the best plans for the nation, states, local governments and our various constituencies instead of focusing on the immediate “stomach infrastructure” they are able to provide?
And for INEC, they should go beyond the usual rhetoric and find a lasting solution to the recurring issue of underaged voting so as to gain the trust of Nigerians. It is not enough for Mr. Okoye and other top staff of the Commission to promise Nigerians that no underaged person will be allowed to vote. We heard such statements during previous elections but in the end, what happened? Nigerians will like to see INEC staff or whoever were responsible for the underaged registration punished for their illegal act. Citizens want to see INEC tackle this problem using technology as they promised. Most importantly, political offices should be made less attractive in Nigeria. Politicians go to any length, spend millions to get into power because of the enormous gains and privileges attached to political offices in the country. There is no doubt that when these positions are made less attractive, the desperation to clinch elected offices will reduce and selfless leaders will begin to emerge across all levels.

By: Calista Ezeaku

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Lagos-Calabar Highway  Must Wait

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Had the Presidency not responded to the allegations of the former Vice President, Atiku Abukakar, concerning the process of awarding of the contract for the Lagos-Calabar Coastal Highway, it would have been most surprising. People must do the job for which they were employed and that includes ensuring at all costs that their principals and their families are constantly blameless and spotless.
Atiku, through  his Media Adviser, Paul Ibe, had alleged that President Bola Tinubu’s son, Seyi Tinubu,  being a board  member of one of the firms  owned by Gilbert Chagoury, the owner of Hitech, the contractor that was awarded the contract  constitutes a conflict of interest; that the contract was awarded in contravention of the procurement laws, that it is being done in a hurry purely because of the business relationship between President Tinubu and Gilbert Chagoury, that the project is  expensive, ill timed  among others.
But in a swift response the presidency through a statement by the Special Adviser to the President on Information and Strategy, Bayo Onanuga, countered Atiku’s claim, saying that as an adult Nigerian, Seyi has the right to do business in the country and that his membership of the board of CDK in no way constitutes a conflict of interest.
Onanuga went down the memory lane, recounting how the former Vice President had revealed that he formed Intels Nigeria with an Italian businessman when he was serving in the Nigeria Customs Service, which in his view is a clear breach of extant public service regulations; how, as Chairman of the National Council on Privatisation, Atiku approved sales of over 145 State-owned enterprises to his known friends and associates and openly said during his failed campaign for the presidency last year that he would do the same, if elected.
The Special Adviser dwelt so much on Atiku’s past that he probably forgot to address some other key issues raised by the former VP about the Lagos-Calabar Coastal Highway project which had also been harped on by several other Nigerians. First is the issue of the contract’s awarding process and priority. Nigerians needed to hear directly from the presidency whether this huge project went through a competitive bidding process as required by law or not.  Section 16 (1) (c) of the Public Procurement Act 2007 provides that “All public procurement shall be conducted by open competitive bidding.” Section 16 (1) (d) stipulates that all public procurement shall be done in a transparent, equitable manner to ensure accountability. Was the contract awarded in compliance with this and other relevant laws?
There is also the issue of the highway project not complying with the Environmental Impact Assessment Act. The Pan-Yoruba Socio-Political Organisation, Afenifere, had through Prince Jide Faloye of its Publicity Department joined some other groups and individuals to raise concern about the serious issue. The organisation said, “The Lagos-Calabar Coastal Highway project must be re-examined, for not only breaching competitive tendering stipulations but for also contravening the Environmental Impact Assessment Act, as stipulated in EIA Decree No. 86 of 1992, which places the project type in Category 1 and affecting the natural environment, making an ESIA report mandatory before commencement.”
Afenifere also noted that, “the $13 billion Lagos-Calabar project is not only environmentally and economically destructive, but also irrationally replaces the 1,400km $12 billion Lagos-Calabar railway project along East-West Road, adjudged to be the single most important economically empowering infrastructural development project in Southern Nigeria in over 100 years, commissioned by both the Jonathan (2014) and Buhari (2021) governments.”
Convincing explanations to their salient concerns are what Nigerians want from the presidency, the Minister of Works, Dave Umahi and other relevant authorities instead of them resorting to name calling and describing the views as “ intrinsically superficial, baseless, self-serving and politically motivated to imprint malice in the minds of unsuspecting members of the public, especially the gullible”, as the Special Adviser (Media) to the Minister of Works, Orji Uchenna Orji did in a statement a few days back.
Government is all about the people. Fortunately, Nigeria is operating a democratic system of government widely known to be the government of the people, by the people and for the people. Therefore, the leaders put in power by the people should listen to the people and should always prioritise the interest of the people.
And talking about priority which was among the issues raised by Atiku, is the Lagos-Calabar highway the most critical need of the country right now? Yes, the road when completed will be of immense benefit to the coastal states and the country in general. Economic growth, easy transportation, improved quality of life will be assured, but is that what we need now in Nigeria?  Two weeks ago, Rivers State and the entire nation were thrown into mourning as a result of the vehicular accident that happened in the Eleme axis of the East-West which claimed several lives and damaged property. The lamentation of many people, including the State Governor, Siminalayi Fubara, was that the accident and the great losses could have been avoided had the road been fixed.
The about 328-kilometer road which was awarded in 2006 by the then President, Olusegun Obasanjo, and meant to be completed in 2010 is yet to be completed despite the billions of Naira that has gone into it. The Enugu-Onitsha road, Makurdi-Enugu road, Port Harcourt-Enugu express road and many other federal roads across the country have long become death traps. People have protested, demonstrated, appealed to the authorities to have them fixed, yet little or nothing has been done on most of them.
Could it not have been better to fix these roads before embarking on a new road that will cost nothing less than N2.8 trillion? A ready answer by the works minister and other government functionaries might be that N300 billion was provided in the 2023 supplementary budget to address the poor federal roads but how far can that go?
There is undoubtedly nobody in Nigeria that is not feeling the pinch of the current harsh economic realities in the country. Prices of food and other items in the market keep skyrocketing every day. The cost of transportation has quadrupled since May 29 when the announcement that “subsidy is gone” was made. For some weeks, there has been fuel scarcity in Abuja and other parts of the country which the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation Limited (NNPCL) blamed on “logistic issues”.
The NNPCL keeps shifting the goal post on when Port Harcourt, Warri and Kaduna refineries will become operational. The latest being that the Port Harcourt Refinery will start functioning by the end of March. In the second week of March, the Group Chief Executive Officer (GCEO) of the (NNPC) Mele Kyari, reportedly told the senate ad hoc committee investigating the various turnaround maintenance (TAM) projects of Nigerian refineries that, “In the next two weeks, production will start. We did mechanical completion of  Port Harcourt Refinery, that was what we said in December 2023,”
“That means we are done with our rehabilitation work, now you are to test if this completion is okay.” Has this happened?
The point is that the federal government should suspend the massive, flamboyant Lagos-Calabar coastal highway project pending when the economy is up and running and some critical infrastructure in the country are adequately attended to. If part of  this huge sum could be used to build new refineries and make the old ones bounce back to life, Nigeria will be on the way to achieving energy security which will impact positively on every sector of the economy and the lives of the citizens. Efficient and transparent use of the nation’s scarce resources is an important quality that our leaders must imbibe.

Calista Ezeaku

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Opinion

Ethnic  Nationalities: Key To True Nationhood?

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Nigeria, forced into serving as a large theatre of the absurdities, is unceasingly offering pig-ignorant theatrics, for amusement, in the midst of series of dreadfulness requiring serious attention. Perhaps, this is why Nigeria is considered, in some quarters, to be a huge joke; they may actually be right. Sincerely, there are many jokers here. Hence, there is continuity in entertaining and lulling those expected to engage in perpetual vigilance to sleep. Unfortunately, both the comedians and audience appear permanently unserious. The audience particularly appears incapable and/or unwilling to pick out, and act on, some sense from apparent senselessness. After all, not all senseless acts offer outright senselessness. For decades, especially since January, 1966, the quest for nationhood in Nigeria (if there is still any modicum of genuineness in it) has been unsuccessful. Before the 1914 amalgamation, the imperial British government, being already in control of a small Niger Coast Protectorate, purchased the territories which eventually became Nigeria, specifically in 1899, for £865,000 from George Dashwood Taubman Goldie (1846–1925) and his Royal Niger Company. Interesting! Was Nigeria treated as a commodity at a point? It appears so! Is it still commodified? You should answer that! So, might was right; and it still is, at the present? Over the years, many people in Nigeria have been enabling and reinforcing cracks and failures.
The poor in Nigeria have been empowering and strengthening those enslaving and punishing them! We wish all the disenfranchised, that have been working hard on lawful undertaking with zilch to show for it, happy 2024 International Workers’ Day!
Like it is said colloquially in Nigerian pidgin “Monkey dey work, baboon dey chop.” This is Nigeria’s current reality but if it is considered a problem, the solution is not unavailable for the serious-minded. Regrettably, the country has been bedevilled with a “leadership” cadre that believe in repressing the people. Of course, this is a recipe for dissenting voices. It is for rebellious actions. On 13th April, 2024, a group of armed persons suspected to be Yoruba Nation agitators (in ‘military’ camouflage) were alleged to have invaded the Oyo State House of Assembly Complex. Concerning the camouflage, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti (1938–1997) says “uniform na cloth, na tailor dey sew am.” Anyway, news reports have it that they lowered the Nigerian flag and hoisted that of Yoruba Nation agitation on the building housing the State House of Assembly. Consequently, no fewer than 20 suspects were arrested there for engaging in the botched suicide mission. There is no doubt that this action by those “disgruntled elements”, which gives an impression of insanity on their part, will be treated (among other accusations) as a treasonable felony in the law court. They will surely be prosecuted. Afterwards, 29 suspects had been arraigned before a Chief Magistrate Court in Ibadan on the 17th April, 2024.
Irrespective of what appears as lunacy, as displayed through the mentioned agitators’ bravado, it is imperative that sanity is extracted from what is seen as complete insanity before vital information is lost in a crowd controlled by wild emotions and sentiments. Respected opinions have condemned this action by the above-mentioned suspects. We, also, align with those condemning criminalities. Who will not, except criminals? Well now, without justifying this failed “coup d’état”, it is clear that there are people that are unhappy with the way the “business” called Nigeria is currently being run. The reason(s) for the discontent may be altruistic or criminally self-centred; whichever or whatever it is, necessary questions must be asked and collective answers found. Nigeria should stop sweeping dirt under the carpet as there is so much of it already gathered there breeding more negativities. This is what is continuously being done in this country. It is often said that same actions/interventions are not likely to produce different effect(s) and/or outcome(s).  During the ensuing chaos after the first military coup d’état of 15th January, 1966, Johnson Thomas Umunnakwe Aguiyi-Ironsi (1924–1966), a Nigerian Major-General, seized power and later promulgated the Unification Decree No. 34, which came into force on 24th May, 1966, leading to the abolition of regional system of government in the country.
This decree, and other steps, led to the unitary government introduced by Aguiyi-Ironsi, the main reason –according to Godwin Alabi-Isama – for which he was killed (on 29th July, 1966, in Ibadan). Thenceforth, all the governments that were formed (including the one by those who killed Aguiyi-Ironsi) fell in love with his unitary system that is still masquerading as “federal government” today. Ironically, “civilian” administrations, particularly since 1999, are still holding on to a “patch-patch” version of this system of government. A painful aspect is that when most Nigerian politicians are seeking for office, they speak vigorously about this lopsidedness; they criticise it, keying into the several calls for “restructuring”. However, once they get into office – like their predecessors – they “blend” with the hitherto well-criticised “patch-patch” system and start asking the people for the meaning and constituents of “restructuring”. How can one be more ingenious in Nigerian politics? What are we getting at here? It is that the Nigerian political elite have been doing the same thing, playing the same politics over the years, pretending to be expecting different results. This may be part of what is causing frustration for those claiming to be the mouthpiece for the different ethnic nationalities; some might have been going about their agitations peacefully, nonetheless, for explainable and unexplainable reasons some do go overboard.
Again, this piece is not – in any way – meant to endorse any criminality which definitely includes treason but to call attention to the fact that there is a critical need for sustainable truthful accommodating platforms to be enabled, allowing various (ethnic) nationalities to discuss how they wish to live together! Also, the Nigerian state should find ways to engage in constructive discussions with the people. These are suggestions those benefiting from the current chaos do not want to hear! We recognise how politically “incorrect” these suggestions can be in the circles of hero worshippers. We may not be able to say, for certain, who can be called a “Nigerian” but we believe that many of those being referred to as such do not really want the country to split; may be the country has gone far for its dissolution to be unneeded. Nevertheless, not listening to peoples’ grouses, invoking the cliché “Nigeria’s unity is non-negotiable” that sounds much like imposition, is self-deluding now and needlessly risky. Nigeria’s amalgamation of 1914 is more than a century old without the country achieving nationhood, yet. There is/are reason(s) for this challenge that should be found and sincerely worked on, together, as a team instead of this master-servant relationship that has always led to crises in the world. It must be ensured that there is no repeat of the costly, fierce and bloody 30months “One-Nigeria” struggle for which well over 2million humans perished! Surely, with a sincerity of purpose, differences can be peacefully resolved amongst “Nigerians”.

Andrew A Erakhrumen
Erakhrumen teaches at the Department of Forest Resources and Wildlife Management, University of Benin.

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Opinion

The Rantings  Of Rivers ALGON

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For the first time in the last eight years , one can observe a moribund  and toothless,  Association  of Local  Government of Nigeria, Rivers State Chapter trying to lull the people of Rivers State in believing that  it exists, that it is versed and abreast with the provisions  of the 1999 Constitution  of the Federal  Republic of Nigeria (as amended), knowledgeable  about subsisting  judicial  pronouncements on  the Local government administration  matters by courts of competent jurisdiction,  and it has workers  and. the people’s  welfare at heart.
These wrong impressions  can be deduced from the text of the Press Conference  delivered by the Association  last week.
Despite the window dressing  and cosmetic posture   that the Association  of Local Government of Nigeria, Rivers Sttate chapter wants to impress on the people and residents of Rivers State,  it is crystal clear that workers at the Third Tier of  Government  have not fared well in the last eight years of the repressive  and workers unfriendly  immediate past administration  in the State.
While workers at the State were fortunate to have a controversial minimum  wage paid to them, local Government  workers did not benefit from the N30,000 Minimum  Wage which became a legal instrument  about six years until March 2024, following  a directive by the Executive  Governor,  Sir Siminalayi  Fubara,  to Local Government chairmen in the State to immediately  implement the minimum wage,  wage award and  promote workers.
Where was.the Legal Adviser  of the Association of Local Government of Nigeria, whose statutory  responsibility it  was to advise the former  Rivers State. Governor  that it is  an affront on the sensibilities of  workers and fragrant.breach of extant law  to not pay minimum  wage to workers at.the 23 Local Government councils.
Civil servants at the State and Local Government  councils were not promoted and did not benefit from the annual incremental credit for about ten years. The incremental credit is a paltry and very insignificant  amount compared to the inputs of workers to drive implementation of government  policies and programmes and what elective office holders take home within the comparable period.
I had expected a “concerned  and workers-friendly ‘ Association  of Local Government in the State to midwife the promotion of workers, implementation  of Minimum wage  and fulfill their statutory  obligations to the workers and the people at the local government  areas whose resources they hold in trust and on whose behest they are in power.
It therefore  beats my imagination that    Local  Government  Chairmen  of ALGON,  who are products of  the ballot and not  appointees of the former governor lost their “Executive” status and played the second  fiddle role. Even when there was unconfirmed tampering  of local government funds, they could not  protest or raise an eye brow.
How the people who were cowardly and timid before the former  administration  in the State  suddenly  cultivated and imbibed the effrontry  and temerity to hold a Press Conference attempting to disparage the performing  and conscientious  Sir Siminalayi Fubara-led administration  leaves much to be desired  and a bad taste in the mouth of all patriotic  and truthful  Rivers people.
I expected the self serving chairmen  under the aegis of the Association  of Local Government  of Nigeria to brace up to the challenges of seeming derecognition and denial of their right of expression as elected chairmen by the former administration  in the State.
While the ALGON has the legitimacy  to contest violation  of,  or infringement on their interests, such protest should not be seen as selective. Between  1999 and 2003,  the Association  of Local Government  of.Nigeria in Rivers State was vociferous  and so  alive to its onus that they rejected allocations  that did not reflect the true figures of what the local government councils deserved from the Joint Account Allocation  Committee  (JAAC). That was when ALGON was keen and committed  to the essence  of its formation. That was a real workers-friendly ALGON.
However, with the advent of crude and uncivilised godfatherism that circumvented real democratic processes for manipulative and coercive selection that ultimately  produced  unpopular candidates of the godfather,  chairmen were reduced to puppets, playing  subservient  roles for their benefactors instead of protecting  the interest and welfare of workers and the people of their local government areas, who they ought to represent.
Having therefore failed to speak up for workers and defend the welfare of the people of their local government areas, at a time they were oppressed,  the association  in my candid opinion  does not have the  moral justification to  cry fowl against the present  administration  in  Rivers State whose policies and programmes so far, reveal that the governor  understands  that  the legitimacy  of his administration  is  derived from the people, so he is accountable to  them by putting in place infrastructure that will give fresh breath to a people who are recuperating from  the suffocation  of repressive  and coercive  governance.
Sir Siminalayi Fubara  is today a messiah to workers in Rivers State. Local government. workers are .being paid minimum wage, promoted and duly placed at their appropriate levels after 10 years of no promotion.
Civil servants  in the State are sure of receiving  their pensions immediately  after retirement  from service  which was a marked. departure from previous  administration.
Rather than vilifying or  demonising the present  administration  in the State, the Association  of  Local Government of.Nigeria, Rivers State should thank the  Governor, Sir Siminalayi Fubara,  for doing in less than one year what their grand master could not  do for them and workers in eight  years.
Remember, everyone will stand in the court of history  and posterity  to account for their  actions and inactions  in office.

Igbiki Benibo

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