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NIGERIANS FLAY BUHARI’S INDEPENDENCE SPEECH

…Sue for Peace, Unity

As Nigerian’s reflect on the state of the nation after sixty years of independence from colonial rule, some residents of Rivers State have expressed views on their expectations for peace and unity in the country.

The general overseer of God’s Intervention Ministry, Port Harcourt, Dr. Mrs. Blessing Paul popularly called Mama B, was not satisfied with the state of affairs in the county. She however prophesied that good things will begin to happen in the country. She prayed that God will continue to endow the nation for greater exploits and sought God’s intervention for peace in the destiny of the nation.

She said whatever economic and social setbacks that have confronted Nigeria will be replaced with abundant blessings and called for uprightness in the leadership of the nation stating that righteousness exalts a nation.

The chairman, Transitional Council Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP) Chief Keeper Gbaranor called for equity and justice in the affairs of the country.

He advocated for the restructuring of the Nigeria state, to make for devolution of power and resource control to the respective confederate states, arguing that it was the only way to guarantee fairness and even development to the component subnationals.

Ambassador Godspower Igwe a chieftain of the All Progressive Congress (APC) in the state, sued for peace in the country.

Amb. Igwe called for concerted efforts to move the nation forward insisting that there is still hope for Nigeria and commended President Mohamadu Buhari for his efforts at initiating and promoting development in the country.

He stated that the recent commissioning of the rail line between the Atakpe to Kogi state was laudable and called for the support of Nigerians for the president.

Eze Vincent Nnaemeka Nwanewa in his comment appealed for love for one another, urging all Nigerians to embrace peace, and collectively work together with the powers that be to build the nation.

Prominent Rivers statesman Rev. Sokari Soberekon was however full of knocks for the leadership of the nation. According to the former  world wrestling champion, the government has failed, citing the palpable insecurity, corruption in all sectors of the country and the abject poverty prevailing in the country in the last sixty years  in a nation blessed with natural resources.

Rev. Soberekon called for resource control for the oil producing states, insisting that the continued underdevelopment of the Niger Delta region was provocative and insensitive of the present administration.

The elder statesman condemned the rationale of the Buhari administration to build rail line up to Niger Republic, stating that Nigerian states especially the East and Niger Delta states have no functional rail lines.

Kingsley Ejekwu, a businessman and politician based in Port Harcourt was not comfortable with developments in the country and called for new initiatives to build a united nation.

He however commended the Federal administration for the progress being made to reposition the country citing the new Port Harcourt Airport, the Bonny-Bodo road and the revamping of railways in the country as achievements.

Keke Driver, John Allen; who spoke to The Vortex on the Independence Anniversary decried the poverty in the land and the high cost of goods including the recent increase in fuel and electricity tariff. He concluded that there was nothing to celebrate in the country.

Mrs. Patience Anurika, a petty trader in Port Harcourt called for a change of priorities in the country. She decried the lack of attention to the poor in the society, stressing the lack of financial assistance to low income earners like the petty traders.

Mrs. Anurika lamented that the poor in the society can no longer feed the family as result of the economic crises in the country. She appealed to the state and federal government to create jobs to assist younger generations and stem the frustration of families and increasing crimes in the country.

Comrade Enefa Georgewill of the Civil Society Organization (CSO) reacting to the celebration of Nigeria 60th independence anniversary, described the state of affairs in the country as threatening and undemocratic.

He said what happened on the independence day when  protest by civil society groups in the  country was disrupted by  policemen was a shameful threat to democratic ideals. 

He stated that any nation that attempts to suppress citizens opinion cannot be said to be practicing democracy.

“We are not yet independent. Human rights and freedom are under threat, free speech is threatened and life itself is under threat.” Georgewill declared.

He condemned the character of the ruling class in the country who tend not to understand the plights of the masses in a democracy and called on the people to take their destiny in their own hands to salvage the country for themselves.

A security expert and elder statesman, Baba Jide Fashaken said Nigeria’s 60 years of independence is nothing to write about as the armed forces could not defeat the insurgents that have caused untold hardship and loss of lives and properties.

Fashaken, a retired Police Officer said those who threatened during President Goodluck Jonathan that they would make this country ungovernable should be arrested as, pointing out that unless they are arrested and prosecuted, the killings, kidnapping, banditry, terrorism, herdsmen attacks among other crimes will continue.

An economist, Mr. Belema Eli also flayed President Muhammadu Buhari’s Independence Day speech for comparing Nigeria’s petroleum pump price with other oil producing countries rather than it with social and human welfare.

Mr. Eli opined that what the President should listen to the cries of the masses and ensure that the refineries’ worked, rather than planning to build new ones, adding that even the planned construction of rail line from Nigeria to Niger Republic is a misplaced priority. “Most federal roads are death traps even as that of Oyigbo to Port Harcourt and Akpajo, Eleme, Onne are awaiting urgent government attention,” he said.

A Muslim Leader and Vice President General, supreme council of Islamic Affairs Rivers State, Alhaji Nasir Awhelebe Uhor said, “it is good to say that Nigeria is still together as a country inspite of all challenges as we mark 60th Independence anniversary. Several times people predicted that Nigeria will disintegrate but the objective of a country is not just to survive but how to live.

Alhaji Uhor noted that for Nigeria to come this far, it is time for it to be able to judiciously analyze its national and human resources for good services of the people rather than surviving on few individuals, stressing that the greatest challenge was how to make the country to survive for all Nigerians and not for the privileged few.

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Front PageIssues

Nigeria at 60: Sing Stanza Two Of National Anthem

Sixty years after independence, Nigeria appears to be struggling in practicing the rudiments of democracy. The country is still at crossroads. Across the six geo-political zones, there is hardly peace. In the North, Boko Haram is on the prowl. In the Middle Belt, the Fulani herdsmen have intensified killings. The brand of terrorism in the South is armed robbery and commercial kidnapping. Besides, there are problems of ethno-religious conflicts, and youth unemployment. Today, Nigerians are more divided along ethnic and religious lines than they were before independence.

On October 1, 1960, the future of Nigeria was bright. World powers acknowledged the enormous natural endowment, quality and quantity of its population and vast opportunities available to the former British Colony. But one error of judgment made at independence was in not renegotiating the terms of the union which was consummated in 1914 when the Southern protectorate was unified with the Northern protectorate in what political historians call amalgamation.

From historical accounts, it doesn’t appear the amalgamation agenda was borne out of a genuine national consensus but was rather a business idea by the British colonialists to maximize their drive for more natural and human resources to enrich their local economy and service their agro allied industry. For instance, Nigerians are not aware of the witnesses at the amalgamation of 1914. Why are there no known indigenous witnesses to the signing of the amalgamation treaty or was it purely a British affair?

This mistake of history by our ‘heroes past’ to renegotiate our union or to at least brainstorm on the necessity or otherwise of the continuous existence of Nigeria as an entity or otherwise, still hobbles Nigeria and is the fundamental source of the groundswell of disagreements and discontents amongst the divergent segments of the contemporary Nigerian society.

This is the origin of the current agitation for self determination and/or restructuring. Still dwelling on the fundamental symbolism of the 1960 independence, let us revisit a symbol of our sovereignty; the National flag and examine its import and philosophy.

First, we note that the symbolic meaning of the green, white, green flag with vertical stripes represent Nigeria’s natural wealth, while the white band represents peace. However, as Nigeria has become a grown adult at 60, those two symbols of natural resources and peace have eluded millions of Nigerians who have now become vulnerable and endangered species, deprived, oppressed, marginalized even  by government whose legal mandate is to guarantee safety of lives and property of the citizens.

The grand norm says the security and welfare of the citizens are the primary duties of government. Successive governments have spectacularly failed to discharge these primary constitutional obligations. Thus, the obvious fact that the natural resources of Nigeria have become like curses on corporate Nigeria even as peace is an illusion.

The people of Niger Delta are facing social injustice on  a scale that is unfathomable yet their backyards are the habitation for much of the National wealth which only less than 1 % of Nigerians made up of unpatriotic elements and their surrogates share amongst themselves.

Not long ago, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) estimated that as at a decade ago, nearly $400 billion of Nigeria’s crude oil revenues have all been stolen by successive political and military leadership of the Nigerian state. For instance, one of the dictators to have graced Nigeria as a military despot stole nearly $5 billion which was found in few of his several accounts and this late dictator, General Sani Abacha, successfully hid this massive quantum of cash in foreign jurisdictions at the time Nigeria was a pariah state under different global wide sanctions.

Imagine how much would have been stolen by governments of Nigeria under the periods that the country is not under any form of sanctions including now that the country is marking 60th year of independence.

Imagine how a typical 60-year old looks. But as a 60 year-old country, her citizens are still poor, endangered and buffeted by all kinds of violence whilst the government appear helpless.

You wonder why at 60, Nigeria is a very dangerous place, with incompetent leaders and a lot of uncharismatic followers.

Nigeria’s constitution which is a sacred code of conduct is flagrantly abused by those who wield political power. The latest book by Michelle Obama titled, “Becoming” would prove the statement that a 60 -year old adult must behave well because even at the age of 15, Michelle who would go on to become first lady as wife of USA president Barack Obama, was looked upon as an adult.

She writes; “by the time I was fourteen, I basically thought of myself as half a grown-up anyway, maybe even as two-thirds of a grown-up. I’d gotten my period, which I announced immediately and with huge excitement to everyone in the house, because that was just the kind of household we had. I’d graduated from a training bra to one that looked vaguely more womanly, which also thrilled me. Instead of coming home for lunch, I now ate with my classmates in Mr. Bennett’s room at school. Instead of dropping in at Southside’s house on Saturdays to listen to his jazz records and play with Rex, I rode my bike right past, headed east to the bungalow on Oglesby Avenue where the Gore sisters lived.”

The question we need to answer is why at 60, the Nigerian state still behave like a toddler going by the crude type of political leadership in place? The straight answer is the general lack of will-power by the citizens to stand by their rights as provided for generously in chapter 4 of the 1999 constitution and the willingness of the people to be oppressed by the persons they elect to govern.

Renowned Professor Chinue Achebe wrote; “The trouble with Nigeria is simply and squarely a failure of leadership. There is nothing wrong with the Nigerian land or climate or water or air or anything else. The Nigerian problem is the unwillingness or inability of its leaders to rise to the responsibility, to the challenge of personal example which are the hallmarks of true leadership.”

In 2020, Nigeria’s problem is both poor leadership and lethargic followership. For instance, in 2015, during the general elections as well as the 2019 polls, majority of voters succumbed to the temptation of mortgaging their conscience for bags of salt, rice, wrappers, and few cash which were freely distributed to would-be voters by those seeking the mandate of the people.

The abnormal has been normalized by a section of the political class who seek to amass wealth while 90 million Nigerians become absolutely poor with the 60 year old Nation becoming the poverty capital of the World.

The truth is, 60 years after independence, our youths see a bleak future and are glad to flee their fatherland, in search of greener pastures, risk their lives crossing the arid and lonely desert and the mighty ocean, and end up in countries where they are dehumanized. Those countries know that our own political leaders desecrate our dignity. So, they have no iota of respect for bearers of Nigerian passport.

Neither comfortable at home nor secure abroad, Nigerians are unhappy because truth has been abandoned, justice banished. Honesty has become a crime, dishonesty is rewarded. Competence no longer matters. But Nigeria needs leaders who are intellectually, ethically and technically competent to manage her affairs. Not those who encourage penury and make it impossible for them to make ends meet.

At 60, our country is wounded, bleeding and dying. We must quit the path of deceit. Our president and governors, ministers and commissioners, members of National and State Assemblies, our judges and legal practitioners, religious leaders, and all citizens must take responsibility for healing this country.

At 60, we pray using words of the second stanza of our national anthem: May God guide us and our leaders right.

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Issues

Infectious Diseases Bill: Paradox of Optimism and Fear

The two Chambers of the National Assembly are currently working on a new legislation that would provide legal backing to the management of infectious diseases and pandemics in the country. But a welter of criticism is swelling around some of the provisions in the bill that observers say infringe on the rights of citizens.

The Bill, which has already passed second reading in the House of Representatives, is titled:”Infectious Diseases Control Bill 2020″, while the one which passed first reading in the Senate is titled: “National Health Emergency Bill 2020”.

The one at the lower house was sponsored by the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Rt. Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, Chairman, House Committee on Health Institutions Pascal Obi and Chairman of the Committee on Health Services Tanko Sununu. The Bill seeks to repeal the Quarantine Act and enact the Control of Infectious Diseases Bill, make provisions relating to quarantine and make regulations for preventing the introduction into and spread in Nigeria of dangerous infectious diseases, and for other related matters.

The Bill is criticised for giving too much powers to the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) in the management of infectious diseases and pandemic in the country in ways that could infringe on the fundamental human rights of Nigerians.

The Bill amongst others, empowers the Director-General of the NCDC to be in charge of the administration of the new Act, notification of prescribed infectious diseases, surveillance, medical examination and treatment, vaccination post-mortem examination, destruction and disposal of infected animals, food and water, isolation of certain persons, prohibition or restriction of meetings, gatherings and public entertainments as well as control of occupation, trade or business.

Some provisions of the Bill stipulates that; “Except as otherwise provided by this Act, the Director-General of Nigerian Centre for Disease Control shall, subject to any general or special directions of the minister, be responsible for the administration of this Act.

“The Director-General may, subject to such conditions or restrictions as he thinks fit, appoint any public officer, officer of any statutory body; or employee of a prescribed institution, to be a Health Officer for the purposes of this Act or any particular provision of this Act.

“The Director-General may, subject to such conditions or restrictions as he thinks fit, delegate to any Health Officer all or any of the powers conferred on him by this Act. Every medical practitioner who has reason to believe or suspect that any person attended or treated by him is suffering from a prescribed infectious disease or is a carrier of that disease shall notify the Director-General within the prescribed time and in such form or manner as the Director-General may require.”

It also states that “The Director General may require any person who is, or is suspected to be, a case or carrier or contact of an infectious disease to submit to medical examination or medical treatment within or at such time, and at such place, as the Director-General may determine.

“The Director-General may order any person who is, or is suspected to be, a case or carrier or contact of an infectious disease to be detained and isolated in a hospital or other place for such period of time and subject to such conditions as the Director General may determine”.

Another provision of the Bill that particularly generated serious condemnation is the power to order certain persons to undergo vaccination or other prophylaxis. It stated that: “In an outbreak or a suspected outbreak of any infectious disease in any area in Nigeria, the Director General may by order direct any person or class of persons not protected or vaccinated against the disease to undergo vaccination or other prophylaxis within such period as may be specified in the order.

“In addition to the power conferred by subsection (1), where it appears to the Director that — an outbreak of an infectious disease in any area in Nigeria is imminent; and it is necessary or expedient to do so for the securing of public safety, the Director may by order direct any person or class of persons not protected or vaccinated against that infectious disease to undergo vaccination or other prophylaxis within such period as may be specified in the order.”

Opposing the Bill, a veteran Columnist Tola Adeniyi called on the Nigerian Media, Civil Societies, Traditional Institutions, Labour Unions and the Intelligentsia to condemn the insidious Bill that will force vaccination on all Nigerians.

He said, “There is nowhere in the world where across-the-board vaccination is made mandatory. We must save Nigerians from Death Sentence being orchestrated by the Western World and their racist agencies. Whoever has taken bribes and inducements from the financiers from outside, should limit the curse to their families”.

Also, the Coalition of United Political Parties (CUPP) alleged that lawmakers in the House of Representatives were offered monetary inducements for the speedy passage of the Vaccination Bill.

CUPP in a statement signed by its Spokesman, Ikenga Ugochinyere, said it was in possession of intelligence report that the leadership of House is determined to pass the compulsory vaccine bill without subjecting it to the traditions of legislative proceedings.

“Opposition Coalition (CUPP) has intercepted very credible intelligence and hereby alerts Nigerians of plans by the leadership of the House of Representatives led by Femi Gbajabiamila to forcefully and without adherence to the rules of lawmaking to pass the Control of Infectious Diseases Bill 2020 otherwise known as the Compulsory Vaccination Bill which is proposing a compulsory vaccination of all Nigerians even when the vaccines have not been discovered”, CUPP said.

Opposing the Bill after presentation by Gbajabiamila, Sergius Ogun (PDP, Edo) urged the House to think twice and avoid giving too much power to the NCDC to solely manage infectious diseases in the country.

“Be careful with trusting omnibus powers on an agency whose responsibility it will be to determine whether or not, a vaccine is necessary for combating a given outbreak. Such could give rise to conspiracy,” he argued.

On his part, Nkem Abonta (PDP, Abia) argued that the Bill was coming at a wrong time and called on the lawmakers to apply restraint on the speed and subject the new legislation to public hearing for public input.

Abonta said; “We are all aware of what is awash in the social media. We need a Bill for control or prevention of disease. What I am trying to say is we should not because of what we are trying to do make big error. If we are going to do away with public hearing, then we must seek for direction and not speed.”

Despite these criticisms, the Senate also initiated the same Bill with a name, ‘National Health Emergency Bill, 2020’, sponsored by the Chairman, Senate Committee on Primary Healthcare and Communicable Diseases, Chukwuka Utazi (PDP, Enugu).

But soon after the Bill was read for the first time, the former Deputy President of the Senate, Ike Ekweremadu led opposition against it.

Ekweremadu, who under Order 14(1) of the Senate Standing Orders as Amended, demanded for the draft copy of the Bill or in gazetted form, insisted that the content of the bill must be made open before subjecting it to any consideration.

He argued that his privileges and those of other senators would be breached if details of the contents were not made available to them before it is given further legislative consideration.

“In line with Order 14(1), which has to deal with privileges, as one of the serving senators, I move that draft copies of the bill should be made available before any other legislative action is taken on it. This is very important because it would not augur well for the Senate to follow the same route with the House of Representatives where a controversial Bill on Control of Infectious Diseases was passed for first and second reading last week,” Ekweremadu maintained.

The opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) had in a statement by the National Publicity Secretary Kola Ologbondiyan said; “It was imperative to allow for popular participation, especially as the bill seeks to prescribe clauses on critical issues, particularly that of vaccination, which has become globally controversial in the face of raging conspiracy theories on the COVID-19 pandemic. Such an approach is already worsening public mistrust as well as heightening apprehension over the intentions of presiding officers of the House of Representatives and the All Progressives Congress (APC)-led administration at this critical time.”

The party insisted that Nigerians should be “Carried along in the decision-making process of such a critical legislation, which seeks to make provisions that will directly affect their health, as well as overall individual and collective safety and well-being. Anything short of that would be counter-productive and capable of breeding an avoidable public resistance, especially given the deepening fear and anxiety in the polity over the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Unperturbed by the hues and cries against the Bill, Speaker Gbajabiamila who is the lead sponsor said allegations that the Bill is a sinister attempt to turn Nigerians into guinea pigs for medical research while taking away their fundamental human rights was far from the truth.

The Speaker however, said the House will subject the Bill to a public hearing where Nigerians from all walks of life would be given the opportunity to contribute to the draft law.

“Suffice it to say that none of these allegations are true. Unfortunately, we now live in a time when conspiracy theories have gained such currency that genuine endeavours in the public interest can quickly become mischaracterised and misconstrued to raise the spectre of sinister intent and ominous possibility. The Control of Infectious Diseases Bill will be put forward to a public hearing where stakeholder contributions will be sought to make improvements to the Bill before it is reviewed and debated by the Committee of the whole,” Gbajabiamila added.

In apparent demonstration of intolerance to opposition against the Bill, the House of Representatives at its plenary resolved to take legal action against an online media organisation for allegedly reporting that the House has collected $10 billion from Bill Gates to pass the Infectious Disease Control Bill.

Speaker, Gbajabiamila mandated the Clerk of the House, Patrick Giwa to liaise with the Majority Leader of the House and the Legal Adviser to the National Assembly to commence legal action against the media outfit.

The House reached this resolution at plenary, following the unanimous adoption of a motion of Personal Explanation by the Deputy Speaker of the House, Ahmed Wase.

On the other hand, the controversial Bill has received the support of the NCDC Director-General, Chikwe Ihekwazu as he pledged support for the new quarantine and public health Bill while responding to questions by Members of the House.

Ihekwazu said there was need for an updated legislation to the infectious diseases control law, stressing that the NCDC is the most affected by the provisions of the current Act.

He however, maintained that the House did not consult him before commencing work on the new Bill but did not said whether the legislature must consult him before bringing up the law that would enhance the fight against infectious diseases.

Meanwhile, the Nigeria Civil Society community, comprising 69 members commended the decision of the House of Representatives to subject the Control of Infectious Diseases Bill to a public hearing in furtherance of the right of citizens to contribute to law making.

The Civil Societies, in a statement recommended that the House should provide information on the committee responsible for the coordination of public hearing and communicate a practical schedule for public engagement on the Bill.

Other recommendations demanded the House to host a virtual and physical public hearing, carry out multi-layered stakeholder consultations and intensify publicity on the Bill to enlighten Nigerians on the provisions of the Bill.

Any attempt to hurriedly act on this proposed bill could lend credence to rising public concerns and conspiracy theories on social media locally and internationally that the House of Reps is acting insensitively under the “dark influence” of some global vaccine players with undeclared interest.

Consequently, the suspicions already generated by the poor handling of this process are bound to trigger a new wave of resistance and rejection when a COVID-19 vaccine is eventually discovered and brought to the country.

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Issues

Illegal Demolition of Hotels And Human Rights Abuses By Gov Wike- Tam-George

Yesterday afternoon, two hotel in the Eleme community of Rivers State were demolished by a team led by the Governor of the State, Mr Nyesom Wike.

According to a statement by the State Government, the hotels had violated an Executive Order, banning the operation of hotels in the State until further notice.

No formal charges were brought against the affected hotels before a court of law, by the Rivers State Government. The owners of the hotels had no opportunity to defend themselves before a Judge. And the so-called Executive Order itself is spurious, draconian and ill-defined.

But the illegal demolition of the hotels yesterday fits into a long and sickening pattern of lawlessness and impunity by Governor Wike in Rivers State.

In July 2017, Governor Wike had shut down and revoked the Certificate of Occupancy of Novotel Hotel in Port Harcourt, simply because critics of his lawless regime had lodged overnight at the hotel.

In the past three years, Mr Wike has deployed his private army of thugs, disguised as State “task forces”, to kill innocent citizens, loot markets and shops, terrorize young women in Port Harcourt, and extort money from drivers and traders in Rivers State.

Three weeks ago, on the 24th April, Sergeant Lovender Elekwachi, a traffic warden on duty in the Eneka area of the State, was murdered in cold blood, by Governor Wike’s marauding task force. The tragic incident was widely reported by the media, including the BBC.

The COVID-19 pandemic has only served as a perfect smokescreen for Governor Wike to escalate his reign of criminality and terror in Rivers State.

On the 27th of April, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michele Bachelet warned governments to refrain from violating fundamental human rights, “under the guise of exceptional and emergency measures” during the COVID-19 crisis.

But in the past six weeks of the pandemic, Governor Wike has caused the death of a law enforcement agent, confiscated private properties, demolished hotels, brutalized market women in Port Harcourt, and held pilots and oil workers on essential duties in illegal detention.

The alarming acts of lawlessness by Mr Wike mean that Rivers State has descended into a state of anarchy. State institutions have been hijacked by a lawless government, and the people themselves have been ‘kidnapped’ by a moral hoodlum in power.

Governor Wike is an extremely powerful politician in Nigeria, who is widely deemed to be above the law.

  1. We therefore call on the UN Human Rights Commission to urgently investigate and initiate criminal proceedings against Mr Nyesom Wike in Rivers State.
  2. We strongly appeal to the United States Congress and the State Department to urgently initiate and maintain consequential pressure, including visa restrictions and asset freezes against Mr Wike, for his reign of impunity in Rivers State.
  3. Governor Wike is well-known for his expensive vacation junkets to European cities, even as children die from preventable water-borne diseases in Rivers State.

We therefore strongly appeal to the European Union to initiate and maintain consequencial diplomatic actions, including money laundry investigations, visa restrictions and asset freezes against Governor Wike, who constantly proclaims that “nothing will happen” to him, despite his reign of terror.

We believe that those who hold public office should never be above the law.”

Dr. Austin Tam-George, Former Commissioner for Information and Communications, Rivers State

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Tam-George: An Intellectual Prostitute Let Loose- Nsirim

Austin Tam-George has consistently been biting the finger that fed him because he is an intellectual prostitute. He looks for every available opportunity to lampoon Governor Nyesom Wike in order to impress his paymasters as a paid hack without conscience.

Someone like Austin Tam-George does not have the moral standing to discuss governance because his tenure as Commissioner for Information in Rivers State was a monumental failure.

A man who used his first month in office as Commissioner to throw 2O Rivers indigenes who were earning a living in the Ministry as casual workers into the unemployment market surely loves Rivers State.

Perhaps Austin Tam-George’s patriotism also led him to seize the monthly imprests meant for Departments in the Ministry.  Maybe he should explain to Rivers people and the those he is serving why a Commissioner should arm twist Heads of Parastatals under him to make monthly returns to quench his voracious appetite for money.

Was it not his kinsman in one of the parastatals that engaged him in a verbal warfare along William Jumbo Street in Port Harcourt that helped to tame his unquenchable taste for money?

His grouse with Governor Wike is because the over inflated and bogus proposals he made under the guise of upgrading the State Media Houses without recourse to the Bureau for Public Procurement were turned down by the governor who insisted on due process.

Austin Tam-George was quoted as saying that he will never forgive Governor Wike for not allowing him dupe the government. The likes of Austin Tam-George are always available for the highest bidder that is why his recent outburst should not be taken seriously.

When he was looting the money generated by parastatals under him he never remembered United Nations and European Union. As the proverbial dog that eats the bone hung on his neck, he milked the media houses dry before he was sacked from the State Executive Council.

He should know that the record of monies siphoned from the Media houses are still in the archives and will be released if he dares to make any more noise. If Governor Wike did not retain him in his cabinet because he lacked character is it enough to look for any slightest opportunity to impugn his integrity?

Those who live in glass houses should not throw stones. A word is enough for the wise.

Paulinus Nsirim Commissioner for Information and Communications, Rivers State May 11, 2020 

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Issues

Giant Nigeria Held Hostage By Naira Exchange Rate. A critique of Alhaji Atiku Abubakar’s policy perspective on “What Africa Must Do…”

The recent statement by Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, appears to announce that he has come out from a post- election “fattening room”. His silence on government policies and  national trends must have served him as a welcome companion. And why not?  Any normal citizen who survived the locally fabricated tornado of our 2019 elections in Nigeria, would have done no less.

By the way, our elections are not for normal citizens.  Since 1999 have they have been infected from design by a mischievous “establishment virus”. It is inclined to turn each election into a social tornado that fits a simple pattern: we tend to spend more money on elections ( perhaps more than any other country in the world). We tend to sponsor the most expensive gadgets backed by laughable supervision gaffes, even before the elections.

Our elections tend to lead to threats of more injuries or deaths during each cycle. Then, largely more election litigations follow each cycle, as data from 1999-2019 show.In the end what do we get? A predictable outcome: the nation is saddled with a mediocre performance that gives us less value- for- money spent. In effect, we spend all that money to devalue our democracy by taking it at least one step down the ladder of public service efficiency.

But we all know that facts from past exercises point to both those who hold political positions and their leading opponents. They do not want free and fair elections. Simple! Not at LG, State or Federal level. They only want to win by other means! Most INEC people know that fact. All the political parties know that. The security agencies know it . And the courts are no less part of this conspiracy of mediocrity.

Yet isn’t it ridiculous that they all seem to pitch in with feverish grand-standing? No it is not ridiculous. It is because each election allows some people in relevant establishments to go for the kill. Seems each establishment does the best it could to get its fair share at what has become a painful and expensive national circus.This virus affects Nigeria’s institutions and establishments, not only those connected with elections. Increasingly their performance tends to show that competence and the will to be seen as positively competitive, no longer matter to Nigeria as a country.

 Everything else we are going through, seems to be a fall-out of this social reality. That is why only a few among Nigeria’s top political elite, bother to show by their behaviour that they are still “normal” like the rest of us. They sit back to care about competence or performance, worth the title.  Others of their tribe, are sadly not like us anymore. So Alhaji Atiku’s statement pointing the way for government performance to achieve efficiency, is positively pregnant. It talks about how government must  make the Nigerian economy and Africa’s market potential, a priority to be rescued from Covid -19. Or the pandemic would snatch the opportunities from our citizens, while other countries will be set to launch their citizens to higher progress.

But I suspect you know how this will end. Alhaji Atiku will likely find himself accused as a “sore loser” or worse. Some zealous Federal Government  agencies or President Buhari’s party officials will be blinking with rage to charge at Alhaji Atiku. Please don’t blame them. It is one area where pretension of efficiency by those involved, leads to steady bank alert for fighting perceived critics of government.

No action of value to our nation, is likely to come from such a timely wake- up call. It is because it is part of a trend that shows what kind of system our country is running since 1999. A feudal political system does not want performance efficiency to make it competitive, because that requires competence -based allocation of opportunities. Nigeria left the lane of competence based decision making in the public sector  20 years ago. It tends to get worse with each passing adminstration.

Problem is that there is no Private Sector in the real sense to cover up the establishment policy failure and widening performance gaps. As I shall show, Alhaji Atiku’s call only scratched the surface of a deeper national problem. To be sure in a system where a country wants to be seen by it’s citizens as caring for their interest, the response would be different.

According to Ms Blank the woman who is a co-leader of what is becoming known as “Verbatim theatre” culture, which is a new form of drama to express crucial underlying national issues,  we should all join hands to make Nigeria react differently. Our nation’s growing disregard for a culture that promotes performance value, should be at the “heart of what we should be grappling with as a country”, as Ms Blank was quoted on a different issue by *The Economist* of March 7-13 2020 (page 73) . 

But many of our politicians no longer connect with the dream that keeps majority of our people awake every night at the LG, state and federal levels.  It is not a fantasy. No! Once upon a time our nation was the centre of Africa’s ambition and the point on any map of Africa, which Black professionals such as Dr Patrick Wilmot, Lindsay Esoghene Barret and many others wanted to belong to or identify with.

For instance in the 1970s just a few years after the Civil War, ordinary Nigerians were respected and our nation too became respected. Up to the mid 1980s, we were in the centre of most markets: from West Africa to many parts of Africa, Europe and the Americas. Even in far away South East Asia Nigerians moved on the street with a swagger like descendants of local Princes. One indicator was the power of the Naira.  At every airport around the globe, the Naira was treated like a King and those who carried it, felt regal confidence in their wallets and steps.

Between 1970-1979 the US dollar ($) exchanged for less than one Naira ( N)!

By 1998 it took about N23 to get $1. But by 1999 -2007, the exchange rate had brought Naira to a sustained downward slide: thus from N89 to $1 in 1999, it moved to N142 to $1 in 2007. Between 2010-2015 it made a peak of  N170 to $1. In March 2020 the Google report on the Naira is N386 to $1! It explained why from 1999, only people in power as government and their cronies, can claim any dignity as Nigerians.

 A study of the exchange rate slide from 1983-2019 shows that things have gotten worse with each passing year. The problem is that the exchange rate is not mere numbers. It talks about the purchasing power of a people and the quality of life they have. What the exchange rate of the Naira says is that for 20 years ordinary Nigerians need their governments at state and federal levels to look at how much Naira a dollar commands, and resolve to push up productivity of our economy. As Ms Blank said in a related insight, it is the only way to empathize with  stories of ordinary citizens and to show that government feels the pain behind their nostalgia for past years. 

But sadly enough Alhaji Atiku’s statement didn’t address the exchange rate. And that is curious. From 1983 the Naira has been held hostage as a national currency with diminishing exchange rate, when compared to the US dollar or any other foreign currency. That is about 37 years of downward slide of our national currency. In a sense it also shows how our national economy has fared. Something significant is that it has taken the Chinese  about 30 years to move their national economy in the opposite direction.

In 2020 the world economy is waiting for China to trigger a recovery in it’s capacity as the second largest economy in the global market.  Donald Trump is pulling his hair out of the way to trumpet a Marshall Plan for the US economy to regain leadership of the global markets. The government is putting about $350 billion at the disposal of Small Business enterprises to get them back into production of goods and services. In the age of globalization which Trump has redefined to seek optimum advantage for the US, sympathy is not on the table in market relations between nations .

To be continued…

Brown, a veteran journaluist is emeritus national president of NIPR and Managing consultant/CEO of GRAIN Consulting, PH.

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Issues

The Proprietary Of Rehabilitating Repentant Insurgents

The bill seeking for the rehabilitation of repentant insurgents appears ill-advised.  In the midst of the ongoing serial brutalities against Nigerians in the North-east,

a bewildering bill was tabled before the Senate aimed at mainstreaming “repentant” Boko Haram insurgents into the Nigerian society, leaves so much to question.

Sponsored by former Yobe State Governor, Alhaji Ibrahim Gaidam, representing Yobe South Senatorial district, the bill seeks the establishment of an agency for the rehabilitation and integration of insurgents and “help to counter the violent and poisonous ideology that the Boko Haram spreads”.

This legislation comes amidst incessant attacks in the North-east by bandits and suspected Boko Haram members with the most recent being the killing of over 50 people in Kaduna.

Despite the backlash, Gaidam has attempted to justify his why a commission is the best bet to address the unending insurgency. Among other reasons, he said, “the agency when established will help rehabilitate and reintegrate the defectors, repentant and forcefully conscripted members of the Boko Haram to make them useful members of the society and provide an avenue for reconciliation and promote national security.”

The bill has ignited criticisms from many quarters. While some describe it as needless waste of resources and a misplaced priority, others have likened it to a deliberate effort to prolong the decade-long insurgency. Indeed, the proposal raises many pertinent questions: Why the urgency to free Boko Haram suspects when the war

is still in full force? Why should anyone talk of rehabilitating terrorists while the innocent victims of their brutalities are reeling in pains, many of them unattended to? And why should resources be poured into an agency that will make criminals comfortable when our Armed forces in the frontline are still ill-equipped and ill-motivated? Why do we need to indulge some misguided individuals who have proven that they are not ready for negotiation? Only recently, the Chief of Army Staff, Gen Tukur Buratai said 10 years was insufficient to deradicalise an indoctrinated person. So, what exactly is driving this “repentant” idea and to serve what end?

Chief of Defense staff, Gen Abayomi Olonisakan, had in 2017 pledged to ensure the “total re-radicalization and rehabilitation of all ex-Boko Haram members before re-integrating them into the society in line with international best practices.”

President Muhammadu Buhari also said the Nigerian government is “ready to accept the unconditional laying down of arms by any member of the Boko Haram group who shows strong commitment in that regard.”

His words were followed by the handing over of 244 Boko Haram suspects, by the Nigerian Army whom it said had given up membership of the terrorist group, to the Borno state government. This is even as the army said another 154 ex-Boko Haram fighters had been rehabilitated under the De-radicalization, Rehabilitation and Reintegration (DRR) programme and were set to be reintegrated into the society.

The timing of the bill could not be worse. For many Nigerians, particularly those in the North-east, life has never been so brutal. With the maimed, the orphans, the widows, widowers and the tide of refugees in IDP camps practically left to their own devices, the

preoccupation with making some killers happy can hardly make sense.

Former Senate Majority Leader, Senator Ali Ndume, whose senatorial district is adversely affected by the Boko Haram insurgents’ attacks, said recently that around 1.7 million people have been displaced in Borno State alone. He put the value of the damage at around $9.6 billion. “Around 60,000 children are orphaned. Only God knows how many children are out of school, have no access to water, food and means of livelihood. The humanitarian crisis that is coming after the war may be more dangerous than the war itself,” he said.

Indeed, two international humanitarian groups said over 14 million Nigerians have been directly affected by the humanitarian crisis in the North east region while some 1500 schools, around one million houses were destroyed as at 2017. According to the United Nations, some 27,000 people have been killed in the hostilities, aggravated by the vicious Boko Haram breakaway faction called Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP).

If Gaidam’s bill is allowed to fly it will simply legitimize long-standing official willingness to overlook the blood in the hands of the killers and reintegrate into the society. But the real incentive for this proposition might be the idea of creating another bureaucracy similar to the Niger Delta amnesty programme with money from the public treasury.

Two years ago while receiving the 107 school girls abducted in Dapchi, Yobe State by Boko Haram, President Buhari hinted of an amnesty to repentant criminals. Shortly after, the military established a camp to “rehabilitate and reintegrate surrendered and repentant Boko Haram terrorist members” via an exercise known as Operation Safe Corridor (OPSC), an intergovernmental programme aimed at rehabilitating “low risk repentant” Boko Haram fighters. But so many Nigerians, including retired and serving military personnel, have

expressed concerns about this dangerous gambit.

Proponents of the bill refer to the rehabilitation of repentant Boko Haram terrorists to the Federal Government’s amnesty programme for militants in the Niger Delta. They believe the rehabilitation of repentant Boko Haram terrorists like the Niger Delta amnesty program would offer ex Boko Haram fighters a “refined” life and position them for skills acquisition including educational opportunities that prepare them for integration into the society.

As laudable as this appears, it is pertinent to note that there is a very remarkable between the amnesty programme and the proposed rehabilitation of repentant Boko Haram insurgents. The fight by Niger Delta militants was a struggle against perceived marginalization of the region and a move for even development. But in the case of Boko Haram, there is no clear reason for the incessant attacks witnessed over the years other than a perverse hatred for Western Education and non-Muslims as defined by the insurgents.

In the heat of militant activities in the Niger Delta, the federal government sent a delegation and struck an agreement with visible and aggrieved militant leaders which gave birth to the amnesty programme. But calls for negotiations with the Boko Haram terrorist have experienced fallouts on each occasion as no serious nation negotiates with terrorists.

De-radicalization of repentant Boko Haram terrorists should be considered when the fight against the insurgents is over with the insurgents loosening their grip on North-east Nigeria just as the militants action gave birth to the amnesty programme.

But in the heat of the war against the murderous insurgents bent on over-running the Nations security and armed forces, calls for de-radicalization, rehabilitation and reintegration of ‘repentant” Boko Haram terrorists will leave fear and uncertainties in the minds of Nigerians.

Because, there is no assurance that the “repentant” fighters will not return to the communities and perfect strategies to reenact their orgy of killings.

The Boko Haram insurgents are clearly a terrorist group that should not be cast in the pattern of the Niger Delta Amnesty deal.

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FeaturedIssues

Expectations Of Bayelsans As New Dawn Beckons

On Friday, 14 February 2020, history was made in the oil-rich Bayelsa State, when Senator Douye Diri was sworn in as the fifth democratically elected governor of the state.

While the outgoing Governor Henry Seriake Dickson will enjoy the tag of being the longest serving governor under the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), who served eight years of two terms and handed over to his preferred candidate.

Diri’s emergence as governor, although shrouded in a controversial Supreme Court judgment, has opened a new vista for the state. The Supreme Court’s decision left many Bayelsans deflated and such that violent protests almost brought Yenagoa, the state capital, to a standstill.

A young state with enormous potential yet challenges due to maladministration and corruption, Diri has his task cut out for him on how to change the narrative of failure of past administrations. There are huge expectations from Bayelsans and other stakeholders given Diri’s antecedents as one of the founding fathers of one of the most vibrant youth organizations in Nigeria, Ijaw Youth Congress (IYC).

Bayelsa State has one of the lowest populations in the country. But in terms of revenue accruals from the Federation Account, it receives relatively large chunk of funds, including the 13 per cent due to its oil producing status. The state is richly endowed with the black gold. So, Diri will have no excuse if he failed to develop Bayelsa State.

One of the major challenges Diri would face and which he would need to tackle fast may come from his party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the state and the expected overbearing influence his predecessor, Mr. Henry Seriake Dickson, who foisted him on the people.

There is also the issue of settling the party’s faithful. Many will soon start jostling for the different positions and opportunities.

Bayelsa with eight local government areas, is perhaps the least developed among states created same year, economically and infrastructurally despite the huge accruals from the federal allocation. With high level of insecurity, epileptic power supply (even in the state capital in the last six years), hunger, poverty, cultism and other problems, Bayelsans first expectation from Diri, will be power supply. The lack of power supply has crippled the state’s economy as many businesses left the state in the last four years.

According to a human rights activist, Comrade Tabowei Oyintarila, the expectations from the incoming administration of Diri by Bayelsans are very high, “considering the huge gap between the needs of the people and what has been given to them so far”.

“There is no need crying over spilt milk, Diri should learn from the reactions of Bayelsans in the latter days of Dickson as governor. I have just gone to the Garrison Area of Port Harcourt to take a look at the flyover project ongoing there. Yesterday as I got into Port Harcourt, l saw same thing at Rumuokoro – a flyover. This is a testament to the fact that development is a continuum. In as much as Dickson has done his best, it isn’t good enough as the basic amenities such as light (power), water, functional health and educational facilities are still a far cry for Bayelsans”, Oyintarila said.

Re-echoing the advice of Oyintarila, a social commentator, Mr. Ernest Uzevie, said, “the expectations of Bayelsans from the incoming administration are very high. Let him fix electricity because light is life; let him tackle insecurity that has become a monster and a great source of worry to all. We want industrialization. Our great state needs to move away from her present civil service status”.

“Let him complete the 5-star hotel, which has become an embarrassment to the state. He should complete the Glory Drive from Igbogene down to Yenagoa, complete Bayelsa Palm Road, Isaac Boro Expressway, Opolo-Elebele Road, Yenagoa-Oporoma Road, and Sagbama-Ekeremor Road. Building of Agge Seaport, payment of student bursary, prompt payment of gratuity, development of the Bayelsa Palm that will generate billions of naira for the state, and provision of water and canalization of Epie Creek. These should also be some of his priorities if he must succeed and gain the people’s trust.”

Despite the huge investment in education by Dickson’s administration, the new governor still needs to do a lot more in this sector, especially as regards school enrollment in the rural communities. In most of the rural communities, school attendance in both primary and secondary schools ranks among the lowest in country as the previous government failed to do the needful.

Also, the quality of education needs improvement while school fees for higher education is beyond the reach of common Bayelsans. Diri needs to provide bursary for students in tertiary institutions and not the loan scheme Dickson introduced at the end of his tenure. Bayelsans are canvassing that this should be one of Diri’s priorities so as to help students who are not from rich homes acquire decent education.

Perhaps, one of the many “sins” of Dickson is his unfulfilled promise. He would be remembered as the governor with the highest number of initiated but unfinished infrastructural projects, including roads and many others.

Many businesses closed down in the state capital. As businesses closed for lack of patronage, families left the city with their businesses. Suddenly, houses became vacant leading to general inactivity in the economic sector.

In his second term, Dickson travelled around the world looking for foreign investors after shutting out local investors. Ironically, these investors came to a state capital that has no power supply with a high level of insecurity.

These investors simply left and never came back.

Dickson was a passionate governor who was desirous to work and provide basic infrastructure for the state. But he was consumed by his ambition, to be the ‘generalissimo’ of Bayelsa politics. Dickson and PDP nearly paid for this ambition but for the intervention of the Supreme Court.

Just like Oyintarila said, Diri should learn from the mistakes of Dickson and listen to the voice of the people and critical stakeholders and provide amenities for the state.

Notwithstanding the herculean task before him, Diri, the 60 years old Senator has rich credentials that put him in great stead to excel if political gladiators in the state allow him to work.

Before joining active politics, he taught in several government schools in the rural areas of old Rivers State and was the first National Organizing Secretary of Ijaw National Congress (INC). He was also the Executive Secretary, Centre for Youth Development in Bayelsa State between 2000 to 2002 and later Commissioner for Youth and Sports (2005-2006) before his appointment as Council member, University of Maiduguri (2008-2012). 

He was also the Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party’s (PDP) Disciplinary Council, Bayelsa State (2012). In 2012, when Dickson emerged as the governor of the state, he was appointed Deputy Chief of Staff, Government House in 2012, and then Principal Executive Secretary (2013-2014).

Diri won election to the House of Representatives to represent Kolokuma/Opokuma and Yenagoa Federal Constituency in 2015, and later a Senator representing Bayelsa West Senatorial District before he won the primaries of PDP, albeit in controversial circumstances. Besides all these, Diri has a good track record to his credit in terms administrative performance.

At his swearing-in ceremony, Diri was emphatic on the need for reconciliation and uniting all Bayelsans across political divides and called for calm and peace.

In an inauguration address, Diri declared that he would always work to achieve peace, love and prosperity for the people.

He described the swearing in day as “a day made by God and marvelous in the eye of the people of Bayelsa.

“I have been sworn in today as your new governor; my advice is that we have to be magnanimous in victory. We have to forget the bitterness, and the acrimony, because if we kill ourselves, who are we going to lead? Of course, we are not going to lead animals. I, therefore, bring to you message of love, hope and prosperity for Bayelsa. Let us eschew all the bitterness and acrimony and learn to love ourselves irrespective of political parties.”

Diri also declared that he would run an all-inclusive government, hence the need for the cooperation and support of all leaders of the state, including former President Goodluck Jonathan.

The new governor, urged the Minister of Petroleum Resources, Chief Timipre Sylva, APC governorship candidate in the last election, Chief David Lyon, and other opposition parties to join hands with him in building the state.

He also reemphasized the need for peace and reconciliation.

With the Supreme Court finally bringing the anxious moments of the judicial review to an end, the time is now for Governor Douye Diri to hit the ground running for Bayelsa to see fruitful actions.

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Issues

Coronavirus: Origin, Spread, Protection

According to the WHO, coronaviruses are a family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS).

These viruses were originally transmitted between animals and people. SARS, for instance, was transmitted from civet cats to humans while MERS moved to humans from a type of camel.Several known coronaviruses are circulating in animals that have not yet infected humans.

The name coronavirus comes from the Latin word corona, meaning crown or halo. Under an electron microscope, the image of the virus looks like a solar corona.

The novel coronavirus, identified by Chinese authorities on January 7 and since named COVID-19, is a new strain that had not been previously identified in humans. Little is known about it, although human-to-human transmission has been confirmed.

  Symptoms and spread

According to the WHO, signs of infection include fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. In more severe cases, it can lead to pneumonia, multiple organ failure and even death.

WHO analysis of currently available data showed 82 percent of cases appear to be mild, about 15 percent progress to severe and 3 percent are critical. Most of the fatal cases were in older people and people with underlying conditions such as diabetes and hypertension.

Current estimates of the incubation period – the amount of time between infection and the onset of symptoms – range from 1-12 days. Most infected people show symptoms within five to six days.

More than 67,000 people worldwide, vast majority of them in China, have been infected by the new coronavirus, which continues to spread to more countries since it was first detected in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December.

At least 1,500 people have died so far in mainland China, as well as one person in Hong Kong, one in Philippines and another one in Japan. Almost all the fatalities in China have been in Hubei province, the capital of which – Wuhan – is where the virus first originated.

The coronavirus – known as COVID-19 – spreads from person to person in close proximity, similar to other respiratory illnesses, such as the flu.

Droplets of bodily fluids – such as saliva or mucus – from an infected person are dispersed in the air or on surfaces by coughing or sneezing.

These droplets can come into direct contact with other people or can infect those who pick them up by touching infected surfaces and then their face.

According to scientists, coughs and sneezes can travel several feet and stay suspended in the air for up to 10 minutes.

It is not yet known how long the virus can survive outside a host but, in other viruses, it ranges from a few hours to months.

Transmission is of particular concern on transport, where droplets containing the coronavirus could pass between passengers or via surfaces like aeroplane seats and armrests.

The incubation period of the coronavirus, the length of time before symptoms appear, is between one and 14 days.

Although not yet confirmed, Chinese health authorities believe the virus can be transmitted before symptoms appear.

Viruses that spread quickly usually come with lower mortality rates and vice versa. As the virus is an entirely new strain, it is believed that there is no existing immunity in anyone it will encounter.

Some level of immunity will naturally develop over time, but this means that those with compromised immune systems, such as the elderly or sick, are most at risk of becoming severely ill or dying from the coronavirus.

Although the total number of deaths has now exceeded those recorded during the 2002-2003 outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), the current mortality rate is much lower than that of SARS.

The coronavirus mortality rate stands at 2.4 percent, while SARS killed 9.6 percent of those infected.

How people can protect themselves 

In terms of self-protection and containing the virus, experts agree that is important to wash your hands frequently and thoroughly with soap; cover your face with a tissue or your elbow when coughing or sneezing; visit a doctor if you have symptoms; and avoid direct contact with live animals in affected areas.

While face masks are popular, scientists doubt their effectiveness against airborne viruses.

Masks may provide some protection to you and others, but because they are loose and made of permeable material, droplets can still pass through.

Many countries have advised people travelling back from China to self-quarantine for at least two weeks.

China has placed Wuhan and more than a dozen other cities under lockdown, affecting more than 60 million people, although this has not prevented the virus from spreading to all of China’s provinces.

As the number of confirmed cases continues to rise, businesses and countries are taking increasingly drastic action.  

Given the response and effect, the new coronavirus is being treated as a serious concern. The infection is now more widespread than the 2002-2003 SARS outbreak, which also originated in China.

The WHO has designated the outbreak with its highest warning level, as it did for five others, including Ebola in 2014 and 2019, polio in 2014, the Zika virus in 2016 and swine flu in 2009.

On February 10, a WHO-led team of investigators arrived in China to evaluate the situation in more detail.

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Issues

Journalists Set Agenda For N’Delta Environment

Environmental issues in the Niger Delta have over the decades attracted global attention in view of the monumental social and economic challenges posed by the oil exploration activities of multinationals and criminal elements in the region. The effect has been that lives of residents of the area have come under serious threat and many communities are on the verse of being wiped out by the massive environmental pollution arising from oil exploration and production.

The United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) report on Ogoniland released in 2011 detailed the intractable situation of the people of the area and recommended the need for an action plan by the Nigerian authorities for immediate remediation of the environment.

The setting of the Hydrocarbon Pollution Remediation Project (HYPREP) by the Nigerian government was seen as a laudable move towards the clean-up of the impacted areas of the Ogoni land. But years after so much delays and subsequent take off, the activities of HYPREP have raised many questions as to its sincerity, seriousness and capacity to carry through and implement the project with all the specifications and standards set out in the UNEP report.

This was what the Correspondent chapel of the Nigerian Union Journalist (NUJ) set out to examine during its 2019 week held in Port Harcourt, the Rivers State Capital.

The week-long activities began on Monday, December 2nd at the Presidential Hotel in Port Harcourt with the theme; Role of the Media in protecting the Rivers environment. Quality resource persons that assembled to discuss the issues at stake point to the seriousness and commitment of the organizers of the event.

Chaired by the chairman of the Rivers State Investment Forum, Ibifuro Bobmanuel, participant at the event which include social and environmental activists such as Comrade Celestine Akpoborie, University dons, traditional rulers and representatives of oil companies and the media took turns to task media practitioners to take interest and unflinching commitments in the crises and challenges of  the issues emanating from of the Rivers environment.

On Day 2 of the event, the Chairman of the Correspondent Chapel, Chief Ernest Chinwo, took the members of the organization on facilities tour including a visit to the Indorama Fertilizer Company in Eleme local government area of the state.

The Ogoni clean-up programme took the centre stage at a symposium held on Wednesday, December 4 at the NUJ secretariat, where eminent discussants including the president of the apex Ogoni socio-cultural organization, the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People MOSOP, Mr. Legborsi Pyiagbara, Dr. Chika Onuegbum, former Vice Chancellor of the Rivers State University of Science and Technology, Prof. B. B. Fakae, who chaired the symposium; titled “UNEP Report: Accessing Stakeholders compliance in Ogoni cleanup”, subjected the operations of the Hydrocarbon Pollution and Remediation Project (HYPREP) in Ogoni land to critical reviews.

A fundamental outcome of this discussion according to the communiqué issued at the end of event was that the effectiveness of HYPREP in the implementation of the UNEP Report is being hampered by bureaucratic bottlenecks put on its way by the Federal Government.

The nine point communiqué which was endorsed by the event organizing Chairman, Ignatius Chukwu and Chairman of the Chapel, Chief Ernest Chinwo emphasized the need for Nigerians and the government to take issues of the environment more committedly in the interest of national and environmental safety.

The communiqué noted that the project to cleanup Ogoni land has been discomfortingly slow for any notable impact. Participants were of the view that the remediation should be followed with conformation and monitoring as a way of preventing further degradation of the environment, as this is the way for the UNEP Report and clean-up of the area to witness reliable results.

Another salient observation in the communiqué was fears raised by participants that the UNEP report may not be the valid solution to the environmental degradation of the area considering the likely influence of oil multinationals.

Although the media was highly commended for its interest in the challenges of the environment in the state and Nigeria generally, the journalists need to do more to highlight the dangers to human health caused by deliberate and inadvertent activities of individuals and groups.

Members of the Correspondents’ chapel should be commended for the boldness in the choice of the themes of their 2019 week as the steps they took would certainly go a long way to provoke greater action on the UNEP report and clean-up of Ogoniland and also to protect our environment and save the Niger Delta and humanity from possible extinction.

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