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OPINION

Edidiong Udobia: Saving Akwa Ibom from the impending apocalypse

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Governor Samuel Ortom was elected governor of Benue state under the All Progressives Congress, APC in 2015. By early 2018, Benue had witnessed the single highest mass death in the country. Almost a hundred people have been killed by the bloodthirsty Fulani herdsmen in two different mass attacks and among the victims were Catholic priests. We mourned for a while. Protested while the pain and anger lasted to the viewing pleasure of an insensitive government. Right now, we have moved past that grief.

Former governor of Kogi state, Idris Wada of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, may not have been a poster child for responsible governance, but his successor, Governor Yahaya Bello of the APC, has literally become a deadly plague to the people of Kogi. It is now on record that Kogi is the first and only state in the country that despite not having any visible crisis, the people needed relief materials to survive; a situation which prompted the rice contribution by members of the Nigerian senate some months ago.

The illustrations above are just two out of the many Nigerian states under affliction in the name of belonging to the ruling party. Imo state under Rochas Okorocha’s APC has become an object of ridicule. Rauf Aregbesola’s administration had reduced Osun to a state of penury, and the people probably saw the last governorship election as a golden opportunity to free the state from the bondage of the APC. But in broad daylight, the will of Osun people was suppressed by the same party they willingly submitted their state to. Adorned in her full regalia of insensitivity, all along, the APC led federal government completely left Osun people at the mercy of Aregbesola’s absurdities, but turned around to unleash her full might on the people during election for daring to set themselves free.

Our politics seems to have a huge amount of complicity in its DNA, and because politics is the fulcrum of the society in the 21st century, the overbearing influence of its gene is the complicit, failing society that we live in. Election season is here again, and as usual, we are witnessing the worst of politics – from the connivance to suppress the truth, deliberate efforts to bury facts to the rise of falsehood and bigotry. Akwa Ibom state has had a fair share of this election frenzy. However, the undeniable truth is that every right thinking Akwa Ibomite knows the impending dangers should APC get hold of the state. If nothing else has sent a clearer message, the outcome of the just concluded APC primary elections should have.

For some Akwa Ibom people, the current crop of APC leaders strikes a sense of bereavement in them. For others, it’s a sad reminder of the political holocaust that once plagued the state. Biblically, most of the APC leaders today are the locusts, the cankerworms, the caterpillers, and the palmerworms that had greedily eaten the bounties of the state for many years. Fact is, there is no alien among the current APC leaders; their faces are all familiar, and their individual/collective personalities are well known to the public. So, despite whatever beautiful appearances they try to put up before Akwa Ibom people, they will always be a true picture of doomsday – not everybody will agree with this, not necessarily because it’s a lie but because they have chosen to be complicit.

When it comes to a critical issue like electing leaders, being complicit (for whatever reason) can only have a momentary gratification. Take Nigeria for instance. In 2015, we voted out an educated president to bring an uneducated one amidst wild ecstasy. Less than four years after, Nigerians are all sounding uneducated because they are debating on their president’s WAEC certificate as a major pre-election issue when other countries are talking cutting-edge developments. Again, it usually sounds ridiculous to hear APC supporters mention “federal might” only when talking about election and quick to point at states like Edo, Ondo, Ekiti, etc, but cannot talk of federal might in terms of visible developmental strides in states. This level of complicity portends disaster for Akwa Ibom.

Ahead of 2019, the deciding factor in the Akwa Ibom governorship race will not be the much touted APC federal might, but the reasonability of Akwa Ibom people. I often wear that “is this for real?” look whenever I hear someone say “APC is taking over Akwa Ibom in 2019”, yet cannot give any valid reason except, “Udom must go”. On what grounds exactly is APC going to take over Akwa Ibom? Is it because the APC led federal government has solved all the problems in Nigeria since assuming power in 2015? Or may be, because APC states (like the ones illustrated above) have fared better than Akwa Ibom? Have we deeply considered the overall implications of handing over the state to a party that could not conduct a common primary election without violence, bloodshed and deaths?

Another red flag is the wild-goose chase for oil the North by the APC led federal government. The desperation is very indicative of how recklessly they will plunder any of the leading oil-rich states in their grip. Governor Nyesom Wike and his people have ‘raised up a standard’ against APC in Rivers state, which leaves them with Akwa Ibom as the only viable option. Considering the unscrupulous elements leading the APC in the state, it is safe to say that the party is the Biblical thief that comes to steal, to kill and to destroy, but only that this thief is coming in broad daylight and not at night. In 2019, Akwa Ibom people must fiercely defend the interest of the state and safe her from the impending apocalypse called APC.

My two cents; Governor Udom Emmanuel is the saving grace.

Edidiong Udobia reporting for duty.

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OPINION

2019 budget: blueprinting the next phase of Akwa Ibom By Edidiong Udobia

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In his inaugural speech on May 29, 2015, Governor Udom Emmanuel reaffirmed the pact he made with Akwa Ibom people during the electioneering campaigns, and the main thrust of his manifesto was industrialization. Less than a year to the end of his first term, the governor is leading a skyscraping industrial revolution in the state. A graphical representation of his performance within the last three years would have the slope hanging at the roof all through – from infrastructure, security, power, education, health, to job creation, economic and rural development, etc. But judging from last Wednesday’s presentation of the 2019 budget before the State House of Assembly, it appears the governor is only getting started.

Tagged, “Budget of Industrialization for Poverty Alleviation”, the budget, besides being a working document for the 2019 fiscal year, is an intrinsic part of Governor Udom Emmanuel’s overall second-term plan for the state. Going by the realities on ground, it can be said that the industrialization drive of the governor, so far, has been a deliberate alteration of the old socio-economic settings of the state. This is evident in the fact that industrialization was annexed to consolidation in the 2018 budget. “The 2018 Budget was named Budget of Consolidation on Industrialization. It was so named as the State had started witnessing a breakthrough in industrialization through the construction and commissioning of some industries that are currently in full operations”, the governor said while presenting the 2019 budget.

This alteration, otherwise breakthrough, in the current phase is essential to lay a solid foundation for the next phase. “The State has remained so long as a “Civil Service State” that it requires a re-orientation of the minds of the populace to make them realize that they can move away from depending so much on the Government, to becoming self-reliant and even provide employment to others”, the governor added. With industrialization as the base of the 2019 budget and poverty alleviation as the cardinal objective, Governor Udom has clearly shown the direction for the next phase. So, going forward, it is expected that the industrialization drive will move from job creation to wealth creation, which is the chief panacea for poverty alleviation.

The biggest beneficiaries of the current industrialization drive are graduates and highly trained/skilled citizens. This has slightly left many others behind, like the hardworking undergraduates, teeming entrepreneurs, local manufacturers, and most importantly, people in the rural communities who are fairly enlightened and predominantly, farmers and petty traders. But Governor Udom has formulated a workable plan primarily targeted at bridging the gap in the next phase, such plan as attracting more industries that will have direct economic impacts on the people who seem to be left behind in the current phase. For instance, more agriculture-based industries will provide direct opportunities to the local farmers, and traders/manufacturers of agricultural products.

To butress his decision to infuse agriculture into his industrialization drive in the next phase, the governor said; “The importance of agriculture in the socio-economic and industrial development of the State cannot be over-emphasized. Government intends to continue investing in agriculture in order to alleviate poverty among the people, attain food security and boost agricultural production for domestic, industrial and foreign consumption. Our target is to boost production and the marketing of cash crops, Staple foods, livestock and fisheries through institutional and infrastructural empowerment of private, small, medium and large-scale crop and livestock farmers. This will not only provide food to the populace, but also generate much needed jobs and create wealth for Akwa Ibom citizens.”

In the 2019 budget proposals, N13.064 billion is appropriated for agriculture. The figure only comes below the N157.311 billion appropriated for roads, works and transport; N53.625 billion for land, housing and urban development; N18.021 billion for health; and N15.050 billion for education. This clearly shows that agriculture will be a priority in terms of investment and will be made an essential part of the industrial revolution and expansion in the next phase. Talking of investment and industry, Governor Udom has assured that the N1.531 billion appropriated for investment, commerce and industry will be judiciously expended to support genuine entrepreneurs, local manufacturers, and other small and medium scale enterprises.

“Investment and commerce are major contributors to economic growth and development. Inputs, investments and commerce fuel economic growth; while outputs/outcomes, the volume of investment and commerce are significant indices of economic development. The major aspect of the State’s interest in investment and commerce are in agriculture, manufacturing, construction, real estates, mining, energy, and services. As a major policy framework, the State has put measures in place to encourage major conglomerates, core investors and professional service providers (banks/finance houses and servicing companies for major multi-nationals) to create regional/zonal offices and major production/distribution hubs in the State. This will mitigate capital flight, create jobs, and grow the economy”, Governor Udom assured.

From all indications, Akwa Ibom is heading into a future where local farmers will no longer be questioning the rationale behind building a Syringe Factory, or creatives and techies lashing out at government for establishing a rice farm. The governor’s plan is to expand the scope of the industrial revolution to the extent that every hardworking Akwa Ibomite will have where his or her services are sufficiently required. 2019 is just a tiny part of Governor Udom’s bigger picture, and the N670.718 billion 2019 budget is only a sketch of his blueprint for the next phase of Akwa Ibom, beginning May 29, 2019 – a phase that will be characterized by an accelerating economic growth across all sectors of the state. He has done the hardest part, which is proving that industries can thrive in Akwa Ibom. The next part will be much easier with our continued support.

Edidiong Udobia is a journalist and writes from Uyo, Akwa Ibom state.

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OPINION

Aniekan Udofia: Why Votes Will Count in 2019 General Elections

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By Aniekan Udofia

One subject I have laboured to argue on with friends and colleagues has been the sincerity of the electoral reforms in Nigeria. While I hold that there has been a significant progress and that come 2019 General Elections, votes will count in Nigeria. Many hold a contrary view.

Those who argue against this position of mine, quickly tell me to see what happened in Ekiti and Osun States and I ask what happened ? They will say to me see what the Independent Electoral Commission (Inec) did and what they failed to do. Then I say, state clearly what you think Inec did or failed to do, the answer will vary from one person to the other but one common factor in their argument is that Inec and the security agencies did nothing about the issue of vote buying and electorate being disenfranchised.

Were there cases of vote buying in Ekiti and Osun States ? Emphatically yes. Where the electorate disenfranchised? Some. Then since those were the cases, our electoral reforms has scored high. The people have suddenly become very important in the process. Suffice to say that a significant evidence of our improved electoral system in Nigeria is the case of “vote buying”.

I say this with every element of sincerity that we have moved miles away from what it was in the past. From what was a manifestation of gross electoral fraud. Where electoral umpires owed no one any explanation for poorly conducted elections and were obligated only to the government in power. Several Governors needed the court to declare them winners of the election and some needed the court to affirm their victory.

Vote buying has returned power to the people. The power to rule must be derived from the people in any democracy. It is what gives legitimacy to a government to exercise authority. Vote buying clear evidence that the people now matter in elections.

For too long in Nigeria the flawed electoral system had relegated the people to the background. Voter apathy gripped elections across the country . We have seen cases where less than 50percent of the total number of registered voters turn out for elections.

If the estimated population of Ekiti State is said to be 2,398, 957 ( Two Million Three Hundred and Ninety Eight Thousand Nine Hundred and Fifty Seven) and it took just 198,462 (One Hundred and Ninety Eight Thousand Four Hundred and Sixty Two) people for Mr Kayode Fayemi to be elected Governor, it therefore meant that a thinny 8.27percent of the estimated population of Ekiti state voted to return him elected. A number that X-rays the people disposition towards the process. This win margin was nearly impossible in previous elections conducted in this country.

We have moved a great deal from the era of 500,000 to 1,000,000 votes allocated to the winner while a meagre less than 100,000 votes allocated to the first runner up.

The situation was so bad in 2007 that a sitting President Late Alhaji Musa YarAdua came out to the public to say that the elections that brought him to power was flawed and he condemned the process. Prof Maurice Iwu will always be remembered for conducting that election. A watershed in our electoral system.

Coming to 2019 why do I think that votes will count? My answer is simple. If it didn’t count why did the politicians resort to buying votes? That vote buying replaced massive thumb printing in Ekiti and Osun States showed that we have attained measure of electoral integrity. At least we have respected the sanctity of one man- one vote.

The Card Reader – The game changer. The introduction of the Card Reader in 2015 did little to improve the electoral system as the electoral law of the land did not recognise it. So while incident form was introduced in places where the Card Reader were said to have failed as a mode of accreditation, politicians mass filled the forms and mass thumb printed to Manufacture fake votes.

Hardly could any aggrieved party or person claim his or her mandate, as the Supreme Court was always on hand to remind all that the Card Reader was alien to the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Not even forensic proof of mass thumb printing could nullify election results.

Today the game has changed. The electoral law now provides and accepts the Card Reader as the means of accreditation of voters. Any reported case of violence or ballot box snatching in a polling unit can nullify the result of that unit. Card Reader accreditation will be transmitted to the central server. Results must correlate with figures transmitted and also result at every polling unit to be counted and announced at the units. Amongst several other measures put in place to forestall electoral fraud.

Again I say votes will not only count in 2019 , votes have already started counting in elections conducted so far. True winners will emerge at the General Elections from genuine health votes or votes bought at least not mass thumb printing and ballot box snatching will determine the outcome of the election. .

For Akwa Ibom State that has not tested General Elections with the government at the centre a different political party from the government at the State since the return to democratic rule in 1999, it will be a real test for her to experience a credible election. There will be no 30,000 police officers to the deployed to one state as the will mean 1,110,000 (One Million One Hundred and Ten Thousand) police officers to send to the 36 States and the Federal Capital Territory Abuja. A number we don’t currently have. The interference of the security agencies will be limited. The plea will be more of a level playing field to be provided for all. Even if any other party thinks otherwise it will count for nothing with the current electoral reform.

Almost gone are the days when parties candidates were, President, Governors and Legislators – Elect before General Elections were conducted. Most of what that was needed to be elected was for your party to control State apparatus.

So while you wait to manipulate the elections, humbly campaign vigorously first, so at least popular vote can save your face the shame that will come from attempting to circumvent the electoral process that measures have been put in place to achieve credible elections.

Before you condemn vote buying please accept that it is a sign of power returning to the electorate in our emerging democracy. It is not that vote buying is new to our political system but the magnitude it was relied upon proved that it was a potent tool for winning the election.

The journey of a thousand mile begins with a step. We have began the journey towards electoral integrity and we may not have been there but as a nation is moving towards destination free, fair and credible elections.

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OPINION

Tackling the plight of Niger Delta region

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By Grace Omowumi Semudara

Niger Delta, as a geographical entity, her folks and the enormous gift of nature (crude oil) have been the cynosure of all eyes as their struggles dominate national discourse. It can be said with all sense of humility that the region and her people, by their endowment with abundant natural resources, should not have anything to do with stifling poverty, as postulated by many. But that is not the case, the tale of the Niger Delta is that of misery, despair, penury and haplessness in the face of immeasurable wealth, that would have accrued them, if the proceeds of their crude oil resources are judiciously used to develop their polluted lands. The region is only a microcosm of the dense citizenry of our African Giant Nigeria.

A nation so blessed with human and mineral resources, yet its people live in abject poverty and sickening squalor. No thanks to the haphazard and ill planned oil exploration activities, most villages and towns of many Niger Delta states, have been polluted, due to oil spillage, apart from rendering aquatic life extinct.

The thoughts of the villagers whose peasant occupation is fishing not having to practice their age-long fishing tradition for instance, only leaves one neglected. In the face of these odds, the menace of militancy sprouted. The youths started to revolt against the government. Soon, oil rigs and pipelines became their targets. They were bombarded by aggrieved youths belonging to various dreaded militant groups. As their lands were further contaminated due to wanton level of oil pollution, so was the nation loosing enormous revenue because of pipeline vandalism. Niger Delta militants As condemnable as the militancy attacks appeared, it became the only way to attract governments attention and sympathy. Late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, had in the wake of the needless and constant attacks in the creeks, a decade ago, swung into action.

He soon established the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs and unveiled the Amnesty programme for repentant militants to surrender their arms. Other laudable programmes and activities, aimed at rehabilitating the irate militants were launched. The result was remarkable as a sizeable number renounced their membership of various groups. Soon, they were trained in various vocational skills both at home and abroad and given monthly allowances, together with starter packs immediately they rounded up the artisan trainings. Brilliant youths sponsored to acquire degree certificate abroad returned with amazing results, some even bagged first class.

Part of the deliberate measure, and perhaps, the most laudable measure taken by the erstwhile late President , was the establishment of the ministry of Niger Delta Affairs. No prize for guessing, but everyone knew what the motive and cardinal objective of setting up the special ministry was. Has the ministry lived up to expectation? That is a topic for another discussion. In recent times and specifically in the last three years of the APC-led federal government- there has been bombardments of pipelines. Some hitherto repentant militants have taken up arms again, hence returning to their ‘diabolic’ venture, it seems. However, several media reports that some of those who were sent overseas for studies are now stranded in foreign lands, are replete.

Like their peers, Governors of the Niger Delta States, have been complicit in the art of misappropriating, diverting and ‘personalizing’ the allocation of their various states. Little wonder, the oil producing states despite the additional 13% derivation fund given to them from the federal monthly allocation still epitomize under-development and backwardness. Over 1500 illegal refineries destroyed in Niger Delta The narrative of the geographical entity called Niger Delta needs to be changed. Reviewing some of the earlier launched empowerment programmes, will be the first step to addressing the perceived injustice meted out to Niger Delta masses.

Then, massive infrastructural development, provision of basic amenities and speeding up the activities of cleaning their polluted lands, namely the Ogoni clean up should follow suits. These, and many other activities or programmes can be embarked on by government to assuage the feelings of the Niger Deltans. Since they (the activities and programmes) are not rocket
science, the government has no alibi to offer if they fail to do the needful. We envisage immediate action, and enough of rhetoric. A stitch in time, they say, saves nine.

Semudara, an intern with PRNigeria and Economic Confidential, wrote from Abuja.

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FEATURES

Would posterity tick or asterisk your tenure? By Michael Bush

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In Nigeria and indeed all of the Third World, nothing carries more weight, paraphernalia and perks than a public office. That is the only reason people steal, kill or destroy to take the seat. It is an automatic ticket to sudden wealth and impunity. However, like a double-edged sword, public office in this part of the globe doesn’t only dispense carrots 24/7; it also carries a stick -a big stick!

Public office has and can deploy the power to rubbish memory. Many men and women who ran the show yesterday are today anonymous pedestrians in the power space. In spite of their stupendous wealth which itself was a trophy they helped themselves to while in office, most of these many live in abject poverty that isolation or loneliness at that height represents. The children’s children of one who abused public office know that posterity transmogrifies into karma.

Even with no books on the tenure, this natural stratagem ensures that future generations never allow someone from that lineage to smell power again. Consider how nearly impossible it is to name, of the truckloads of families that have ruled Nigeria in over a century, say one or two that should or can stage a comeback. Can anything be worse than that, to be locked out of the power loop forever just because your parent or family messed up earlier? This is one tragedy of power that mankind continues to ignore, to its chagrin.

Now is the perfect time to recalibrate the laissez faire that attends our in-office performance. People should stop toying with their name and that of their family as happens when they abuse the public trust embedded in every office. Holders should start knowing that just as their actions and inaction today would have an impact on tomorrow, future generations also reserve the right to hold their descendants accountable and responsible. We must go to every length to bequeath a worthy memory.

Public officers should carry out a no-holds-barred self evaluation, as regularly as possible. Those who at every turn tell themselves even the bitterest truth can upturn any tide. Mistakes can only be corrected when committers are smart-humble enough to come to terms with the fact that as human beings all the aces (especially when it comes to time) are not in their hands. Let’s see how the following three randomly-selected incumbents would be remembered, long after?

Starting with President Muhammadu Buhari’s, do you foresee this epitaph: here lies a tenure that changed Nigeria and Nigerians; that defended brand Nigeria at home and abroad; that left the country and her citizens better off? Through the middle, when posterity thumbs the performance of a Simon Lalong on the plateau, would it be up or down? And down south, after all the deafening cacophony what mental picture would Rivers people have of their fire-for-fire governor? Our answers can resolve the horrendous leadership challenge that has stunted the growth of our society!

As people angle to sell their souls to the devil to secure a fresh or second term or even anticipatory appointment next year, the masses need to cut a pre-emptive deal now by putting the what-would-your-tenure-be-remembered-for question. Aspirants who become candidates must tell us in black and white what they would do once they take office. We are tired of unpleasant surprises and the attendant post-tenure frustration of inability to measure performance because the holder promised nonsense or nothing. 2019 offers Nigeria a window that Nigerians must exploit, if we truly desire a better country.

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