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OPINION

Drug War, the President Is Right After All

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By Emmanuel Onwubiko

In his second term and indeed final tenure of office as the civilian President of the World’s largest black nation known as Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari, a retired infantry General and a Veteran of two wars (Civil war and war against Maitasine Islamists from Cameroun), made a great choice of who should head the rapidly deteriorating National Drugs law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) with his appointment of the erstwhile military Administrator of Lagos State Major General Buba Marwa (rtd).

The previous holder of that position picked by President Buhari in 2015 almost succeeded in destroying what was left of that anti-hard drugs fighting institution.

NDLEA used to be effective when IGPs Fulani Kwajafa and Ogbonnaya Onovo headed it at different times.
But it later became a nest of crooks. The last person to occupy the position, although not a crook but throughout his tenure there was a lack of accountability to Nigerians.

Having said that, let me quickly warn that the current Chairman of the NDLEA who has a military background and was loved by the Lagos/Ibadan media for been media savvy needs to know that his position is not a media popularity contest, but his achievements would be assessed based on empirical evidence of successful arrests, prosecution, conviction and the institutionalization of a law-based mechanism that is characterized by transparency and accountability.

So his success or failure will not be benchmarked by how many of these media trials he authorizes his officers to conduct each time a suspect is arrested. Marwa should read section 36 (5) of the 1999 constitution and section 6 of the same Grund Norm.

These Constitutional provisions state as follows: section 36 (5) “Every person who is charged with a criminal offence shall be presumed to be innocent until he is proved guilty; Provided that nothing in this section shall invalidate any law by reason only that the law imposes upon any such person the burden of proving particular facts.

Section (6) The judicial powers vested in accordance with the foregoing provisions of this section – (a) shall extend, notwithstanding anything to the contrary in this constitution, to all inherent powers and sanctions of a court of law (b) shall extend, to all matters between persons, or between government or authority and to any persons in Nigeria, and to all actions and proceedings relating thereto, for the determination of any question as to the civil rights and obligations of that person; (c) shall not except as otherwise provided by this Constitution, extend to any issue or question as to whether any act of omission by any authority or person or as to whether any law or any judicial decision is in conformity with the Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy set out in Chapter II of this Constitution; (d) shall not, as from the date when this section comes into force, extend to any action or proceedings relating to any existing law made on or after 15th January, 1966 for determining any issue or question as to the competence of any authority or person to make any such law. Section 6 is basically about the judicial powers of the Federation domiciled in the courts of law and not court of public opinion or gossip Newspapers.

Coming back to the theme of this commentary, I must state that the report in the media crediting the President as stating that drug war is much more complex than war on terror is semantically, logically and existentially accurate. Mr. President has never being this philosophically deep. Perhaps the writer of that speech must have been in a very sober mood.

And so, on June 26th 2021, Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari identified drug trafficking and abuse as more threatening to the stability of the nation than banditry and insurgency that are prevalent in some parts of Nigeria.

The president, declared that drug abuse has become so endemic in the country now that it already stretches across three generations of grandparents, parents and their wards.

This is just as the media reported that the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), has disclosed that within the last five months, no fewer than 2,180 suspected traffickers including five drug barons had been nabbed across the country.

President Buhari, who was represented by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr Boss Mustapha, spoke at the launch of the War Against Drug Abuse (WADA), an initiative of the NDLEA to mark the United Nations International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Drug Trafficking themed: “Share Facts on Drugs. Save Lives.”

According to the president, it is a war that is destroying three generations, because there were clips of some grandparents on drugs, parents on drugs, and by extension, their wards and children had also taken to drugs.

“So, this is a war that is targeting three generations in a stretch. So, it is more deadly than even the security challenges that we are having in this country and I believe strongly that every effort must be put in place to ensure that we deal with the issues of substance abuse and trafficking and manufacture so that we can get to the root cause of the mirage of insecurity problems that are confronting this nation and I believe strongly, with every bit of conviction, that if we are able to deal with the issues of drug abuse, substantially, our security challenges will drastically reduce as we walk towards a drug free Nigeria.”

The President also charged the NDLEA to intensify efforts at ridding the vast forests of the Southwest and South-South regions of the country of criminal elements, who had made the places their hideouts, from where they launch criminal onslaughts as well as for farming marijuana.

President Buhari said: “I am directing the NDLEA to develop a robust risk-communication and community engagement strategy that will not only disseminate the four pillars of the plan to responsible entities, but also deal with destroying production sites and laboratories, break the supply chain, discourage drug use and prosecute offenders as well as traffickers, rehabilitate addicts and enforcement of relevant laws.

“I want to particularly draw the attention of the agency to the fact that the use of many of our forests as criminal hideouts is because large swathes of cannabis plantations are hidden deep within those forests, especially, in the Southwest and the South-South.

“You may, therefore, need to drive these criminal elements from such hideouts, because they use it for the growth of these plants and also as a repository for criminal elements to conclude and plan their adventures on our people”.

He, however, called on all families, schools, civil society organisations, professional associations, religious organisations, the academia, community leaders and individuals to work for the common good in order to rid their communities of drug use and trafficking.

“As your President, I will continue to address underlying causes of drug abuse, including poverty reduction, for which my pledge for lifting 100 million Nigerians out of poverty in the next 10 years and strengthened by the recently developed National Poverty Reduction with Growth Strategy signposts my unwavering commitment.

I am tempted to assist President Buhari to adumbrate further and better evidential proofs to demonstrate how so accurate he is on this his very well written and delivered national speech on the wider implications of hard drugs.

First, it is not in doubt that most Countries around the World often put measures in place to check the proliferation of drugs trafficking due to the fundamental truism that drugs affect mostly the Young Population who are at the stage that is scientifically and economically rated as the years of highest National Economic productively.

The productivity of the Youngest Population of Nigeria, obviously, is the driving force of both the formal and informal sectors of Nigeria’s economy.

It therefore implies that if the greater percentage of young people are hooked on hard drugs or are in the business of assisting older drug barons to traffick hard drugs, then the economic wellbeing of Nigeria will shrink significantly and most of the Youths engaged in the crime of drug trafficking when caught may spend the greater fraction of their lives in detention facilities. Already, many young Nigerians have been executed in many Asian nations whereby drug trafficking is a capital offence.

Also, it is globally and statistically proven that most takers and consumers of hard drugs are young people.

These drug habits lead to diverse ramifications, sociologically, psychologically and other wise.

Two cases locally demonstrate the above.

Assuming without accepting hook, line and sinker, the illegal public parade of the 21 year old student of University of Lagos Chidinma Ojukwu about the alleged murder of the middle age media entrepreneur Mr. Usifo Asaga in Lagos, what is a lesson from those shenanigans is the aspect of hard drugs and the science surrounding the altering of the mind of youngsters to commit unimaginable crime that if they are in their conscious mind without hard drugs, they may ordinarily never commit such alleged heinous crime.

Let us take the case of a very popular drug amongst Youths of Nigeria known as tramadol.

Scientists have these warnings for us:

Addiction and misuse: This drug can lead to addiction and misuse, which can result in overdose and death. To help avoid these problems, take this drug exactly as prescribed by your doctor. If you have any concerns about this warning, talk with your doctor.

Slowed or stopped breathing: This drug can slow or stop your breathing. If this isn’t treated immediately, it can cause death. This risk is highest within three days of starting the drug or increasing your dosage.

Accidental ingestion: If anyone, especially children, takes a dose of this drug by accident even once, it can cause death. This drug should be stored out of reach of children.

Life-threatening effects for children: In some cases, children’s bodies can process this drug too quickly. This can lead to slowed breathing and death. This drug shouldn’t be used in children younger than 12 years of age. It should also not be used in children younger than 18 years of age who have certain risk factors, or who have just had a tonsillectomy or adenoidectomy.

Neonatal opioid withdrawal syndrome: If you use this medication for a long time while you’re pregnant, it can cause withdrawal in your baby. Withdrawal in your baby can lead to death. Symptoms of withdrawal can include irritability, hyperactivity, unusual sleep patterns, and a high-pitched cry. They can also include tremor, vomiting, diarrhea, and failure to gain weight.

Interactions with certain drugs: Taking tramadol with certain drugs can cause varied serious effects. These effects include increased tramadol levels, possibly leading to seizures and serotonin syndrome. They also include reduced effectiveness of tramadol, and opioid withdrawal symptoms. The drugs that can cause these effects include amiodarone, quinidine, erythromycin, ketoconazole, ritonavir, and similar medications.

Interactions with benzodiazepines: Taking tramadol with benzodiazepines and other similar drugs can cause very serious effects. These effects can include severe fatigue, slowed breathing, coma, and death. (healthline.com).

Just read the report carried in today’s The Guardian newspaper of Nigeria of a young student who jumped to his death after taking some identified hard drug.

The Guardian, the flagship of African media space, reports that a 400-level optometry student of Abia State University, Uturu, has been confirmed dead after jumping down from a three-storey building.

He was reported to be on drugs when he jumped from his lodge called Favour Lodge located off the campus on Saturday evening.

Reports by students revealed that the deceased, identified as Francis Chibuike, in the video recorded after he took a hard drug known as Colorado, was unable to contain its effect.

According to some students, his friends reportedly locked him in the room and went in search of cassava flakes known as garri to restore him back to consciousness, but the deceased went through the balcony and jumped down from the building with blood gushing out from his head before they returned.

A student from the school, Paul Udo, in his Facebook post, said the deceased jumped from the stairs with head shattered beyond medical help.

Another student, Nnadi Thyword, while commenting on the incident, said: “Come to think of it; he is a medical student and ought not to be told the dangers of these drugs. It is doubtful to say that those who take these drugs don’t know the negative effects. This is simply an addiction.”

In the video made available to The Guardian yesterday, the student recording the video, who appeared to own the apartment, where Francis had taken the substance, was heard saying: “I told you not to take it, but you did. I told you I don’t like it. ”

According to a news publication, the Chief Security Officer (CSO) of the institution, Navy Commander ThankGod Evulobi (retired), confirmed the incident, describing it as one of the consequences of hard drugs.

According to him, the deceased, who is from Imo State, drugged himself and told his friends that he was going out only for him to jump out from the window.

Aside this aforementioned story, stories abound of several cases of suicides by young students which are attributable to the consequences of intake of hard drugs. Some jumped into the Lagos lagoon. Others simply took poisons and died.

Fortunately, Nigeria is not found wanting in the area of policy development on how the theme of hard drugs is textually and contextually formulated.

Nigeria has immensely benefitted from the technical assistance it is getting from the United Nations office on drugs and crime.

The partnership between Nigeria and that United Nations agency is about one of the most effective models that other sectors need to follow.

However, institutionally, Nigeria needs to upgrade the NDLEA to become much more focused on the much needed coordinated war against hard drugs that won’t be basically media centred and mere popularity contest.

But rather, there is the need for better investments in the area of rehabilitation of drugs users. A good institution like the NYSC especially under the current wonderful leadership of Brigadier General Shuaibu Ibrahim should be consulted and a sustainable working partnership entered between NDLEA and NYSC to confront the hydra-headed monster of drugs intakes and trafficking especially because the National Youth Service Corps scheme has become a very successful functional brand in the Country that focuses on youngsters.

Hundreds of thousands of youngsters who are hooked on drugs have had to waste away as criminals and murderers because the Nigerian system has failed them because it has always been focused on being on the front pages of Newspapers than on how many drug users have been rehabilitated.

I have had to read through the executive summary of the policy document prepared by Nigeria on the strategy for combating hard drugs menace that covers the year 2021 to 2025.

I must say that if the beautifully written policy document is effectively implemented, then I believe the majority of our Youths misled into embracing the use of hard drugs, will see the futility in so doing and resolve to stay far away from such life damaging habits and also deny drugs barons the recruitment markets for traffickers.

NDLEA should focus also on enlightening youngsters on the dangers of the use and trafficking of hard drugs making use of credible civil rights platforms such as the one that yours Faithfully coordinates called Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria.

A bird’s eye view or synopsis of this policy document will convince us that our problem is not the lack of written texts but rather the bureaucratic bottlenecks slowing down the institutional mechanisms for the effective delivery of these aims and objectives of combating hard drugs which sociologically impacts Nigeria much more than terrorism.

The terrorism of hard drugs needs to be confronted and NDLEA needs funding and operational independence if we must attain these lofty goals. It can’t be going cap in handing begging for funds and receiving paltry allocation through the justice ministry as if it is a boys Brigade organisation. The job of NDLEA is very critical.

Before I forget, here are snippets of the policy document aforementioned.

“The overall goal of NDCMP 2021–2025 is to improve health and security for everyone living in Nigeria. It is based on the premise that the problems arising from drug supply and consumption are not limited to people who use drugs, but have wider health, social and economic consequences on the family, community and nation. The Plan contains four strategic pillars that culminate in an integrated multi-sectoral strategic and operational plan to comprehensively address drug issues in Nigeria. The pillars are: Supply Reduction; Drug Demand Reduction; Access to Controlled Medicines for Medical and Scientific Purposes; and Governance and Coordination. Each of the strategic pillars is anchored in one or two MDAs of the Government that will be responsible for achieving desired outcomes.”

 “The desired result of the Supply Reduction strategic pillar is to reduce production and supply of illicit drugs, including illicit narcotics, precursors, psychotropic substances, and other nationally and internationally controlled drugs. The five desired outcomes are: 1) Increased disruption of drug trafficking; 2) Making drug trade unprofitable; 3) Reduced diversion from licit to illicit uses of narcotics, psychotropic substances and precursors; 4) Reduced illicit production of amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS) and new psychoactive substances (NPS); and 5) Reduced cannabis cultivation. NDLEA is the lead agency for this strategic pillar.”

“The strategic pillar on Drug Demand Reduction builds on the sensitization, advocacy, prevention and treatment programmes carried out in the previous NDCMP cycle. The desired outcome is a reduction in demand for drugs, as measured in four areas: 1) Reduced use of drugs (prevention and sensitization); 2) Reduced dependence on drugs (treatment); 3) Reduced harm caused by drug use; and 4) Improved services. NDLEA, FMOH, NAFDAC and NACA are the lead organizations for this pillar.”

The strategic pillar on Access to Controlled Medicines for Medical and Scientific Purposes is meant to address the problem of a lack of availability of controlled medicines for genuine patients and its severe impact on the health and wellness of Nigerians. This pillar, therefore, seeks improved access and appropriate use of controlled medicines, measured by: 1) Increased accessibility, affordability and availability of controlled medicines in public and private health facilities; 2) Rational use of controlled medicines; 3) Health systems strengthening for accessibility, availability and affordability; and 4) Preventing diversion of controlled medicines. FMOH and NAFDAC are the lead organizations for this pillar.”

By and large, I repeat that President Muhammadu Buhari struck the most melodious right Chord on this issue. I so submit. Except to say that I’m still dancing to the melodious tunes of the President’s most philosophically written speech in 6 years.

Emmanuel Onwubiko is head of the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) and was a federal commissioner at the National Human Rights commission of Nigeria.

OPINION

Taking the Right Steps to Save Naira from Further Decline

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By Tony Obiechina

Against the backdrop of continued fall of the Naira, the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA) had recently announced that it would join forces with the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to clamp down on currency speculators and economic saboteurs.

There is no doubting the fact that the increasing scarcity of the dollar and its growing demand in Nigeria remain the principal reasons for the troubled Naira.

Infact as at Friday, the Naira’s summersaults reached an unimaginable low level of N2000/$1, even as analysts say that all is not well with the Naira.

According to financial experts the unwholesome activities by manipulators who operate through several digital channels  are remotely contributing  to naira’s weakness and  even inflation, resulting to rising food costs and negating financial stability.

One of such unwholesome activities is the crypto environment that is largely not regulated by the Securities and Exchange Commission(SEC) and the Central Bank of Nigeria(CBN).

In other climes, especially the United States, there are regulatory frameworks for crypto environment and violations of any extant regulations attract severe sanctions.

Of particular note is Binance which has digital tentacles with large players here in Nigeria. The regulations inherent in the United States crypto space was enough to deal with violations by Binance and its management.

According to the US Justice department, Binance admitted it engaged in Anti-Money Laundering, Unlicensed Money Transmitting, and Sanctions Violations in Largest Corporate Resolution to Include Criminal Charges for its Executive.

The justice department further said “Binance Holdings Limited (Binance), the entity that operates the world’s largest cryptocurrency exchange, Binance.com, pleaded guilty and has agreed to pay over $4 billion to resolve the Justice Department’s investigation into violations related to the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA), failure to register as a money transmitting business, and the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA).

The company’s founder and chief executive officer (CEO), Changpeng Zhao, a Canadian national, also pleaded guilty to failing to maintain an effective anti-money laundering (AML) program, in violation of the BSA and has resigned as CEO of Binance.

In Nigeria, the concern now is how Binance and other  digital assets platforms are serving as  window for peer-to-peer (P2P) transactions giving opportunity to users to showcase interest to sell or buy currencies of their choice.

It is reported that Nigeria is currently the biggest P2P market in the world, which came about after the Central Bank of Nigeria banned institutions from buying and selling crypto in 2021. However, a circular issued to banks in December 2023 lifted the crypto ban on Nigerian banks facilitating cryptocurrency transactions.

Many Nigerians dealing with foreign exchange struggle to conduct transactions through traditional banking and Bureau de Change channels. This is due to significantly higher fees for transferring foreign currency within the banking system than in the crypto market, making P2P transfers more attractive.

Consequently, in this unregulated market, individuals or groups place large buy or sell orders on the platform with no plans to execute them.

This development has therefore created a false illusion of high demand , influencing others to buy or sell at manipulated prices. This deceptive practice, targets unsuspecting investors, leaving them with significant financial losses and as in the case of naira.

However government crack down on the parallel markets has started yielding positive results as noticed in the reaction of the Association of Bureau De’Change Operators of Nigeria (ABCON). Its President, Mr. Aminu Gwadabe has commended the management of the CBN for the action.

He said, “for the past two and a half years this is the first time we have seen engaging and a listening CBN. We have seen how to collaborate to ensure that we get a solution on how we can solve the problem because it is a national crisis that’s where we are now.

“Two, we have witnessed a lot of raids and arrests I want to draw a caveat. Unfortunately there is stigmatisation and criminalisation of the sector due to lack of understanding even with the security agencies there is lack of clarification between who is licensed and who is not. So the raids that is going on, as a licensed Bureau De’Change a regulatory entity.

“For us we are licensed and regulated and as a licensed Bureau De’Change there are criteria, you must have an office, you must render returns you must comply with necessary regulations. What is happening is not targeted at licensed Bureau De’Change but the operator of FX street trading. For us we are against any street trading and we support any actions that will remove street trading. It affects me also, I have an office but my clients cannot come to my office because of the menace of street traders”.

“I want to congratulate the government, the CBN if it can be sanitize. We support any sanitization that can remove street trading. We have all seen it, there is no place on earth that you can go and see rampant street trading of FX so we’re in support of it”.

However, the recent pronouncement from  the presidency in respect of how naira can be strengthened is a welcome development going by a statement from the office of the National Security Adviser(ONSA) it spoke of its synergy with the CBN to sanitise the foreign exchange market.

Similarly, Special Adviser to President Bola Tinubu on information and strategy, Mr  Bayo Onanuga said Binance and other crypto platforms should be banned from operating in Nigeria.

In an X post on Wednesday, he also said foreign exchange (FX) aggregator, abokiFX, should be banned again.Onanuga made the statement while reacting to a comment by Mikael C. Bernard, an X user, who shared posts on cryptocurrency and FX rates.

The presidential aide said Bernard stated in an X post that “Naira is going to zero”.

Onanuga’s statement is coming amid the continuous depreciation of the naira, which fell to N2000/$ at the parallel section of the FX market on February 23, 2024.

In his post, the special adviser said Binance is “blatantly setting exchange rate for Nigeria,” and hijacking the role of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).

He said the cryptocurrency trading platform is facing restrictions in multiple jurisdictions, such as the United States, Singapore, Canada and the United Kingdom.

It would be recalled that previous CBN guidelines, while aiming to curb banking involvement with crypto, leave the P2P space largely unsupervised and country is at the receiving end.

The vacuum created by non-regulation has allowed manipulative tendencies in P2P market, making the integrity of the market to nosedive, while  eroding investor confidence.

Nigeria, and indeed the regulatory authorities should consider a review of the existing guidelines  to check this menace, or probably liquidate their operations in the country as their activities pose a great risk to national security.

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OPINION

Why Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger Exit from ECOWAS is no BREXIT

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By Olu Jacobs

Comparisons are being made between the sudden exit of the military juntas of
Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger from the Economic Community of West African
States, ECOWAS, and Britain’s 31 st January 2020 official exit of Britain from the
European Union.
On the surface, similarities can be found with Brexit, to wit: some small nation
with a fraction of the GDP of the entire group leaves a Community of equals and
forfeits all the advantages of the economies of scale inherent in a single market
where there is unhindered intra-Community movement of goods and services,
unencumbered by law or tariffs.


As the pretext for leaving, the errant countries accused the Union of promoting
unpleasant polices, policies which were in fact part of the fundamentally practices
of the body and core mandate of the group, and entrenched in its rules of
procedure and which has sustained the Union throughout the 40 or so odd years
of its existence
As a consequence of leaving a group which exerts stronger bargaining power as a
block, the decampees runs the risk of losing out on the group’s negotiating
power and may no longer enjoy free trade with the rest Member
States
But here the comparison ends.
The UK at least held a
referendum where its people voted to leave the EU. The trio of
Capt. Ibrahim Traoré, Col. Assimi Goita, and Brig. Gen. Abdourahamane Tiani,
did not bother with such niceties. Having come to power through the force of
arms, they were under no obligation to inform their people, much less seek their
views, before the pompous announcement penultimate weekend that, “taking all
their responsibilities in the face of history and responding to the expectations,
concerns, and aspirations of their populations, decide in complete sovereignty on

the immediate withdrawal of Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger from the Economic
Community of West African States.”
Moreover, Britain was not buffeted by terrorists on the verge of overrunning the
country when it left the EU, nor did it need any help with its security
architecture. On the contrary, it was the most powerful military force in the
union at the time with a strong economy. Still, leaving the EU against popular
expectations shook the global markets and caused the British pound to fall to
its lowest level against the dollar in 30 years. The following day, Prime
Minister David Cameron resigned, and economists suggest that Brexit may
have irreversibly harmed the British economy despite its development level
and reduced its real per capita income, in the long term.
One can therefore imagine the implication for Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger
which together belonged to the ten poorest countries in the world, abandoning
the $702bn economy that ECOWAS represents. These three are not only
landlocked nations bedeviled by the twin plagues of recurring drought and
terrorism, they are moreover hounded by sanctions, substantial populations of
internally displaced persons who are near famine and a losing battle with ISIS-
Sahel and other violent groups.
Burkina Faso for instance is ranked the fourth worst terrorist plagued nation in the
world after Afghanistan, Iraq, and Somalia. It had 597 violent attacks across 10 of its
13 regions in 2022 leading to thousands of deaths and an estimated 1.6 million of its
population internally displaced. Mali‘s 4500 miles of porous borders with seven
neighboring countries has seen similar armed attacks, abductions, car jackings, IEDs,
vehicle-borne IEDs, rocket attacks, targeted assassinations, and armed imposed
blockades and ambushes. With their security services overwhelmed, they can hardly
cope as ISIS-Sahel, formerly known as ISIS-GS, and the al-Qa’ida-affiliated JNIM
operate indiscriminately.
A recent report ( Pls attribute) described this part of the Sahel as “the epicenter of
terrorism globally accounting for 43 percent of terrorism deaths in 2022, more than
South Asia, the Middle East and North Africa combined.”
These are compounded by pervasive poverty, battles over decreasing resources,
mass displacement of people as a result of climate change and refugee problems
caused by ubiquitous violence which have collectively transformed the area into the
epicentre of terrorism . Yet although General Tiani said the reason for his coup was
to check the scourge of terror, the truth was that by 2022, his Niger, which the year

before had the largest increase in terrorism deaths had already turned a corner.
President Bazoum was winning the war on terror so much so that 90 percent of
deaths from extremist groups in the Sahel in 2022 occurred in Burkina Faso and Mali
which were, ironically led by military juntas.
The Niger coup therefore was more likely to worsen rather than reduce the scourge
of terrorism, as history has shown, which was one reason ECOWAS was set against
it and took the drastic measures to impose sanctions and invoke the protocol that
allows it to use force if necessary to dislodge an un democratic government. Another
reason, apart from the need to halt the domino effect of this putsch on neighboring
countries, was because Niger had turned into a bastion of democracy in the Sahel, a
bulwark against Russian and jihadist movement and proof of the success of western
alliance. With the coup the nation lost all aids and military assistance. The EU
foreign policy chief Josep Borrell promptly announced the “immediate
cessation of budget support” and suspension of “all cooperation actions in
the domain of security,” which translated means its allocation of EUR 500
million for improving governance, education, and sustainable growth in the
country, it’s 27 million-euro military training mission (EUMPM) in Niger in
addition to around 1,500 Barkhane troops stationed in the country, has
come to an end with “immediate cessation of budget support” and
suspension of “all cooperation actions in the domain of security.”
France which has provided the country with around EUR 120 million
in development aid in 2022 also suspended all development and budget
support, and the US which had two military drone bases and over 1,000
troops deployed in Niger, and had just announced $150 million in direct
assistance also suspended its security cooperation with Nigerien forces.  
For a nation which the World Bank estimates has about 10 million of its
people, or around 40 percent of the population, emershed in extreme
poverty, the lowest Human Development Index (HDI) worldwide and
battling acute water scarcity and food insecurity and high population
growth, there is little doubt that Niger needs all the help it can get from
ECOWAS. In total, the country, like the rest two, relies on close to USD 2
billion a year in official development assistance of which ECOWAS provides
a sizable part and more importantly access to the huge regional market.
Economic sanctions led to the closure of the bustling border between Niger and
Nigeria, halting roughly $1.3 billion worth of annual trade. The United States goods

exports alone to ECOWAS in 2022 were $6.7 billion, and its imports from
ECOWAS totaled $9.4 billion in 2022, up 38.8 percent ($2.6 billion) from 2021.
This is the market that the three nations will forfeit. According to a report, Guinea’s
2008 coup and Mali’s coup had erased a combined $12 billion to $13.5 billion from
their economies over five years, which represented 76% of Guinea’s 2008 gross
domestic product and almost half of Mali’s 2012 GDP.
The real goal of ECOWAS is to promote economic cooperation among member
states in order to raise living standards and promote economic development. The
regional group has also worked hard to address security issues by developing a
peacekeeping force for conflicts in the region. The three juntas claimed they were
taking their 75m people out of the bloc because it has not helped them fight
terrorism. That is clearly not true. For instance, ECOWAS sent thousands of
soldiers to help Mali in 2013 when a jihadist onslaught almost overran it. ECOWAS
members were in fact the leading troop contributors to a UN peacekeeping mission
there until the junta sacked it last year.
Now we come to the real real reason why the three coupists announced on Sunday 28th January
that they were taking their countries out of the regional body. Clearly it is to escape the pressure
been mounted by ECOWAS to return their nations to democracy. Mali and Burkina Faso were
already set to hold elections this year as promised ECOWAS, and Niger is under pressure to
produce a short transition timeline for civil rule.
Lashed by hunger, terror and civil strife the economies of Mali, Niger and Burkina
Faso are stunted by what has been called a “multi-dimensional crisis where insecurity,
humanitarian need, rapid urbanization of the country and the drastic effects of
climate change—impacting access to food and water, which fuel intercommunal
conflict, all converge.”
The earlier they return to the embrace of ECOWAS, the better. As a matter of fact,
the West African regional body remains Africa’s most successful example of
integration and economic, political and security cooperation. People’s free movement
throughout the region, underpinned by the visa-free system and a common passport,
is one of ECOWAS’ key achievements benefitting the region’s citizens. For landlocked
countries such as Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger especially, the Customs Union
facilitates imports through the application of a single common external tariff.
For almost 50 years, ECOWAS’ rules and operating methods have shaped
governance in its Member States.
In effect, the withdrawal of these countries which together account for 15% of
ECOWAS’ population, but nearly half its surface area is some blow to the regional

body and potentially a disaster for the three landlocked countries. However, it is
important for the reputation and the overall well-being of ECOWAS that the
countries return to the fold.
At the extraordinary Session of Ministerial Mediation and Security Council meeting,
which held Thursday to discuss this and the situation in Senegal where the president
had suddenly postponed elections, ECOWAS Commission President, Alieu Touray
said, “If there is a time for ECOWAS to stay together, this is the time … There is no
challenge that ECOWAS cannot overcome.”
ECOWAS has always insisted that the modalities of their withdrawal are
irregular, that such sudden departures are impossible to implement, and do not
comply with ECOWAS’ governing treaty which stipulates one year formal notification
during which states asking to leave must respect their commitments to the bloc. 
Critics say the current situation presents an opportunity for ECOWAS to review its
frameworks, policies and practices to make the organisation more consistent and
effective and responsive to the development needs of the constituent States.
While doing that, it might not be a bad idea to create conditions for the return of
the three countries to the regional bloc either.

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OPINION

Herbert Wigwe: The Things Yet Unsaid

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By Dakuku Peterside

Clean-shaven, suave, upwardly mobile, and incurably optimistic, Herbert Onyewumbu Wigwe (HOW) was one of the most recognisable figures in the banking space and corporate Nigeria. His official biography could only be written by him. But I hope his example can inspire and influence us.

Accurately describing Herbert in one word can be compared to explaining the mystery of centuries in a few words or a wild goose chase.
It is a nuanced and complex process.

He was an extraordinary businessman who died alongside his wife and son in the United States of America under exceptional circumstances.

His tragic and sudden departure reverberated beyond our shores.
But who was Herbert Wigwe? I can only answer this question from the narrow prism of my friendship and many encounters with him.

Herbert and I were members of the same local church assembly, and I witnessed his dedication to spirituality, good works, and commitment to church growth. It is easy to explain this because of his solid Christian foundation. Herbert’s father, Elder Shyngle Wigwe, is a pastor in the Redeemed Christian Church of God. Herbert was a man of prayers, which he complemented with a ruthless work ethic. He attributed all his successes to God’s blessings.

Both of us are from Rivers State, and we had many sessions on how best to fix the politics of Rivers and, by extension, improve the State’s development trajectory. Herbert was utterly detached from politics but had deep insight into political manoeuvrings. We debated the affairs of Rivers State and the country, and he baffled me with the precision with which he predicted the outcome of political contests. He would quickly tell you that his political party is Nigeria and no other.

His passion for Nigeria was simply unwavering. Only a few persons can match his faith in Nigeria. He firmly believed that he would impact society by using businesses to provide solutions to society’s needs and create wealth that would touch the lives of many. He was unapologetically capitalist, in the proper sense of it, and he lived his life using capital to solve many of societies’ needs, such as creating employment, paying taxes, providing lots of charity, and investing heavily in world-class university education. He used capital as an instrument for socio-cultural upliftment across Africa.

Herbert was a man of bold dreams and obsessed with excellence, while making room for unavoidable mistakes. Herbert never gave up on any bold dream, no matter the odds. He rode the waves of challenges and was filled with the spirit of hard work, dedication, and strokes of ingenuity. He had bold dreams in all ramifications, and this was self-evident.

First, as a young banker, he teamed up with his friend and partner to acquire “a distressed bank”, rated number 89 then, and turn it around in two decades to become one of the top five banks, with an assets base of over N20.9 trillion. This is phenomenal. Herbert, as CEO, set out to build an Access Bank with the vision of becoming the gateway to Africa, and the world’s most respected African bank. With presence in more than 13 African countries, plus footprints in other continents, Access Bank was working towards realising this vision. Second, Wigwe University, which Herbert personally referred to as the “Future Harvard University of Africa,” was another extraordinary, bold dream. He set out to build the best University in Africa, investing $500 million in the initial set-up. You do not need further testament that he was a man of bold dreams.

An entrepreneur extraordinaire, his mystique was his ability to sniff out opportunities where others saw none, multiplied by the fact that he was one of the most persistent persons I know when going after opportunities. He mentored many budding entrepreneurs, top managers, and top academics in entrepreneurship. Apart from his well-known flagship institution, Access Bank, he was active in other financial services concerns, construction, oil and gas, aviation, film, and music, and, most recently, the education sector. He made a star success of all his multiple business pursuits.

Herbert’s hidden strength was his ability to connect with people of all classes and cadres, accompanied by a related instinct to simplify complex things in the most basic way. His mastery of Rivers’ version of Pidgin English could only equal his fluency in Queens’ English. He was among the few successful people referred to as the “original old Port Harcourt boy.” Another strength of his was his courageous, daring, patient, and persistent nature, which added to his relentless ambition to accomplish exceptional things. This attracted to him friends and foes in equal measure.

His philanthropic work in the Herbert Wigwe Foundation, which he founded in 2016, focused on youth empowerment, health, arts, and education. This focus on youth development was central to his mentoring, given his strong belief in the importance of the youth in the development of Nigeria and Africa. He was an art enthusiast and contributed to the development of art in the country. As the art connoisseur he was, his collection reflected his passion for excellence, diversity, and social purpose. The HOW foundation extensively supported many healthcare projects for the downtrodden among us. His charity works were unique because he loathed publicity about it.

Herbert’s enduring legacy is the power of vision, bold dreams, courage, and determination to pursue it and rally people to accomplish the objective. This is what we need to improve in our public space. History has shown that bold dreams have the power to transform societies. He was exceptionally enterprising and entrepreneurial.

Listening to Herbert talk about his vision was to find yourself in the oasis of inspiration. He genuinely believed that there was nothing you fixed your mind on that you could not accomplish. He had bold dreams for the banking sector, tertiary education, the oil and gas industry and most importantly, society.

What lessons can we learn from him? Herbert epitomised a life of passion, dedication, resilience, and boldness in achieving grand personal and societal visions. He was bold in setting out great goals and pursuing them relentlessly until he reached them. He proves that an unexamined life is not worth living. To achieve greatness and impact on society maximally, one must be purposeful, bold, and patient. Herbert’s hidden strengths prepared him for an eventful life – one he lived on his terms. His ability to connect with people, courage, daring attitude, ambition, and excellent work ethic were the ingredients of his success and they must be emulated. Peter Drucker posits, “The best way to predict the future is to create it.” Herbert created his future and lived it to the full of those he loved.

For our budding entrepreneurs, Herbert left a legacy. He proved the axiomatic expression true: “Entrepreneurship is living a few years of your life like most people won’t, so that you can spend the rest of your life like most people can’t.” He made the needed sacrifices at the start of his entrepreneurship and built capital enough to be reckoned among his contemporaries. Steve Jobs posits that “your work will fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work.”

Herbert did outstanding work; the only way to do great work is to love what you do. Success is not just a product of luck. Hard work, knowledge, skills, and integrity underpin it. Thomas Jefferson argued, “The harder I work, the more luck I seem to have.” Herbert worked hard enough to be lucky. He had an eye for greatness. It is little wonder he set great goals for himself.

John Rockefeller advised that one should not be “afraid to give up the good to go for the great.” Both in banking and establishing a University, Herbert went for greatness and achieved it. We should do the same. As a business and community leader, Herbert understood that the function of leadership is to produce more leaders, not more followers. He created leaders of industries and global advocates of responsible capitalism in the 21st century.

My friend and brother Herbert lived like a candle in the wind. His star burned so brightly but ended so shortly. Greatness in life is not measured in how long one lives but in the impact of one’s life on society. Herbert lived, and he conquered. Adieu, my great visioner!Peterside is a policy and leadership expert.

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