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OPINION

The Lessons of Okuama Tragedy

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By Michael Owhoko

Has Nigeria learnt any lessons from the Okuama massacre? Will the incident repeat itself or offer profound lessons against a future experience? In the journey of life, no individual or nation or country is immune from occurrences thrown up by circumstance, which may be pleasant or painful.

Lessons from such experiences are deployed to prevent possible future reoccurrence, failing which the same catastrophe would repeat itself.

In context, the gruesome murder of army officers at Okuama in Ughelli South Local Government Area of Delta State, which transcends ethnic emotions and was accompanied by wide condemnations, is a confirmation that Nigeria has not, and does not learn from lessons, otherwise the calamity would have been avoided.

The incident was not the first of its type. It had happened previously at Odi, Bayelsa State; Zaki Biam, Benue State; and Gbaramatu, Delta State, yet it appeared that neither the Federal Government nor the Nigerian Army learnt any lessons from the earlier occurrences. This is evident from the Okuama saga, a proof of the country’s insensitivity to bloodshed and exposition of poverty in the policy making process.

This notwithstanding, the Okuama calamity has again thrown up another opportunity for lessons to be learnt. If Nigeria fails again, this time around, to learn from these happenings, then the country risks further carnage, which may possibly take a more complex form, with unmanageable and unpredictable consequences. It may be too costly for the country’s fledgling socio-economic balance and stability.

Therefore, the lessons are crucial and should be identified by government, to be harnessed as feedback for proactive purposes, to forestall future recurrence. It is a tragedy for any country with a relapsing experience, not to have a codified strategy encapsulated in a template to resolve related matters. In specific terms, what then are the lessons and takeaways from the Okuama disaster?

Lesson One: To have allowed a land dispute over fishing rights between Okuama and neighbouring Okoloba communities in Bomadi Local Government Area, Delta State, to escalate means there were no proactive measures and prompt concerted interventions by the Nigeria Police Force and Delta State Government, in response to petitions written by the Okuama community.

The community, through its lawyers, I. Ejedegba and Co., had written a petition to the Commissioner of Police in Asaba, Delta State, which was acknowledged on 31 January, while that written by the community’s leaders to the Delta State Governor was received on 2 February. This was over one month before the gruesome murder of the military officers on 14 March.

Since the Police is the first line of contact and statutorily responsible for civil security matters, they should have waded in upon receipt of the petition, to nip the crisis in the bud, aside the previous joint meetings held among the communities, the Police and the Delta State Government that yielded no solution. Under this development, the Delta State Governor should have been advised to wield the big stick by acquiring the land in contention for public interest, to end the crisis.

Lesson Two: Inviting the Army for a mediatory and peace mission to Okuama for the resolution of a land dispute between two communities that were not at war, was an error in judgement. The dispute was civil in nature, and it was only when the efforts by the Police and the Delta State Governor had failed, and there was evidence of likely escalation into a dangerous dimension beyond the capacity of the Police, that would have warranted the intervention of the Nigerian Army. It is not the responsibility of the Army to broker peace in a civil matter.

Lesson Three: Central to the killing of the military personnel in Okuama is presumably oil. Oil appeared to be the underpinning motive behind the horrendous and senseless killings. Mere land dispute between two communities could not have led to such a mindless massacre. Soldiers are deployed to the Niger Delta region to protect oil facilities, and in the course of this duty, they might have been marked as “enemy” by those profiteering from illegal oil deals.

Those involved in crude oil theft and other illegal activities, including the processing of locally refined products, might see the Army as an obstacle to their business interests. The military high command should have known this, and prepared the soldiers for any possible eventuality and collision with entrenched oil thieves.

The circumstances of their deaths showed that the military men were taken unawares. It was likely that crude oil thieves and other vested interests might have planned and taken advantage of the soldiers’ peaceful disposition to unleash mayhem on them in such a horrific and despicable manner.

Lesson Four: The mass destruction of Okuama by the Army in response to the death of the soldiers, without singling out the culprits, was unhelpful, as innocent children, mothers, the elderly, the sick and even pregnant women, were either killed, rendered homeless or died while trying to escape.

To bring pain on an entire community over the action of a few criminals, is indefensible. Reprisal attacks and collective punishments are incompatible with international law.

It should be recalled that after the destruction of Odi by the Army, the community resorted to litigation and got a favourable judgement, leading to the payment of a N15 billion out-of-court settlement as compensation. Justice Lambi Akanbi of the Federal High Court had condemned the government for a “brazen violation of the fundamental human rights of the victims to movement, life and to own property and live peacefully in their ancestral home.”

Since the Okuama experience is reminiscent of the destruction in Odi, it is likely Okuama may seek redress in the law court for compensation over the reprisal destruction of lives and properties.

Lesson Five: As the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Nigeria, Bola Tinubu’s order to the Army was too hasty and reactionary, without taking into consideration innocent lives in Okuama that were caught up in the web. Granting “full authority” to the military to bring anybody found to have been responsible for the attack to justice was an obvious blanket licence for the military to invade Okuama.

Instead, the President should have ordered the security agencies and the Police to specifically intervene, identify and arrest the criminal elements in the community, while instituting an independent high-powered panel of enquiry to unravel the causes of the mayhem. A future restraint on the part of the President is imperative to douse tension and minimise further collateral damage.

Lesson Six: The Army’s decision to lock down and lay siege to Okuama without granting access to the Delta State Governor, the Police, humanitarian agencies, and even the press to assess the situation on ground, has given rise to speculations about the plight of the members of the community, particularly the innocent, helpless and indigent persons. This is unhelpful to the image of the Army.

By not allowing access, the Army has unwittingly opened its operations to speculations. For example, it was alleged that the Army killed over 5O persons in Okuama, with other survivors hiding in the bush, including old women, children, the elderly ones and even the sick, with no food to eat or water to drink. This is a gross violation of their fundamental human rights.

To avoid being put on the spotlight, it is imperative for the military to grant access into the community to enable humanitarian agencies and volunteer groups extend help and assistance to the innocent ones, to prevent further fatalities. This will also serve the interest of the Army’s reputation.

Lesson Seven: After the destruction of Odi, initial public sympathy for the military waned. The same is replicating itself in Okuama over the conduct of the Army. The Army, like other Federal Government agencies, is not a supreme institution that is above the Constitution and the Nigerian State, neither is civilian population subject to military laws.

Indeed, the Army is subject to civil authority under a democracy. Therefore, it must change its current tactics at Okuama, where it has refused access to the community, assumed being the sole information provider on goings-on, and subjected civilians to investigation, arrest and detention.

It is hoped that these lessons will serve as reference and guide for the state governments, the Police, the Army and the federal government in the handling of related crises to avert future disasters.

Owhoko, a Lagos-based public policy analyst, author, and journalist, can be reached at www.mikeowhoko.com, and followed on X (formerly Twitter) @michaelowhoko.

OPINION

NIN-SIM Linkage and the Nigeria We Desire

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By Tunde Akanni

Rights and responsibilities are the twin words that best describe the inception and the increasing impact of digital technology, a major strand of which is the dynamic contemporary telecommunication services.  Even before the imminent(?) internet of things (IOT),  a lot is playing out  for human civilisational process throwing up existential challenges for citizens and duly requiring governmental interventions to cope with.

If only to safeguard innocent citizens from the antics of criminals, government is often quick at fashioning laws and penalties for violations.

The most far reaching legal intervention in this context is the Cybercrimes Prohibitions Act of 2015 with its most significant component being the Cybercrime Advisory Council.
  Incidentally, this Council is considered rather exclusionary by media and allied rights advocates.

The said deficit of the Cybercrime Advisory Council is a pointer to the fact that in climes such as ours, not much attention is often given by government to social needs, specifically in this case, Media and Information Literacy, MIL, already over hyped by the informed stakeholders. Unfortunately, some undiscerning members of the society keep falling falling victim of related laws.

Please follow this pathetic story, the audio of which I keep till date: Muhammad is a private school principal at Nyanya, an Abuja, suburb. As a side hustle, he runs a Point of Service (POS) business for payment.  Then came a criminal one day who had just robbed and killed his victim. Using his victim’s card, he requested two transfers of N500,000 each.

The criminal made several other purchases and also went to some other operators of POS.  Eventually he was found out and law enforcers had to track all transactions he had carried out with the victim’s card. Muhammad of Nyanya thus became a suspect and was promptly arrested. Thus began endless investigations… Muhammed ended up being detained for months in a prison.

You can imagine the psychological torture not only for Muhammad but his immediate family, employers and others who love him. He learnt his lesson in the bitterest way yet his ordeals could have been averted by sufficient exposure to basics of MIL. But life goes on. Indeed, it must be business as usual

Otherwise how do we explain the cacophony playing out after the expiration of the deadline of 29 March for NIN-SIM linkage? The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) has confirmed that it would not be reviewing its deadline to bar owners of more than four SIM cards whose SIM registration data failed to match their National Identity Number (NIN) data.

The Commission explained that its position was hinged on its objective to clean the country’s SIM ownership database, and ensure that criminals could not take advantage of having multiple unlinked SIMs to carry out their nefarious activities.  The Commission’s resolve is hinged on the need to close in on the chaos of untoward ownership of multiple SIM cards with unverified NIN details. According to the  Commission “we have instances where a single individual has over 10,000 lines linked to his NIN. In some cases, we have seen a single person with 1,000 lines, some 3,000 plus lines. What are they doing with these lines?

The NCC has also provided Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) an extension till 31 July within which they are expected to verify all NINs submitted by subscribers with four or less SIMs, as well as bar those whose NIN fail verification with NIMC.

The Chairman of Association of  Licensed Telecommunication Operators, Gbenga Adebayo, further confirmed that members of his association would comply.

However, just the next day or so after the deadline expired, yours sincerely sighted no fewer than three reports announcing the extension of the deadline, one of them stating specifically to 31 July, referring to some reliable inside source.

What’s all the fuss about really? This NIN-SIM linkage is a simple exercise that only requires a subscriber to submit his or her NIN to the service provider to enable the service provider match details of the subscriber taken at the time of initial SIM registration process. This could be done through assorted windows including physically by visiting designated points. For techno-literate persons, they are merely expected to use short, universal codes for both submission and retrieval for those who may want to verify their own compliance as the media kept repeating deadlines.

The reality today is that barely literate persons and even illiterates now use telephones given its increasing centrality to a lot of human activities.  This is the basis of this writer’s advocacy for an earlier generalist nomenclatural label suggestion of “Digital Culture” in place of “Digital Economy” preferred by Minister Ali Pantami when he chose to rename the ministry he was asked to superintend over (https://www.thecable.ng/digital-culture-or-digital-economy)

Telecommunication industry players have been unequivocal about the key benefit of NIN-SIM linkage being the protection of subscribers and prevention of crimes such as exemplified above. For instance, on account of the huge amount involved, the POS operators may have documented details of whatever identity provided by the criminal. As a matter of fact, the truth may have been readily revealed in the course of such documentation. But the information literacy knowledge could only have been deployed based on certain pre-existing conditions such as NIN-SIM linkage offers an example.

Still on crime, another major advantage that may derive from the NIN-SIM linkage is the  ease with which law enforcers may trace and tackle criminals through their registered lines. Afterall, no one may be allowed to own any line except you are ready to play by the set rules.

Furthermore, this linkage thing will automatically ease economic  transactions  electronically since identities will be easily verifiable for concerned parties such as it pans out with regards to debit cards and similar devices.  NIN-SIM linkage is therefore the way to go and the exercise has to run with a good measure of discipline especially with existing spectacular anomalies of thousands SIMs connected to some individual.

At this stage, the campaigns executed so far need be audited to make for genuine inclusivity with regards to social, geographical and other possible lines. For instance, this task now requires a well designed stakeholder mapping. The mapping must ultimately reveal spots of irregularities and areas as well as interests deserving more attention.

Given that all media genres had been previously deployed perhaps for conventional announcements, how about aligning subsequent dissemination more enriched via regular media contents? How about being more scientific, relativizing media use depending on audience preference and possible perception? In reality this could translate to devolving dissemination more to the grassroots by enlisting the emerging broadcasters namely, community broadcasters and campus broadcasters.

Beyond liberalising the media to be used, campaigns must also be made to align with credible programmes with obvious trendy touch of management such as may ensure their global reach and enduring availability as may be made possible by platforms like Youtube and Spotify.

With affiliation to champions of multi-stakeholder philosophy like the UN’s annual Internet Governance Forum, IGF, for the management of telecommunication facilities, need NCC be reminded of the importance of democratised governance culture?

It is most certain that the involvement of the relatively cheaper (not necessarily technologically inferior) community and campus broadcasters will help to boost the NIN-SIM linkage campaigns and indeed others that may arise in future.

It will as not be out of place  for NCC to support the campaigns for the popularization of Media and Information Literacy. This certainly will help to resolve a lot of digital divide inspired issues

With the concern demonstrated on this exercise so far, NCC has demonstrated that it now has an improved corporate governance culture as advocated by IGF (https://punchng.com/nigerias-communication-governance-indifference/ ). It can however do better and even excel.

Akanni is an associate professor of media and development  at the Lagos State University. Follow him on X via @AkintundeAkanni

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OPINION

Politics as the Fourth Factor of Production

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By Majeed Dahiru

The advent of the industrial revolution in the 18th century in the United Kingdom, continental Europe and the United States of America, established land, labour and capital as the primary factors of production. While land included natural, mineral and water resources above and beneath it, capital essentially referred to money, the legal tenders or any other means of exchange, and labour was the work force deployed to till, mine and cultivate the land, as well as oversee the proper utilisation of capital.

But of the three primary factors of economic production, labour is the most important.

Although interdependent of each other, and with none dispensable, labour is needed to convert the enormous potentials of land to satisfy wants, just as it is the fruits of labour that is converted into capital, to keep the wheel of production grinding.

Labour is the most important factor of economic production because while capital and land are inanimate, labour is animate in its primary form as a human activity that utilises the other two factors to satisfy human wants and needs accordingly.

While the industrial revolution transformed the course of human economic activities for better, the invention of machines and its substitution of manual labour tended to undermine the importance of labour in the early stages of the industrial age. Armed with enormous capital and equipped with machines, the emergent class of industrial capitalists, like slave masters before them, exploited labour to the maximum, without commensurate benefit.

It was out of the chaos of the early stages of the industrial revolution, which was characterised by poor wages, exploitation, poor working conditions and everything that could be categorised as unfair and unethical labour practices, that the organised labour movement emerged.

As a means of collective bargaining, workers, traders and artisans organised themselves into unions to replace the pre-industrial era guilds, to engage with both public and private employers for better working conditions. Beginning in 18th century Britain, strike actions were embarked upon by workers to press home their demands for fairer labour practices and improved working condition by the organised labour movement.

Industrial disagreements between capitalists and their workers soon triggered a class struggle, with society being organised along the lines of the owners of capital – the bourgeoisie and the workers – the proletariat. It was this class struggle that incubated a new ideological framework for the political economies of the newly industrialised nations of the world to challenge what was being denounced as capitalism.

The proposed alternative framework was the ideology of socialism. It was this ideology that saw the labour movement transformed into social democratic movements and eventually resulted in the formation of organised labour backed political parties.

Beginning with the formation of the Labour Party in the UK from an amalgamation of the Trade Union Congress of England and Wales with other elements of the organised labour movement in 1900s and the rise to eminence of the Bolshevik faction of the Social Democratic Party of Russia in 1903, organised labour all over the industrial world no longer sat on the sidelines as perpetual spectators in the game of partisan politics of democratic leadership recruitment.

This was so because as the most important factor of production, labour could no longer concern itself with just negotiating for its slice of bread with butter. The organised Labour movement, as matter of self-enlightened interest, decided to get involved in the baking of the bread and the preparation of the butter, in order to be in a better position to get a more satisfying slice.

By 1917, the Bolsheviks led by Vladimir Lenin rode to power on the back of the Russian revolution and the Labour Party of UK formed its first democratic government in 1924, with Ramsay McDonald as Prime Minister when it won the majority seat in the British parliament.

These labour-centred parties and others like them all over the world, successfully incorporated the ethos of social democracy in the politics of their respective nations, and mainstreamed the charter of demands of the organised labour movement in ways very profound, and which have largely resolved the existential problems of the financial inadequacy, inequality and insecurity of their members.

A vital lesson to be learnt from the transformational experiences of organised labour movements into political parties was that whilst it is true that labour is the most important factor of production, politics as the fourth factor of production was far more important.

Bringing this nearer home, the organised labour movement can no longer seat on the side lines as mere spectators in the politics of democratic leadership recruitment in Nigeria. The time is right for the labour movement in Nigeria to stop agonising over its inadequate bread and butter and must begin to organise to get involved in the process of baking a bigger loaf of bread, from which it can get an adequate slice for its members.

The scope of labour as a factor of economic production transcends mining, manufacturing, academia and manning the military-industrial complex, to the politics of democratic leadership recruitment. Since the transition from military to civil democratic rule in 1999, the organised labour movement in Nigeria has remained largely aloof and detached from matters of partisan politics to the detriment of the course of good governance in Nigeria.

The reason for the existence of a modern democratic nation-state must be more economic than political – the economics of production and not politics of consumption. And for a democratic nation-state to be able to provide security and welfare to its people, its politics must be primarily driven by the economics of production. This is so because no nation on earth is really endowed with abundant human and natural resources.

At best, nations are only endowed with enough natural and human resources, and they must necessarily look beyond their borders to shore up their resource bases through developmental immigration and overseas trade and investment. The most export competitive nations are those whose internal political processes are predicated on the economics of production and not those who economies are predicated on politics of consumption.

Unfortunately, the democratic Nigerian state exists more for the politics of consumption and less for the economics of production. This is sadly so because its politics is primarily driven by ethnic and religious sentiments, rather than economic common sense.

This is also because at the inception of the Fourth Republic, the organised labour movement in Nigeria, which is the most important economic interest group in the country, left partisan politics to ethnic champions and religious bigots, who imposed identity politics as the major driving force of Nigeria’s democratic leadership recruitment process.

And with an elaborately corrupt patronage system as the main reward for identity politics, the attendant financial haemorrhage is what has driven Nigeria broke and unable to pay living wages to its workers, to provide health care and decent housing for its people.

To effectively transform Nigeria from a consumption economy into a productive one, the organised labour movement will have to step out of the side lines into the main arena of partisan politics by harmonising its charter of demands into a concise peoples manifesto for national rebirth and democratic redemption from identity politics, with patronage as the reward system for a privileged few, to an economics driven politics, with good governance as reward for all.

However, to effectively transform Nigeria from consumption to production economy, the government can no longer hands off the means of production to private individuals alone. The neoliberal concept that seeks to keep government out of the means of production under the guise of “government has no business in business” is a proven fallacy that must be rescinded if not repudiated by the organised labour movement and insist on a new political economic philosophy that states that “government has business in business” because the main purpose of government is doing business and any government that cannot do business has no business being in government.

Dahiru, a public affairs analyst, writes from Abuja and can be reached through dahirumajeed@gmail.com.

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OPINION

The Battle Against Inflation the CBN is Losing.

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By Nick Agule

Video: These are cows after eating crops on a farm are crossing the highway between Nasarawa and Benue States to continue eating up crops on farms on the other side of the road. This is a major reason for food shortage in Nigeria at the moment which is spiking food prices.

We are feeding animals at the expense of humans!

But when the Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) meets Tomorrow and next – 25th & 26th March 2024 – the members are likely to hike interest rates because they think food inflation in Nigeria is being caused by excess liquidity (too much money supply) in the economy and thus there is too much demand for food.

The textbook solution in a situation such as they think is to tighten money supply by increasing interest rates which will then make savings rates more attractive and thus people will prefer to save instead of consumption. The more they save, the more the liquidity is mopped up which then slows down inflation.

However, the MPC members seem to be oblivious of structural issues that are spiking food prices in Nigeria which have nothing to do with excess liquidity as follows:

Only 2.5% of Nigeria’s arable land is cultivated (figures provided by President Buhari in 2021). This means we have basically not yet started serious industrial agriculture in Nigeria.

The reason for the poor statistic of cultivation above is because farming in Nigeria is largely by manual labour and not much food can be produced without mechanisation and improved seedlings with fertiliser and other modern farming inputs.

Even the 2.5% cultivation is no longer happening because a large number of farmers have been driven away from their farms into IDP camps killer herdsmen and sundry bandits.

In areas where farming is still happening, the cows come and eat the crops as the video shows. 

 There is huge cost-push inflation in imported food prices because of the exchange rate crisis thus resulting in less food being imported.

All the factors above have contributed to low food output and availability in Nigeria.

From rudimentary economics, prices of commodities are determined by the forces of DEMAND and SUPPLY. But it appears that the MPC members think it’s only demand that is spiking inflation in Nigeria and they are not giving any consideration to supply deficits as a causative factor for inflation as well. Because dealing with supply deficit requires interest rates to the cut so that producers can access cheap credit to produce more! So far, the MPC is not thinking about this. When you increase interest rates in a stagflation (low output, low employment and high inflation), it makes the situation worse!

And to show the MPC is getting something wrong, the more MPR they hike, the more inflation goes up! In the last MPC meeting on the 26/27th February, inflation rate was 29.9% with food inflation at 35.41%. The MPC increased the MPR from 18.75% to 22.75% to fight this inflation. But instead of lowering, the inflation called their bluff and rose to 31.7% with food inflation spiking to 37.92%. Food inflation does not respond to interest rates hikes because even if interest rates are hiked to 100%, people will not save, they must buy food to feed their families!

If the MPC spikes the interest rate at this week’s meeting, the result can only be one way – inflation will spike further because this inflation is not demand-pull!

Going through the minutes of the last meeting of the MPC, there is a sense that the MPC members are spiking interest rate to equate inflation rate or interest rate to go higher than inflation rate. Members think this is what will attract foreign direct investments. But if we pay high interest rates on dollar funds we take in, where are we going to commit such funds and earn high enough returns to pay the interest and still make a profit? If Nigerian banks take deposits at high interest rates, where can they lend to earn enough to pay the interest rate and other costs? The monies will just be sitting in the banks! And here the MPC increased the CRR to 45% instead of lowering it to ensure lending to an economy screaming for growth!

It is high time now for the MPC members to change direction. There is no point pushing interest rates to go higher than inflation rate, this will hurt the economy even more. The MPC will better begin to cut rates so that the economy will start experiencing high growth that will eventually lower the inflation rate. This will be made possible if the MPC members rethink their conclusion that Nigeria’s inflation is resultant from excess liquidity in the system! MPC members must give due consideration to the other causative factors of inflation too.

Also, it is high time now for the coordinating minister of the economy to begin holding joint economic policy meetings of the monetary policy and fiscal policy authorities because the MPC alone cannot control inflation and boost output without the fiscal authorities also coming to the table and working together in harmony and with unity of purpose.

Bottomline is that it will be a bad day this week if the MPR is further hiked.  

Twitter: @NickAgule

Email: nick.agule@yahoo.co.uk

Facebook: Nick Agule, FCA

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