The local government is the third tier of government closet to the people. However, the level of apathy shown by citizens in this tier of government is a pointer to the fact that activities of the local government, in most cases, do not reflect the people’s interest. According to Abraham Lincoln, “Democracy is the government of the people, by the people and for the people” but when a democratic system does not reflect citizen’s interest, then its essence is lost.
Elections remain an integral process within any democracy which provides opportunities for citizens to define and decide the future of their country. For this to happen, elections must, not only be credible but also seen to be credible, to deliver the goods of democracy, affirm the legitimacy of political institutions and improve the levels of trust in elected representatives. But the opposite is the case in Nigeria where the “elected” lawmakers are averse to transparent elections through electronic transmission of results.
The rot and colossal corruption in the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) continues to be uncovered with over 12,128 abandoned projects in the region captured in the reports from the ongoing forensic verification exercise of activities of the Commission. According to the Minister of Niger Delta, Godswil Akpabio, the abandoned projects have no specific ownership attached to them, he stressed further that the development was against the 9,080 projects listed by the government to be considered in the verification process.
Independence and autonomy of the local government was again brought to the fore of grassroots citizens in Borno as women groups, people living with disabilities, civil society organizations, media and other social groups converged at a two-day capacity-building workshop organized by Social Development Integrated Centre, Social Action with the support of United Nations Development Funds, UNDEF.
The Niger-Delta Development Commission (NDDC) awaits the long-expected Board to be inaugurated by the end of June 2021 or early July 2021. Fifteen nominees had already been screened and confirmed by the Senate in November 2019 for the NDDC Governing Board. However, there has been power play of some sort, coupled with reports of screening of fresh nominees for the same Board. This has led to a back-and-forth in the inauguration of the board and ultimately affected negatively the development of the region, leaving the Interim Management Committee (IMC) which had been indicted for financial recklessness and mismanagement to continue overseeing the NDDC.
June 12 represents Nigeria’s “Democracy Day” – a day President Muhammadu Buhari chose to honour Moshood Kashimawo Abiola. It marks the anniversary of Abiola’s victory in the 1993 presidential election which was annulled by the then military government. 2021 June 12 Democracy Day marks more than 20 years Nigeria transited from military to democratic government. Civil societies and activists in the country called for nationwide protests to mark this year’s democracy day, to express deep concerns about bad governance and insecurity and the seeming inability of the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari to handle them.
It is not surprising that Nigerians no longer look to democracy as a system of justice and fairness that prevents abuse and protects the masses. Since 1999, democracy in Nigeria has always been tenuous, patently evident in rights violation, questionable elections, miscarriage of justice, and, repressive policies, spun by few powerful capitalist elites.
At the protest grounds in Abuja, Lagos, Akure and Abeokuta, June 12 protesters were attacked by the Police and pro-Buhari supporters. Many local and international media bodies reported that police fired tear gas at peaceful protesters and live rounds in the air. Several protesters were arrested and journalists harassed, it was indeed a depressing spectacle and deliberate abuse of democratic principles. It is ironic and heartrending to note that when bandits murder people and insurgents overrun villages, there is hardly any response from the Police, but when harmless protesters march to the streets to express their discontent about bad governance or unpopular government policies, the police come out in their numbers, war-ready.
Freedom of expression remains a sacrosanct right of every Nigerian.
With the brutal style of governance in the current administration, the system stymies the desired goals of democracy. The only way to be heard is to speak against the bad governance by the current administration. The masses have long-standing grievances that are expressed on social media and through peaceful protests, but this has often been exacerbated by the poor and cruel government response that is all too common in this administration, like the suspension of Twitter and grand violation of human rights during peaceful protests.
Muhammadu Buhari’s administration is undermining the country’s democracy with numerous anti-masses policies and actions, sectional marginalization, and looting the commonwealth. His administration has become more dictatorial, and increasingly alienated from the masses. Insecurity is rife and manifest in all the regions of the country, and no nation needs a soothsayer to know that the spate of violence and insecurity in the country is hampering the social and economic development of the country to the disadvantage of over 200 million Nigerians. Rather than attack peaceful protesters, this administration should channel that energy towards tackling secessionist tensions in the southeast, banditry and insurgence in the northeast, and mass kidnappings and armed attacks by criminal herdsmen in the northwest and southwest of the country.
It is also troubling to state that the 9th Assembly led by Ahmed Ibrahim Lawan and Femi Gbajabiamila which is operating a rubber stamp-styled legislature has lost the trust of Nigerians. In times like this, a pro-masses legislature should not be silent when the people they claim to represent are constantly intimidated and violated. Regrettably, the legislature has remained mute and has lacked the courage to intervene in matters that adversely affect their constituents.
To regain and strengthen public trust in democratic processes, this administration should be tolerant and listen to the masses, not abuse or intimidate them. Incessant abuse and violations would continue to earn this administration a bad reputation and diminishing public trust in the democratic processes and its outcomes. To this effect, the government should release protesters that have been unlawfully arrested and desist from such in the future. The demand for good governance is not a crime. Freedom of expression remains a sacrosanct right of every Nigerian.
PRESS RELEASE JUNE 12, 2021
It is sad to note that the Nigerian state appeared to have entrenched autocratic style of leadership. The Buhari led administration continues to prove that it has no reserve for who and whatever questions its authority. This has been evident in its policies aimed at shrinking the civic space and silencing popular voices against dictatorial and non-democratic leadership and bad governance.
It would be recalled that Twitter had deleted a tweet by the President which violated its “abusive behaviour” and suspended his account for 12 hours. The controversial tweet by the President was seen as a direct affront on Nigerians and a threat to a very dissent voice in the country. The tweet referred to the Nigerian Civil War and to treating “those misbehaving today” in the “language they will understand”. Thousands of Nigerians had reacted angrily to the tweet spurring the delete of it.
Displaying an unending level of impunity, the Government on June 4 announced the suspension of the micro-blogging platform. The Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed in a statement accused Twitter of undermining Nigeria’s corporate existence with its “double standards”.
Stakeholders in the civil right community view this move by the federal government as a deliberate attempt to gag the masses and muzzle free expression which has potentially devastating implications for democracy and the civic space.
Ironically, the existence of Nigeria is threatened by the improvidence of the present administration. The Government has not only failed to be pro-active in tackling insecurity challenges and unemployment among others but has decided to remain silent. Unemployment has risen above 33%, food inflation stands at about 23.% and the government grappled with a public debt stock of over N32 trillion. They seem to have ignored these weightier empirical indices but are perturbed with the action of Jack Dorsey which they felt hurt the ego of the President.
The agitation for secession by groups is threatening to tear the country yet the President unscrupulously utters instigating words targeted at a group and expected to get away with it.
Social media users in Nigeria and Diaspora continue to express their disgust in governance. The social platforms offer Nigerians opportunities to connect in form of tweet and grow their business. Twitter, like many other social media has provided more job opportunities to youths than the government has ever considered. Yet the government is determined to stop its usage in the country.
Social Action frowns at the stringent conditions set by the government on Wednesday for the release of the ban. Asking a global micro-blogging platform to be registered under CAC and licensed by the NBC is not only illogical but a fight with technology. The terms and conditions offered for the lifting of the suspension on Twitter is nothing but a deliberate attempt to shut down a viable source of revenue of Nigerians and disable freedom of speech.
As social actors, we do not support the ban or the threat by the Attorney general to prosecute anyone who try to circumvent the Twitter ban. This is in conflict with Section 36(12) of the 1999 constitution which clearly states that for a person to be arrested, detained or prosecuted for a criminal offence,” there must be a written law”. This provision makes it impossible for the government to carry out this threat on the masses. Any action contrary to the provision of the constitution, would define this government as fully-fledged authoritarian and would declare war on the civic space.
In line with Article 19 of UN declaration of Human Rights, Social Action calls on the Federal Government, to lift the ban on twitter. Nigerians must be allowed to “receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers”.
As Nigeria marks another year of democratic rule, we urge the federal government to reconsider their actions and lift the ban on twitter. They should channel their powers instead on addressing salient issues in the country like the spate of insecurity and providing job opportunities for the youths.
Until our voices are heard, we won’t stop!
In the year 2012 Nigeria experienced one of the worst floodings in recent times. Towns and villages were submerged and helpless citizens sacked from their homes. Over 360 persons died as a result and about 2 million people were displaced by the floods that affected 32 states of the Nation. Since then flooding in Nigeria has almost become an annual occurrence with varied degree of destruction of lives and properties depending on the level of the floods in the particular year.
The Nigerian Metrological Agency (NiMet) usually comes up with predictions of possible flooding each year before the rains set in. This is meant to alert citizens and the relevant agencies of government to take proactive steps to curb or reduce the effects of the flooding. But rather than put the necessary measures in place “while the sun shines” to prevent or mitigate losses, the federal, states and local governments choose to wait for the rainy days and subject the people to the inevitability of the eventuality of nature. Nature in its bad day blows no man any good and the regurgitation of the excess volume of water leaves in its wake sad and painful tales. Unfortunately, the few signs of the presence of any government are the usual palliatives of a few food items, drugs and effectual which, in any case, get late to the victims.
In 2020, Social Action continued with its yearly visit to communities in Rives State affected by the ravaging waters and based on its findings reported that government needs to do much more to prevent the effect of flood in these communities which are mainly oil-producing and oil-bearing communities. Recommendations that reflects the suggestions from the communities were published and made known to the authorities with a view to making preparation before the next rainy (flooding) season.
Figure 1 A totally submerged community in Onelga by the 2020 floods
In view of the above and for the purpose of prompting the proactive actions of the relevant government and other agencies with the aim of seeking short- and long-term solutions to the problems of flooding, a pre-flood/disaster assessment visit was carried out by Social Action team. This visit was also to sensitize the citizens, in response to the Nigerian Meteorological Agency’s (NiMet) prediction that some parts of the country may experience food shortages caused by drought in some areas in the country and flooding in some others. This prediction seems to be troubling because of the projected impact on food inflation which already stands at almost 23%.
The locations visited by the team include Ogba Egbema Ndoni, particularly the Okwuzi Community, Aggah Community, and parts of Omoku. In Ahoada West local government area, the team also visited Mbiama and Akinima Communities, Joinkrama and parts of Abua Odua LGA. Others were Rukporku and Nkpolu Communities in Obio Akpor LGA.
|Figure 2 Image of the landscape of Okwuzi during the flood||Figure 3 the same location after the flood
|Figure 4 Community during the flood
|Figure 5 The same location after the flood.
|Figure 6 Submerged Buildings during the flood
|Figure 7 The same buildings after the flood
The following observations were made during our visit
- In all the communities visited, there has been no presence of government or its agencies to take stock of the loss of livelihood, farm crops, destroyed houses etc from previous floods ing. According to Chief Desmond Osuoka of Akinima “We have not seen the presence of any government agency since the last flood except for the few packs of indomie (noodles) that NEMA distributed towards the end of the floods” The same was the account of the other respondents interviewed by the team. “The only time we have any promise from the government was in 2018 when the Vice President came and promised that the federal government will dredge the River Niger. We believed him and were very happy because, we thought, coming from a highly places personality in the Federal Government, a solution had finally come our way but now we know better” Chief J. P. Mazi from Odawu Joinkrama bemoaned
Figure 8 The people expected the government to live up to their promises but in vain- Chief J.P. Mazi
- Villagers are already making plans to pack out of their communities as this is the only option available to them in the face of the coming flooding.
The team met with some women interviewed last year at the thick of the disaster, who were sacked from their homes by the flood. Mrs Joy Enoch, who spoke to the team said she has already rented a small apartment away from the flood-ravaged area and would be moving her belongings by the end of August to prevent the kind of losses she incurred last year.
Figure 9 “ I’ve already paid for a one-bedroom flat for me and my seven children to avoid the rush hour when the floods come”- Mrs Joy Enoch
- Many families have moved away from their homes while some houses have collapsed due to the floods. Some new building constructions observed are made on concrete platforms about 9ft from the ground in anticipation of the floods
|Figure 10 Building ‘sunk’ by the flood in Odawu Joinkrama
|Figure 11 A building under construction in Odawu Joinkrama, raised 9 ft above its foundation to overcome the floods|
- The road leading to Joinkrama from Akinima has been eroded by the last flood and poses a great danger to commuters on that road. If no remediation is done before the next flood, the road may be completely abraded and the Joinkrama community would be cut off from Akinima, the local government headquarters, by road.
Figure 12 A dead-trap; Part of Akinima Joinkrama road eroded by the flood
- The people have lost faith in the government’s ability to take any positive actions towards preventing the recurrence of the disaster that has become an annual affair. Most of the community people interviewed expressed their disappointment with the way the government handles issues of emergency nature. Pastor Dandy Gbewa recalled with a bitter nostalgia that “Government have a way of adding political colouration to everything. In 2012 we made several efforts, in vain, to get the local government to come to the aid of our people. It wasn’t until they realised that we have gone forward to act without them that they waded in towards the end of the flood. They infiltrated the committee with their party members and at some points food and other items realised were seen in the open market.”
|Figure 13 Many of the provisions realised for the deployment to the temporary camp for the displaced persons were found in open markets – Pastor Dandy||Figure 14 Primary School used for temporary shelter for the displaced in 2012, can still be prepared for use ahead of the floods – Pastor Dandy|
- The communities all agree on the point that problem is beyond the communities and need the help of the government. Eze Akuba of Okwuzi posed a question back to the team when asked what the communities are doing or will do to avert the kind of devastation they faced last year- “What do you think we can do? This is not a case of clearing drainages, otherwise, we would have mobilised to do so. This is excess volume of water coming all the way from the River Niger. It is beyond us”
Figure 14 The Team with Eze Akuba of Okwuzi and Chairman Council of Chiefs of Okwisi Community
RECOMMENDATIONS TO GOVERNMENT BY THE COMMUNITIES
To avert future occurrences of the colossal loss of properties and lives, the communities recommended the following short and long-term measures.
- The federal or state government needs to consider the dredging of the Orashi River. This will not only avert the emergency issues of flooding but will create massive job opportunity for the youth.
- Government should take stock of properties and other belonging lost during the flood and provision made to subside the loss of victims
- Effective sensitisation should be carried out to let communities know what to do in the event of flooding
- Emergency camps should be created and equipped to cater for victims in the course of any flood outbreak.
- Provision should be made for drinking water, medicines and food- that mostly requires no refrigeration or cooking
- The Vice President should make good his promise to dredge the River Niger. This would open up the water bed to absorb more water and prevent floodings. This is among other huge economic and social benefits accruable from the project
- If possible, the government should relocate the affected communities who are ready and so wish to relocate to higher grounds from sea level and embark on massive sand filling on the low flood-prone areas.
- The government should construct embankment and shore protection to reduce the effects of flooding in the affected communities.
The people of Omoviri community in Rumuekpe, Emuoha Local Government in Rivers State have been suffering from pollution from substances suspected to be crude oil oozing from the soil. The pollutant has contaminated surface and underground water sources and polluted the soil, disrupting fishing and farming activities which are the main sources of livelihood of the community. This pollution has also given rise to health hazard as the major source of drinking water has been the contaminated river which flows from the Sombreiro into the Orashi watercourse.