2022 BUDGET: SOCIAL ACTION URGES FG TO PRIORITIZE FISCAL RECTITUDE

On Thursday, 7th October, 2021, President, Muhammadu Buhari, presented N16.39 trillion as the 2022 budget proposal before a joint session of the National Assembly. The proposed 2022 budget is titled, “Budget of Economic Growth and Sustainability”. Some of the 2022 budget key figures are: capital expenditure of N4.89 trillion, non-debt recurrent expenditure of N6.83trillion, oil benchmark price of $57 per barrel, with projected oil production target of 1.88m bpd and the exchange rate is projected at N410.15/US$.

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SOCIAL ACTION CAMP 2021

Civil Society members, activists, students, youths and security agents gathered for a camp meeting for intensive lecture sessions and capacity building focused on “Reclaiming the Civic Space: Building Popular Movement for Social Transformation. The Camp meeting, which is an annual event of the Social Development Integrated Centre (Social Action), was hugely successful as participants were able to learn, contribute and ask relevant questions.  Resource persons at the camp include professors, Marxists, lawyers, activists, doctors, and comrades from different states in Nigeria. Several online posts and live streams were employed to cater for participants who could not physically attend the meeting as the Covid-19 guidelines for gathering was adhered to.

The welcome address by the Executive Director, Dr Isaac Osuoka, was read by the Programs Coordinator of Social Action Sir Botti Isaac. He emphasized the need to reclaim the civic space so that CSOs can achieve the common goal of freely participating in influencing the social structure that will lead to the desired social transformation. Goodwill messages, a welcome charge, group discussion, a film show, and group presentations were part of the activities conducted to mark the first day of the event.

Dr Godwin Frank laid the foundation for the discourse on reclaiming the Civic Space

Addressing attendees during his presentation on day two of the camp meeting, Professor Nna Johnson of the University of Port Harcourt spoke on “The Struggle for Self Determination and Democracy: The deepening crisis of state making and separatist agitations in Nigeria.” According to him, though democracy promotes the freedom of individuals and groups to aspire for self-determination, such freedom is constrained. These agitations are tantamount to rebellion as it is the national interest of the state to determine when to support a cause as self-determination or rebellion.

Looking at the role played by women from the pre-colonial days while trying to build movements for social transformation, Comrade Rita Kigbara spoke on “The Role of Women in The Struggle for Social Change in Nigeria.” Drawing examples from women who in history, had pulled giant strides during the struggle for social change, she noted that women have and are still playing key roles in recent progressive movements. Such movements as #BringBackourGirls, #ArewaMeToo and #ENDSARS, not so long ago, are movements significantly empowered by the feminist coalition.

Barr Rita KIgbara speaking on the Role of Women in The Struggle for Social Change in Nigeria

The coordinator of the panel session Dr Godwin Frank laid the foundation for the discourse on reclaiming the Civic Space. During the roundtable discussion where he spoke on “The shrinking civic space and the attendance human rights issues in Nigeria,”. He echoed the increasingly threatening situations faced by agitators who have made attempts to recover the shrinking space as the constitution which he referred to as anaemic is not capable of protecting the rights of the Nigerian citizens because the laws were written with the interest of the ruling class in view. Comrade Jaye Gaskiya echoed the same points as he delivered the keynote lecture “Reclaiming the Civic Space: building popular movement for social transformation” which was the theme for the 2021 Social Action Camp meeting. According to him, where there is a need for social transformation, there is the question of what transformation the agitators seek. Speaking further he asserted that the movement for social transformation must be done with the intention to see the problem of the people differently, proffer solutions different from that of the ruling class and organize the rest of society to realize solutions proffered. The Civic Space keeps shrinking as the freedom to organize an assembly to express views is subjected to the extent to which the state can tolerate such expression and allow such an organization to assemble. Comrade Gaskia also noted that for the Civic Space to be reclaimed and movement built that will bring about social transformation, there is the need for organization, mobilization, leadership, initiative, purpose and politics. Organisation should be seen as a process and as a structure put in place to tackle the social misappropriations imposed by bad governance, he concluded.

Comrade Jaye Gaskia on Reclaiming the Civic Space: building popular movement for social transformation

The meeting which had several youths in attendance was a fertile ground for Comrade Jaye as he also spoke on “The Role of the Youths in Setting the Agenda for System Change: A Continental Review.” The renowned activist took attendees on memory lane citing the reasons why Youth Movement like the #Endsars though, gaining international recognition was defeated. He opined that, while separation will not solve the problem of social emancipation, the youths must organize a movement in their own image, with a demand that will resolve their problems under a leadership and political party.

To abate the reshuffling of the same leaders which has gradually become the norm, it is expected that citizens, especially the youth choose to participate in the process. This was according to Comrade Ken Henshaw who spoke on “The Role of Civil Society in Shaping the Agenda Towards 2023 Election.” According to him, the popular cliche for citizens to get their voters’ cards, come out and vote and protect their votes are all fairy tales as the voter’s card does not determine who wins the election. The youths must therefore refuse to be an agent as the activities of the government is bent on covering the civic space. They must organize effective collaboration against government’s encroachment, document advocacy and protest actions restricting civic space.

A cross-section of participants at the Social Action Camp enjoying every bit of the program

Focusing on the issue of Human Rights, Barrister Njoku Victor Nweke spoke on Human Rights Law in Nigeria Within the Context of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act and the Amended Police Act. He discussed extensively the issues of human rights, and the new provisions made to the amended Administration of Criminal Justice Act to ensure the protection of human rights and to punish offenders. He concluded that as good as the Act may seem, it takes the knowledge of the citizens to be able to demand the respect of the law and the enforcement of their rights even if it means seeking legal redress.

The meeting ended with statements from Rosa Luxembourg Country representatives addressing participants and affirming the purpose of the annual event, targeted at fostering positive change in social movement and leadership.

SOCIAL ACTION CARPETS PRESIDENCY AND NASS OVER PLANS TO BORROW $4BN 

In a frantic effort by the President Muhammadu Buhari’s government to increase Nigeria’s debt profile, he has again, requested from the National Assembly, the approval of another $4 billion and EUR 710 million loan. The request was contained in a letter read by Senate President Ahmad Lawan on the Senate floor Tuesday 14th September 2021. It could be recalled that this request is coming shortly after the National Assembly approved $6.18 billion foreign loans.

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NDDC FORENSIC REPORT: ACCOUNTABILITY IS SACTOSANCT AND NOT NEGOTIABLE

The concluded forensic audit report on the Niger Delta Development Commission- NDDC, highlights failures related to accountability, including financial mismanagement, chronic underperformance and service collapse of the agency. These fundamental gaps in accountability and transparency at the heart of NDDC activities result in underperformance. The devastating effects of the deficiency in the operations of the Commission have continued to ravage the Niger Delta with compounding hardship, and thus call for a pragmatic shift for a change in the narrative.

From its inception, the NDDC could be described as a cesspit of corruption, abandoned projects and political patronage. It is disheartening that the NDDC has remained in the same claws of mismanagement that has left the Niger Delta people to suffer, evidently seen in the poor accountability profile within the NDDC structure. This kind of system no doubt makes stealing easy. The NDDC has displayed long-standing weaknesses in how poorly it uses funds meant for the development of the Niger Delta region for personal gains, which falls short of standards for spending public money.

Clearly, this shows that there is a lack of accountability in the operations of the NDDC. This has enabled repeated failures in service delivery such as abandoned projects, poor procurement practices, embezzlement and wasting public money. Accountability lies at the heart of masses-owned and service delivery institutions such as the Niger Delta Development Commission. The current system in NDDC displays critical management weaknesses, quantum corruption and lethargy that trail the need for prosecution where necessary. However, the good thing is that these can be addressed. The government must, therefore, begin to shift from the culture of blame and piling of reports to prosecution of those culpable, recoveries of illegally acquired wealth from culprits and returning same to the public coffers for the improvement and development of Niger Delta.

Matters of accountability and transparency in NDDC are sacrosanct because when it works, it benefits everyone. It will enable the people of Niger Delta to know what the NDDC is doing, and how to gain redress when things go wrong. It would ensure that the interventionist agency is acting in the interests of the people that they were appointed to serve. Consequently, accountability remains critical to the management and delivery of NDDC mandate and this will increase the trustworthiness and legitimacy of the agency in the eyes of the people of Niger Delta.

While accountability and transparency are not the only panaceas for solving the numerous challenges that NDDC faces in a complex environment, it can improve its service delivery, generate incentives for responsible individuals within the agency to act in the interests of the Niger Delta people. Even if this means those untouchable are prosecuted following the rot in the agency; what is important is a healthy system of accountability and transparency that makes it effortless for the agency to meet its mandate to the people of Niger Delta.

To rigorously pursue the good principles of accountability and transparency in NDDC, the agency should periodically publish transparent, authoritative information and data that underpins the spending process. They should publish financial statements at the end of each spending period and also declare details of all projects before and after they have been agreed upon and how these projects would be delivered in practice. This should also be subject to concerned communities’ scrutiny and validation. This would provide the people with information to inspect these projects as they are implemented. We also demand that the federal government inaugurate the NDDC Board which is in consonance with the law establishing the agency. The board would provide a forum for strategic discussions on service delivery, how to develop the Niger Delta and exert effective oversight, ensuring that policies work as intended.

The necessity to overhaul the prevailing system of corruption in NDDC is not negotiable. It is an effort towards redefining the working patterns of the agency to imbue it with sanity imperative for Niger Delta to begin to enjoy the benefits of good service delivery against the experience of untold  hardship which has been a product of administrative deficiencies and corruption.

Social Action will continue to be at the vanguard of expounding sanity with impeccable standards, to reveal the pervasive culture of corruption, perceivable ill practices and echoing gaps of accountability and transparency in NDDC until justice is done and the people of Niger Delta are better off.

WOMEN AS AGENTS OF SOCIAL CHANGE IN NIGERIA

Rita Kigbara speaks on the role of women for social change in Nigeria

As society evolves and new changes occur, it brings about different phenomenon that affects how we relate and accept these changes. In the past few decades, the role of women in public life and the social context has drastically changed. These changes have had different controversies and consequences. As a policy to encourage gender inclusion and participation in social development, the Social Action Camp 2021 dedicated a session on discussing Nigerian women and analyzing their role in the struggle for social change in Nigeria.

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HUMAN RIGHTS LAW IN NIGERIA: THE HUMAN OR THE LAW

Barrister Victor Njoku Nweke speaking during the Social Action 2021 annual Camp meeting held in Rivers State

“The issue of human rights protection remains the cornerstone for proper existence of human race and their observance in a state encourages peace, civility and prosperity of human society.” Barrister Victor Njoku made the assertion as he gave a lecture at the 2021 Social Action Camp.

This discussion is essential to the fact a lot of human rights activists, CSOs and even innocent citizens face all manner of inhumane treatment at the hands of security agents. There have been several cases of unlawful and arbitrary killings by government and non-state actors, unlawful interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, serious restriction of free expression by the press and citizens on the conventional and new media spaces.  

These detainees sometimes are locked up, tortured without trial while being kept incommunicado without access to their friends and families whereas the law requires an arresting office to make known the charges against an accused, take the accused to the police station for processing within a reasonable time and allow the suspect to obtain counsel and post bail. More so, the security agents who are supposed to make the citizens feel safe with their presence now use nonlethal tactics such as firing teargas, batons, before employing the use of force in dealing with those they are meant to protect.

Also, another area of interest is the Police Act that makes provision for the protection of the human right of suspects in police custody. Nweke asserted that the police is bound to observe these rights while exercising their statutory function of arrest, investigation and prosecution and a violation could give the citizen the right to sue the police. While also listing these rights, he told attendees that the knowledge of these rights is like a lamp that will guide them not just during activism, but also in serving as watchdogs to ensure that security agents obey the provisions made by the law in course of discharging their duties.

He further noted that the Act also kicks against torture and describes torture as cruel, inhuman, degrading treatment which causes pain, exhaustion, disability or dysfunction of one or more body parts These treatments if meted out to detainees are punishable under law as the officer, upon conviction, is liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding twenty five years.

Sadly, the Act which he described as a “bold step” taken by the National Assembly to enhance the protection of human rights is still being violated by security agents as citizens still make confessions under duress for fear of losing their lives. However, these misappropriations that are gradually becoming a norm can be abated when citizens are abreast with the right knowledge and act accordingly. He, therefore, recommended that training such as the ones organized by Social Action be carried out more regularly equip CSO and active citizens with requisite knowledge and tools to defend themselves against the brute and inhumane treatment being meted by the security agents on innocent gullible citizens

SOCIAL ACTION CHARGES FG TO UPHOLD ITS RESPONSIBILITY TO PROTECT NIGERIANS

According to statistics made available by Nigeria Security Tracker, and Amnesty International, since President, Muhammadu Buhari took office on May 29, 2015, his administration has allocated approximately N5.081tn for defence, supposedly used for the purchase of military equipment to execute the war against insurgency and other forms of security related issues. Despite this large allocation, the country has recorded the loss of 11,420 civilians and security personnel to Boko Haram insurgency and attacks by herdsmen and bandits between May 2015 and July 2021.

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THE PREJUDICE AND JUSTICE IN THE PETROLEUM INDUSTRY ACT (PIA)

By Peter Mazzi

The Petroleum Industry Act (PIA) assented to by President Muhammadu Buhari is a slap on the face of Niger Delta communities. It shows an utter lack of sensitivity to the suffering of the people who, despite being responsible for 90% of the country’s export earnings are still impoverished and suffering from environmental devastation and loss of livelihoods.

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AGAIN, NIGERIA MAKES WORLD BANK LISTS OF HIGH-DEBT RISK NATION: Social Action reiterate the need for Nigeria to diversify

Nigeria’s long-standing huge foreign debt architecture reared its ugly head once more as the World Bank audited financial statements released on Monday 9th August 2021 rated Nigeria fifth on the list of top 10 countries with a high debt risk exposure of $11.7bn debt stock. As captured in the financial statement, Nigeria faces two types of credit risk; country credit risk and counterparty credit risk. While country credit risk is the risk of loss due to a country not meeting its contractual obligations, and counterparty credit risk is the risk of loss attributable to a counterparty not honouring its contractual obligations.

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