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Editorial

Probe of N18.9bn alleged agriculture related fraud: NASS must be thorough & uncompromising

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Ceaselessly in Nigeria, cases of corruption scandal have continued to take toll in the Country. It now appears that one newer scandals would come on board each season to sack and shelve aside the roving rounds of one prevailing scandal to take the toll of recognition. The dimension has made the reports of corruption, most emphatically from the public sector domain, a tangling but common saga in the ears of Nigerians.

It was disclosed the House of Representatives Public Account Committee (PAC) suspecting fraudulent devices over an attraction of N18.9bn worth of contract penned as money spent for bushing clearing, land preparation, rehabilitation of soil plant lab and others by the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development during the COVID-19 lockdown. Following the ambiguity, the Committee has launched a probe to  ascertain the true situation as it concerns the suspicious records. The Chairman of the Committee, Hon. Wole Oke speaking on the subject on Tuesday, 16th August, 2022 in Abuja, said the Committee would find the location of the projects and their impacts on the Country. He said that the Ministry and the companies had been invited to appear, but unfortunately failed to honour the invitation as of Tuesday at plenary.  According to him, the companies were to “appear before the committee on investigation of contracts awarded by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development of roads, bush clearing, land preparation and rehabilitation of soil and plant laboratories video utilisation of funds from Service Wide vote between 2013 and 2021 totalling N18,924,004,359.38. During the lockdown of the country as a result of COVID 19, some companies took contract worth about N18 billion for bush clearing from the Federal Ministry of Agriculture for land preparation, rehabilitation of soil plant lab and others. We cannot shave their head in their absence. So, we have invited them to come and give us their own side by responding to the issues and show us the places they are supposed to have cleared. They have to take us to the land they cleared. We have invited Ministry of Agriculture and they have made submission. But some of our members whose constituencies these projects were supposed to be domiciled doubted the existence of these projects and for fair hearing, we have invited the companies that got the contract for them to come and tell this committee where and when the jobs were executed. We will wait till the end of hearing today to see if they will appear. If they are not here, we will have to do the needful to get them to come.”

To further give the force of accountability the thrust of firmness, it is pertinent for the Lawmakers, particularly the Committe members to be thorough in the probe, discharging their constitutional duties without any iota of compromise. This is important to uphold the sanctity of the parliament which houses such duty of oversight function for checks and balances to take its full expression as demanded in a democratic system which Nigeria subscribe to.

The scourge of corruption has bitten too hard on the Country, that living conditions are becoming unbearable for many, all due to the overwhelming grip of misappropriation and diversion of funds meant for developmental projects. The sordid culture which has characterised the public sector orientation, has not only left the Country with unsavoury infrastructure gaps, but has also deprived and denied citizens of welfare provisions, social benefits and amenities that readily should be at their reach as dividends of democracy.

The necessity to change the narratives is now alarming, particularly at a time when the tolerance of the masses is apparently drawing beyond the elastic limit. The explosion which may arise as resistance against non departure from the prevailing wicked order of self aggrandizement by public officers against the detriment of the greatest number, may cause irredeemable losses than what it would take to call sanity into order.

The National Assembly must step up firm attention to tracking and bringing on board for probe more of ridiculous cases enmeshed with reflections of financial misappropriation, diversion  and laundering, among other indications of financial imbalance, giving close resemblance to instances of subterfuge to cheat on the nation through clever means. Ensuring thorough investigations into the particular aforementioned case is pertinent, while displaying similar efforts to unravel more of such apparent foul play, with firm thoroughness. This is important not only to make known escapades of corrupt public officers, but also bring them to book, towards sanitising the system.

Editorial

EFCC and the war against Naira abuse

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The war against Naira abuse by the Economic and Financial Crime commission (EFCC) seems selective but it is a good omen and stakeholders must rise to support the anti-corruption agency in its task. A few weeks ago two popular celebrities Bobrisky and the Chief Priest of Cubana were brought to book for spraying money in public events against the laws regarding it.

The six months sentence slammed on controversial cross-dresser, Idris Okuneye popularly known as Bobrisky, and the ongoing prosecution of socialite, Pascal Okechukwu, also known as Obi Cubana, clearly demonstrates the seriousness with which the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) is willing to prosecute the war on naira abuse.

A Federal High Court sentenced Bobrisky to six months jail without an option of fine. Also, a Federal High Court sitting in Lagos granted Obi Cubana N10 million bail after he pleaded not guilty to charges of naira abuse. EFCC’s decision to begin the war with these socialites is plausible and that will send a strong signal to their ilk.

Arguably, the naira is one of the most abused currencies in the world as it is very common to see Nigerians, especially the well-to-do, spraying this legal tender with reckless abandon at social events. This is a clear contravention of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN’s) Act which frowns at the abuse of the country’s legal tender.

Section 21(3) of the Central Bank of Nigeria Act 2007 (as amended) explicitly provides for penalties for those caught abusing the naira. Specifically, the law stipulates that “spraying of, dancing or matching on the Naira or any note issued by the Bank during social occasions or otherwise howsoever shall constitute an abuse and defacing of the Naira or such note and shall be punishable under the law by fines or imprisonment or both.”

The law also prohibits hawking of the country’s legal tender when it provides in Section 21(4) that, “It shall also be an offence punishable under Sub-section (1) of this section for any person to hawk, sell or otherwise trade in the Naira notes, coins or any other note issued by the Bank.”

However, in spite of this copious provisions, Nigerians still indulge in outright abuse of the naira by spraying the banknotes at events, tearing and writing on the banknotes, and selling the banknotes among other clear instances of abuse including selling and mutilation.

As should be expected, these practices have continued to make a mess of the CBNs Clean Notes Policy which was implemented with the aim of enhancing the visual appeal and durability of the banknotes in circulation.

From 2007 when the Act was enacted to date, there have been no deliberate efforts to punish those who indulge in sheer abuse of the naira in contravention of the law. As a matter of fact, until recently, most Nigerians were unaware of the law.

It is clear that the respective authorities have finally woken from their slumber and are set to go after unpatriotic Nigerians who have turned naira abuse into a hobby. Beginning with the so-called socialites who are the worst culprits as far as abusing the naira is concerned, the government appears bent on ending this menace.

We applaud the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and other relevant agencies of the government for this all-out war and urge them to sustain the tempo. Nigerians who have made it a habit to disrespect the naira by either spraying it with reckless abandon at social functions such as birthdays, weddings and funerals, or selling it at the roadside, must be made to face the full wrath of the law.

While the EFCC’s prosecution of Bobrisky is commendable, the agency must ensure that it sees to its logical end the ongoing prosecution of Obi Cubana. For this renewed war to make a meaningful impact, there must be no sacred cow. All those guilty of this abuse, regardless of their social standing, should be brought to book.

The EFCC and other agencies must resist the temptation to indulge in preferential treatment especially as one class of persons who are guilty of naira abuse is the political class. The political elites see spraying the naira at social gatherings as a status symbol. Even though it is a long held one, the culture of spraying money during celebrations is a national embarrassment that must be confronted using all the available legal instruments. There has to be an end to this sheer act of flamboyance and extravagance which is counterproductive.

In addition, while we commend the EFCC for its effort to protect the integrity of the national currency, we are persuaded to appeal to the government to apply the same zeal in ensuring that Nigerians, so hard pressed, have the Naira in their pockets in the first place.

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Editorial

Addressing the socioeconomic factors contributing to suicide rates in Nigeria

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The tragic incident that unfolded in the Magboro area of Ogun State, where Victoria Idowu, a 49-year-old woman, took her own life by hanging herself on a ceiling fan, is a poignant reminder of the deep-rooted issues surrounding mental health in our society.

The discovery of her lifeless body by her son upon his return from a church service emphasises the devastating impact of such actions on loved ones and communities at large.

This unfortunate event, coupled with the recent case of Deputy Commissioner of Police Gbolaha Oyedemi, who also tragically ended his own life, sends shockwaves across the nation. Oyedemi’s untimely demise, particularly given his position within the Force Criminal and Investigation Department in Lagos State, raises questions about the unseen burdens individuals may carry, even in seemingly successful and accomplished lives.

These incidents compel us to confront the pressing need for enhanced mental health awareness, support systems, and destigmatisation efforts within our society.

While the reasons behind such tragic decisions may remain elusive, it is imperative that we foster an environment where individuals feel empowered to seek help without fear of judgment or ostracisation.

As a nation, we must prioritise mental health initiatives, invest in accessible counseling services, and promote open dialogue about mental well-being in homes, workplaces, and communities. Only through collective action and compassion can we hope to prevent further loss and support those struggling with mental health challenges.

The intertwined tales of Victoria Idowu and Deputy Commissioner Gbolaha Oyedemi paint a harrowing portrait of despair echoing across Nigeria’s landscape.

Idowu’s final act, discovered by her son amidst the echoes of church hymns, and Oyedemi’s perplexing departure, once the trusted aide to a former governor, unveil a somber truth: suicide’s haunting grip knows no bounds.

Their stories, etched with the weight of societal expectations and personal demons, illuminate a troubling trend veiling Nigeria in sorrow.

From the seasoned to the youthful, lives are lost to the silent whispers of despair, leaving behind unanswered questions and shattered hearts.

In the shadows of these tragedies, Nigeria grapples with a growing epidemic, where the specter of suicide looms larger with each passing day. The reasons, as diverse as the nation itself, intertwine threads of societal strain, economic woes, mental anguish, and a dearth of solace in the face of adversity.

Yet, amid this darkness, one truth shines unwaveringly: suicide, however tempting, is not an adequate solution. It is a plea for help lost in the silence, a cry for understanding drowned in the noise. In the face of despair, let us extend hands of compassion, build bridges of support, and shatter the silence with voices of hope. For in unity, in empathy, lies the beacon of light guiding us through the darkest of nights.

In 2019, the tragic loss of a university student in Lagos to suicide, amid the weight of academic pressures and depression, stirred conversations about mental health awareness within educational institutions.

The following year, the untimely demise of a renowned Nigerian musician, who was discovered dead by suicide in his Lagos home, cast a spotlight on the silent struggles faced by celebrities and public figures battling mental health issues.

Similarly, in 2020, the distressing case of a young woman in Abuja, who took her own life after sharing troubling messages on social media, underscored the crucial need for accessible support systems for individuals grappling with mental health crises.

Then, in 2021, the heartbreaking loss of a teenager in Kano, driven to suicide by the torment of bullying and harassment at school, sparked urgent calls for concerted action to address both bullying and mental health concerns among students.

These poignant examples serve as reminders of the pressing imperative for heightened awareness, robust support networks, and adequate resources to combat mental health challenges and stem the tide of suicide across Nigeria.

Nigeria faces a sobering reality according to the World Health Organization, grappling with one of Africa’s highest suicide rates, with a notable portion of victims being young people. Worse, the ratio of psychiatrists to population is 1:800,000.

However, there’s a beacon of hope: fostering mental health awareness and education emerges as one of the most potent tools in combating this crisis. Despite prevailing stigmas branding mental health issues as taboo or indicative of weakness, dispelling these misconceptions can pave the way for a more compassionate and supportive society. By shedding light on mental health challenges, we can dismantle barriers to seeking help and foster understanding for those battling depression and suicidal thoughts.

Moreover, addressing the recurring tide of suicides demands an overhaul of mental health services accessibility nationwide. Presently, many Nigerians, particularly in rural areas, face insurmountable hurdles in accessing vital care and support. By bridging this gap and ensuring equitable access to mental health services, we can extend a lifeline to those in dire need, fostering a nation where every individual’s well-being is prioritized and safeguarded.

Governments, healthcare providers, and non-governmental organisations could work together to expand mental health services, train healthcare professionals, and integrate mental health into primary healthcare systems.

To effectively combat the pervasive issue of suicide in Nigeria, collaboration between governments, healthcare providers, and non-governmental organisations is paramount. Together, they can expand mental health services, equip healthcare professionals with necessary training, and integrate mental health into primary healthcare systems.

Establishing robust support networks is crucial for individuals grappling with mental health challenges and suicidal ideation. This entails offering accessible avenues for seeking help, such as helplines, support groups, and online forums. Education initiatives should empower friends, family, and communities to recognize signs of depression and suicidal behavior, fostering environments of support and understanding.

Furthermore, advocating self-care practices like exercise, mindfulness, and relaxation techniques equips individuals with tools to manage their mental well-being and mitigate the risk of suicidal tendencies.

Addressing the persistent scourge of suicide demands a holistic approach that delves into its root causes while providing effective interventions and support for those in crisis. Through concerted efforts to promote mental health awareness, improve access to services, foster support networks, and empower individuals, Nigeria can forge a path towards suicide prevention and cultivate a healthier society for all.

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Editorial

Nigeria’s National Identity Card initiative: A misguided venture

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The recent announcement by the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) regarding the launch of a new national identity card with payment functionality epitomises folly.

While touted as a solution to streamline identification and financial services, the collaboration between NIMC, the Central Bank of Nigeria, and the Nigeria Inter-bank Settlement System appears to be a misaligned endeavour.

In a nation burdened by limited resources and an array of urgent challenges, Nigeria’s pursuit of grandiose projects with questionable benefits is a luxury it cannot afford.

Despite its surface appeal, closer scrutiny reveals a troubling trend of duplication, bureaucratic inefficiency, and a glaring gap between governmental aspirations and citizens’ realities.

This venture echoes previous attempts to overhaul the national identification system, notably the ill-fated 2006 concession awarded to Chams.

That endeavour, marred by allegations of collusion and technical sabotage, squandered over $100 million, leaving a bitter legacy of failure. In light of this history, skepticism abounds regarding the prospects of the current initiative.

As Nigeria grapples with pressing socio-economic issues, including poverty, insecurity, and inadequate infrastructure, it is imperative that resources be directed towards initiatives with tangible benefits for the populace.

The proposed national identity card, with its payment functionality, appears to be a misplaced priority in this context.

Rather than embarking on ventures with dubious returns, Nigerian authorities must prioritise accountability, transparency, and citizen-centric policies. The nation cannot afford to repeat past mistakes at the expense of its long-suffering populace.

Furthermore, the purported justification for the new card – facilitating access to “multiple government intervention programs” for the financially marginalised – falls short when juxtaposed with the formidable hurdles Nigerians encounter in simply linking their National Identification Number (NIN) to vital services like mobile phone accounts or bank facilities.

The pandemonium and exasperation prevalent in these endeavours, resulting in citizens squandering valuable time and resources, should stand as a stark warning regarding the government’s competence in executing such extensive identity management schemes.

Moreover, if the concern is the proliferation of identification documents in Nigeria – from international passports and driver’s licenses to voter cards and the existing national ID card – this newspaper holds that this mosaic of identification systems not only spawns unnecessary confusion and bureaucratic headaches for citizens but also casts doubt on the government’s capacity to efficiently orchestrate and amalgamate these diverse platforms.

Instead of tackling these persistent issues head-on, the introduction of yet another identity card appears to be an ill-conceived effort to reinvent the wheel, with scant consideration for the practical challenges confronting Nigerians in their daily lives.

In a nation grappling with limited resources and a plethora of pressing needs, the decision to allocate billions of naira to this new card project is both confounding and deeply concerning. Many would argue that the government’s time and financial resources could be more effectively directed towards enhancing existing infrastructure, fortifying public services, and confronting the numerous socioeconomic challenges plaguing the country.

From the dire state of the healthcare system to the ongoing insecurity that has resulted in significant loss of life, there exist far more urgent issues warranting the government’s attention and, critically, its constrained financial resources.

Moreover, the assertion that the new card will facilitate access to “government intervention programs” for the financially marginalised raises concerns about introducing yet another bureaucratic barrier for vulnerable Nigerians.

Instead of introducing a new identification system, the government’s focus should be on refining and strengthening existing social welfare programs, ensuring they are accessible, efficient, and tailored to meet the needs of the populace.

The government’s ambition to distribute the new card to approximately 104 million citizens is cause for concern. Undertaking such a monumental task without a clear and comprehensive plan is likely to result in further delays, logistical complexities, and a considerable squandering of public funds – resources that could have been channeled towards making tangible improvements in the lives of Nigerians.

In essence, the rollout of the new national identity card with payment functionality reflects a recurring pattern in Nigerian governance: the inclination towards grand, top-down initiatives that often fall short of addressing the underlying issues fueling the country’s challenges.

Instead of pursuing this dubious venture, the government’s focus should shift towards strengthening existing identification systems, fostering better coordination among government agencies, and prioritising investments in areas directly impacting the lives of Nigerians.

As a nation, we must resist the temptation of embracing flashy new projects that promise quick fixes to complex problems.

Achieving genuine progress demands a nuanced, collaborative, and evidence-based approach that acknowledges the distinct needs and challenges of diverse communities.

It’s high time for the government to abandon this latest identity card scheme and redirect its efforts towards more impactful and sustainable initiatives that truly serve the citizens it is sworn to uplift.

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