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The Oracle: Critiquing Judges and Judgments: The Dividing Line (Pt. 2)

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By Mike Ozekhome

INTRODUCTION

In the first part, we explored the background and set the tone for this all important topic. In this part, we shall further develop it under six broad sub-themes, viz: Self-criticism by the Supreme Court within its own judgment in Hope Uzodinma vs Emeka Ihedioha; Legal and Contextual frame works; How judges are gagged by the Code of Conduct for Judicial Officers; Laws prohibiting attacks on Judges and Appraising the above laws and Code of Conduct.

SELF-CRITICISM BY THE SUPREME COURT ITSELF IN HOPE UZODINMA V EMEKA IHEDIOHA (2020) PELR 86967 (SC) (continues)

However, in his dissenting opinion, Justice Centus Nweze, JSC also had been added to the seven-member panel to replace retired Amiru Sanusi, JSC; the CJN, Tanko Mohammed; Olukayode Ariwoola (now CJN); late Sylvester Ngwuta; Kudirat Kekere-Ekun; Amina Augie; and Uwani Abba-Aji, JJSC; refused to set aside the earlier judgment of the Supreme Court which had upheld the declaration of Uzodinma as Governor of Imo State. He criticised his own apex Court by declaring, in poetic words, “the decision of the Supreme Court in the instant matter will continue to haunt our electoral jurisprudence for a long time to come”.

Justice Nweze added that without evidence of meeting other constitutional provisions, the court misled itself into declaring Mr. Uzodinma as Governor.

The Jurist argued that Mr. Uzodinma and his party misled the court to accept the alleged excluded result in 388 polling units without indicating the votes polled by other political parties.

He also faulted the results from the said polling units without indicating the number of accredited voters in the polling units. Mr. Nweze recalled how Mr Uzodinma, during the election tribunal, admitted that he hijacked the result sheets from the electoral umpire officials and completed the results sheets by himself. He said such results could not be valid without indicating the number of accredited voters.

“This court has a duty of redeeming its image, it is against its background that the finality of the court cannot extinguish the right of any person.”

“I am of the view that this application should succeed. I hereby make an order reapproving the decision of the court made by January 14th and that the certificate of return issued on the appellant returned to INEC.”

“I also make an order restoring the respondent as the winner of the March 9, 2019 governorship election.” Mr Nweze in his minority ruling which was, however, overruled by the majority decision.

Mr. George Alger (criticising the Courts), therefore opines that “in view of this machinery through which the courts are subjected to the animadversion of professional critics, it would be a hardy and very foolish man who would assert that criticism of the court should not be indulged in by laymen. But while the general right to criticize is not disputed, there has been evident in recent years, and generally in political campaigns, a somewhat vague attempt to draw an imaginary or real line between the types of criticism which are permissible and those which are not and which constitute what are called ‘Attacks upon the Courts’”.

It is, with respect, these “attacks” precisely that we shall presently undertake, regardless of how they are perceived – gratuitous or not – especially within our local context or milieu.

LEGAL AND CONTEXTUAL FRAMEWORKS

HOW JUDGES ARE GAGGED BY THE CODE OF CONDUCT FOR JUDICIAL OFFICERS

Judges are traditionally sworn to silence – except in court while performing their functions. By convention, they are to be seen; not heard. Indeed, this stricture has been embedded in a Code of Conduct, (although this is not widely known to many) The Code of Conduct for Judicial Officers of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 2016, provides in Rules 5 and 6 respectively, as follows:

RIGHT TO FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION: A Judge, like any other citizen, is entitled to freedom of expression, belief, association and assembly; but in exercising such rights, a Judge shall always conduct himself in such manner as to preserve the dignity of the judicial office and the impartiality and independence of the Judiciary. Accordingly, a Judge shall act with such restraint as is necessary to:

  1. Maintain public confidence in the impartiality and independence of the Judiciary;

2. Avoid involvement in public discussion or discourse if his or her involvement could reasonably undermine confidence in his or her impartiality;

3. Avoid such occasions and circumstances where such involvement may unnecessarily expose the Judge to political attacks or be inconsistent with the dignity of a judicial officer; and/orAdhere strictly to political silence

DUTY TO ABSTAIN FROM INVOLVEMENT IN PUBLIC CONTROVERSIES: The duties of judges are not consistent with any involvement in public controversies;

  1. A Judge should not involve himself or herself inappropriately in public controversies;
  2. A Judge shall not enter into the political arena or participate in public debates- either by expressing opinion on controversial subjects, entering into disputes with public figures in the community or publicly criticizing the government.
  3. The convention of political silence requires the Judge concerned not to ordinarily reply to public statements. Although the right to criticize a Judge is subject to the rules relating to contempt, these are not to be invoked today, to suppress or punish criticism of the judiciary or of a particular judge. The better and wiser course is to ignore any scandalous attack or criticism outside the court room, rather than to exacerbate the publicity by initiating proceedings.
  4. Contempt ex facie curiae is an attack on the integrity and authority of the court of law and the administration of Justice. Though Rule 6(c) requires the power to punish for contempt to be exercised with great caution, the power to punish for contempt committed ex facie curiae must be used to protect the court from open attack aimed at discrediting the administration of Justice.
  5. A Judge may speak out on matter that affects the judiciary which directly affects the operation of the courts, the independence of the judiciary, fundamental aspects of the administration of Justice. On these matters, a Judge should act with great restraint. While a Judge may through his Head of Court properly make public representations to the government on these matters, he/she must not be seen as “lobbying” government or as indicating how he or she would rule if particular situations were to come before the court.
  6. A Judge may participate in discussion of the law for educational purposes or to point out weakness in the law. Judicial commentary should be limited to practical implications or drafting deficiencies and should be made as part of a collective institutionalized effort by the Judiciary, not of an individual Judge” (emphasis mine).Judges, by these limitation of right to reply to public criticisms are literally stripped bare and left helpless to their fate.

However, notwithstanding this apparent gagging, Judges are armed with the weapon of committal for contempt when necessary.

LAWS PROHIBITING ATTACK ON JUDGES

Section 133 of the Criminal Code (applicable in the 17 southern states and the Federal High Court of Nigeria) provides that “any person, who while a judicial proceeding is pending, makes use of any speech or writing misrepresenting such proceeding or capable of prejudicing any person in favour of or against any party to such proceeding or calculated to lower the authority of any person before whom such proceeding is being heard or taken or commits any other act of intentional disrespect to any judicial proceeding or to any person before whom such proceeding is being heard or taken; or commits any other act of intentional disrespect to any judicial proceeding or to any person before whom such proceeding is being heard or taken , is guilty or a simple offence and liable to imprisonment for three months”. A similar provision is contained in the Penal Code applicable in the 19 Northern states as well as Abuja the FCT. Additionally, Rule 33 of the Rules of Professional Conduct for Legal Practitioners, 2007, provides that “a lawyer or law firm engaged in or associated with the prosecution or defence of a criminal matter, or associated with a civil action shall not, while litigation is anticipated or pending in the matter, make or participate in making any extra-judicial statement that is calculated to prejudice or interfere with, or is reasonably capable to prejudicing or interfering with the fair trial of the matter, of the judgment or sentence thereon”

APPRAISING THE ABOVE LAWS AND CODE OF CONDUCT

A calm reading of the above laws shows that neither section 133 of the Criminal Code, nor Rule 33 of the Legal Practitioners Rules of Professional Conduct apply to critiquing of court judgments by lawyers, whether or not they were actually involved in the cases under question. Non-lawyers are also not prevented by these laws from doing so upon the conclusion of those court proceedings after judgement has been delivered. The statutes above also do not prohibit critiquing judgments through academic research, intellectual discourse or the media by lawyers and other members of the public after such have been fully delivered. However, this must be within decent intellectual bounds of objectivity and analysis, towards a better justice-delivery system. Section 133 of the Criminal Code and Rule 33 of the Rules of Professional Conduct for Legal Practitioners merely prohibit lawyers or law firms from participating in certain acts “while a judicial proceeding is pending”; or showing “intentional disrespect to any judicial proceedings or to any person before whom such proceedings is being heard or taken”; or “while litigation is anticipated or pending in the matter”. Such prohibited acts include making “use of any speech or writing misrepresenting such proceeding or capable of prejudicing any person in favour of against any party in such proceedings”; or is “calculated to lower the authority of any person (Judex) before which such proceedings is being heard or taken”; or “commits any other act of intentional disrespect” to the above; or “making any extra-judicial statement that is calculated to prejudice of interfere with, or is reasonably capable of prejudicing or interfering with the fair trial of the matter, of the judgment or sentence therein”. The above provisions are clear to the extent that one may only critique judgements through extra Judicial statements after delivery thereof. But such critiquing must be done in a fair and scholarly manner. It must not be calculated to lower the authority, integrity and dignity of the Judex, let alone the trial court or Judge himself. Such is punishable. I personally abhor it. (To be continued).

THOUGHT FOR WEEK

“Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfills the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things”. (Winston Churchill).

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Opinion

Tinubu, Beware Of Nyesom Wike

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By Richard Akinnola

Impetuous, garrulous, flippant, compulsively and deliriously narcissistic, that succinctly encapsulates the Nyesom Wike persona. A study of the political trajectory of the FCT Minister shows that he is only loyal to himself and nobody else, irrespective of his feigned allegiance. He may kowtow and genuflect before a political leader, as he is currently doing in Abuja but once he can no longer use you, he goes into a fit of incoherent vituperative verbal assault, denigrating his benefactors.

I watched his recent drama on Channels where he was reeling out his achievements as Governor, he said he built a Cancer Centre and named it after “one man”. He also built a Judicial institute and named it after “one woman”. (Pejoratively referring to Dr Peter Odili and his wife, Justice Mary Odili). His former political leader who he had praised to high heavens is now “one man”. How come his long time political associates suddenly turn enemies? -Rotimi Amaechi, Abiye Sekibo, Celestine Omehia, Austin Opara, Lee Meeba, and now, Dr Peter Odili, among others.

Almost everything that Wike had said in public have been repudiated by him. From the PDP primaries where he vowed to support whosoever emerged as candidate, to his vow not to be minister, to his scathing excoriation of the APC which he likened to a cancerous party, everything Wike supposedly stood for have been repudiated by his fickle mindedness.

Now, he is dancing around PBAT, like an urchin singing nursery rhyme, in his guttural and hoarse voice: “President Tinubu, on your mandate l shall stand”. President Tinubu, Wike is not standing on any mandate. He is standing on his opportunistic position as a minister. Remove him as minister and see if he would still be standing on your mandate. Tomorrow, before the cock crows at night, he would deny you if he is removed as minister and would start lamenting how he supposedly helped you but was used and discarded.

Here was a man who publicly said that Odili saved his political career as Chairman of Obio Akpor local government, leading to his rise in political ascendancy and he used every opportunity to praise and honour Odili and his wife. He followed this up with a public declaration where he was almost swearing thus: “I don’t know the day l would die but l know l would die one day but the truth must be told, any day that l would make Dr Odili and his family cry, may God allow me to go…I would never be alive to make you cry. I will never abandon you and your wife. Where would l have been but for you and your wife? Who am l? From where? My wife would not have been a Magistrate, talk less a Judge but for Mrs Odili. Nobody in this country can make me abandon you and your family. Never. …My wife and l are forever grateful to you for the roles you played in my life”.

This was shown live on CHANNELS. Today, what is Wike doing to the same Odili? Publicly dissing and ridiculing him on same CHANNELS just because Dr Odili refused to queue behind him to decapitate Governor Sim Fubara. As an elder statesman, Odili rather preferred to settle the differences between the duo, which Wike refused. That is Odili’s sin to attract Wike’s “Fatwa”.

He would do same thing to President Tinubu tomorrow if the president does not align with his interest. He doesn’t even understand the dynamics of larger politics to the fact that Odili and PBAT have a long-standing relationship being in the same class of 1999 Governors and that Odili doesn’t even have issues with PBAT. You cannot praise a man to high heavens for eight years in your fit of sycophancy, only to start publicly disrobing him just because he refused to be led by the nose in your ill-conceived political fight with your successor. What that means is that tomorrow, he’ll do same thing to president Tinubu if he doesn’t do his political bidding in Rivers state. That would amount to political self-immolation.

So, if everyone who has assisted you in your political ascendancy are bad, then, something definitely must be wrong with you.

Despite his accomplishments as Governor in terms of project execution which l acknowledge, there is no doubt, Wike has a serious character flaw that only him can cure. But trust me, despite his wealth and “power”, it’s a matter of time, this young man is on his way to political perdition. I pray he doesn’t end that way. Minister Wike, you are an achiever in terms of performance but l pray God grants you wisdom on how to navigate and relate with people who differ from you politically.

Richard Akinnola, a lawyer, activist and public affairs analyst writes from Lagos

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Opinion

Catalyst of Exploits (Pt. 1)

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By Tolulope A. Adegoke

“Look past the exterior, and see that there is so much more within. Then decide to unleash that potential to the fullest” – Lincoln Patz

I have no doubt that you have stepped into a greater realm of inspiration with the discovery of the potentials of the so-called zero. The next question therefore is, how can the possibilities embedded in a perceived nonentity become a reality? The answer, as you may have observed from the various examples that we considered in the previous chapter, is consciousness development. Or simply put, TRAINING.

Training has been rightly described as the process of acquiring the skills needed to succeed in a profession, vocation or venture. It is training or conscious development that turns trash into treasures, just as processing turns raw materials into finished products. Training is an indispensable requirement for bringing out the best in people. Even the most gifted people must go through some form of training to sharpen their innate abilities – how much more those who appear to be deficient!

The interesting truth here is that regardless of a person’s level of natural abilities – whether you consider it zero or zillion – training will always bring about a noticeable transformation in their lives. Take the case of Abraham as an example. Being an exceedingly great man, he had hundreds of servants who had been born in his house by his labourers and domestics. These might have been considered nobodies, having been born by lowly people. Yet, Abraham so trained them that they became valiant soldiers. And they were the ones who accompanied him to wage war against the captors of Lot and his household, and the expedition proved mightily successful (Genesis 14:14).

Two vital truths can be gleaned from the above. One is that you never can tell the true measure of a person’s potential until they have been thoroughly trained. This clearly tallies with our earlier assertion that everyone needs some form of training, whether formally or informally. The second vital truth is that everybody can indeed be trained to thrive.

From Vagabonds to Champions

Here is another proof that there is innate greatness in everyone that can be unlocked through training. 1 Samuel 22:1-3 says, “David therefore departed from there and escaped to the cave of Adullam. So when his brothers and all his father’s house heard it, they went down there to him. And everyone who was in distress, everyone who was in debt, and everyone who was discontented gathered to him. So he became captain over them. And there were about four hundred men with him.”

The first thing to notice here is the deliberate reference to the profile and pedigree of these men who joined themselves to David. I believe that the purpose is to make us see that no one can be rightly written off as a failure or a never-do-well. As subsequent exploits of David would reveal, these average men who enrolled in the military academy of David were soon transformed into mighty men of valour.  2 Samuel 23:8-17 narrates the accomplishments of three of these men:

“These are the names of the mighty men whom David had: Josheb-Basshebeth the Tachmonite, chief among the captains. He was called Adino the Eznite, because he had killed eight hundred men at one time. And after him was Eleazar the son of Dodo, the Ahohite, one of the three mighty men with David when they defied the Philistines who were gathered there for battle, and the men of Israel had retreated. He arose and attacked the Philistines until his hand was weary, and his hand stuck to the sword. The Lord brought about a great victory that day; and the people returned after him only to plunder. And after him was Shammah the son of Agee the Hararite. The Philistines had gathered together into a troop where there was a piece of ground full of lentils. So the people fled from the Philistines. But he stationed himself in the middle of the field, defended it, and killed the Philistines. So the Lord brought about a great victory.”

Isn’t this amazing! See what a bunch of men that people would have described as “frustrated failures” had become! What was the secret? Someone believed in them enough to train them, and they themselves were humble and disciplined enough to submit themselves to the training process. And the result was that they were transformed from being men of no repute, men of no value (more or less human trash, or simply zero) to history-makers!

Self-Application

So, what’s in all of this for you? What has all that we have discussed so far have to do with you? I’ll unravel it for you shortly. But, first, here is an insightful quote from Bishop David Oyedepo, “We go to school to acquire the literacy skills required to train ourselves most effectively in our fields of choice. Schooling is not the same thing as the real training! That is why there are many certificated, uneducated people! They have degrees but cannot deliver, because they are not trained to deliver!”

This is exactly what I wish to point out here. Everyone must take personal responsibility for being the best that they can be. Success is not an accidental occurrence. You cannot be wasting your precious time on irrelevances and expect to amount to much in life. You must wake up to the task of being positively responsible, deliberately reaching out and taking advantage of opportunities to enhance and deploy your skills.

As the example of the men who placed themselves under David’s tutelage shows, you are the one who must make up your mind not to settle for a worthless, defeated or frustrated life. Regardless of what people say or think of you, it is up to you to decide the direction you want your life to go!

As I earlier observed, training is not only meant for the ignorant or the inexperienced. It is an on-going activity that everyone must actively and constantly engage in, as long as we wish to stay afloat and be ahead. In other words, while schooling is periodic, training is for a lifetime!

The Place of Discipline and Diligence

Let’s face it: Training – whether formal or informal – is never an easy process. Even the Bible admits, “Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful…” (Hebrews 12:11). It is in the fallen nature of man to prefer the comfort of self-indulgence to the stress of self-enhancement. This is why many visions are aborted and many destinies are ruined. It is for this reason that discipline plays a crucial role in being a beneficiary of the power of training. It takes plenty of discipline to maintain a training lifestyle so as to emerge a relevant and dominant force in your generation!

It is possible to waste a whole lifetime if you do not understand the place of discipline and responsibility in achieving greatness in life. So, you must settle it in your mind from the outset that you are undoubtedly a Kingdom treasure that cannot afford to be comfortable with a substandard, mediocre or “trashy” life. The possibilities that God has wired into you must be empowered to find expression. You must therefore be ready to pay whatever price it requires. Let me quote Bishop Oyedepo again, “You belong to dignity, royalty, excellence and you have your excellence in Jesus Christ. Therefore, you have the mind of Christ. You have the creative, intellectual capability of the mind of Christ. You are not an ordinary person; you are a peculiar person in the order of existence!”

Closely attached to discipline is diligence. The two must function together to produce the expected result of excellence. Diligence simply means hard work. Interestingly, “hard work” is a term that many in this generation hate to hear. I often hear youths talk about “soft-work” almost everywhere now. They want the easy route to success. Of course, they may get what seems like success but because such is not built on the solid foundation of diligence, it often crumbles within a short time.

Proverbs 22:29 says, “Seest thou a man diligent in his business? he shall stand before kings; he shall not stand before mean men.” Proverbs 12:24 (NKJV) adds that: “The hand of the diligent will rule, but the lazy man will be put to forced labour.” The revelation here is that it is diligence that establishes enthronement. There is no future for an idle man in the Kingdom. Christ Himself demonstrated this when He said: “My Father worketh hitherto, and I work” (John 5:17).

Make no mistake about it – it is work that defines your worth! In other words, it is how much you work on yourself that will determine your ultimate worth. Work is a must for anybody who desires to take the lead. Even with the abundant favour and grace of God upon your life, you still must work because that is the God-ordained pathway to the top. In fact, the grace of God being upon you to guarantee success in all your ventures should spur you to attempt greater ventures than the average person. Paul the Apostle shares his own experience thus: “But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all…” (1 Corinthians 15:10).

Every successful person (empowered zero) is a product of favour from the factory of labour. You can never take out of life more than what you have invested into it. Galatians 6:7 says it accurately, “Be not deceived…whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” 2 Corinthians 9:6 explains it further, “He which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully.”

It is only hard workers who become great leaders (heroes)! There is nothing called “luck” in determining leadership or empowering a zero! The harder and smarter you work, the greater the level of your success. This is why someone ironically says, “I’m a great believer in luck and I found that the harder I work, the luckier I become.” So, dear friend, if you can concentrate more on empowering your zero, rather than wasting time lamenting, complaining, regretting, envying others, chatting on social media, listening to irrelevant talks or spending so much time watching the television, you will soon find your circumstances changing on their own. You will not even need to shake the Heavens before your blessings unfold!

Personal Experience

Permit me to use myself as a case study here. There was a time I sowed out my television in order to be on television. There was also a time that, for over a year, I did not subscribe to any cable channel, just to be able to meet up with the demand of delivering possibilities beyond the ordinary frequency. Here is Bishop Oyedepo again: “I have invested an average time of 16 hours a day from the time I stepped into ministry to date, no matter how odd the night may be, I still have my night to work. Seest thou a man diligent in his business, he shall stand before kings and not mere men…Our business that did not look like anything – it was trash when we came into ministry; it had no form of comeliness that anyone should look for it. It is what you invest or put into a trash that will bring forth its treasure! You need to show the world out there that you are on a mission (that is to take the lead in your field). But you cannot take the lead without doing the work to make it happen. So, go on and do the work!”

You can always change your level. It all depends on your level of investment. Just by re-aligning your mentality to believe that you do not belong to mediocrity brings you closer to excellence! Just by evaluating your activities and relationships and severing all unprofitable ties will give your life a sharper focus and clearer direction.

Note it again – hard workers fly higher! Nothing is a substitute for hard work. Be ready to go through the incubation process of becoming a hero. Subject yourself to the diligence and discipline that will transform you to a solution-provider to the people of your generation.

Sacrifice: The “Extra” in Extraordinary

Added to your discipline and diligence is the need for sacrifice, or going the extra mile. Essentially, it is not enough for you to be disciplined and diligent – you must also go the extra mile in doing these. Sacrifice is the scar (or scars) that we bear in the process of carrying our crosses towards getting our crowns.

There is no star without a scar! The scar of every star is sacrifice. It is nothing else! It is simply the ticket towards delivering possibilities. Sacrifice is going the extra mile, paying the extra price and taking the extra steps towards delivering your mandates! Your extraordinary inputs will precede your extraordinary impacts. You must go the extra mile in discipline and diligence – and then the star in you will emerge.

So powerful is sacrifice that it can turn a “dummy” into a genius. It can make a so-called misfit become a maestro. There have been cases of people who had great gifts and potentials but found themselves in fields that were different from what they were meant to do in life. Many of these have had to put themselves through the rigours of returning to their natural passions and getting trained to live out their dreams.

See, you cannot have your cake and eat it! You cannot make omelette without breaking eggs! Not even faith is a substitute for sacrifice. Vision is not a substitute for sacrifice! Sacrifice is a covenant requirement of every Kingdom star! Apostle Paul again says, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians1:21). The apostle is simply saying, “I’d rather die than allow anyone despise my glory in Christ”. This is a classic portrayal of what sacrifice entailsBeing crucified with Jesus Christ is sacrifice!

Every star has a story of sacrifice to tell. It is a must for you to rouse yourself from slumber and invest your time in creating the future that you desire! Until you do what others do not do, you will still remain on the same spot as others! You must therefore wake up and tell yourself the bitter truth and design for yourself an enviable destiny. Never let a year end without preparing a schedule of accomplishments for the following year. This will show that you are really on a mission to deliver your world from its aches!

Jesus Christ, the most anointed Achiever, says in Luke12:49-50: “I am come to send fire on the earth…But I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how am I straitened till it be accomplished!” That was someone who had a clear picture of His mission and what it would take to accomplish it.  Anyone who desires to have a “global impact” must pay a “global price”. Yes, you cannot accomplish that glorious dream of yours without understanding its true worth and paying the necessary price!

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Enhancing Food Security: Governor Umo Eno’s Worthy Interventions

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By Michael Effiong

 

Today, the biggest threat to the survival of mankind is food security. Indeed, the phenomenon has taken a global dimension and is not confined to the borders of any nation.

 

Growing hunger has been fueled by a toxic mix of climate change, insecurity and a global economic crisis that has exacerbated poverty and inequality, affecting the ability of many families and communities to cope.

 

In Nigeria, at least in the last few months, there is no topic that has been more discussed than that of the rising cost of food stuff and the hunger in the land.

 

As US President John F. Kennedy once said, “The war against hunger is truly mankind’s war of liberation.” This is a war that must be fought with vigor and won.

 

On his visit to Niger State on Tuesday, March 12, 2024, President Bola Ahmed Tinubu called on states to support the federal government’s effort in the area of agriculture and food security.

Interestingly, long before this call by Mr. President, Akwa Ibom State Governor, Pastor Umo Eno has already taken action.

 

How? Well, you can call him the modern day Nostradamus and will not be wrong. It was not that he was clairvoyant but we can adduce it to his power of vision because agriculture was one of his focus areas even before his overwhelming victory at the polls on March 18, 2023.

 

The then candidate Umo Eno had developed an economic blueprint for his campaign dubbed the ARISE Agenda. A of the A-R-I-S-E stands for Agricultural Revolution.

 

Having had this as part of his economic blueprint, it is no wonder that the Umo Eno administration had already hit the ground running and has been laying out plans, programmes and projects that are worthy of emulation in a bid to stem the tide of the current national crisis.

Perhaps what can be described as the most impactful and innovative intervention in the area of food sufficiency and sustainability in the country at the moment was signed into law on Thursday, March 14, 2023 as the Akwa Ibom State Bulk Purchase Agency which aims at ensuring that staple foods are available, accessible and affordable to the most vulnerable in the state.

 

Everyone knows that implementing this kind of programme can be herculean, but the government set up a committee with a well-laid out plan to ensure this works efficiently.

 

This programme, like others the Governor has initiated, would be devoid of any political coloration. Already, government has met with traders and market associations. Foodstuff agents will be selected and trained.  They would all sign an agreement with government and would be the ones to operate branded shops and redemption centres that will be located in selected markets and points across the 31 LGAs.

 

The Agency would use a voucher system akin to the Food Stamps now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program in the United States.

 

The Akwa Ibom equivalent when deployed, will operate in a similar fashion because it would be strictly for vulnerable indigenes who will exchange the monthly vouchers for staple food items.

 

The beneficiaries would get direct subsidies as they would pay well-discounted prices to the agents for the value of the food item on each voucher. The accredited agents would later present these vouchers to government for reconciliation and reimbursement.

 

Furthermore, the Governor’s 368 Personal Assistants in the wards are to help implement the programme at the grassroots while names of all agents and beneficiaries ( drawn from the state social register which had recently been updated) would be published.

 

It is expected that from this arrangement and involvement of many stakeholders, the Agency’s mandate would be delivered within a short period of time.

 

Knowing full well that the Agency’s work is a short term measure, Governor Eno is also thinking long term and has started preaching the “Back-To-Farm” message. His goal is to inspire Akwa Ibomites from all walks of life to see the benefits of farming.

 

In his words: “Please everybody, no matter how small your land is even if it is just behind or beside your house, sow something. We must return to the farm”

 

Let us cast our minds back to what used to be the norm back in the day. Our parents and grandparents used to have little farms around the house where green vegetables, tomatoes, pepper, okra, maize, yams, cassava e.t.c. were grown. Some even reared chickens and goats too.

Governor Umo Eno signing an MOU with Prof. Godfrey Nzamujo of Songhai Farms Initiatives Nigeria

 

Many may see this as a call to subsistence farming in today’s technologically-advanced world, but in truth, if we are able to grow a few of what we eat, it will not only reduce the hunger in the land in a matter of months, but it will free up funds for people to use for other things.

 

This initiative by the Governor for rural and urban dwellers to go back to the farm is already being practiced by other countries to boost their food supply. It is called urban farming.

 

Countries such as Argentina, Australia, Canada and China are way ahead and have incorporated this into their urban planning and city regeneration projects.

 

A good example of the success of this initiative is the city of Rosario in Argentina. Rosario’s Urban Agriculture Programme (Programa de Agricultura Urbana, or PAU) started small, but now grows nearly 2,500 tons of food each year. What started as a means of feeding the population in the wake of an economy in tatters is now a cornerstone of the city’s food sustainability initiative. This shows that the Governor’s call is a much needed step in the right direction.

Also, the government has commenced Phase II of the AK Cares Programme. Beneficiaries across the 31 LGAs would get farm implements, seedlings, poultry birds or fish juveniles and adequate training.

The Ministry of Agriculture is also being galvanized to distribute improved seedlings and support agriculture cooperatives to help increase their productivity. And the Ibom FADAMA Microfinance Bank has been restructured in line with the present realities.

That is not all, the Governor who takes the welfare of the citizens seriously also signed the Akwa Ibom State Agricultural Loans Law (Amendment) Bill, a private member bill sponsored by Hon. Mfon Idung. The law has increased the amount to be granted as loans to individual farmers, corporate entities and cooperative societies  and would enable them expand their operations, embrace modern farming techniques, boost productivity and ultimately, drive economic transformation.

 

It is worth mentioning also that Governor Eno’s people-centred intervention strategy also includes a rejuvenation of the rural communities through construction of rural roads and provision of key amenities. This idea is well captured in R (Rural Development) of the ARISE Agenda. The nexus between rural development and agriculture are as inseparable as a set of conjoined twins!

This school of thought concerning the importance of rural development as a way of boosting agriculture is also held by former Agriculture & Rural Development Minister and current President, African Development Bank (AfDB), Dr. Akinwunmi Adeshina.

He expressed these sentiments most succinctly while delivering his acceptance speech on his conferment with the Obafemi Awolowo Prize for Leadership in Lagos recently.

According to him “Nigeria must completely transform its rural economies to ensure food security for all. A better Africa must start with the transformation of rural economies. That is because some 70% of the population live there. Rural poverty is extremely high. At the heart of transforming rural economies is agriculture, the main source of livelihoods.

“As a young student who attended high school in the village, I witnessed the high correlation of agricultural performance with education. “It was common then to hear the phrase “Agbe lo ba” . (farmers are kings), uttered with great pride

“The transformation of rural economies must therefore be structural, systemic, strategic and comprehensive. Doing so, means agriculture must be turned into a wealth creating sector. Sound public policies transform the lives of people”.

No one can dispute the need for sound policies as enunciated by Dr. Adeshina and this is reason as an ardent advocate of agribusiness and with Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 2 in mind, the Governor’s earliest move in the agricultural sector on assumption of office was to sign an MOU with Songhai Farms for the development of Ibom Model Farms.

 

This long-term partnership is aimed at driving a technologically-driven agricultural revolution that will boost food production, tourism, youth development, knowledge transfer and job creation.

 

While construction has already begun at the first farm located in Nsit Ubium LGA (others will spring up when LGAs make land available), the Governor has shown his seriousness for this project by sponsoring some youths on training programmes in preparation for the Farm’s take off.

With all hands already on deck and machinery put in motion to operationalize the multi-layered approach initiated by the Gov. Umo Eno-led administration, the indigenes of Akwa Ibom State are soon going to heave a sigh of relief. Not only would the issue of high cost of foodstuff be history but food sufficiency would become the new normal in the state.

 

 

.Effiong, a journalist, is Senior Special Assistant (Lagos Liaison) to Governor Umo Eno

 

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