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EDITORIAL

Food Blockade – A lesson to Ndigbo

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Yoruba legend, Obafemi Awolowo has long told us that hunger is a legitimate weapon of warfare. He said this in relation with the food blockade that killed many Easterners, during the Nigeria-Biafra War.

Anyone can use the Awolowo technique to fight or subdue a perceived adversary and that is what Northern farmers have done, by cutting food supply to the South. Although the ban has been lifted, a strong message has been sent. No one should fool you to believe it will not happen again.

The food blockade of the South was an angry reaction by the Amalgamated Union of Food and Cattle Dealers of Nigeria (AUFCDN), which is demanding N475 billion from Government as compensation for its losses in the Shasha Market crisis in Oyo and #EndSARS violence. According to the union, they lost about 50 members.

Under normal circumstances, all should support their demand. But this is Nigeria, where everything is given an ethnic, religious and regional twist. People have also been slaughtered in other places and no one made a demand.

The union wants to assert northern dominance and supremacy in food production, forgetting that the South has the oil wells. Food or any blockade in an already divided country is a bad idea. Analysts have described the current one by the north as a “warning signal” which should not be ignored.

The target is, arguably, the South-West but it affected all of the South-East and South-South. Within this short period of one week, food prices tripled as some foods became scarce. This is proof that when the North sneezes, Nigeria catches cold, indeed! But a stitch in time saves nine and to be forewarned is certainly to be forearmed.

The South-East and Ndigbo have been there before and will ignore the sign at their detriment. Unless the South-East Governors with their families, concubines and communities will flee the South-East in times of crisis, then they can ignore the warning.

But the time to avoid another “kwashiorkor” is now! We may not achieve food sufficiency overnight but the journey of a hundred miles starts with one short step.

It is time to take agriculture more seriously. It is time to reclaim our farmlands from killer herdsmen; deploy human and material resources in preparation for the rainy day. The South-East depends on the North for meat, and virtually all food crops, including rice, beans, yams, tomatoes and onions. If our current laxity – “I don’t care” attitude persists, soon garri and palm oil will be coming from the north also.

The handwriting has been on the wall for long. It is time to take back our farmlands from herdsmen with a sinister motive. The food blockade demands creative thinking and quick action. We may not have enough land, but neither did Israel, which later became world number one agro-producer, when it was challenged by a food-blocked by Arabs in 1952.

We should borrow a leaf from Israel and start taking necessary steps towards boosting agriculture. Anything short of that is postponing the evil day, or worse still digging our own grave.

EDITORIAL

Owerri and the unexpected

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Owerri and the unexpected

Owerri could once pass as one of the safest places in Nigeria. This is in spite of little or no Federal Government presence by way of jobs and industries. Even in recent times, the Eastern Heartland was still deemed comparatively peaceful, even with rising poverty and unemployment. But things are changing for the worse. Owerri is fast losing its attraction as a good place to live and do business, whatever Government’s propaganda tells us.

Easter Monday’s shooting, jailbreak and destruction of police headquarters, located near the seat of power, is a shocking evidence of the changing times and rising insecurity. If criminals could break into police headquarters, so strategically located and perform such heinous act, then there is no security in the state.

The attackers formerly identified as “Unknown gunmen” have been linked to the proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), with or without investigation. The Owerri attacks came some days after the massacre of over 20 innocent souls in a community in Ebonyi State, by the notorious Fulani herdsmen.

We condemn the attack irrespective of who carried them out and urge Government to track them down for punishment. However, we note that the Federal Government has not said much about the perpetrators of the Ebonyi attack and many other such attacks but has read the riot act on IPOB. We also condemn any form of selective justice. Crime is crime and criminals whoever they are should be punished, according to the law.

Another issue of concern is that our police seem to be more reactive rather than proactive in fighting crime. To deal with the enormous crime rate we now have, police should be more up and doing with utilizing of intelligence. Community policing should not be in word only.

Additionally, Nigeria must rise up to the fact that insecurity is at a record high, even with new Service Chiefs in place. Regional policing is not a bad idea at this time. We would have suggested or backed the call, in some quarters, for the establishment of a state police. However, when we consider the availability of funds or lack of it, resulting in nonpayment of salaries and pensions in some states, including Imo, we hold back. That is in addition to the possibility of state governors hijacking the outfit and using it to fight political opponents.

The Federal Governments is well aware that the existing security system is inadequate. There is no point in burying one’s head in the sand like the ostrich, allowing parochial interests to rule and dominate. There is fear in the land and that fear is real. While the Federal Government wrestles with Boko Haram and its other arms – killer Fulani herdsmen and Bandits, there is need to empower the states and regions to deal with their own “smaller” or peculiar security challenges before they balloon to the size of Boko Haram.

Fighting crime is also not about waiting for it to happen and then appearing like a rainbow after the rain. For now, it seems criminals are walking several miles ahead of the police. This should not be.

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EDITORIAL

Roads: Make hay while the sun shines

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Roads: Make hay while the sun shines

Soon it will be raining again. How seriously or terribly the impact will be on Imolites, both those living in and outside Owerri, the State capital, can only be imagined. By hindsight, it will be dreadful. So, there is no better time to remind Imo Government to prepare for the inevitable or more figuratively, to make hay while the sun is shines, than now.

Clearly speaking, the sun has been shining for months now and does not have much longer to shine before the rains come down. Given what the meteorologists have forecast, what happened last year will be a child’s play if things remain as they were in 2020.

We are urging Governor Hope Uzodimma and his team to quicken their pace and to hasten up with road repairs, road construction, re-construction – whatever – to save us from the bitter experiences of last year and the years before.

In the spirit of Easter, let the work continue but at a faster pace to avoid being caught in the rain. We commend the Government for the journey so far. Government deserves kudos for every death trap fixed or every dilapidated road rebuilt. But we urge Government, truly, to double its effort and also get the contractors to do the same. Where funds need to be released or disbursed for the work, Government should do so without delay. Similarly, contractors should quicken the pace of work, get more equipment, where necessary, and hire more hands so that the job is finished before the feared downpour.

It is also important for Governor Uzodimma to pay unscheduled site visits to encourage contractors to speed up work. Any unnecessary delay will be too costly for the state and Imolites
We commend Government for roads so-far completed or nearing completion. Roads such as the decrepit World Bank, Amakohia-Egbeada road, Assumpta Avenue, Port Harcourt road and a few others, which have significantly improved.

However, we want to remind Government that it is not only in the Owerri Metropolis where work needs to be done. Roads in the other towns and local government areas are crying for attention. We must remember that food and agricultural products have to be moved from the rural to urban areas, and the poorer the roads the more difficult the movement and more expensive the products will eventually become. Already food prices are high in the state. Any addition to the problems farmers face in moving their products will make life more miserable for Imolites.

We however need to remind Governor Uzodimma about his earlier statement or rather promise that rain would not affect road construction. We also recall a state Governor telling contractors not to give him any excuses with heavy rain because he is paying them the agreed amount whether or not it’s raining. In essence, no excuse is good enough or justifiable, given last year’s experiences. To be forewarned is surely to be forearmed. Let every precaution be taken, let not last year’s experience be repeated. It is possible to give our roads a facelift before the rainy season begins in earnest. Imolites expect and deserve it. In the Spirit of Easter, let everything dead including bad roads in Imo rise up again.

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EDITORIAL

Imo pensioners and pensions

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Imo pensioners and pensions

To be called a pensioner is usually to recognize one’s age and service to the nation but not anymore in Nigeria.  After laboring in the civil service or elsewhere for 35 years or more, one is only too happy to come home, relax, sleep longer and get paid the correct pension, at the end of the month.

Today, the word pensioner is synonymous with poverty and disrespect, especially in Imo State where the tired pensioner, literally, has to wrestle with the authorities to get paid monthly.

When you see frail looking pensioners, some of them bent-over and just managing to walk, going for endless verifications and accreditations, the last thing you want to be in Imo State is a pensioner. 

The standoff between Government and pensioners is annoying, at best. The issue has been so long drawn that no one is asking who is at fault anymore but why has no lasting solution been found in a state that boasts of many educated people and trained pension managers?  Is Government playing politics with pensions, do they have the right people working in the pension scheme?  Are pensioners being dishonest or reaping what they sowed prior to retirement?  Whatever the answers, we are saying that the battle between the strong and the weak has taken so long and desperately needs a permanent resolution.

Since ageing is not exclusive to anyone, commonsense demands that we treat elderly people right.

Last year, Government published names of supposed cheating pensioners who were making millions out of the scheme.  At least, one of the accused spoke out, denied the allegation, tendered proof to the contrary, and demanded an apology.

Despite endless verifications, the problem is still there. Selective payment of pensions, arrears of unpaid pensions are still piling up. Government insists there are ghost pensioners and pensioners insist on their innocence.

Government said some pensioners are taking pensions in more than one place, that is collecting more than one “salary” and pensioners say this is not true. Government says pensioners who bank with microfinance banks should re-register with regular banks so as to be better served. Pensioners say those of them who have migrated to the said banks still have the same problem.

Government hired contractors to oversee pension payment, and pensioners say that is the root of the problem. They insist that pension matters rightly belong to the office of the Accountant General.

We know that the legal body charged with pensions according to the Pension Reform Act is the Treasury Department headed by the Accountant General. Unfortunately, since the Hope Uzodimma administration, we have been told that the delay in payment is because the administration is working on its own unique database which would clean up the system and eliminate fraud. Even so, the situation is still the same.

There are only about 30, 000 pensioners in the state and it is a shame that Imo   still cannot get it right. As long as the pension problem persists, it will be hard for Imo State to wriggle out of poor press and publicity.

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