Boko Haram: Special Appeal to António Guterres

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Ring True

By Yemi Adebowale; yemi.adebowale@thisdaylive.com; 07013940521 (text only)

The UN Deputy Humanitarian Coordinator in Nigeria, Mr. Yassine Gaba, appropriately captured the agony of civilians in Boko Haram infested areas when he recently declared that there had been steady and continuous attacks on residents of Borno, Adamawa and Yobe in recent weeks. His statement came after 34 persons were killed and 90 others injured on Monday in fresh terror attacks in some communities in Jere Local Government Area of Borno State.

Gaba lamented: “Since the beginning of the year, at least 120 civilians – women, children and men – were killed and over 210 sustained injured, in over 22 attacks allegedly by non-state armed groups directly targeting civilians. Civilians are also regularly abducted, as in Dapchi, Yobe State, where 110 school girls were taken on 19 February.
“Innocent civilians continue to suffer daily from direct and indiscriminate attacks in the North-east of Nigeria. Endless numbers of explosions, brutal killings, abductions and lootings continue to uproot the lives of women, children and men daily. I call on all parties to the conflict to end this violence and to respect human life and dignity. Women, children and men face daily grave human rights violations and sexual and gender-based violence. Since the start of the conflict in 2009, more than 20,000 people have been killed, thousands of girls, women, boys and men have been abducted and children continue to be used routinely as so-called suicide bombers.”

Much as I appreciate Gaba’s thought-provoking statement, his claim that the protection of civilians is a major focus of UN’s humanitarian response in the north-east is contentious. Yes, for now, there is virtually nothing the UN can do to protect besieged civilians in towns and villages but this world body should rise and protect devastated people in IDP camps. The Nigerian government obstinately fails them. Civilians in these camps are persistently attacked and killed by Boko Haram, as seen in Rann, Muna Garage, Dalore and a number of other camps, particularly in Borno State. The UN has clearly performed below expectations in terms of protecting civilians in these camps.
Just like the Nigerian government, the UN has also performed below average in terms of providing food and medicals to the IDPs. An estimated six million people are in dire need of food, shelter, water and health care in both legal and illegal IDP camps, particular in Borno State.

Certainly, in the last nine years, the UN has been in the thick of the action in the North-east, providing limited succour to the IDPs, through its humanitarian office in Nigeria. However, this world body has to do more for Nigerian IDPs in terms of food and medicals. The situation in these camps, particularly in Borno State, is evidently pathetic. Hunger, poverty and disease pervade them. There have been persistent protests by the IDPs over food shortage, without tangible result. Daily, many die of starvation and disease in these camps. Out of desperation for food, many women and girls in these camps have turned to prostitution. Some security agents are similarly persistently exploiting these hapless women and girls. The current UN Secretary-General, António Guterres is no stranger to managing humanitarian crisis. He was the UN High Commissioner for Refugees between 2005 and 2015. This is why I am making this special appeal to him on behalf of hapless and traumatised Nigerian IDPs.

Guterres, who was the Prime Minister of Portugal from 1995 to 2002, will always be remembered for expanding UNHCR’s emergency response capacity and effectively managing the plight of Iraqi refugees, one of the greatest refugee crises in the Middle East since 1948. He also worked chiefly to secure international aid for the refugees of the Syrian civil war. In June 2013, Guterres successfully launched a US$5-billion aid effort, its biggest ever, to help about 10.25 million Syrians that year. Based on these antecedents, Guterres is clearly capable of providing succour to Nigeria.
My dear Guterres, Nigerian IDPs are in dire need of aid and protection. You must do more for them. For me, you need to launch a similar US$5-billion (Syrian civil war type) aid effort to secure IDPs in the North-east of Nigeria. Beloved Guterres, the situation of Nigerian IDP is as severe as that of refugees of the Syrian civil war. You must rise and do more for these troubled people in IDP camps. They need more food, medicals and protection. Already, they feel disappointed by the UN.

Okorocha and the Nerve of Archbishop Obinna
The Metropolitan Archbishop of Owerri Ecclesiastical Diocese, Rev. Anthony Obinna, is one man that has refused to be intimidated by the infamous Governor Rochas Okorocha of Imo State. Rev. Obinna looks determined to stop Okorocha from imposing his stooge, Uche Nwosu, (son-in-law) as the next governor of the state. His homily last weekend during the celebration of Easter at the Maria Assumpta Cathedral, Owerri, speaks volumes. He declared that Okorocha’s endorsement of his son-in-law to succeed him in 2019 amounted to third term for the governor.
In the Easter message tagged: “Restoring Confidence and Courage to Imo Citizens: A Celebration of Joy of the Risen Christ”, Archbishop Obinna deplored “the system which for the past years had kept Imo citizens in fear of speaking the truth because of fear of molestation from the hands of the present government.”

He added: “Jesus Christ is always there to restore confidence and give courage to those who are in fear. For some years in the past, Imo citizens have been living in fear because of bad government. It is absurd and undemocratic for the governor to anoint his son-in-law to succeed him while his daughter will succeed his wife as first lady. Christ has liberated us by His death on the cross; therefore, no person can overturn what God has done. It was because the Imo people were not speaking that I had to speak out on March 3 at St. Michael Catholic Church, Ngwuoma, and since then, the Imo people found courage to speak out and condemn unpopular action of the present administration.
“I am not afraid of being arrested because on Jesus Christ I derive my strength. I cannot fear the army or police for arrest. I can only fear the Lord. He is my strength and from Him I am made.”

It is heartwarming seeing prominent Imolites rising against Okorocha’s plot. The last seven years have been most traumatic for the unfortunate people of Imo State, with the cataclysmic Okorocha government inflicting unprecedented pain on them. No one will forget in a hurry the ruthless demolition of the famed Eke-ukwu Owerri Market, in spite of a subsisting court order. Imo, under Okorocha, has become a failed state, with its government unable to meet its basic responsibilities to the citizens. Facilities in the health, education and other sectors have collapsed. In Okorocha’s Imo, civil servants have been going without salaries for years. Retirees are also wallowing in poverty, due to enormous unpaid annuities. All these have resulted in so much poverty in this largely “civil servant” state.

The limited resources of this state are being squandered amid poverty. A good example is when this governor suddenly crops up with an aircraft, said to have been acquired with the funds of the suffering masses of the state. He then went about celebrating, with the impression that this was capable of turning around the fortunes of the state. The impact of Imo Air is yet to be felt. What about Okorocha’s ludicrous trip to Turkey, with about 100 of his cronies, supposedly to study that country’s industrial magic? How much has Imo gained from the lavish trip? This governor has glaringly turned Imo State into a family business and personal property. His family members occupy key positions and get juicy contracts.
Top businessmen, members of the academia, technocrats, retired senior military officers, as well as other professionals of Imo State origin have also joined the noble movement against Okorocha, using the platform of Imo Economic Development Initiative. It is pleasing that this formidable opposition to Okorocha is coming about a year to the election of a new governor. This time around, Imo State has to put forward its best hand for governor to halt the anguish in the state.

A Word for NERC Boss, Anthony Akah 
The Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission’s new Meter Asset Provider Regulations 2018, aimed at developing independent and competitive meter services appears dead on arrival. NERC claims that the rule, which went into operations this week, would enable electricity consumers get meters as quickly as possible and also close the metering gap through accelerated meter rollout. This is a ruse because on the one hand, this new regulation provides for the supply, installation and maintenance of end-user meters by other parties apart from distribution licensees (Discos). This allows independent meter suppliers/installers to help the Discos bridge the metering gap. On the other hand, the rule still gives the Discos the power to engage these other parties to meter consumers before they can come to our homes.

So, the Meter Asset Providers, MAPs, will have to wait for Discos to instruct them on the number of domestic consumers they want metered, when and where. It seems the Acting CEO of NERC, Anthony Akah, is unaware that this is to the disadvantage of domestic electricity consumers, because they can’t engage MAPs directly. The Discos, who are averse to the bridging of the metering gap, will simply limit and stifle the MAPs, so as to continue milking consumers with estimated billings. The rule should have allowed domestic consumers, who constitute about 99% of unmetered consumers, to directly engage the MAPs for meter installations. Thereafter, they can register and activate their meters with the Discos. The MAP rule allows only entities who qualify as “Eligible Customers” to directly engage MAPs. These are largely big industrial consumers.

Discos have been feeding fat on domestic consumers with estimated billing and would gladly take advantage of the ambiguity in this new MAP rule to sustain their notorious party. The Discos, according to the MAP regulations, are still responsible for metering targets as specified by the regulator. The truth is that MAPs have the capacity to close Nigeria’s metering gap put at 4,740,275 meters as of December 31, 2017, within six months. Unfortunately, our naughty Discos will frustrate them. Dear Akah, NERC must amend its rule and strip Discos of this metering responsibility; else, there will be no relief for electricity consumers.
Customers must only pay for what they consume. This is the global standard. Akah’s NERC ought to have severely sanctioned the Discos over metering gap because they pledged in the proposals submitted during the privatisation of the power firms to within five years, install almost seven million new meters. So, where are the meters after almost four years? Discos have obviously breached the Shares Purchase Agreement they signed regarding metering of consumers and should be punished. My dear Akah, you must rise and tame these Discos in the interest of Nigerians, who are daily, pummeled with estimated billings.

Rage of Expectant Mothers in Akure
Billionaire businessman and founder of Microsoft Corporation, Bill Gates, was right when he placed Nigeria on the list of the most dangerous places in the world to give birth. I was so depressed on Thursday watching some pregnant women in Akure, Ondo State, protesting outrageous medical fees at the state’s Specialist Hospital in Akure. The protesters claim N25,000 was being charged for normal delivery while caesarean section now costs  N50,000. They complained about other fees ranging from N500 to N4,000 collected from them by the hospital’s officials at the ante-natal section, allegedly with the approval of the state government. The N50,000 charged for caesarean section does not cover drugs, which could be as high as N100,000. I sincerely hope that governor Rotimi Akeredolu will intervene and reduce these fees. Pregnant women and children must feel his free medical services in form of free drugs and low fees.