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Otteh: We need reformer for Nigeria’s judiciary

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Mr. Joseph Otteh is the Executive Director of Access to Justice (AJ). In this interview with JOHN CHIKEZIE, he speaks on N100 billion budget for judiciary, immunity for judges, abuse of rights, prison congestion and sundry issues

 

The federal government has approved N100 billion for judiciary in the 2018 budget estimates; the highest in recent time. What do think the judiciary would do differently if it were to propose its own budget?
It would have been nice if it had the power, but budgets are mostly a two-branch affair, the executive proposes and the legislature approves leaving the judiciary at their mercy. Having said that, the current judiciary’s budget is the highest amount the judiciary will receive in its history.

Do you think the Court of Appeal was right when it ruled that EFCC or any other law enforcement agency has no power to prosecute judges over abuse of office?
The only immunity judges enjoy in a substantive sense is that they cannot be sued for anything they do in the course of exercising the duties of their office. So, if a judge were to deliver a verdict against you that was written when he was half-asleep, and that verdict sends you to prison in error, you cannot sue the judge for any wrong done to you.

What the Court of Appeal did in Justice Ngangiwa v FRN, was to introduce what we may call a procedural immunity clause for the benefit of judges, which, all things considered, may be just as good as a substantive immunity protection. It’s procedural because it says law enforcement agencies cannot pursue after judges until they meet certain conditions and until third parties, specifically, the National Judicial Council (NJC) has dealt with the issues alleged against the judge. So, it stays the hand of law enforcement agencies.

As you well know, there are potential slips between the cup and the lip and any number of circumstances can cause a crack in the progress of a judicial accountability action. So, if for instance, a petitioner alleges that a judge deliberately postponed judgment in a matter to a time when it would be too late to file an appeal in the case, and was motivated to do so because he had been illicitly induced by the other party, the NJC may substantiate the allegation of delaying the judgment but may find that the petitioner did not prove the inducement part of the petition and dismiss that portion of the complaint.

The NJC could thereafter sanction the judge by any sort of measures it deems appropriate. The NJC has been known to “warn” judges or “place them on a watch list” and these can be the final outcome of an NJC determination.

So, if the NJC is unable, for lack of proof, to sanction a judge for a misconduct which involves monetary inducement or unethical practices, but sustains a petition on a relatively less grave complaint, and then only “warns” such a judge, what the Court of Appeal judgement might mean, in the circumstances, is that an anti-corruption agency will not be able to go after such a judge even if they have information that indicts the judge in a crime, because the NJC has not found the judge culpable of that “crime”.

So that procedural immunity can end up serving as a substantive immunity cover. We disagree with the idea that judges need perimeters around them, for they make the judiciary a less accountable branch of government.

Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen, is almost one year in office. Which of his reform would you rate high?
The current Chief Justice of Nigeria has overseen a number of useful interventions since he took office. During his tenure, the NJC revised the Code of Conduct for Judicial Officers (2017) that aims to plug some loopholes in the pre-existing version of the code.

The CJN has also instituted a committee that is monitoring corruption cases around the country and ensuring the cases are proceeding speedily. He has constituted a committee to propose judicial reforms and that committee, from what we understand, has submitted its report.

The problem is, after nearly one year, the administration of justice landscape remains just as tidy and unfazed as it was, as nothing seems to have shaken it down to its roots. The atmosphere in the delivery of justice arena appears also, at least from the consumer angle, at ease, moving at conventional rhythm. Given that the Nigerian judiciary is in an undeclared state of emergency, perhaps one will be permitted to think that more results should have been achieved had more pace and traction been present in implementing ideas for change.

This period in our judiciary’s history offers a strategic opportunity to mount a daring challenge to the culture that ensnared our judiciary for so long and has brought it much shame, and we thought a reformer needed to shake the judiciary to its foundations and open new spaces for bold ideas, as well as pitch for some paradigm-altering targets. At the same time, doing so within a framework that provides a credible manifesto, creates real sense of the urgency of change and a commitment that is ready to move heaven and earth to achieve the set goals.

In spite of the modest efforts of the current leadership of the judiciary, I do not think we’ve gotten things quite right yet. I think the judiciary is drawing blank on a number of opportunities and not seizing the moment to plug major loopholes in the way it is organized or administered.

Take for example, there was this case the NJC recently dealt with where a judge was recommended to be retired because it was discovered he forged some qualifying documents and presented them as his own. One would think that with a development like this, the NJC might insist that henceforth, there would be more rigorous scrutiny of persons nominated for judicial office and insist on a public screening requirement in the appointment process, alongside this, refer the judge to law enforcement agencies for prosecution.

The NJC has, therefore, merely treated the issue in a way that individualizes the misconduct but does not improve the strength of the system or the appointing process; neither has the council created a more significant deterrent value of actions like this. The council, in my respectful opinion, underutilized the opportunity it had in that case to reform its procedures.

You would also think that with the widespread discoveries that a number of judges were accepting cash gifts from lawyers appearing in their courts, the NJC would strain at the leash to adopt a far-reaching policy that promotes greater transparency in the relationship between the Bar and the Bench. But not quite; it’s not just enough to change the applicable codes of conduct. Rules can be circumvented of course.

With respect, I would want to see greater inventiveness and imagination on the part of the NJC in matters that question the integrity of the judiciary and public confidence in it, but what you mostly see is nothing near a full-court press.

Why can’t the judiciary require judges to declare all gifts they receive through a confidentially monitored system as is done in a few places?
The other day, a UNODC/National Bureau of Statistics report alleged that corruption was widespread in the judiciary.

The NJC just off-handedly dismissed the report without challenging its evidence. That sort of knee-jerk reaction and denial is clearly not the kind of response you expect to see with an institution that is honest about its weaknesses and wants to remedy its lapses.

Having said these, I may add that, given the size of the portfolio of responsibilities the Chief Justice of Nigeria has, it will be difficult for him to achieve every good intention he has. He is over-burdened with responsibilities in every direction – he sits as a Justice in the Supreme Court and exercises control over the administration of the court in many respects; he is head of the National Judicial Council, the Federal Judicial Service Commission and the National Judicial Institute.

He attends to matters of broad importance for the judicial branch of government, etc. It would be easier for him to create a department within his office as Chief Justice tasked with the responsibility of driving reform.

The federal government is proposing courtrooms in prisons nationwide so as to decongest the prisons. To what extent would you say this would go to fast track decongestion of prisons?
There is something fanciful, even appealing about the idea, but a solution to the prison congestion problem needs more than the allure of an intuitive prognosis. Is the problem with prison congestion considerably caused by the distance between prisons and courts, or by the operational weaknesses or systems of the courts themselves?

If the courts to be located at the prisons operate in the same way as other courts, it may be bedeviled by the same problems that confront the regular courts. The idea seems good, but we need to interrogate it a bit more before we take the leap.

Do you share the view that human rights abuse has become the order of the day under President Muhammadu Buhari?

Yes I do. The Buhari administration has largely adopted political positions that have seriously undermined human rights and the rule of law. It’s a shame really, that an opposition government that was a victim of the arbitrary use of state power to harass and intimidate it while it was in the opposition, will turn around and ride rough shod over those opposed to it. I think this government has strengthened the culture of impunity among those who exercise state power.

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Gunwa: Why it’s difficult to enforce compliance in Nigeria’s maritime

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Chief Executive Officer, Maritime Service Limited, Mrs Juliana Gunwa, in this interview with BAYO AKOMOLAFE, says the only way to address Nigeria’s maritime sector’s challenges is to domesticate and enforce necessary maritime conventions. She also speaks on sundry issues impeding maritime development in Nigeria. Excerpts

 

What is your take on maritime pollution reception facilities in the country?
Nigeria’s reception facility at the Snake Island is one of the best in Africa, but it only covers two aspects of the Maritime Pollution (MAPOL) Convention. It covers garbage, which is annex five of MAPOL and covers oil, which is annex one, so they have receptacles for two of the six annexes. We have the one that can cater for garbage annex five and annex two for oil.

The facility is highly sophisticated and is comparable to what is available in America, Europe or any of these developed countries. So, I give kudos to Nigeria for that as a country.

But we still need to put some things in place; for instance, we need training for our staff. Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) is doing a lot in that aspect, but we need to train more. We need to have a number of well- trained surveyors to be able to go on board. We have so many vessels coming in and I believe that the number of surveyors are not enough to board vessels on regular basis to ensure compliance.

So, we need staff that are well trained in this area; staff that are competent and confident to go on board to challenge operators that do not comply with rules. Also, Nigeria as a maritime nation must start to encourage private operators to come together and own vessels. Government should encourage them because we all know that vessels ownership is capital intensive.

So, there will be need for us, either at governmental level or operational level, to have vessel of our own so that we can effectively participate in lifting of cargos in this country. We need to have record of how many vessels have been detained for lack of compliance. These are some of the things we need to work on. The moment IMO sees us working on these; the world itself will know that Nigeria is working.

How can government address the incessant failure of Nigeria to attain category C of International Maritime Organisation (IMO) council seat?
I was part of the country’s struggle and efforts to get into IMO’s council seat at different times. I even coordinated a number of programmes when we regained our seat on category C of the organisation.

The category C of IMO council is a very key seat to occupy. One thing I know is that once you are a member of the council, you are part of decision making.

For instance, when new conventions are introduced, you have the right to either support it or disagree with it, depending on the level you think you are operating in the nation. But if you are not a member of the council, you are just an observer and you have no say.

Some unknowledgeable people have been asking question as to what will the country gain from being a member of the council. We have a lot to gain as a maritime nation apart from the fact that it is prestigious to be on the council. Without being there, there is no way we can run our shipping locally, it is not possible. So, for us now, we must put our house in order to get back to IMO council.

It is very important for us to look inward and look at areas that are of concern to the International Maritime Organisation and one of such areas is ensuring that the conventions are implemented. Also, we should go a step further to ensure domestication of all these conventions because if they are not domesticated, we cannot effectively implement then.

Can you shed more light on this?
If there is a vessel that comes into our waters for instance and failed to comply with any of the provisions of the conventions and we have not domesticated those conventions, we can’t charge them to court unless we domesticate the conventions, which would give us the legal backing.

So, we must ensure that we are not just ratifying these conventions; we should go a step further to domesticate them. Effort must be put in place for effective implementation and in carrying out the implementation; NIMASA should try to have stakeholders’ meeting.

It does not end there, we need to have more interactive sessions with the operators and that is one thing my company tends to achieve. We must work with the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) to ensure some of the requirements are put in place and it is only when they are put in place that we can carry out enforcement.

So, if we put necessary things in place, it is not going to be news to IMO, because the organisation will get to know that Nigeria has all of these in place.
How do you want government to tackle leadership issue in the industry? Nigeria is a unique country and most of our issues are likely political.

I still want to believe it is good, if we can get a maritime leader, somebody with maritime background, to be the one that will pilot the affairs of the maritime agencies. Having said that, the industry can still have a politician at the helm of affairs, but such a person must have experienced hands to work with.

With that, such a politician will be able to do well. I know so many professionals that are out there that their competencies could be required and utilised by these agencies, however they are not being utilised.

For instance, a lot of professionals have retired from NIMASA and there is no reason why the agency cannot go out and engage some of them as consultants

. I believe some other agencies do this and these professionals do not need to be part of the day-to-day workings, but they should be there to guide and offer advice that will be helpful to run the agencies.

I had attended a lot of IMO meetings during my 35 years of service because I started attending when I was at the Federal Ministry of Transport. One thing I realised the developed countries do differently from us is that some of the international delegates of countries such as China, United States, Norway, Canada and others had been there for between 20 and 30 years.

I knew some of the delegates who had been there consistently. I knew them, they knew me, they bring in new people, but the older ones are still there to guide them until they are fully retired. Even by the time they are fully retired, they still keep them as advisors.

What is happening in Nigeria is lack of consistency. We are not consistent in attending those meetings, especially in policy monitoring. There must be consistency because the issues discussed in the previous year won’t be same as the current year.

What is your view on leadership turnaround in NIMASA and other maritime agencies?
When you look at the turnaround of leadership in NIMASA, it has not been helpful. What happened in NIMASA is very peculiar to the agency. It has not happened that way in Nigerian Shippers Council (NSC), Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) and a few other maritime parastatals. I think the agency should be seen more as a professional organisation.

The way the agency is being treated, especially in term of turnaround of leadership whenever there is a new minister, has not been fair. I think you can only make change when you think a particular director general is not doing well in discharging his or mandate. From my experience, I can say I spent at least 14 to 15 years in the agency and I am sure I worked with six or seven director generals there.

Why is it difficult to have indigenous fleet in the country?
Well, I wouldn’t think it is really impossible. You know there is a precedent that NIMASA is trying to avoid. I remember several years back when NIMASA gave out some funds for acquisition of vessels, then, there was no professional machinery put in place for adequate disbursement and payback modalities. So, we found out that quite a number of people that took the fund didn’t even use it for what it was meant. Some didn’t even payback.

So, I think these are some of the things agitating the minds of the agency. Having said that, my advice is going to be that we cannot continue not to do something; everything in life is all about risk and if we are going to continue to keep safe, we are not going to make progress.

That is why I am not going to condemn but advice and that is to setup disbursement agent where finances will be managed. I know the agency is trying to setup something like that, but there should be a proposal on setting up a professional modality so that we don’t repeat the mistakes of the past.

Government should put in place professional modality that will enable the agency and the Federal Ministry of Transport to adequately disburse the fund.

Is it possible for indigenous shipping companies to form a cartel in the industry? I think what we need now is encouragement, that’s what some other developed countries do. Singapore did a lot of encouragement in terms of maritime industry expansion and I believe we can do that.

If you look at the cabotage regime, you will know that there are lots of young Nigerian companies coming up to do coastal trade. I know we have some very serious-minded people who are into cabotage, though some of them may still not have the vessels because of the cost. I want to say there will be need to support professional operators that are out to promote the industry.

In my company, we have done a lot of research about what we can do on ferry service and how to go about it. But we realised it is going to be difficult because of the plenty of money required to go into this type of service without local or international partners.

How would you relay your experience in the public service and private practice?
When I was in the Department of Maritime Service in the Ministry of Transport, all I did was nothing but maritime. Thereafter, I came to the then office of Government Inspection of Shipping (GIS) that was later merged with the defunct Nigerian Maritime Authority (NMA).

As I was planning to exit, I started thinking that I had benefited so much from the industry in terms of policies formulation, travelling all over the world to represent the Federal Government at different levels and acquiring additional degrees in different maritime disciplines.

At NIMASA, I was initially the head of the Maritime Safety Department, which was a unit before it later became a division. When the issue of the environment was becoming a global concern and recognised world-wide, the former director general encouraged me to set up a marine environment department and with the help of God and staff, under six months that came to pass. So, that made me to become the first director of marine environment management department unit, where I was for about over four years.

I won’t start to talk about some of my achievements but I would say that all of these have really exposed me to be in a position where authoritatively, I could talk about maritime sector in general.

I am now at a stage whereby if you wake me up and ask me any question about the maritime conventions I can roll them all out because they have become part of my life.

So, after benefiting so much from government and having also been exposed to many international forums where serious maritime issues were discussed and serous decisions were taken, I felt that one of the best ways I could continue in the industry is to set up my own outfit after my retirement.

I realised that the stakeholders would need to know more about what NIMASA, as a safety administration, requires of them and the agency would have to be in a position to pass adequate information on the relevance of some international conventions to stakeholders.

From the knowledge I gained from the agency, I felt that I would be useful in transferring knowledge to the younger generation that have come in and not yet privileged to go on any professional training from where I have benefited immensely.

 

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Interview

Ofoke: How Ebonyi revived justice system

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Ebonyi State Justice Commissioner and Attorney-General, Chief Cletus Ofoke in this interview with UCHENNA INYA, speaks on justice delivery system, rule of law, police, prison reforms, among others

 

How has it been as Chief Law Officer in Ebonyi State?
Well, God has been faithful and government is a continuum. When I met activities in the ministry, I quickly adapted to them and started discharging my duties accordingly. So, it has been God all the way.

That ministry belongs to a lawyer and as a trained lawyer, nothing is strange to me. In terms of administration, I have the experience. I have run my law firm for seven years before I got the appointment. I have also held many positions of trust that had to do with administration. So, combining administration with practice of law to me is not a strange thing.

What is your assessment of justice system in the state?
In Ebonyi state judicial system, the spirit is very high. The justice sector to me, is living up to its expectations; it is not a one way traffic. There are stakeholders in the justice system; the judiciary, the prison and others. Those bodies brought together have been collaborating to ensure that justice is done to all manner of people in the state.

But as a ministry, we have been discharging that which the Constitution says we should do; we have been vetting files, filing information, ensuring that people who are not connected with any offence are discharged accordingly because that is our mandate and ensuring that people that has one case or the other in court are prosecuted accordingly.

Immediately I came in as Commissioner, I had a series of meeting with Heads of Departments of the ministry and in those meetings, we were able to marshal out points on how to deliver effectively on the issue of justice dispensation in the state and they all agreed that those points were apt and that they were going to abide by it.

I think the HODs are doing their best. One, no file from police stays more than a day in our ministry without being vetted. Immediately it is vetted, if we find out that there is a prima facie case established against the accused person, we charge that person accordingly. I have also made sure that the Department of Public Prosecution (DPP) is unburdened. In other words, I met backlog of cases files that were not given attention but immediately I came on board, I ensured that that those files were given urgent attention.

Again, the Department of Public Prosecution is a life wire of this ministry in terms of justice sector dispensation. Because of this, we injected more people into that department so that it will not lack manpower and that has really paid off because the law officers in that very particular department has to do with justice sector we are talking about and they are up and doing.

So, we brought on board people that are seasoned, people that have done the job for years and people that know what it takes to prosecute and what it takes to counsel where necessary. It has not been without challenges anyway but we have been able to surmount them.

The problems we are having is that at times we don’t get case files from police as quickly as possible the way they are supposed to be doing and that hinders the operation of justice dispensation in the ministry. By and large, the ministry is doing very well.

In what way would you say the backlog of case files you inherited affected justice delivery system?
The effect although we have cleared them, innocent people were languishing in prison. People that were not connected to the offences they were charged with were languishing, praying that God should intervene on their behalf. But with the promptness and with the zeal the people we have deployed to the ministry have shown, we have been able to clear those backlogs and that is what gave rise to filing of information.

In fact, more than 60 informations have been filed since I came on board and I can assure that authoritatively that we have discharged not less than 20 people.

This has to some extent decongested our prisons. Like I told you, justice sector is not about ministry of justice alone; we have other critical stakeholders. So, in terms of prison decongestion, that has really helped. Situations up to 50 files have been given attention by way of filing information and more are still coming. As a matter of fact, last week, the Department of Public Prosecution filed eleven information awaiting assignment by the state Chief Judge.

For the other ones, we discharged them because we looked at the files, why they were brought to prisons and we saw that they were innocent of the offences they were charged. When I came on board, we had about 70 case files that were not given attention but we have cleared them.

What role is the state government playing in prison decongestion?
The governor has done a lot in the area of prison decongestion. He is constructing an ultra-modern building for the state federal prisons which is about 90% completion.

He has also charged the state Advisory Committee on prerogative of mercy to be up and doing and that committee is headed by myself the Honourable Attorney General. The Advisory Committee on prerogative of mercy has met with the Chief Judge of the state; we have met up to three times and part of it is the release from prisons about 26 inmates sometime in February this year.

You can agree with me that a situation whereby 26 inmates were release from prisons will go a long way to decongest the prisons. So, the government is doing quite a lot. The Advisory Committee on prerogative of mercy is currently looking at cases of inmates who deserve to be granted state pardon.

How cordial is the relationship between your ministry and the security agents in the state?
The relationship is very cordial. Of course, we are all partners in justice delivery and when I came on board, the first point of call was to meet with the state Commissioner of Police, Titus Lamorde and we had a robust discussion on how to be getting case files from police as when due so that we can vet them accordingly in line with the directive court. And I can assure you that that meeting has yielded positive result because the office of the officer in charge of legal gives us attention. Anytime my ministry staff goes there to get those files for vetting, he treats that as a priority.

In respect to the prison, we are very strong partners in progress; the relationship is very cordial. In fact, you cannot talk about prison decongestion without involving the prison officials. The Controller of prisons is a wonderful woman; Mrs. Oputa is a good woman. She came up with an idea of decongesting the prison and that position of her gave birth to a meeting with the Chief Judge of the state which resulted to releasing of 26 inmates like I told you. If the relationship is not there, that wouldn’t have been possible. Other security agencies; SSS,
Civil Defence are good partners and we have not had any challenge resulting from their various offices. We work hand in hand to make sure that our state remains number one in terms of prison decongestion.
Is rule of law on trial in the state?
Well, you already know the answer. In Ebonyi state, everything is done according to the rule of law and the dictates of the law.
Our governor believes in due process and let me inform you that he has not only been acknowledged in Ebonyi state, in the south east, but in Nigeria. He has won prestigious award of Ambassador of rule of law, good governance and anti-corruption.

That summarizes the state of rule of law in Ebonyi state. For somebody to have won the laurels among other states, tells you that in Ebonyi state law is supreme.

In terms of checks and balances, in terms of accountability, in terms of due process, our governor is number one. Whatever he does, he ensures that it is backed up by law. He is a man that listens to the wise counsel of not only jurists but also the ministry of justice which primary role is to advise government on law. And you can see that in the state, people can sleep with their eyes closed because of the attention he has given to security, because of the attention he has given to human empowerment.

In terms of the legislature, the Ebonyi state House of Assembly is an organ of government that does its own constitutional job the way it pleases the Honourable members. His Excellency, the governor does not interfere with the running of the House of Assembly.

They are free to legislate on any matter that has direct positive bearing on the people of the state and that is democracy and that is the rule of law we are talking about.

So, if our governor does not believe in rule of law, he would have been interfering with the functions of the legislative arm of government and that of the judiciary. Our Judges go about dispensing justice; our government does not interfere with how judgments are giving. In fact, some judgments are even given against government and government obeys them. We advise government and government to obey them. So, rule of law reigns supreme in Ebonyi state.

What role would the newly created Criminal Prosecution department play in justice system?
It is to monitor the inflow of criminal cases in all the courts in the state. I told you that we vet files and other things we do to ensure that there is justice delivery in the state.

The department is a very vital department in the ministry of justice and it has helped to a very large extent in ensuring that criminal prosecution go very well in the state.

The job of the Senior Special Adviser to the Governor on Criminal Prosecution, who is in charge of that department, does not stop at criminal prosecution. It looks at other cases that of interest to both government and individuals.

In other words, inferring with the police, the office of the O/C legal, the Nigerian prisons, the DSS because these are the agencies responsible for apprehension of criminals. He interfaces with those security agencies in respect to criminal matters that are to be given attention by both the agencies and the ministry of justice.

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Interview

Inyang-Eyen: Sand dredgers ‘killing’ Akwa Ibom economy

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Akwa Ibom State Commissioner for Works, Ephraim Inyang-Eyen, speaks with TONY ANICHEBE on Governor Udom Emmanuel’s efforts at making life more meaningful for citizens, among other challenges. Excerpts…

 

What is the government doing to impact the people’s welfare?

The government has departed from the era of money sharing to equipping people for a decent living. People are now trained and empowered to earn a decent living. For instance, when I go to my village, I made it clear that I have no free money to share but for those who are genuinely interested in doing one trade or the other we give support.

Those who want to manage small businesses to help themselves and their families, we support them and most of them are now comfortable as breadwinners.

I want to encourage our people to know that money given out is to be invested in profitable ventures to earn a decent living. This does not stop us from assisting people when the need arises but somebody must be doing a job or trade which puts three square meal on his table.

But to sit and wait for free money under the present economic challenges is not a good way to live.

You recently came hard on sand dredgers in the state, why?

Sand dredging is a major problem confronting us as a people and our people do it out of ignorance not knowing that they are destroying their environment and the economy of the state.

When I and the Commissioner for Environment moved to stop the disaster, people said a lot of things and when we pulled back, we received more than 167 letters form communities seeking for help from sand dredgers. What facilities do I have to intervene in 167 communities?

The old Uyo Road done by the previous administration is suffering from the activities of sand dredgers. Dominic Utuk Street where government had spent billions of naira to restore was damaged by sand dredging.

There are many villages streams that used to be clean but now mud water as clay has taken the place of sharp sands and water now appears dark. Go to Etinan River and see the problem yourself.

After dredging in each area, development becomes more difficult. You cannot build bridges and put the colons on clay as it will shift with time and collapse. It has to stand on sand.

It happened in some communities already. I want to again advise village and clan heads who have ceded their streams and lands to the sand dredgers from our neighbouring communities to tell them to leave.

The question I always ask is that if sand dreading is good why are they not doing it in their various states of Abia, Imo, Rivers, Bayelsa, Edo etc. We must not keep quiet for them to dredge sand here and destroy our rivers and environment.

Money that could have been used for industrialisation, health and education of our youths is now beign channelled to restore damaged environment. Again, I will issue a circular to construction firms working here that anybody who opens a pit for road construction and fails to restore it after work will have the Ministry of Works to contend with.

We cannot tolerate any erosion menace coming out from the pit. It must be recovered for grass to regrow. Our people must work with us to ensure that policies succeed.

What measures have you put in place to stop further sand dredging in the state?

We have done enough sensitisation on the matter from both ministries of works and environment, youths are advised to meet with their leaders in the villages to inform them too of our decision, even if it means them returning whatever they have taken from the dredgers and ask them to leave their environment. The earlier they stop the better, to see if the environment can even restore itself. People can’t be facing such danger and they are still waiting for the commissioner to visit and sensitise them on the dangers.

What is the fate of Ring Road 2 and 3 which had been on the drawing board since the creation of the state?

Ring Road 2, being handled by Qumecs is almost ready with tremendous progress of work so far done. Ring Road 2 is about 3.5km and will be ready by May 29th this year. A new contractor had been given the job of Ring Road 3, which is 9.5km from Aka-Nungudo Road up to Nwaniba Road axis. The two ring roads were before now only earmarked for construction until the present government took it on.

The Ring Road 3, which starts from Aka Road end of Jonathan Boulevard will terminate in Nwaniba Road and will be done in 12 months within the lifespan of this administration’s first term.

I want to appeal to our people, if your local government has not been touched, and you have seen the tremendous efforts of the governor so far, then rest assured that it will get to your domain.

All you need to do is, get your PVC and give him a fresh term of four years and when he returns, definitely, he will redouble his present efforts. He will be returning as an expert not coming to learn the ropes.

Any part of the state that is yet to benefit will soon benefit like the present interventions in Uyo. There are places I got to and was told that they never believed road construction will get there prompting them to build septic tanks on the road. This government is ready to build a solid foundation for a new face of Akwa Ibom State.

We are working without segregation or discrimination, you don’t need to visit me or know anybody in government to benefit. We go round and when we see need for intervention in any area, I take the matter to the governor who most times approve. The intervention on our roads cannot be done in one day so it is a continuous process. Urueffong Oruko, Ukanafun, Ikot Abasi will all benefit too.

What is happening to Nung Udoe/ Afaha Offong Road criss-crossing Ibesikpo and Nsit Ibom areas

Let me put it this way, we want to take one road in Nsit Ibom first, which is 12:15km Enen Nsit Road. The governor, few days ago asked me to flag off, that road on his behalf.

The road criss-cross about eight communities and as I speak, job is ongoing on that road. So, Afaha Offong road will equally be done but with the resources available now concentration will be on the Enen Nsit before others will be considered.

Streetlighting issues appear unabated, what is the government doing to solve the problem?

Our roads supposed to migrate from a conventional street lightning using generators to solar powered streetlight. The present government inherited solar powered streetlight along the axis of the New Stadium and between Ikot Oku Ikono and Abak among other areas, but people in connivance with some traders from neighbouring environment have stolen all of them.

We fixed them up with the N30 million approved by the governor, fixing all within the metropolis up to the old township stadium for the then 2016 Christmas Carol evet, but one week after that ceremony they were stolen again.

We got the police empowered with vehicles to track-down the hoodlums and some people were arrested. Most of the poles were brought down and the batteries stolen.

The areas of the city in darkness today ought not be if our people do not collaborate to vandalise the public light because strangers cannot just come in, steal and go scot free.

Our people are not protecting government’s property, forgetting that we are all government. Today, I am the commissioner and may leave any time for someone else because it is not a permanent seat.

The money belongs to Akwa Ibom people and only managed today by Emmanuel as the governor. Look at the Airport Road lights, they were all vandalised prompting the governor to call in people to return the solar panel lights to conventional ones which we are supposed to be migrating from. Now even the conventional lights have their own problem with people siphoning the diesel in the generators.

So, you see a generator that ought to work from 6pm to 6am stopping by 1am because of diesel theft. Now when we discovered that they were draining the diesel and tried finding a permanent solution to the challenges they went to one of our generators at Edet Akpan Avenue and burnt it down.

You can still see that notwithstanding all these challenges that government has done a lot to improve on streetlightning but it could have been better. People don’t understand that the extra-money which is being spent to fix these would have been beneficial to them in other areas.

However, we have some residents who have sincerely protected these facilities like the people living along Abak Road to Essien Udim Council area where one of my staff who went to work on a faulty generator was arrested by the youth until he was properly identified.

If others in the state do protect government’s property the way those ones did, all our generators would have been intact. Government is spending so much on streetlightning and I am appealing to the people that the generators on the road belong to them not to me or the governor.

We are here for a time and season to manage the things on their behalf. So, they should protect them, arrest and handover to the police anybody found vandalising the equipment.

The big generator damaged at Edet Akpan Avenue will still be replaced because of the strategic nature of the area. There will be massive improvement on streetlightning soonest.

What are you doing to curb the menace?

We will not disclose our strategy publicly but if anybody is caught, the person would be prosecuted. Not even his paramount ruler can save him from the long arms of the law.

If anybody is caught with Ministry of Works property, you must go to court. No amount of pressure from any quarter will stop government from prosecuting the culprit.

Nobody can hold the entire state to ransom. Stealing is condemnable and even the Bible abhors it. For everybody, there is always a little job here and there to do rather than stealing. There are even menial jobs to earn income rather than stealing.

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