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George Weah: A new dawn in Liberia

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The journey had been tortuous, but former Liberian soccer star, George Tawlon Manneh Oppong Weah, was on Monday, January 22, sworn in as the new president of Liberia. He succeeds President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf as Liberia’s 24th president.
The new president had promised to, among others, tackle the endemic corruption among the key officials of the outgoing administration; help the private sector by removing the unnecessary restraints on business in a country that ranks near the bottom as a place of doing business despite abundant natural resources, and embark on massive training of the ‘lost generation’ – youths who missed out on formal education during the 14-year civil war in Liberia – to get vocational training so as to reintegrate them into the society.

Weah was declared winner of the Liberian run-off election when he defeated then sitting Vice President Joseph Boakai in what could be called Liberia’s first successful democratic transition since 1944.
Weah’s inspiring rags-to-fame story could be summed up thus: moving from the slum of Monrovia to Europe’s most famous football pitches and now to the country’s seat of power as the Number One citizen.
Weah grew up in Clara Town slum, just an hour away from the Executive Mansion, with his grandmother. Yet, it took the former AC Milan, Paris St Germain and Chelsea football clubs’ star 51 years, dogged determination and unwavering focus to clinch Liberia’s presidency.

Born on October 1, 1966, Weah got to the peak of his footballing career in 1995 when he was named FIFA’s World Player of the Year, adding in his kitty the same year the prestigious Ballon d’Or, making him the first and the only African player till date to win these awards. He is also the recipient of the African Footballer of the year in 1989, 1994 and 1995. And in 1996, he was named African Player of the Century.
To achieve these feats, ‘King George’, as he is fondly called by fans and admirers, had to drop out of school in his final year in secondary school to concentrate on football. Though this decision led him to riches and fame, it haunted him much later in life when he decided to contest for his country’s highest position.

Weah has surmounted this obstacle and gone back to school and studied for his school certificate, first and second degrees.
Noted for his acceleration, speed and dribbling ability on the field, in addition to his goal scoring and excellent finishing, the legendary Pele placed the striker in the FIFA 100 list of world’s greatest living players.
After getting to the top of his footballing career, Weah returned to Liberia as a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations in 2003 following the ouster of President Charles Taylor who infamously led the country through the civil war where millions of Liberians were killed.

In 2005, he contested for Liberia’s presidency as a member of the Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) party and lost to Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Never a man to lose focus, ‘King George’ contested again in the 2011 presidential election, but this time as a vice presidential candidate with Winston Tubman on the CDC ticket. Again, Sirleaf was re-elected based on Tubman’s withdrawal from the run-off.
The never-say-die spirit of this former striker brought him up again in 2014 when he ran, this time, for the position of Senator of Montserrado County. He won by defeating his closest opponent and one of the president’s sons, Robert Sirleaf with a landslide 78% of the votes to Sirleaf’s 11%.
2017 saw Weah contesting again against Sirleaf’s Vice President, Boakai. Weah eventually won the Liberian presidency after a run off.
While we congratulate President Weah on his victory, we advise that he should hit the ground running as there is a lot to do. Governance, like football, is teamwork. He needs all hands on deck to take his country to the Promised Land. As a successful goal-getter that he was as a footballer, he must never lose focus or be carried away by the trappings of office. Expectations are high on his government from his people.

His government needs to move fast to create employment opportunities for the youth who form the majority of his teeming supporters. President Weah also needs to grow the economy and improve the deplorable state of public infrastructure in Liberia. He urgently needs to tackle corruption headlong. These are tasks he cannot handle single-handedly. He should look beyond party leanings for technocrats who can act fast to bring the country out of the woods. This must have informed his invitation to his opponent, Boakai, to “put forth his people that he believes are capable of helping to move Liberia forward.”

He sure needs the support of the international community, investors and Liberians in Diaspora to build the country from the ruins of the civil war. He should not surround himself with sycophants, but people who are willing to roll up their sleeves in readiness to work and move the country forward and fast.
Grassroots man, he knows the expectations of Liberians. He should not, however deliver excuses instead of his electoral promises.

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Editorial

Tackling the menace of Lassa fever

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The resurgence of Lassa fever outbreak is an indication of failure in the nation’s healthcare delivery system. The virus has left 31 deaths across 15 states of the federation and 107 laboratory confirmed cases this year.
The virus has infected no fewer than 10 health workers, including doctors and nurses, killing four of them; three in Ebonyi and one in Kogi.
It is unfortunate that 47 years after the discovery of Lassa fever in Lassa community of Borno State, the virus has continued to be a recurring challenge with several lives lost every year, without any deliberate medical breakthrough.

Lassa fever is an acute viral haemorrhagic illness of 21-day duration that occurs in West Africa. The virus is transmitted to humans via contact with food or household items contaminated by rodents.
The disease is spread with direct contact with urine, faeces, saliva or blood of infected rats, or eating food or drinking water contaminated with urine, faeces, saliva or blood of rats.
Given last year’s record of 154 deaths in 24 states, Nigerians are already gripped with fear in the face of the outbreak presently spreading across 15 states, including Edo, Ondo, Ebonyi, Nasarawa, Imo, Kogi, Bauchi, Anambra, Benue, FCT, Abia, Ekiti and Delta.

Between 2015 and 2017, Lassa fever outbreaks have been commonplace in the country with confirmed cases on December 20, 2016, by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) of a healthcare worker who had died of Lassa fever at the Federal Medical Centre, Abeokuta. In 2017 alone, a total of 733 suspected Lassa fever cases with 143 laboratory confirmed cases and 71 deaths were recorded in 97 LGAs and 29 states of the federation.
At the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), two deaths from Lassa fever were recorded with at least 150 suspected cases, mostly healthcare workers who were placed under surveillance.
No doubt, Nigeria is grossly deficient in its response to the Lassa fever menace and other epidemics.

Much as the poor response to Lassa fever pandemic has raised more fears, government’s inability to fund and equip research institutes like the Nigerian Institute of Medical Research (NIMR) with a view to developing vaccines, drugs and initiate preventive measures to tackle the ravaging disease is unacceptable.

While there is the urgent need for a deliberate intervention on the part of government at federal, state and local levels to address this major crisis in the nation’s health sector, government seems to have gone to sleep since the curtailment of the outbreak last year.

As a matter of policy, government should be more responsive to the health needs of the people by increasing budgetary allocation to the health sector and equip medical research institutes for them to be readily at alert to combat any health challenge confronting the nation.

It is when this is done that these institutes and research centres could be appropriately challenged to address outbreak of meningitis, polio, cholera and Lassa fever currently ravaging the country.
Specifically, universities have to be well-funded and equipped in order to assist government during any challenging period.

It is a welcome development that the Senate has ordered its Committee on Health to carry out comprehensive investigations on the health challenge.
To reduce the spread of Lassa fever in the country, NCDC has advised that precautionary measures should be taken, especially health workers, in the handling and treatment of the disease.
The Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole, at the Emergency National Council of Health meeting in Abuja recently, assuaged the fears of Nigerians, when he said that the Federal Government had taken delivery of 25 million doses of vaccines for the prevention and cure of Lassa fever.

The minister also appealed to NIMR and other research institutes to look into the changing dynamics of Lassa fever, with a view to finding out whether the country is dealing with new straining of the virus.
Much as government has woken up from its slumber, Nigerians expect more commitment in the prevention and response to Lassa fever outbreak and other similar public health threats.

As much as we want to applaud the efforts of the government so far, health workers should adopt the National Guidelines for Infection Prevention and Control, as well as utilise the Lassa fever case management guidelines developed and disseminated by the NCDC and WHO.

We implore the Lassa fever Eradication Committee set up by government to map out effective response strategy to live up to its mandate of tackling outbreak and reduce deaths from Lassa fever in the country.
There is urgent need for public enlightenment on the epidemic. Government agencies, like the National Orientation Agency (NOA) and health ministries should sensitise the public on preventive measures, symptoms, causes and other important information about Lassa fever. This is key to tackling the challenge.

Nigerians must know that combating Lassa fever is a collective responsibility, which is supported with best practices and comprehensive public hygiene standards and lifestyle.

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Editorial

Killings: Defence minister, IGP’s gaffes

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Since the beginning of this year, Benue State has been at the centre of controversies in the country. No thanks to the killings of 73 people on January 1, 2018 by suspected herdsmen in three local governments of the state. For a state visited by such orgy of violence in the beginning of the New Year, what the state deserved was pity and a treatment of the case as a national emergency.

 

The governor of Benue State, Dr. Samuel Ortom, who has battled all sorts of problems in the state since assumption of office in 2015 is exasperated by the humanitarian crisis dumped on his laps in the New Year.

 

Today, Nigerians are worried by the massive orgy of violence and bloodletting across the country. Yet, the killings have not stopped, even though not in the magnitude of the January 1st attacks.

 

Bad as it is that citizens of Nigeria were killed like ordinary animals, despite the vaunted security set up of the Federal Government, what baffles us is the posture of security chiefs on the carnage in Benue.

 

From the Defence Minister, Brig.-Gen. Mansur Dan-Ali (rtd) to the Inspector- General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, down to the spokesman for the Nigeria Police, CSP Jimoh Moshood, their comments have at best been saddening. Rather than face the security challenges that have hit the nation, they are more after criminalising Ortom, adducing reasons that seem to justify the killings.

 

Rather than being the victim, Ortom is today the aggressor in the eyes of security agents. Nothing could be more annoying than the careless remarks that seem to justify the mass murder by the very people charged with maintaining the security of the country.

 

Dan-Ali, in whose hands the defence of the country falls, above all security chiefs and just below President Muhammadu Buhari as the Commander- in-Chief of the Armed Forces, obviously needs to apologise for insisting that the killings were because of the enactment of the anti-grazing Bill and blocking of grazing routes in Benue.

 

Speaking after a security meeting chaired by President Buhari at the State House, the minister said: “Look at this issue (killings in Benue and Taraba). What is the remote cause of this herdsmen/ farmers’ crisis? Since the nation’s Independence, we know there used to be a route which the cattle rearers take because they are all over the nation.

 

You go to Bayelsa, Ogun, you will see them. If those routes are blocked, what do you expect will happen?

 

Herdsmen are also Nigerians. “These people are Nigerians. It is just like one going  to block shoreline. Does that make sense to you? These are the remote causes of the crisis. But the immediate cause is the grazing law.” His position seemed to justify that of the IGP, who has insisted that the killings were a result of communal clashes in the state.

 

The IGP was also mandated by Buhari to relocate to Benue in the wake of the killings. He spent one day in Benue, apologised for his initial statement on communal clashes only to head to Nasarawa State and, again, blamed the crisis on communal clashes. Since then, it has been de ja vu.

 

 

One careless statement here, the other there! We note with deep regret that such gaffes by the Defence Minister and the IGP might have given fillip to the insult by the Police spokesperson, Moshood, who referred to a distressed governor as a ‘drowning man’.

 

We believe that such comments not only make the security agents culpable in the crisis, but actually should be enough reasons for them to resign, having failed woefully in their mandates. It is on record that killings have been going on in the Benue Valley and other parts of the country for long in the hands of the herdsmen. Were the killings after promulgation of the grazing law the first?

 

Have Enugu, Delta, Imo and other states where killings took place enacted grazing laws?

 

What of Plateau, Adamawa and Nasarawa states where killings have taken place? Rather than engage in shadow chasing and unnecessary hair splitting over the killings, we demand in unequivocal terms that the defence minister, IGP and other security agencies rise to the challenge and see the killings as a security challenge that requires the highest attention from security agencies.

 

Resorting to blaming the governor over the anti-grazing law is akin to playing the Ostrich, hiding the head when battle calls. We also believe that President Buhari has a major role to play in all these.

 

He visited Nasarawa State last week. Did he visit Benue? No! Whatever he went to do in Nasarawa could have been left for a more pressing issue of Benue to commiserate with the government and people of the state. Rather, Benue has become a state where opposition governors have gone to make political capital over the death of innocent citizens.

 

We hold very strongly that the security chiefs have danced on the graves of innocent people of Benue with their utterances. It does not in any way make them innocent of allegations of culpability.

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Editorial

LMC too soft on unruly Sunshine Stars

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Nigerian football has come of age. With three Africa Cup of Nations trophies through the Super Eagles and two CAF Champions League titles courtesy of Enyimba of Aba, the country’s profile in the round leather received major boost. Between 1994 and 2014, six FIFA World Cup competitions took place in different continents. Nigeria featured in five of the competitions and these shot the country’s name to international limelight.

 

The country’s footballers who move from the domestic league abroad also made impact especially in the late 90s and early 2000s.

 

Some Nigerian administrators rose to become executive members of the Confederation of Africa Football (CAF) and the Federation of International Football Association (FIFA). Dr. Amos Adamu was a former member of CAF and FIFA executive bodies while the President of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF), Amaju Pinnick, is currently an executive member of CAF and head of the organizing committee for the Africa Nations Cup. Many other Nigerians have served in various capacities at continental and global stage while some are still doing so actively.

 

The implication of the little profile is to show that there is no hiding place for anyone in the country to pretend about the country’s pedigree in football. We believe it is crucial for the administrators and all the stakeholders in the game to behave in accordance with the world’s best practices in football. All over the world, football hooliganism is one of the major acts of football fans that FIFA frowns at.

The world body always preach fair play at all levels of the game both on and off the pitch. It is expected that fans of opposing sides should tolerate one another and be mature to accept match results that come their way.

 

The referees are expected to also make the right calls and avoid corruption or any act that could make them shun objectivity in officiating. Last week, it came as a rude shock that referees that handled the Match Day Eight of Nigeria Professional League Encounter in Akure were molested after the game between Sunshine Stars and Kano Pillars which ended in a draw.

 

Damian Akure was the centre referee with Emmanuel Apine and Lewis Gwantana as his assistant referees while Kenneth Onyiro was the fourth official. Gwantana was the most hit among the officials as a sharp object thrown at him gave him a cut on the forehead. The photographs of the injury sustained went viral on social media.

 

 

It took the League Man- agement Company (LMC) one week to arrive at a decision on the matter because all the officials did not indicate in their report that anything happened after the match.

 

We condemn the unruly act of the fans and also frown at the compromising disposition of the officials who failed to tell the truth in their report to help the home team avoid LMC’s hammer. Only on Friday, the LMC slammed a three-point deduction and a fine of N1.5 million on Sunshine Stars Football Club following the attacks and the body also called for the withdrawal of the three match officials who posted injury pictures on social media, but failed to reflect it in their official report.

 

The most annoying aspect of this incident is the fact that Akure is fast becoming a venue for crowd incidents.

 

The LMC on its website said: “In an unprecedented application of the NPFL Framework and Rules, the LMC reviewed a series of past breaches of the rule by the club (Sunshine) dating back to the 2014/2015 season for which varying sanctions, including monetary fines, playing without fans, ban of use of home ground and an order to identify for prosecution, supporters cited for acts of breach of security and or interference with match officials.”

Last year, Sunshine were banished to Ijebu-Ode, fined N1 million and the goalie received 12-match ban following crowd incident.

 

Twice in 2016, Sunshine were sanctioned and ordered to pay N2.5 million in September for an incident after a match with Heartland and in March, the team was asked to pay N5 million following an incident after a match with Shooting Stars. In November 2015, Sunshine were banished to play in Lagos following a crowd incident in the encounter against Lobi Stars.

 

After evaluating several incidents involving this team, we make bold to say the punishment meted at Sunshine by the LMC was too soft. Teams and referees will be in fear anytime they go to Akure for matches and this is very bad for the game and the league.

 

We recommend that the LMC should revisit the case and take NPFL matches away from Akure for not less than one year. The punishment given to the team is not enough to teach lessons since the same unruly fans will still come to the same stadium to watch matches. We also urge the officials of Sunshine and the government of Ondo State to educate fans to always be calm while security should be improved at the stadium to prevent recurrence.

 

Nigerians should be encouraged to take their families to stadia and this can only be done if fans are peaceful.

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