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A PIB-Centred Telephone Conversation with Comrade Joseph Evah

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Comrade Joseph Evah

By Jerome-Mario Utomi

To help douse the swift and conflicting reactions, utter confusion and frustration raging in the minds of the Niger Deltans and other stakeholders, occasioned by the inexplicable and unexpected provisions of the recently passed Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB), I sought a telephone conversation with Comrade Joseph Evah, Coordinator, Ijaw Monitoring Group. That was a few days ago.

Essentially, on that day, at that time and in that place, I listened to him with rapt attention as his frankness made it very easy for me to be at ease in his presence.

After ‘watching’ him use analysis and well-crafted arguments to demonstrate among other concerns how the federal government is creating tension in the Niger delta that no human being can control, I concluded that what made the ‘meeting’ crucial was not its focus on the Petroleum Industry Bill, but how well the new awareness will serve the interest of the nation.

Beginning with the 3% allocation to the community, he said; well, as you can see, every normal human being from the Niger delta is against the 3% or 5%. They are in support of the community’s demand of 10%. Yes.

Although, like the Bible says; no one can enter a strong man’s house without first tying him up. Then he can plunder the strong man’s house Mark 3:27. Those who want to frustrate us or make nonsense of our heritage are now sponsoring some of our children who are betrayers to work against our common objective.

We are telling the Federal Government that they are creating tension in the Niger delta that no human being can control. This is the time the Government is talking about Nnamdi Kanu and IPOB. This is the time that the Government is worried about Sunday Igboho of the Yoruba nation. All these agitations are because of injustice. Instead of the Buhari government to do something to build our unity, he is by his actions encouraging the separatist movement. If it is at this time that this kind of bill is coming up, it means the government is also encouraging separatist movement in the Niger Delta

Providing direction to this conversation, I asked; how would you evaluate the role played by the representatives from the south-south region?

And just immediately, he gave this tragic-comic reply; we said they should come and give us a report of what happened, we are waiting for them. We have called their Telephone lines, and all their phones are not working. Yes! All their Telephone lines are not working; I have called some of them and their phones are not working.

Some of them at the National assembly are my cousins. Their Telephones are not working. They are all betrayers and they are hiding. They have put their names as Judas. They are the Judases of Niger Delta. We cannot fold our hands for something that in the next ten years will backfire on us.

In the next ten years from now, anybody can become Nigerian president and do whatever they like, because they believe that the Niger Deltans are the only people that send betrayers to the national assembly. We will not encourage that.

We expected them to walk out of the National Assembly. Other regions have in the past walked out of the national assembly. And there was reconciliation because those people walked out of the national assembly.  What have they been sitting down like Mumu at that place for? What are they benefitting? So, we are angry. They are Mumu. People from other tribes see them as betrayers of their region. In Abuja, they are shameless people moving about.

On 13% derivation, he captures it this way; we are not saying 100% as our expectation but because we are human beings, we will continue to talk to our leaders, let this thing be workable.

In 1999, I made a submission to Chief Olusejun Obsanjo, the former President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, I remember telling him that the 13%derivation should be changed, and should not be given to the Governor because the governors see the 13% as a Christmas party.

Instead, he added, let us apply what Babangida did. Babangida used trade by barter to build Abuja. He started the 13% with Julius Berger because Julius Berger could not be corrupted. Julius Berger built the Aso rock; Julius Berger built 90% of all the facilities. It was Julius Berger that changed Abuja to London.  So, if he gives part of that 13% to Julius Berger Construction Company, you will see that Niger Delta will change to London.

To help make the conversation more rewarding, I (the author) asked this solution-oriented question; how will the region remedy the situation bearing in mind that Mr President is yet to sign the bill into law?

Let’s again listen to Comrade Evah; that is why we are appealing to the president to do the needful so as not to encourage the separatist movement in the Niger Delta. He should send the bill back to the National Assembly for them to revisit it again. Even the Supreme Court reverses itself when the need arises. So why can’t the National Assembly? That is our advice for him

Yet again, the author fired; what do you think is the holistic approach to the Niger Delta challenge?

Hear him; the holistic approach to the Niger delta challenge strictly depends on those who are ruling the country. It depends on their ability to assemble the nation’s first eleven for the purpose of development, as used after the civil war. It means selecting people who are focused and impeccable.

Politics has bastardized everything. No investments for our children, nothing, the universities are not working.   How come Buhari who has been a former military Governor, former Minister and former head of state cannot assemble people who are credible, people who are productive? All we have witnessed is everyday borrowing? What kind of government is that? When they promised to change, we never knew that it was borrowing change.

At this point, the author urged that the conversation moves from an expression of grief to finding a solution. Can’t our electoral system address the present leadership challenge in the country particularly, the issue of the first eleven as mentioned above?

He responded thus; yes, elections can but our electoral process cannot be trusted.  If we want to deal with and correct this situation, we must learn to spend less money on elections. Through that process, you will see the beauty of democracy. The best candidates will emerge.  But will they allow it? It will not be allowed. We have some members of the National Assembly that go there to sleep. Some of them have been part of the National Assembly right from the government of Shehu Shagari. We have to confront these people. That is why we are confronting them.

He continues; I hope that all that we are saying on television and newspaper Mr President sees them unless the press secretaries will be hiding television from him because that is what some press secretaries do. Instead of the president watching news channels, press secretaries will tune to cartoon networks. Instead of them showing him newspapers on national matters, they show him any magazine that contains cartoon networks.

Those who are guarding the president give the president a fake opinion. They are blocking people from coming to tell the truth to his ears. That is the problem. All the press secretaries around the president need to repent. Give him newspapers on national matters to look at the opinion of the people. It will help the president to manage Nigeria.

The above scenario notwithstanding, Comrade Evah noted that leaders from the Niger Delta, particularly members of PANDEF have made a lot of moves. They are still making moves and the Ijaw National Congress leaders too; are still making moves to visit the Aso Rock to talk to the president. The problem is that, will the president be fair enough to do that?

On his thoughts about how the Amnesty programme can bear the targeted result, watch out for part two of this piece.

Jerome-Mario Utomi is the Programme Coordinator (Media and Public Policy), Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), Lagos. He could be reached via jeromeutomi@yahoo.com/08032725374.

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2023: North Central, PDP and the Coming Victory

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PDP anambra election

By Jerome-Mario Chijioke Utomi

History does matter and has shown clearly that ordinary calculation can be upturned by extraordinary personalities. Working under this assumption, it will not be considered an overstatement to conclude that the People Democratic Party (PDP) is set to upturn the present political calculation in Nigeria.

For the sake of clarity, it is important to underline that the above assertion is not anchored on, or a function of the below-average performance of the current federal government which daily manifests in areas such as; ‘continued state of insecurity in the country, the persistent and ceaseless flow of Nigerians blood on a daily basis in many parts of Nigeria, the near-collapse of the security situation in Nigeria, their inability to manage the nation’s economy and develop the oil-rich but socioeconomically backwards Niger Delta’.

Rather, the present intervention is predicated on far-reaching decisions, people–purposed steps and result-oriented actions and inactions recently taken by the party, the PDP.

Essentially, the party aside from demonstrating that it owes its growth and success in the forthcoming 2023 general elections to certain causative factors, Nigerians with discerning minds and development professionals now believe that PDP has finally become reputed for being development-focused and ready to provide good governance.

If it continues on this pedestal, it will definitely lead to victory in the forthcoming 2023 general election and see the Party form government at the centre, they concluded.

To validate that this claim is not misleading, this piece will not only add context to the discourse but spread out with examples of developments.

First and very fundamental is the recently held seamless, rancour-free and credible convention by the party, an exercise that led to the emergence of a former Senate President, Iyorcha Ayu, from Benue State, North Central zone as the party’s National Chairman.

Worthy of commendation is that this success was achieved at a time when other parties in the country, including the ruling party, are still experiencing challenges organizing their convention, Mr Iyorchia Ayu-led National Executive Committee is already hitting the ground running with respect to repositioning the PDP into a credible vehicle for RESCUING and REBUILDING Nigeria which, according to the PDP, has been battered by a bad economy, insecurity, unemployment and other social ills by the incompetent and inept APC administration.

From the above flows the second factor and actor propelling the belief of a PDP likely victory in the forthcoming general election in the country. This particular ‘concern’ has to do with the fresh in-road made by the party in the North Central part of the country. This current ‘onslaught’ is spearheaded by Samuel Ortom, the Governor of Benue state.

Ortom, as we know, is the only PDP Governor in the whole North-Central political zone. That notwithstanding, he has achieved so many feats and firsts for himself, the state and the political zones. He has promoted tirelessly the party not just in his state but the political zone.

Today, through his ceaseless effort, meetings and consultation with PDP stakeholders from the zone with support coming from the new National Chairman, political alignments and realignments across all the states of the zone is now the order of the day.

The North Central has more or less become a PDP zone as those who were initially deceived in 2015 and have remained in darkness appear to have finally seen the light and known the truth. They are now willing to switch to the PDP in readiness for the 2023 general election.

The people of the zone seems to have come to terms that behind every major socioeconomic and security failure in the last seven years in the country, lies a failed decision by the government at the centre, and behind every failed decision lies a government that failed its people- a government that did not carry out its duty properly, and having made the wrong decision or delaying the process.

Beyond the party’s achievement in the North Central, there are in fact other glaring reasons that will work in PDP’s favour.

This piece/intervention may not be alone with the above position. The communiqué issued by the PDP Governors Forum after their recently-held crucial meeting on Monday, January 17, 2022, at the Rivers State Government House, Port Harcourt, not only speaks volumes but supports this position.

The party spoke the mind of Nigerians.

Fundamentally, let us begin to address the content of the PDP Governors’ communiqué by repeating some points already made in the areas of insecurity, economy among others, as it says something new and different.

Beginning with the economy, the party said in part; The Nigerian economy has continued to deteriorate and Nigerians have become numb and accustomed to bad economic news as exemplified by the inconsistent and differential exchange rate regime, high-interest rates, unsustainable unemployment figures and borrowing spree some of which have not been applied to important projects, and other bad economic indicators.

In particular, it is clear that the APC Government is a massive failure when compared with the records of PDP in government. The PDP handed over a $550 billion economy (the largest in Africa), but under APC, Nigeria is the poverty capital of the world.

In 2015, under PDP, the exchange rate was N198 per Dollar, it is now under APC almost N500 to a Dollar; In 2015, the unemployment rate was 7.3% under PDP, it is now 33%, one of the highest in the world under APC; In 2015, the Pump price of Petroleum was N87 per litre, it is now N165 per litre and climbing under APC. Debt servicing now under APC takes over 98% of the Federal budget. The tales of woe are endless.

Undoubtedly, this piece and of course the world is in agreement with the above analysis by the party.

And among all the reasons, deep-seated is the prevailing harsh economic situation in the country, a state of depression, and proliferation of insecurity in the country which today typifies Nigeria as a country in dire need of peace and social cohesion among her various socio-political groups. Over the years, myriads of socio-political contradictions have conspired directly and indirectly to give the unenviable tag of a country in constant search of social harmony, justice, equity, equality, and peace.

On insecurity in the country, the PDP spoke what has been on the minds of Nigerians as they (PDP EXCO) lamented the continued state of insecurity in the country, the persistent and ceaseless flow of Nigerians blood on a daily basis in many parts of Nigeria, the near-collapse of the security situation in Nigeria. The strategies to confront terrorists, kidnappers, bandits and other criminals are still a major problem of the APC administration.

The situation says something more.

To be continued.

Utomi Jerome-Mario is the Programme Coordinator (Media and Public Policy), Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), a Lagos-based Non-Governmental Organization (NGO). He could be reached via Jeromeutomi@yahoo.com/08032725374.

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Important Factors to Consider while Building a Business Intelligence Programme for Your Organisation

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Business Intelligence Programme

By Hyther Nizam

With digital transformation picking up faster than ever before in the business landscape, most organisations today employ a mix of business tools to run their operations across sales, marketing, finance, HR, etc.

More often than not, all of these tools include a reporting module that displays department-specific data records and statements. However, stand-alone data like sales figures, lead numbers, email open rates, and the like, can only tell you so much about customer behaviour.

As businesses continue to go digital and become increasingly data-driven, it’s imperative for them to include a holistic business intelligence (BI) programme in their technology strategy.

A comprehensive BI programme helps combine various data points from multiple sources, perform cross-functional analysis, and bring out intuitive insights like inspirations behind seasonal customer trends, reasons for supply-chain gaps, sales funnel pain points gathered from customer feedback, productivity drops due to employee attrition, future trend predictions, and whatnot. Powerful information like this can enable organisations to adopt a culture of smart, evidence-based decision-making and gain a true competitive edge.

Getting started with a business analytics and intelligence program

Provided that your organisation has the necessary funding and resources to implement a central BI programme, the first natural step is to identify the key business metrics you want to compute and track.

As pointed out here, once you have identified the goals, the next step is defining a data strategy. You need to go about defining your data strategy for key focus areas and then identify and align its data sources with that strategy. From there, it should be relatively simple for the organisation to build a data pipeline and prepare the data for analysis.

Building a robust, unified data pipeline from disparate sources

Prepping the data pipeline is one of the biggest challenges organisations face while implementing their BI programme. Using a mixed toolset offered by different vendors translates to disparate data sets that need to first be integrated, blended, and unified to enable a(n) smoother as well as accurate analysis procedure. In fact, it’s been noted that 80% of analysis time is spent on data preparation as poor quality data often results in untrustworthy business insights.

This is where BI tools that include data preparation provisions come in handy. Be it a custom-built BI program or a bespoke tool, it’s important that your option incorporates data-prepping and blending capabilities, i.e., the ability to connect to different sources (legacy or cloud app) and port data in different formats, clean and remove duplicates, blend the data into a single data warehouse, and improve the overall data quality. This helps ensure robust, error-free data pipelines, in turn assuring reliable business intel.

Updating your privacy practices and official policy

With a BI programme, your obligation as a company to protect customer data becomes greater. Some privacy practices to keep in mind include, (1) masking critical user data, i.e., removing personally identifiable information from all data sets using anonymization methods, before feeding them into the BI data pipeline, (2) collecting explicit consent from the data subjects (customers and employees) to use their anonymized data for BI analysis, (3) ensuring that your data sources are also subject to stringent privacy standards, and finally, (4) updating your organisation’s customer privacy policy straight away to include required details about your BI programme.

Integrating your BI program with internal collaboration platforms

Despite setting up a cost-intensive, comprehensive BI programme, many organisations struggle to drive adoption among their teams and prompt necessary action or decision-making.

One way to solve this is to integrate the BI system widely and deeply across internal communication and collaboration platforms used by employees such as email, chat, intranet forums, project management avenues, etc.

The BI dashboards must allow executives to blend and visually analyse data for cross-functional insights, fashion the insights into easily understandable and interactive reports, decide the next course of action, and subsequently share the information with the teams or individuals concerned in real-time.

Staying future-ready – leave room for innovation

As you implement modern technologies and boost your operational efficiencies, running a future-ready business also includes being constantly on the lookout for innovation, and ensuring that the business systems and processes are elastic enough to absorb the change.

Similarly, your BI programme should have enough legroom to experiment and capitalise on emerging opportunities like AI-powered voice analytics and RPA/business analytics integration.

For instance, current AI trends have made it possible for users to hold conversations with AI assistants to generate automated BI insights with a single click, predict future trends, conduct as well as visualise cognitive and what-if analyses, and much more.

If the events of the past two years have taught us anything, it’s that things can change incredibly quickly and it’s vital to be flexible. Cloud-based BI tools enable business owners to look at real-time data from across departments to make quick decisions. This helps businesses stay nimble during unprecedented times.

Hyther Nizam is the President, MEA, Zoho Corporation

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Information Operations: An Understudied Facet of Russian Influence in Africa

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russia invest south africa

By Miriam Roday and Sarah Daly

In a quiet neighbourhood just outside of Accra, 16 Ghanaians were instructed to create social media accounts, representing themselves as Americans, to post content about divisive political issues, where and when U.S. audiences were most active online.

Starting in June 2019, posts like this tweet trickled into users’ newsfeeds: “How can a #police officer kill an 11-year-old #black boy and go unpunished? Why, are some lives more important than others?”

In the run-up to the 2020 U.S. presidential election, Russian operatives from Ghana and Nigeria crafted fake profiles on social media to stoke tensions and widen cleavages in American society.

Russian trolls posted in Facebook groups about police brutality and racial inequity, implying or claiming that they lived in the United States, and in one case, purported to be the cousin of a Black American who had died in police custody.

These trolling tactics may sound familiar. They were central themes of Moscow’s “sweeping and systematic” campaign to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Under the direction of Russian financier Yevgeny Prigozhin, the Kremlin deployed an army of professional trolls from the now-infamous Internet Research Agency (IRA) based in St. Petersburg to manipulate social media platforms and flood the information space with divisive and inflammatory narratives. During the 2016 election cycle, the effort succeeded in fomenting unrest and conflict.

Russia’s most recent campaign to sow discord within the American electorate, however, marks its first use of Africa as a launchpad for disinformation campaigns aimed at the United States.

Earlier in 2021, the intelligence community confirmed that Russian President Vladimir Putin tried to influence the contest between Joe Biden and Donald Trump, including by “exacerbating sociopolitical divisions in the US” and using troll farms in Ghana and Nigeria to “propagate US-focused narratives.”

A months-long investigation by CNN uncovered details about the pop-up operation in Ghana masquerading as a non-profit that received funding from an “anonymous source” in Europe. Its 16 employees, some unaware they were working with and for Russian operatives, built audiences and coordinated their posts by time and topic to maximize engagement with American users. Facebook corroborated these findings and linked several of the accounts to Prigozhin’s IRA that it had previously removed for “coordinated inauthentic behaviour.”

The Kremlin uses these troll accounts on social media to establish digital networks of influence and advance its agenda in the information space—to subvert public discourse and disseminate anti-Western messaging.

Russia’s interference campaign in 2016 illustrated how damaging these low-cost, low-risk tactics can be, especially against a fractious electorate in a highly polarized media environment. This threat is particularly palpable in Africa, where geopolitical developments and democratic backsliding make many states vulnerable to Russian interference.

And while the Kremlin’s use of Africa as a base for its information operations targeting a U.S. election may be novel, Russia has been running information manipulation campaigns within Africa for years. Moscow’s weaponization of information is an understudied, overlooked component of its strategic influence efforts that presents immediate national security risks to democratic processes and institutions across the continent.

Russia’s Evolving Information Operations 

The conversation surrounding Russian power projection in Africa often focuses on its revitalization of Soviet-era relationships and strategies to strike military, trade, and resource deals across the continent.

Russia’s use of parastatal and opaque private military companies to accomplish its goals has drawn international scrutiny. Nominally private, these entities and individuals operate at the direction of the Kremlin, and often deploy information operations to advance Russia’s broader goals in Africa: building a positive reputation for Russia as a “revitalized great power, international mediator, humanitarian actor, and effective counter-terrorism partner”; and courting current and future African leaders to establish long-term ties that will benefit its strategic interests.

Russian reputation-building campaigns involve circulating propaganda through various media, from social and state-funded to proxy sources in foreign news outlets. The Kremlin infiltrates and controls the information space by buying local media outlets or inserting Russian state-owned television channels RT and Sputnik in-country. Establishing mass media control allows Russia to shape the citizenry’s impressions of current events. The resulting de-democratization of information creates a similar effect to that of Russia’s social media campaigns: the Kremlin can develop and disseminate narratives not immediately identifiable as foreign propaganda and impose them onto a population.

Russia sees sidelining Western influence in Africa as integral to its campaign of upending the international order led by the United States. Using an ad-hoc blend of private military companies, non-governmental organizations, and local agents to carry its messages, Russia can launder narratives through the information ecosystem that paint the West as exploitative interventionist actors, and Moscow as a benevolent partner engaging with Africa on mutually beneficial terms.

Common tactics include criticizing the U.S. and French security assistance efforts and praising Russia’s ability to serve as a mediator and counter-terrorism partner despite limited evidence to support its effectiveness at either.

In addition to propagandizing, Russia uses its “franchised” proxies—local troll farms established by Russian operatives and affiliates—to influence domestic politics in Africa, often as a means to court political elites and secure support for extracting resources and building Russian military bases.

In October 2019, researchers at the Stanford Internet Observatory together with social media analytics firm, Graphika, uncovered Russian-linked information operations aimed at influencing the politics and public discourse of eight African countries.

Their joint report shows how using local trolls to augment mass and social media campaigns pays dividends allowing Russia to deploy effective, low-cost operations to more easily evade detection and obviate the need to conduct the operations within its own borders.

Russia has demonstrated a preference for autocratic or authoritarian-leaning political leaders and regimes that often coexist with a controlled information and media space.

For instance, in 2019, Russia orchestrated information operations in Sudan aimed at delegitimizing protestors in Khartoum and Moscow. Private researchers found that Prigozhin-linked proxies set up a Facebook page disguised as a local news network and frequently re-shared Sputnik articles.

The proxies, who were attempting to preserve President Omar al-Bashir’s leadership against popular opposition, also recommended public messaging themes to the regime and security responses to demonstrations. Though al-Bashir was deposed in April 2019, Russia’s influence campaign in Sudan corresponded to interests in licensing for gold mines and military basing in Port Sudan on the Red Sea. For Russia, relationship building, with later economic and security agreements in mind, supersede loyalty to a particular candidate or political platform.

Moscow has demonstrated this ideological flexibility in its extensive electioneering and propaganda efforts in the Central African Republic, Libya, Madagascar, and Mozambique, among others. The Kremlin seizes upon the information space as a means to gain political allies and threaten U.S. and French interests, even if it only manages to hijack African social and political discourse in the short term or on a particular issue.

To this end, Russian state-backed media outlets offer training courses on social media and the Kremlin sends “spin doctors” or propaganda specialists overseas to African clients. These impermanent and relatively agile information operations are ideal for producing a maximum effect on African states with minimum effort.

Growing Threat to Democracy 

Russia’s efforts to infiltrate the information space in Africa brought to the fore with its most recent attempt to influence the 2020 U.S. election, will likely grow in scale and sophistication. In the past few years, such campaigns have enabled the Kremlin to dictate the terms of the truth and to degrade democratic discourse, which directly undermines U.S. stated interests in the region, namely its commitment to strengthening democratic progress and peace. These campaigns draw Africa into the spotlight as a battlefield where Russia can hone its weaponization of the information space against the United States and its allies.

Just as the Soviet Union did during the Cold War, Russia perceives the African information environment as permissive and less monitored, a place where it can experiment with tactics to influence political processes, fan the flames of social unrest, and deflect culpability. The threat to Africa, however, is acute. Russian information operations could fuel conflict in states prone to election violence, could destabilize governments and economies, and further erode democratic gains across the continent.

The United States and its allies can mitigate this risk by bolstering the African information environment against Russian exploitation. Specifically, the West can double down on its support for African nations and leaders working to strengthen election integrity and public discourse and to preserve independent and diverse media.

Also, establishing the means for greater collaboration between governments, civil society, and tech companies to expose and raise awareness about Russian disinformation can increase societal resilience against it.

Countering Russia’s subversive activities in the information environment will not only stymy its attempt to broker political, economic, and security deals across the continent, but promote the endurance of democratic institutions at home and abroad.

Miriam Roday is a researcher in the Joint Advanced Warfighting Division at the Institute for Defense Analyses with a focus on digital disinformation, Russia, and transatlantic security.

Sarah Daly is an adjunct researcher in the Intelligence Analysis Division at the Institute for Defense Analyses with a focus on geopolitical and security developments in Africa.

The views, opinions, and findings expressed in this paper should not be construed as representing the official position of the Institute for Defense Analyses, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.

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