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‘Change Begins With Me’ Not To ‘Tame Nigerians—Minister

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By Ebitonye Akpodigha

Minister of Information and Culture, Mr Lai Mohammed, has reacted to a story published by The Economist, claiming that the recently launched ‘Change Begins With Me’ campaign by the Federal Government was to cage Nigerians.

Mr Mohammed said the article published in the paper’s print edition of September 24, 2016, entitled: ‘Nigeria’s war against indiscipline, Behave or be whipped’, was “loaded with innuendos and decidedly pejorative at best, and downright racist at worst.”

The Minister, in his reaction, further said The Economist, in its rush to discredit the ‘Change Begins With Me’ campaign, fell below its own standards by choosing to be economical with the truth.

“Contrary to the newspaper’s self-professed belief in ‘plain language’, the article in question, from the headline to the body, is a master-piece of embellishment or dressed-up language. It is loaded with innuendos and decidedly pejorative at best, and downright racist at worst.

“The Economist wrote that President Buhari wants to ‘tame’ Nigerians with the ‘Change Begins With Me’ campaign. For those who are the owners of the English language, the use of that word is unpardonable, the verb ‘tame’ suggests that Nigerians are some kind of wild animals that must be domesticated, and the usage reveals the mind-set of the authors of the article: a deliberate put down of a whole people under the guise of criticising a government policy.

“The paper, in striving to reach a preconceived conclusion, also insinuated that some 150,000 volunteers are being trained as enforcers of the ‘Change Begins With Me’ campaign. This is not true. “In his speech at the launch of the campaign on September 8, 2016, the President, a globally-acknowledged leader who believes strongly in the rule of law, left no one in doubt that moral suasion, the very antithesis of force, will be employed to achieve attitudinal change among Nigerians.

“In that speech, the President said: ‘I am therefore appealing to all Nigerians to be part of this campaign.’ To the best of our knowledge and, surely the knowledge of those who own the language, the words ‘appeal’ and ‘enforce’ are not synonymous.

“In its rush to discredit the ‘Change Begins With Me’ campaign, The Economist, a widely respected newspaper, fell below its own standards by choosing to be economical with the truth. Enforcement is not part of the strategies to be employed under the campaign, and nowhere has it been said that the ‘moral police’ will be unleashed, as reported by the newspaper.

“In writing the story, the paper did not even deem it necessary to speak with any official of the government, thus breaching one of the codes of journalism, which is fairness. It chose instead to quote a ‘critic’ of Mr President in a perfunctory manner,” Mr Mohammed said.

He went on to point out that, “Again, The Economist made the same mistakes that most critics of the ‘Change Begins With Me’ campaign have made: Rushing to comment on a campaign they do not understand. The Campaign had barely been launched when the critics brought out their big guns to shoot it down. In the process, many of them ended up shooting themselves in the foot. Had they tarried a while to allow the government to roll out the details of the campaign, they might have shown more circumspection than they did in their criticism.

“The campaign, which the President said ‘will help restore our value system and rekindle our nationalistic fervour’, is not designed to shift any responsibility to Nigerians, as many have erroneously said.

“It is an all-inclusive campaign that was designed to start with the leadership. That much was explained by the President when he said the government would ‘drive the campaign’ and that it must be strongly supported by all concerned individually. ‘Change Begins With Me’ was designed to start from the President, then trickle down to the Vice President, Ministers, other top government officials and to all citizens. What is the campaign asking Nigerians to do? Be the change they want to see in the society.

“In other words, if we all want an orderly society, for example, the motorists among us must obey traffic rules, our aggrieved youth must stop destroying public property, patent medicine sellers must stop selling fake drugs, commercial vehicle drivers must stop taking alcoholic beverages before driving etc.

“There is nothing extraordinary or over-burdening in all these. We are the fundamental units of the society. If we are not willing to change our ways for the better, we cannot expect a better society.

“The Economist said that from its earliest days, the paper had ‘looked abroad, both for subjects to write about and for circulation’. That means the paper must be aware that many countries in the world have also embarked on the kind of campaign that Nigeria launched on September 8, 2016.

“In 1979, Singapore launched the National Courtesy Campaign to encourage Singaporeans to be more kind and considerate to one another.

“In 2011, Mozambique launched a campaign to educate students on how to treat foreign tourists as part of preparations for the country’s hosting of the All-Africa Games in that year.

“In 2015, China launched a campaign to ‘name and shame’ any of its own tourists who behave badly, either at home or abroad.

“And this year, the Tokyo Good Manners Project was launched to improve manners in the metropolis of the Japanese capital.

“It is therefore uncharitable for The Economist to hide behind the facade of its own prejudice to denigrate Nigeria’s genuine effort at national re-orientation.”

Dipo Olowookere is a journalist based in Nigeria that has passion for reporting business news stories. At his leisure time, he watches football and supports 3SC of Ibadan. Mr Olowookere can be reached via dipo.olowookere@businesspost.ng

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LIRS Partners Deloitte to Deepen Transparency, Accountability

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By Adedapo Adesanya

The desire to deepen transparency, and accountability and uphold a high standard in the administration of the tax system has made the Lagos State Internal Revenue Service (LIRS) collaborate with a globally recognised accounting and audit firm, Delloite Nigeria.

The partnership between both firms is majorly on the Whistle-Blower Initiative of the tax collecting organisation, according to a statement, which quoted its Executive Chairman, Mr Ayodele Subair.

Last Friday, LIRS launched the initiative to encourage the reporting of illegal actions or financial crimes through the appropriate channel, with a view to correcting the violations and optimally boosting the tax administration in the state.

He said the scheme, an initiative of the state government, will be driven by Delloite Anonymous and the Confidential Whistle-Blowing facility, adding that the whistle-blowing facility will promote the reporting of acts of commission or omission that borders on unethical conduct of the LIRS employees, management, and other stakeholders through the designated channels to the authorities.

“The facility is designed to ensure that concerns about wrongdoings or malpractice observed in the LIRS administrative and operational activities can be raised by any stakeholder without fear of victimisation, subsequent discrimination, disadvantage, or dismissal.

“This facility does not only provide the avenue to report but ensures the credibility of reports through investigation, feedback to the whistle-blower and ensures protection for such whistle-blower from possible reprisals or victimisation for all disclosures made in good faith.

“The whistle-blowing initiative is a two-way affair; even though it is aimed at exposing the LIRS staff involved with misconduct, employees of entities who want to report employers who circumvent tax laws or even members of the public who wants to raise the alarm on persons or entities who willfully commit financial crimes leading to revenue loss for the state can make use of the whistle-blowing platform,” he said.

Mr Subair said Deloitte’s engagement as an independent assessor was to ensure an objective and unbiased review of issues raised.

Also speaking at the event,  the Commissioner for Finance, Mr Rabiu Onaolapo Olowo said the Whistle-Blower Initiative of the LIRS is a pilot scheme of the Lagos State Speak-Up programme aimed at encouraging feedback mechanism from the general public, boosting their confidence and trust in the operational activities of government.

Mr Olowo said it was logical to choose the LIRS as the pilot scheme for the initiative because it is responsible for more than half of the revenue generated by the state and due to its multifaceted interactions with the members of the public, the Lagos government could use the channel to boost its message of openness and transparency.

He said: “In our pursuit to make transparency, accountability, and openness count in governance in the last three and half years, this is one step to help us to wrap up some of the things we have been doing to take government down to the people. We have to appreciate Governor Babajide Sanwoolu for approving this Speak-Up initiative. It will further help us to effectively discharge the policy thrust of this government and we believe it will promote and engender trust and citizen engagement.

“The reason we have chosen the LIRS as the pilot MDA for this scheme is quite obvious because it is the major revenue-generating agency for the state. Today, LIRS accounts for almost 75 per cent of Lagos’s revenue and it engages with the public at multi-faceted levels. Thousands of people across the world see infractions every day but they decided to remain silent because they feel there is nothing they can do to change the situation, but today, we are launching a channel that will encourage and remind people of their civic responsibilities to speak up when they observe unethical behaviour, especially in the process of conducting their businesses with the government.”

Joining the conversation, the Commissioner for Economic Planning and Budget, Mr Samuel Egube, believes citizen participation in governance invariably stimulates public trust which consequently enables the government to make the right investment decision on behalf of the people.

He stated that the channel will further open the Lagos State government to scrutiny and the openness and transparency that the initiative generates will lead to more development.

“We believe this channel will enable citizen participation in governance which will surely stimulate the trust of the people in what we do with their investment. You cannot talk about development in South Korea, Singapore, or Dubai in the United Arab Emirates without working out how that is connected to the United Nations Citizen Participation Index which states the line of relationship between the citizens and government and this is what this channel has addressed. Since we have launched the 30-year development plan this is another attempt at making the people of Lagos State work together with the government to make the plan works,” he said.

On his part, Mr Beulah Adeoye, Partner, Deloitte Nigeria, said the whistle-blowing service provides multilingual, multiple reporting channels including a 24-Hour toll-free hotline (0800TIPOFFS and 0800 847 6337).

Users can also use Delloite’s web portal (https://tip-offs.deloitte.com.ng); Email (tip-offs@deloitte.com.ng) or download the app (Deloitte Tip-offs, and Anonymous App) on the mobile app store.

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Giraffes, Parrots, Seaweed, Others Risk Extinction—UN

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By Adedapo Adesanya

The United Nations (UN) has said that around one million species are facing extinction, according to a report from IPBES, an independent intergovernmental science and policy body supported by the agency.

Among these threatened species are giraffes, parrots, and oak trees, as well as cacti and seaweed.

Seaweed is one of the planet’s great survivors, and relatives of some modern-day seaweed can be traced back some 1.6 billion years. Seaweed plays a vital role in marine ecosystems, providing habitats and food for marine lifeforms, while large varieties – such as kelp – act as underwater nurseries for fish. However, mechanical dredging, rising sea temperatures, and the building of coastal infrastructure are contributing to the decline of the species.

The world’s trees are threatened by various sources, including logging, deforestation for industry and agriculture, firewood for heating and cooking, and climate-related threats such as wildfires.

It has been estimated that 31 per cent of the world’s 430 types of oak are threatened with extinction, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of threatened species and 41 per cent are of “conservation concern”, mainly due to deforestation for agriculture and fuel for cooking.

Giraffes are targeted for their meat, and suffer from the degradation of their habitat due to unsustainable wood harvesting, and increased demand for agricultural land; it’s estimated there are only around 600 West African giraffes left in the wild.

The UN noted that experts warn that the current biodiversity crisis will be exacerbated, with catastrophic results for humanity, unless humans interact with nature in a more sustainable way.

Mrs Susan Gardner, Director of the Ecosystems Division at the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) noted, “The IPBES report makes it abundantly clear that wild species are an indispensable source of food, shelter, and income for hundreds of millions around the world.

“Sustainable use is when biodiversity and ecosystem functioning are maintained while contributing to human well-being. By continuing to use these resources unsustainably, we are not just risking the loss and damage of these species’ populations; we are affecting our own health and well-being and that of the next generation.”

The report also illustrated the importance of indigenous people being able to secure tenure rights over their land, as they have long understood the value of wild species and have learned how to use them sustainably.

Examples of the kinds of transformative changes that are needed to reduce biodiversity loss include equitable distribution of costs and benefits, changes in social values, and effective governance systems.

Currently, governments around the world spend more than $500 billion every year in ways that harm biodiversity to support industries like fossil fuels, agriculture, and fisheries.

Experts say these funds should be repurposed to incentivize regenerative agriculture, sustainable food systems, and nature-positive innovations.

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SERAP, CJID Challenge Imposition of Fines on Media Houses

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By Adedapo Adesanya

The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) on Sunday said it has filed a lawsuit against President Muhammadu Buhari for imposing fines on media houses for allegedly glorifying terrorism.

SERAP also wants the court to “declare arbitrary and illegal the N5 million imposed on Trust TV, Multichoice Nigeria Limited, NTA-Startimes Limited and TelcCom Satellite Limited, over their documentaries on terrorism in the country.”

The suit, which was co-filed by the Centre for Journalism Innovation and Development (CJID), has the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, and the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) joined as defendants.

Business Post had reported how NBC imposed the fines on the media houses including Trust TV on the grounds that their documentaries glorified the activities of bandits and undermined national security, an act that contravenes the provisions of the Nigeria Broadcasting Code.

However, the groups in suit number FHC/L/CS/1486/2022 filed last Friday at the Federal High Court, Lagos, SERAP and CJID are seeking: “an order setting aside the arbitrary and illegal fines of N5 million and any other penal sanction unilaterally imposed by the NBC on these media houses simply for carrying out their constitutional duties.”

“The NBC and Mr Lai Mohammed have not shown that the documentaries by the media houses would impose a specific risk of harm to a legitimate State interest that outweighs the public interest in the information provided by the documentaries,” a statement issued by SERAP Deputy Director, Kolawole Oluwadare, partly read.

“The documentaries by these independent media houses pose no risk to any definite interest in national security or public order.”

The plaintiffs stated that “It is inconsistent and incompatible with the Nigerian Constitution 1999 [as amended] to invoke the grounds of ‘glorifying terrorism and banditry’ as justifications for suppressing access to information of legitimate public interest that does not harm national security.”

It argued that the documentaries by the independent media houses are in the public interest, and punishing the media houses simply for raising public awareness about these issues would have a disproportionate and chilling effect on their work, and on the work of other journalists and Nigerians.

“The action by the NBC and Mr Lai Mohammed is arbitrary, illegal, and unconstitutional, as it is contrary to section 39 of the Nigerian Constitution, and international human rights treaties including the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, which Nigeria has ratified.”

The suit filed on behalf of the plaintiffs by their lawyers Kolawole Oluwadare and Ms Adelanke Aremo read in part: “A fine is a criminal sanction and only the court is empowered by the Constitution to impose it. Fine imposed by regulatory agencies like the NBC without recourse to the courts is unfair, illegal, and unconstitutional.”

“The grounds of ‘glorifying terrorism and banditry’ used as the bases for sanctioning the media houses are entirely contrary to constitutional and international standards on freedom of expression and access to information.”

“Imposing any fine whatsoever without due process of law is arbitrary, as it contravenes the principles of Nemo judex in causa sua which literally means one cannot be a judge in his own cause and audi alteram partem which means no one should be condemned unheard.”

“Article 19 (1) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights establishes the right to freedom of opinion without interference. Article 19(2) establishes Nigeria’s obligations to respect ‘the right to freedom of expression,’ which includes the freedom to seek, receive and impart information, regardless of frontiers.”

“Under article 19(3), restrictions on the right to freedom of expression must be ‘provided by law’, and necessary ‘for respect of the rights or reputations of others’ or ‘for the protection of national security or of public order (ordre public), or of public health and morals’”

“Although article 19(3) recognizes ‘national security’ as a legitimate aim, the Human Rights Council, the body charged with monitoring implementation of the Covenant, has stressed ‘the need to ensure that the invocation of national security is not used unjustifiably or arbitrarily to restrict the right to freedom of opinion and expression.’”

“The grounds for imposing fines on these independent media houses fail to meet the requirements of legality, necessity, and proportionality.”

“The requirement of necessity also implies an assessment of the proportionality of the grounds, with the aim of ensuring that the excuse of ‘glorifying terrorism and banditry’ and ‘national security’ are not used as a pretext to unduly intrude upon the rights to freedom of expression and access to information.”

The plaintiffs are also seeking the following reliefs:

A Declaration that the act of the Defendants imposing a fine of Five Million Naira each on the independent media houses is unlawful, inconsistent with, and amounts to a breach of the principles of legality, necessity, proportionality, and therefore a violation of the rights to freedom of expression, access to information, and media freedom;

A Declaration that the use of the Broadcasting Code by the NBC to impose sanctions on the independent media houses for an alleged infraction without recourse to the court constitutes an infringement on the provisions of sections 6[1] & [6][b] and 36[1] of the Nigerian Constitution 1999 and Articles 1 and 7 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and Article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which Nigeria is a state party;

A Declaration that the provisions of the National Broadcasting Commission Act and the Nigeria Broadcasting Code which are arbitrarily being used by the Defendants to sanction, harass, intimidate and restrict the independent media houses are inconsistent and incompatible with sections 36[1], 39, and 22 of the Nigerian Constitution, Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and are null and void to the extent of their inconsistency and incompatibility;

A Declaration that the Defendants lack the legal power and authority to impose penalty unlawfully and unilaterally, including fines, suspension, withdrawal of license, or any form of punishment whatsoever on the independent media houses for promoting access to diverse opinions and information on issues of public importance;

An Order of Court setting aside of the fine of Five Million Naira imposed by the Defendants, through the 3rd Defendant, each on Trust TV, Multichoice Nigeria Limited, TelCom Satellite Limited (TSTV) and NTA-Startimes Limited for televising the documentary by the British Broadcasting Corporation “BBC Africa Eye” titled “Bandits Warlords of Zamfara”;

An Order of Perpetual Injunction restraining the Defendants or any other authority, persons or group of persons from unlawfully shutting down, imposing fine, suspension, withdrawal of license or doing anything whatsoever to harass and intimidate or impose criminal punishment on the independent media houses or any of Nigeria’s journalists and media houses for promoting access to diverse information on issues of public importance;

And any other order or other order(s) that the Court deems fit to make in the circumstances

No date has been fixed for the hearing of the suit.

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