This viewpoint is written to coincide with the launching of the “ 5BN Education Trust Fund of the Owerri Girls’ Secondary School” by the Owerri Catholic Archdiocese. It is written to remember the five students of Owerri Girls secondary School (OGSS 5) who were crushed to death on Friday, March 4, 2005. This is about the third full viewpoint I am writing on this issue. On each occasion, appeals were made to the Governor –in –council to intervene in order to ensure that justice was not only done but seen to be done. But these appeals were never given the benefit of a response from the governments in those days including the present government. In order to carry everybody along, it may be pertinent to do a brief rehas of the genesis of the tragedy which I prefer to label as “The O.G.S.S.5 Tragedy”.OGSS5 is an acronym for Owerri Girls Secondary School, Owerri.The five(5) represents the five students who perished in that tragedy. What actually happened was that on that fateful day, Friday 4th March 2005, the students of Owerri Girls Secondary School (OGSS) had concluded the day’s studies and were heading back to their various families to reunite with their siblings and parents. Unknown to these girls, touts working for the “Imo State Task Force on Obstruction and Illegal Parking” were on the prowl struggling to take over the steering from the driver of a moving trailer truck. It was in this struggle to push the driver out of the moving vehicle that the driver lost control and the trailer rammed into a group of students of OGSS and crushed five of them to death while about ten others sustained serious injuries. The trailer truck involved in this dastardly mishap was bearing the registering NO LAGOS X 11963 MUS.
The setting for this fatality was just at the Control Post by Asumpta Cathedral Owerri/ Port Harcourt Road. The then governor, Chief Achike Udenwa, swiftly arrived the scene and pledged to get to the root of the matter and to ensure that the culprits who had fled the scene were apprehended and prosecuted. Briefing Journalists on one of the press chats,the then Police Commissioner, Mr. Hezekiah Dimka, said that the driver of the trailer truck that crushed the students to death, Mr. Elemchukwu Chibuka, had been arrested while the other six suspects who fled from the scene had been arrested at various sections in the state. The victims were rushed to Federal Medical Center Owerri for medical attention while the dead were taken to the mortuary. The girls who died in the tragedy were Chiamaka Immaculate Nwoha, Chizoma Agoha, Adaobi Mbagwu, Success Chilaka and Ezinne Ugwushe. The matter was eventually charged to court in 2006 with the suit No. HOW/9C/2006 (The State &7 ORS). However, it is very sad to note that the state judiciary has been very indifferent to this suit . All manner of obstacles are continually set up to retard and even kill the case without giving it any hearing. It is my opinion that in any modern society ,more so, in a democratic society, a tort is none the less bad because it is committed in the name of the sovereign. Access to the Temple of Justice must be open to all aggrieved persons irrespective of their stations in life. In such a society, the rule of law is fundamental, and the rule of law means that no person or office, however exalted, is above the law. Again, the twin pillars of natural justice-“Hear the other side” and “No man shall be a judge in his own case”- remain supreme, immutable and inviolable doubt if these lofty tenets of a democratic dispensation have been observed on this OGSS 5 Saga.
In a chat with one of the parents of the slain girls, he wept inconsolably as he narrated the trauma and frustrations of the families of the dead girls in their fruitless search for justice and fair hearing-9 years after the traumatic tragedy of March 5,2005.Speaking to me in a teary eyes, NZE Edmund Mbagwu said :“ As a parent one of the dead students, I felt I owed my daughter a duty of ensuring that justice was done. While the case was in court I was paying whatever money they demanded even though it was a criminal suit between the state government and 7 others. In a normal situation, the government would have funded the whole issue. Since the government did not want to finance the case, I took it up as my own project. That is the type of society we have in Imo State. I don’t know if that is what happens elsewhere. The barrister who was representing the Ministry of Justice in this case has since died while this case was in progress. I made some monetary payments to him in order to facilitate the hearing of the case. The next person to die was the court clerk who also collected some moneys in order to move the case forward. In fact, the lawyer who was the counsel of these criminals also died in the course of this case. In fact, before the Government prosecutor died, the officiating judge had mandated him to contact the Attorney General of the State to inform him of the difficulties arising in the course of hearing the case. The late Barrister … told the judge that he actually contacted the Attorney General and Commissioner for justice but he said that he was not interested in the case. The Presiding Judge was very sad on hearing this news; she wondered why an Attorney General would treat such a case involving innocent students with indifference and disdain. It was at this point that the judge adjourned the case indefinitely. The pertinent question is: “Could this matter have been handled with such levity if the OGSS 5 were children of politicians and wealthy people in the state?” It is very sad that nine(9) years after the crushing to death of these students, this matter has not been given any real hearing, not to talk of being given a fair hearing. Now that the Catholic Archdiocese, the proprietors of the school is launching an education trust fund for O.G.S.S, it is my appeal that this matter should be revisited in order to accord due empathy and recognition to these innocent girls who perished on account of the reckless attitude of those working for Imo State Government
On further investigation I discovered that a short while after the tragedy, the then Commissioner for Education addressed a memo to the state Governor, Chief Achike Udenwa, on how this matter could be amicably resolved in order to appease and ameliorate the grief and trauma on the families of the deceased/wounded students. In a memo dated 27th April, 2007 and addressed to the Principal Secretary to the Executive Governor and signed by Mr. A.E Iheka, the commissioner for Education, said inter alia”…The Ministry acknowledges the fact that no financial compensation will bring back the deceased children. However, the Ministry suggests a modest sum of N250,000(TWO HUNDRED AND FIFTY THOUSAND NAIRA)for each bereaved family which brings it to the total sum of N1250000(One million two hundred and fifty thousand Naira) for the five bereaved families. The Ministry is also of the opinion that the families of the girls who were wounded in the accident could be compensated with the sum of N100,000(One hundred thousand Naira) each which brings it to the total sum of N1000000(One million Naira)
It could be recalled that 10 girls were wounded in the accident. The Ministry believes that these measures will help to assuage the feelings of the affected families, mitigate their sufferings and also restore their confidence in the system, please”.
To be contd.
Open Letter to Gov. Rochas Okorocha
In a meeting of Retired Permanent Secretaries held on December, 2015, it was decided that the payment of only three months of pension to some pensioners by the Imo State Government be acknowledged. However, the arrears left to be paid vary from individual to individual as the minimum arrears yet to be paid is nine months. The government is therefore urged to pay the outstanding arrears immediately.
It is important to note that section 210 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended does not permit withholding of pensions for even one day unless in accordance with a law. Sub-section 2 of the said section stated clearly as follows:
“Any benefit to which a person is entitled in accordance with or under such law as is referred to in Sub-section (1) of this section shall not be withheld or altered to his disadvantage except to such extent as is permissible under any law including the code of Conduct”
Also in section 2 of the Pension Act which is the law under which civil servants are retired it stipulates that “there shall be charged on and paid out of the consolidated Revenue Fund of the (state) such sums of money as may from time to time be granted by (State) Government by way of pension and gratuity”.
It is on account of the above quoted statutes that pensions and gratuities are treated as the first charge on the State Consolidated Revenue Fund. They guarantee these entitlements of retired public servants; and that is why they take precedence over any other government expenditure.
Every Pensioner in Imo state expected the Governor to clear the back log of pension owed to them before the Christmas of 2015; but this did not happen.
Finally, it is unfortunate that several letters written to the Governor and requests for audience with him by the Association did not get any response. Since all these efforts and avenues explored to reach the Governor did not yield any positive fruit, the Association has no option than to address him by an open letter.
It is hoped that he will read this and act expeditiously to save the lives of these senior citizens.
We assure the Governor of our untainted loyalty to the State Government, and still request that he grants audience to the Association so that our collective expertise will be placed at the disposal of his administration for the benefit of Imo people.
Association of Retired Permanent Secretaries,
Owerri, Imo State.
The Need To Establish Fire-fighting Volunteers Corps In Nigeria
Fire out-break is a world-wide phenomenon. No nation, no State, no community is exempted. The resultant loss of life and property cannot therefore be totally eliminated. But the important thing is that they can be reduced. The purpose of this piece Is to invite attention to an aspect of combating fire out-breaks which is yet to be meaningfully undertaken in this country.
We must start by accepting that fire-fighting is too enormous and prevalent a societal challenge to be left only to Government fire services departments. That is why some forward looking countries have considered it a matter of crucial importance to enlist the assistance of their general citizenry to compliment Government effort in this matter. That aspect of assistance to Government fire services departments is in the area of human resources, that is by augmenting available career fire-fighting personnel with a corps of fire-fighting volunteers. This is the crux of this presentation.
A typical example is the United States of America which in spite of employing 350,000 career fire-fighters personnel, has organized and put in place over 800,000 fire-fighting volunteers. This is in realization of the fact that effective fire-fighting even in a fully developed country is not a matter of improved machinery only. The need for comparable human resources is equally critical
In our country Nigeria, major fire outbreaks evoke total reliance on the Federal or State fire service facilities which even at the best of times have difficulty in coping with normal challenges. We need to embrace the new approach demanding attitudinal change to tackle the problem.
The new approach is to accept right away the idea of establishing firefighting volunteers in this country, starting from major cities, towns, and key suburban areas. The virile manpower is there, most of which can be drawn from already existing organized bodies.
For example, personnel of the Nigerian Civil Defence Corps, Vigilante Groups, State Orientation Agencies, Members of Major Market Associations, and others can readily constitute the immediate source for the fire-fighting volunteers.
Fortunately also, there are serving and retired fire service officers who can be easily augmented with firefighting experts from oil companies, commercial and industrial establishments to be the pilot trainers.
Re-emphasizing the obvious is reminding ourselves that losses through fire worldwide are generally incalculable. Occurrences in the United States are mind-bugling. In China a deadly out-break killed more than 112 people in a poultry farm in June 2013.
Coming nearer home, 223 people died in fire incidents in Rivers State in 2011. Lagos State, without adding the most recent ones, lost 39billion naira to fire incidents in 2012. In February 2014, Kara Market in Sokoto was reduced to ashes. In Ose Okwuodu market in Onitsha, goods valued 100million naira went as fire gutted 200. In Umuisiedo market in Anambra State, 11 shops were razed in April 2014. Similar incidents of fire outrages have been occurring in virtually all other States.
Time and space make it difficult for this writer to outline here all the basic requirements like points for the enabling legislation, training modules, programming, and expected sources of support for the Firefighting Volunteers. These will be contributed as the proposal develops positively.
The important thing at this stage is to recognize the need, and for our governments at various levels to accept and facilitate the formation of fire-fighting volunteers properly prepared and motivated to join hands with the professional ones to respond quickly and efficiently whenever a fire occurs.
Now is the moment to start. Join in the crusade for positive reaction on this matter of Nigeria Fire-Fighters Volunteers Corps. It will turn out to be meaningful and exciting for all concerned.
Chief Nwozuzu wrote from Mbari Street, Ikenegbu Layout, Owerri.
Revisiting Electricity Privatization
Privatization! Privatization! Privatization! That was what Nigerians were told will solve the problems of power generation and electricity. Nigerians received this news of electricity privatization with much hope. They breathed a sigh of relief in hopes that “selling NEPA” and putting it into private hands would mean better electricity supply and better life for all Nigerians. Unfortunately, that has not happened and the country is still in darkness.
Electricity is not called power for nothing; it is, indeed, power and it is power that drives much of what we know, today, as development. It is the discovery of electricity in Europe that sparked off industrial revolution and opened up new opportunities for the world. The industrial revolution in Europe is actually a revolution in Electricity / Power generation. Obviously, constant and adequate power supply is an important condition for industrialization, which is primarily what separates the so-called developed countries from the rest of the world.
Electricity is, indeed, power and this is what has eluded Nigeria these many years and stalled every attempt to rise to the challenge of industrialization and development.
When Nigerians thought they were getting close to acquiring “real power” through the privatization of the power sector initiated by the Jonathan administration, and that there will be light at the end of the long tunnel of darkness, what they got instead was shock, real shock! The long-awaited exercise which has gulped billions of Naira has not produced anything except more noise and higher electricity bills, without corresponding service. Even hopes that things would soon be better were dashed by the Jonathan government, on the eve of their departure, when the Minister of Power, Prof. Chinedu Nebo, seemingly threw up his hands and announced that “sabotage” was responsible for the problems in the sector. It should be recalled that the same minister at inauguration told Nigerians that “evil forces” were responsible for the problems and that he had the ability, as an Anglican cleric, to exorcise them, so we can have electricity. Apparently his exorcism failed, suggesting that much more than spiritual abracadabra was needed to make Nigeria work.
The question now is, can Buhari and his government save the nation? Can they successfully wrestle with the so-called “evil forces” or “saboteurs” and rescue Nigeria from chronic and embarrassing darkness, given the mess that has already been made in the privatization process?
The average Nigerian does not want to know who the investors were, who borrowed money from where or acquired NEPA assets. What they want is regular electricity like the rest of the world. They do not even want to know what is involved in the generation and distribution of gas, they leave that to the Federal Government. What they want is power, power to do what can be best done with regular electricity. They are tired of paying bills for electricity they did not even see far more consume.
The issues and challenges may be huge but it is a shame that despite privatization, electricity generation has declined from what it used to be. If sabotage is, indeed, the problem, then the Federal Government should deal with it head-on. That is what Governments do. They should use every possible means to end the sabotage, in the interest of the nation. More so, they should revisit the privatization exercise to ensure that what it delivers is what it promises on paper.
It is obvious that inadequate power supply is at the heart of Nigeria’s industrial morass and much of its under-development. Our “generator economy” cannot sustain any meaningful industrial development. Buhari and his government must do everything possible to dispel the darkness that has enveloped this country for long. Only then can they open the door to real growth and development.
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