By Josef Omorotionmwan
THERE is preponderant evidence that the President Muhammadu Buhari-led Administration listens to the voices of the people. As an instance, for too long, we consistently advocated the need to put seized useful contrabands to constructive uses instead of destroying them by cremation or outright burial. Subsequent past administrations paid deaf ears to our concern.
There is no better way to show that the current administration has abandoned the tradition of waste than to examine a few recent cases. Early in the present democratic experiment, a large cache of sophisticated arms and ammunitions was recovered from the militants of that era, in Rivers State, when they were beating a retreat from militancy; and the recoveries were set ablaze.
Yet, we kept complaining that our military and police lacked the type of weapons that we were setting ablaze to the extent that at that time, we were virtually surrendering to men of the underworld because of their sophisticated weaponry and superior fire power. Again, on a continuing basis, barges laden with smuggled crude oil were being burnt everywhere in the Niger Delta Region, courtesy of the ever-vigilant Joint Task Force and our Marine Forces. We consistently questioned the rationale behind this mode of destruction, fearing that we might one day get to the absurd point of setting recovered loots ablaze.
The big one came on 12 December 2012, when eleven tankers used for illegal bunkering activities in Edo State were set ablaze by our security agents.
With our uncontrolled mode of disposal, we polluted the water, air and land; we poisoned our people; and degraded the environment.
The destruction of tankers and barges along with their liquid contents resulted in colossal wastes, running sometimes into billions of Naira. Add to this, the cost of destruction – man-hour plus the cost of procuring fire enhancers and the rest. Other hidden costs were in the form of the negative effects on the people and the environment – considerable damage to the soil where the burning took place as well as the depletion of the ozone layer and the concomitant green house effect.
Essentially, we can inflict the intended psychological trauma on the smuggler and at the same time, make money by selling the liquid contents back to the oil companies; while auctioning the tankers and barges to the public. Tanker owners who allow their vehicles to be used for the dirty job of smuggling will forever be mentally tormented each time they see their former vehicles plying our roads.
This was the scenario before the advent of the Buhari Administration. As soon as Buhari came in, there was what looked like an initial baptism on him. It happened at Ebubu in Eleme Local Government Area of Rivers State.
On that fateful Friday, October 30 2015, men of the Nigeria Customs Service dug a pit and buried thousands of cartons of frozen chicken said to have been brought in six containers seized at the Onne Port.
No sooner had the Customs “undertakers” left the “cemetery” than the community people moved in to exhume the products, which they carted home for consumption. In many homes in the area, it was festivities galore as they roasted and fried the chicken, leading to endless partying to which friends and guests from other areas were freely invited.
At a point, many people expressed fear of the possible danger inherent in the consumption of the condemned poultry. Because of the uncontrolled nature of the disposal, a lot of contamination could have entered into the products between the points of seizure and disposal. It is note-worthy that the Archbishop of the Commonwealth Covenant Church, the Most Revered Moses Ketty felt so concerned that he made the apprehension over the people’s health the very subject of his preaching on Sunday.
It is most instructive that the products in question were impounded, not because they were bad; but because they were contrabands. It is believed that the seizure was a direct consequence of the shake-up that took place in the Customs at the particular time. Those who supervised the importation arrangements had left the scene when the goods arrived.
As was usual under the burial regime, this particular product burial could have been symbolic. We still cannot imagine the size of a pit that could accommodate six containers of frozen poultry. It could as well have been a case of burning the contents of one container while those in the remaining five containers found their way back to the black market! That was the era of corruption.
We concluded our write-up on that occasion this way: “We think that with a bit of control, it would have been more humane and economically efficient to make the seized poultry available to the Displaced Camps that now abound everywhere instead of burying or setting them ablaze”.
At that time, little did we know that change was going to begin with the Buhari Administration. Our words fell on fertile grounds; and this was to be the beginning of the end of the era of waste.
Our nation has just witnessed the humane action of the Federal Government distributing tons of seized products – rice, vegetable oil, clothes, shoes, spaghetti and the rest – as relief materials to Internally Displaced People’s, IDPs camps in Adamawa, Yobe, Borno and Edo States as well as the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. These are all items that, in the past, would have long been reduced to ashes!
For this and other numerous areas where the Federal Government has demonstrated that it cares and listens to the people, it deserves a Medal.
Accordingly, this Column confers on the President Muhammadu Buhari-led Administration the Award Of The Listening Government Of Our Time, this Twenty-Fifth Day of May in the Year of our Lord, Two Thousand and Seventeen. Congratulations!
In the next four days, the Nation will be observing the mid-term, the first two years, of the Buhari-led Administration. It is our fervent prayer that the next tw