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The attack on press freedom in Anambra

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By Chekwube Nzomiwu
The recent destruction of newsstands in major cities in Anambra State is another sad testament to the attack on press freedom by the administration of Governor Charles Soludo. According to media reports, the destruction of the newsstands by agents of the state government, left many hapless newspaper vendors stranded, as they had no other place to go and make their daily livelihood. In addition, the poor vendors incurred huge losses from the damages to their newspapers during the unfortunate incident.
This development calls for concern from all well-meaning Nigerians and members of the international community who are committed to the preservation of press freedom, which is a very important pillar of the rule of law, and by extension, democracy. Without press freedom, the protection of fundamental human rights will be a mirage.
Press freedom offers individuals and organisations, the right to express, publish, and share information, ideas and opinion without fear of government censorship or government interference. It is guaranteed in Section 22 of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria (as amended).
The above-mentioned section says, “The press, radio, television and other agencies of the mass media shall at all times, be free to uphold the fundamental objectives contained in this chapter and uphold the responsibility and accountability of the government to the people.” Section 39 of the same constitution, which recognises the freedom of speech, accords every Nigerian the right to own, establish and operate any medium for the dissemination of information, ideas and opinion.
The three traditional functions of the media-information, education and entertainment-underscore their importance in the society. Besides the traditional functions, the modern media perform other functions, such as mobilisation and surveillance.
Stressing the importance of the press during the parliamentary debate on the opening up of press reporting of the House of Commons of Great Britian in 1787, British political thinker and statesman, Edmund Burke described the press as the Fourth Estate. The term emanated from the European concept of the three estates of the realm-the clergy, the nobility and the commoners.
Fast-forward to today, power in a democracy is divided between the legislature, executive and the judiciary. The position of the media (trained journalists) as the fourth estate has not changed, regardless of the emergence of citizen journalism, brought about by constant technological advancement. The reason is simple. Democracy thrives on the ability of the people to access information.
Hence, it is disturbing that the government of Anambra State under a Governor of academic extraction, has become notorious for denying the people access to information. The Soludo administration commenced its offensive against the media with the closure of the National Light Newspaper, owned by the Anambra State Government. Until Soludo came to power, the newspaper was funded by successive governors, from Chinwoke Mbadinuju to Sen. Dr. Chris Ngige, Mr. Peter Obi and Willie Obiano.
Having rendered the state owned newspaper moribund, several denials notwithstanding, the Soludo government appears hell-bent on making the environment unconducive for privately owned print media organisations, to perform their constitutional role and carry out their lawful businesses in Anambra State. It beats my imagination that the same government that committed itself to press freedom before the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) in Awka, in July last year (2023), could embark on the destruction of newsstands less than a year after.
Quoting Governor Soludo’s Edo State born Chief Press Secretary, Christian Aburime, as reported by Michael Ovat in Nigerian Tribune online on July 25, 2023, “NUJ should not be confrontational. Anambra Government are not at war with NUJ. Soludo is not wicked and reckless as portrayed by the State chapter of NUJ. NUJ and journalists as a whole have been part of this government to make Anambra a livable and prosperous state in Nigeria. Soludo has promised that journalists would not suffer any form of intimidation in their duties under his administration.”
Unless Soludo does not want his words to be taken seriously, he is educated enough to know that the destruction of newsstands amounts to intimidation of journalists. The journalists are not just writing for the fun of it. They are performing the role assigned to them by Section 22 of the Constitution under the “Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy” on one hand, and on the other hand, want their newspapers to be patronised to generate revenue from the media organisations paying their salaries.
Yes, some newspapers are running online editions, but majority of Ndi-Anambra who fall within the middle and low-income classes, cannot afford data to read online at this critical time of economic depression, caused by the removal of fuel subsidy and floating of the Naira, culminating in “very dangerous” galloping inflation, that has eroded incomes. Also, I have not heard of any part of Awka, the Anambra State capital or Onitsha, the commercial city, not to speak of interior parts of the State, that enjoys free access to internet.
As a former Chief Economic Adviser to the President and Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN)/ de facto Minister of National Planning, it is not in doubt that Professor Soludo has travelled far and wide. Let him tell us anywhere in the world where newsstands are not allowed. Heathrow Airport is the biggest airport in the United Kingdom and the fourth busiest in the world. All the four terminals have newsstands. So, what’s the fuss in Anambra State about newsstands?
If anything, Anambra being the “Light of the Nation” should be a model for other states and even the Federal Government to follow when it comes to respecting freedom of the press. Anambra is the home of foremost nationalist, late Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, the great Zik of Africa, Owelle of Onitsha and founder of the West African Pilot, which revolutionised the newspaper industry in the entire West Africa. There were also other titles under his Zik’s Group.
Anambra also produced great journalists like M.C.K Ajuluchukwu, Mokwugo Okoye and Osita Agwuna, may God bless their gentle souls. It was the writings of these great and courageous men and their comrades from other parts of Nigeria that sent the British packing from Nigeria in 1960, to pave the way for Nigeria’s independence. By the way, the last time I checked, history was not being taught in many schools in Anambra state, although Professor Soludo announced the reintroduction of the subject in the school curriculum when he assumed office in 2022.
Finally, I don’t think that Soludo being an academic, needs to be reminded that newsstands are informal lecture halls for educating the people. I therefore passionately call on him to order his agents to halt further destruction of newsstands in the State. In areas where they have been destroyed already, he should quickly direct the erection of new modernised stands for the vendors to restore their means of livelihood. This will convince us that he is not taking Anambra State away from liberal democracy and moving us towards ‘putinisation” a term popularised by former President of European Parliament, Martin Schulz.
Nzomiwu, a development communicator and political scientist, wrote from Awka, Anambra State

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BREAKING: One week after US Congress threat, Court frees, Binance boss

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Exactly one week after the US Congress, moved against Nigeria, Tigran Gambaryan, Head of Financial Crime Compliance of Binance, was let off the hook on Friday, as the Federal Government, dropped charges against him, with a Federal High Court in Abuja, discharging him on the four-count charge of financial crimes.

Sixteen members of the US Congress, had last week, written a letter of protest to President Joe Biden, demanding his intervention into the case of Gambaryan, who holds US citizenship, who they said was in danger of losing his life under terrible conditions in detention in Nigeria, while insisting on his immediate release.

The letter had alleged that Gambaryan, “has been wrongfully detained since late February after granting the Nigerian government’s request for discussions regarding the crypto giant’s business in the country. The government of Nigeria took Mr. Gambaryan hostage and thus needs his government’s help to be freed.”

Raising alarm over the state of his health, the group of lawmakers, which said: “Mr. Gambaryan’s health and well-being are in danger, and we fear for his life. Immediate action is essential to ensure his safety and preserve his life. We must act swiftly before it is too late,” had emphasised “on behalf of Mr. Gambaryan, his family, and concerned Americans, we, the undersigned, urgently request and strongly encourage the transfer of his case to the Office of the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs.”

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Confirming that the government had dropped the charges against the Binance boss, on Friday, Dare Adekanmbi, spokesman to the FIRS, said: “Please note that the charges are being dropped against the second and the third defendants in the matter,” adding that the accused had been confirmed not to be a decision-maker at the cryptocurrency firm.

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He said in a statement: “We are relieved that the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) has served and filed amended charges today, resulting in tax charges against Tigran Gambaryan being dropped. Further illustrating that Tigran is not a decision-maker at Binance and does not need to be held in order for Binance to resolve issues with the Nigerian government. We await the court’s ruling on this, discharging Tigran from this matter completely.”

Elsewhere in court, the Federal High Court sealed the freedom of the accused, whose ordeal began on February 28, with Justice Emeka Nwite, discharging him of all the charges, bothering on tax evasion charge preferred against the company by Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS).

Nwite, in a ruling, discharged and struck out the names of Gambaryan and Nadeem Anjarwalla, who had since fled Nigeria, after escaping from detention, in March, after Moses Ideho, lawyer to the FIRS, filed a fresh amended charge wherein Binance is listed as sole defendant.

Gambaryan, who was in court during Friday’s proceedings, had stepped into the dock, when Tonye Krukrubo, SAN, who appeared for Binance (1st defendant), then informed the court that the cryptocurrency firm had just appointed a representative in Nigeria in the name of Ayodele Omotilewa.

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Ideho, who confirmed that his office received a notice of appointment of a representative by Binance, also told the court that the notice was dated June 13, 2024, appointing Ayodele Omotilewa as its agent in the country, adding that against the development, an amended four-count charge listing Binance Holdings Limited as sole defendant was filed on June 13 and therefore Omotilewa should be docked to take a plea on behalf of the company.

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But Krukrubo in vehement disagreement argued that the company’s representative was yet to be served with the fresh amended charge, said Omotilewa was only appearing in court for the first time, adding: “I think my learner friend should confirm whether he has served him or not first. We are not there yet. The prosecution has not served us with the amended charges. He ought not to enter the dock. He was appointed for specific purposes, to receive processes. He is one of us; a legal practitioner. The proper thing for the prosecution to do is to address the court on the charge he intended to substitute.

Also arguing in the same direction, C.J. Caleb, who appeared for Gambaryan, argued that law on criminal trial of a corporation did not contemplate that a corporation or its representative should be in the dock, while the Administration of Criminal Justice (ACJA) Act, particularly Part 47, was very clear on how a trial should proceed in respect of a corporation.

“The Act also specifies all that is required for a representative in criminal trial in Sections 478 , 481, 482 and 483. So I align with my learner colleague that the representative is enough to be in court but does have to be in the dock,” he said.

Ideho, however disagreed, citing Section 481 of ACJA to back his argument, while adding: “If my lord is to look carefully at the provisions of this section and subsection, a representative cannot just sit in the gallery and watch like a spectator how the trial is conducted. He should be in the dock because this is a criminal charge not civil matter.”

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But, Krukrubo while jumping into the matter, argued that there was no where in the section cited by Ideho where it was said that a company’s representative must be in the dock, adding: Section 481 is written in black and white and it does not say that a representative of a corporation must be in dock. What he is saying is not contemplated by ACJA.”

When Nwite directed Ideho to move the latest application, the FIRS, lawyer, said: “We will like to amend and substitute the charge with the earlier one of May 17, 2024, which was our last amended charge my lord,” which neither Krukrubo, nor Caleb, opposed.

Subsequently, Caleb applied that the court should strike out the two earlier charges that listed his client, Gambaryan, as 2nd defendant, dated March 22 and the amended charge dated May 17, adding that Gambaryan should be discharged from the dock and from the proceedings in its entirety.

Nwite, before adjourning the matter to July 12 for pleas, granted the Federal Government’s request for the substitution of the June 13 amended charge for the May 17 one, set aside the earlier order, directing Gambaryan to be served on behalf of the company, and thereafter discharged him from the dock, while ordering parties to file written addresses as to whether Binance representative should be docked or not.

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NLNG signs agreement for new cooking gas vessel

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Shipping and Marine Services Limited (NSML), a subsidiary of the Nigeria Liquified Natural Gas (NLNG) and Temile Development Company Limited on Tuesday, signed a Vessel Management Agreement (VMA) to provide comprehensive vessel technical management services for the new 23,000 cubic metre LPG vessel, LPG Alfred Temile 10.

At a ceremony in Abuja, NSML’s Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer, Abdulkadir Ahmed, and Temile’s Chief Executive Officer, Alfred Temile, signed the VMA at the event, witnessed by Adegboyega Oyetola, Minister of Marine and Blue Economy, represented by Ekanem Ogegere Celia, Deputy Director, Cabotage and Shipping; Felix Omatsola Ogbe, the Executive Secretary, Nigerian Content Development & Monitoring Board; Andy Odeh, General Manager, External Relations and Sustainable Development; Salihu Jamari, Chief Investment Officer, NNPC Gas & Power Investment Services, among others.

Speaking at the milestone event, NSML’s MD, Ahmed, emphasised that NSML will leverage its expertise and resources to ensure the safe, reliable, and efficient operation of the Alfred Temile 10. He stated that the relationship with Temile Development Company started with the delivery of the first LPG vessel – LPG Alfred Temile – to NLNG in 2020.

“The relationship grew and continued with the construction, supervision and delivery of the 2nd LPG Vessel – Alfred Temile 10 – to Nigeria in March 2024. This momentous occasion represents our shared commitment to excellence, safety, and innovation in the maritime industry. It also represents the tenacious can-do-spirit of Mr Alfred Temile who has grown his LPG vessel fleet within a span of four (4) years. The Alfed Temile 10 is a testament to our dedication to operating a modern, efficient, and environmentally responsible fleet. With its cutting-edge design and technology, this vessel will set a new standard for LPG transportation in Nigeria and the West Africa,” he said.

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Also speaking at the event, Mr. Temile, stressed that the new vessel will play a critical role in gas transportation in Nigeria, enhancing the company’s capacity to deliver high-quality services while adhering to the highest standards of safety and environmental stewardship.

“We are confident that this partnership will set a new benchmark in the industry, and we are excited about the opportunities that lie ahead. As we embark on this new chapter, we also anticipate further strategic investment decisions including a third gas carrier later this year, demonstrating our commitment to deliver sustainable growth and value to our shareholders and Nigeria,” he added.

The keynote speaker, Engr. Felix Ogbe, commended NSML and Temile Development Company for partnering together. He stressed that there was ample human capacity, resources and tenacity in-country to achieve great feats, calling for increased colloboration and cooperation in the maritime industry.

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Presidency to get two new aircraft for Tinubu, Shettima

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President Bola Tinubu and Vice President, Kashim Shettima, would be cruising in brand new aircraft soon, going by the indications coming from the National Assembly, which has announced its approval to allow the acquisition of two of the flying birds for the Presidency.

The House of Representatives, which gave indications on Wednesday, explained that the need to acquire the aircrafts was to ensure maximum security for the President and his deputy, as part of its findings after an audit of the presidential fleet currently serving the two principal officers of the nation.

The House relying on the recommendations of its committee on National Security and Intelligence, said: “The committee is of the strong and informed opinion that considering the fragile structure of the Nigerian federation and recognising the dire consequences of any foreseen or unforeseen mishap that may arise as a result of technical/operational inadequacy of the presidential air fleet, it is in the best interest of the country to procure two additional aircraft as recommended.

“This will also prove to be most cost-efficient in the long run apart from the added advantage of providing a suitable, comfortable and safe carrier befitting of the status and responsibilities of the office of the president and vice-president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”

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The investigation, which was sequel to the inability of the VP to travel with his aircraft in May this year owing to technical faults, was instigated by a motion by Satomi Ahmed, member from Jere Federal Constituency of Borno State, who had raised an alarm over the matter, on the floor of the House, leading to a comprehensive investigation being ordered by the members.

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Despite the heated debates over the matter, with some lawmakers, who were uncomfortable with the suggestion, citing the current poor economic situation in the country, urging the Tinubu and Shettima to use commercial aircrafts of travel by road, Ahmed explained that the proposal remained the best solution at the moment.

The committee had met the commanders of the Presidential fleet, when Shettima, was forced to use a chartered plane from the Netherlands to Saudi Arabia during his recent trip abroad, after initially cancelling a trip to the US to represent Tinubu at the 2024 US-Africa business summit.

Ahmed, who told reporters on Wednesday that the committee would set up a technical committee to interface with the officials at the presidential air fleet and come up with a resolution.

Reports say the six aircraft currently in the Presidential fleet, include one Boeing 737 (19 years old, currently unserviceable and undergoing maintenance); one Gulfstream G550 (13 years old, in good condition), one Gulfstream GV (23 years old, unserviceable); two Falcon 7Xs (one serviceable, one unserviceable); and one Challenger CL605 (12 years old, serviceable).

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The helicopter fleet includes two Agusta 139s (17 and 18 years old, both unserviceable); four Agusta 189s (no information on their condition).

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