Nigeria Weekly News Highlights #19
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Nigeria Weekly News Highlights

May, 20

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fRIDAY, May 19 , 2000

Obasanjo, in Edo, links growth to peace

From Mike Osunde and Hendrix Oliomogbe, Benin

NIGERIA will be transformed into an enviable economic nation within five years if it can enjoy peace and stability, according to President Olusegun Obasanjo.

Speaking both at the palace of the Oba of Benin, Omo N'Oba Erediauwa and the Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium in Benin City on his first working visit to Edo State, President Obasanjo said the country needed peace to achieve development.

He said: "If we are patient and peaceful and supportive, and at the rate at which we are going, in another four or five years, this country will be different."

At the stadium, the President admonished thousands of students who had waited patiently for hours to welcome him to be of good behaviour.

According to him: "Unless we have stability and peace at every level, and every place, it will be difficult for us to provide what you need most. You need conditions in your schools which are favourable for learning, so that when you have finished school, you can get a job."

He also said: "But if there is no peace and stability, no foreign investor will come, and if they do not come, there will be limit to the number of jobs that the government can create."

The students responded with a list of what their schools lacked and the need to end the country's epileptic power supply.

Obasanjo said he was also dissatisfied with the performance of the National Electric Power Authority (NEPA) and that that was why he sacked its management about two months ago.

He promised that by the end of next year, the authority's services would have improved tremendously.

The President, accompanied by some members of his cabinet, arrived at the Benin Airport around 10 a.m. to the warm embrace of the Governor Lucky Igbinedion, who had in the welcoming party, three state governors from Delta, Kogi and Cross River, as well as Zamfara State Deputy Governor.

Among other dignitaries at the tarmac to receive the president were former military Vice-President Augustus Aikhomu, former Foreign Minister Tom Ikimi, two-time governor of old Bendel State Brigadier General Samuel Ogbemudia (rtd) and the Group Managing Director of the NNPC, Mr. Jackson Gaius-Obaseki.

Also present was Senator Rowland Owie who led the team from the National and the State Assemblies, as the state rolled out the drums to entertain the president.

At the Oba of Benin's palace, which was the first port of call after the airport ceremonies, President Obasanjo was entertained by an all-women dancing cultural group called Ewuwu Agba.

Thereafter, a Yoruba dancing group came on stage to thrill the distinguished audience.

The Oba took the opportunity of the visit to debunk misgivings that he was against the President and his party, People's Democratic Party (PDP), saying, he could not afford to be partisan because his subjects were in all the political parties.

According to Oba Erediauwa, his primary concern was good governance and an improvement in the economy, so that the ordinary person could have three square meals daily and ensure unity in the state and country.

After thanking the President for appointing Edo sons, particularly Works and Housing Minister Chief Tony Anenih into his cabinet, the Oba also praised President Obasanjo over on-going federal projects in the state.

But he pleaded with the President to revive the housing policy initiated by the military so that workers could have more houses. He also canvassed the restoration of the five per cent revenue for traditional institutions.

In his reply, Obasanjo described Anenih as one of his right hand men, who had been doing a good job for the administration.

He, however, sued for peace and support of the populace to develop the country.

The signs are there and the investors are coming," he said, adding that one of the major responsibilities of the government was to provide a conducive environment for the investors "so that they can also have good returns for their investments as well as create jobs for our teeming millions."

At the stadium, President Obasanjo lauded Igbinedion for the achievements the governor had enumerated in a speech.

Obasanjo said he was particularly pleased with the report of work done so far by the third-tier of government, noting that some of them nationwide had not met the electorate's expectation.

He promised to emulate the government of Edo State in monitoring not just the states but also the local governments to ensure that allocations to them were used for the necessary development projects.

On a tour of military installations in the state capital, President Obasanjo disclosed that about 11 per cent of Nigerian soldiers in the West African Peace keeping Force (ECOMOG) who recently returned from Sierra Leone and Liberia had been infected with the dreaded Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS).

Addressing officers and men of the Supply and Transport (S and T) barracks, Obasanjo reiterated the determination of his administration to restore the lost glory of the military, whose image he admitted, had been severely battered by the long years of military incursion into civil governance.

Stressing that his administration was determined to professionalise the army through adequate training and retraining, he added, however, that the increasing cases of AIDS among military personnel were giving the government a very great concern.

He said: "Information reaching me shows that about 11 per cent of our soldiers who just returned from Sierra Leone and Liberia have tested positive to AIDS. This is giving me a great concern. The country needs the service and expertise of these groups of young soldiers. A healthy military is the pride of the nation."

Saddened by the pathetic state of barracks and military installations all over the country, President Obasanjo promised that he would take decisive measures to ameliorate the plight of soldiers but added that they must bear in mind that their state of well-being depends on the general state of the economy as they cannot live in isolation from the general society.

He emphasised that the country needs peace and stability for a sustainable development and foreign investment and that soldiers must learn to keep the peace. They should not do anything that would tarnish their image in the eyes of the civil populace.

Later, at the commissioning of the newly completed Federal Court of Appeal at suburban Ikpoba Hill, Benin, Obasanjo emphasised the determination of his administration to abide strictly by the rule of law as a strong judiciary is a partner in progress with the executive and legislature.

He told the audience which included the Chief Justice of the Federation, Justice Mohammed Uwais, that a strong judiciary was necessary to check the excesses of the two other arms of government and prevent a retreat into anarchy.

"Without a vibrant judiciary and adherence to the rule of law, there will be a state of anarchy and total breakdown of law and order," he stated.

The President reiterated his love for an independent judiciary which would not be easily manipulated by the other arms of government, stressing that he had implicit confidence in the Nigerian judiciary and that it was this belief that made him hasten the commissioning of the Federal Appeal Court, which had been under construction for over 18 years.

fRIDAY, May 19 , 2000

Clinton signs U.S.-Africa trade bill

By Nkechi Nwosu and Francis Obinor

UNITED States of America's relations with Africa got a boost yesterday as President Bill Clinton signed the much delayed U.S.-Africa Trade Bill which is expected to open new vistas in the cooperation between the African continent and America.

The bill which had dragged in the U.S. Congress for the past five years would benefit 72 nations. Forty-eight are African while 24 are Caribbean and Central American countries.

The bill is also expected to boost Africa's apparel imports from the current $250 million to $923 million by next year and $4.2 billion in 2008.

Clinton in a speech preceding the signing ceremony at the White House, recalled that last year, the U.S. took the lead in debt forgiveness of world's poorest nations, after which other developed countries followed suit. He was, therefore, optimistic that a similar trend will trail the latest gesture.

He highlighted the United States' commitment to the enormous health challenges in Africa with the enormous cost of the Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) in Africa which claims 2,500 lives daily.

Clinton said U.S. could not shy away from playing a major role in checking the challenges which may mar development and threaten democracies of the neighbouring regions and Africa.

Last week, U.S. played a major role in getting the big five manufacturers of AIDS vaccines to slash prices and make the drugs affordable to Africans.

Furthermore, Clinton said he had urged the Congress to monitor speedy development, delivery and purchase of vaccines for AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis and urged "strong bi-partisan level of support" for the programme.

He said the U.S. has nurtured genuine partnership with post cold-war South American and African regions "based on not what we can do for them, or about them but what we can do with them to build their democracy together."

Clinton said yesterday was the happiest day for U.S. as it moved towards a closer relationship with Africa.

"The legislation which I have signed today is about more than development and trade. It is about transforming our relationship with two regions full of good people, trying to build good futures, who are very important to our own future," Clinton said.

Clinton said the bill was overdue and hoped that it would encourage more U.S. investments in Africa, paving way for more jobs and improvement of the economies of the continent.

Dignitaries at the signing ceremony were South Africa's former President Nelson Mandela and the U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman, Allan Greenspan.

Clinton in his speech also lauded the progress of experiments in Africa's fledgling democracies such as Nigeria and South Africa which held hope for AIDS reduction.

But he took a swipe at the "senseless war" between Ethiopia and its Eritrean neighbours, saying "giving your people a future is not cowardice, it is commonsense and courage."

Turning to the situation in Sierra Leone, he said U.S. was working with its "African partners to support the people of Sierra Leone and United Nations forces there."

The American president pledged the provision of "U.S. military transport and other support so that the UN will get the reinforcement it needs."

fRIDAY, May 19 , 2000

Publishers organise book fair

NIGERIAN Book Fair Trust, a non-governmental organisation comprising of Nigerian Publishers Association, the Nigerian Booksellers Association, the Nigerian Book Foundation, National Book Week and Fair which started yesterday will end on Sunday.

According to the Executive Secretary of the Nigerian Publishers Association, Mrs. Ayoyinka Babatunde, who is also the coordinator of the Bookfair Planning Committee, the highlights of the week include the opening ceremony and yearly conference on the theme: "Universal Basic Education - The Place of Books".

Governor of Oyo State, Lam Adesina is to be the chairman while Minister of Education Prof. Tunde Adeniran the special guest of honour. The UBE National Coordinator, Prof. Pai Obanya, would deliver the keynote address.

fRIDAY, May 19 , 2000

Good environment imperative for democracy's survival, says minister

From Martins Oloja and

John-Abba Ogbodo (Abuja)

THE success of the nation's nascent democracy depends, to a large extent, on the country's ability to manage her environment, Environment Minister Dr. Hassan Adamu, has stated.

Adamu said this yesterday in an address at the inaugural ceremony of the National Council on Environment.

The minister noted that with 70 per cent of the nation's population living below the poverty level, further loss of natural resources which largely forms the life-line for the poor would mean increased poverty.

In his address entitled "Positioning Nigeria for Effective Management of its Environment in the Decade," Adamu called on the council to put into action the policy prescriptions being enunciated by the ministry to ensure that all set environmental standards and laws are not violated by operators in the states.

He urged the council to consider very critically the problems of gas flaring and activities of oil companies that constitute environmental hazards.

The minister directed that offices of the ministry be established in all the states including Abuja.

In addition, he said the ministry was also upgrading the Environment Act. According to him, a new law on remediation, compensation and liability for environmental damage is being put together just as laws for biodiversity, conservation and bio-safety are being prepared.

Adamu advocated a joint federal-state partnership to face the emerging challenges.

In his speech, the Minister of State for Federal Capital Territory, Mr. Solomon Ewuga noted that environmental matters had taken a centre stage, therefore steps should be taken to address those things that threaten natural resources.

He traced environmental problems in the country from population explosion to domestic waste management and sewage disposal.

The minister, therefore, called on the Council for look at the issues critically. The vice president was also at the occasion.

Date of Article: 05/18/2000
US Advises Nigeria on Economic Reforms
by  Ademola Idowu

The United States Tuesday urged President Olusegun Obasanjo to maintain his hold on economic reforms, noting that this is the only way it can benefit from parliamentary legislation on Africa.
Speaking in a symposium on the Voice of America (VOA), the US House sub-committee Chairman on Africa, Allan Rossi, specifically noted with keen interest development in Nigeria democratic scene, saying that "Nigeria would be the sole beneficiary of US legislation on Africa this year."
He restated American interest in ensuring that democracy and the rule of law thrives in Nigeria, pointing out that Washington is following with special interest development in Nigeria since May 29 last year. At the symposium tagged "Nigeria's Quest for Democracy, Governments, Sharia and Civil Conflicts," Ross said the US sub-committee on Africa has held several hearings on Nigeria and "we have passed first trade legislation in congress this year which focused on Africa."
He stressed that the symposium which was centred on Nigeria's nascent democracy was not by accident, explaining that the enthronement of democracy in Nigeria remains relevant to the entire African continent.
"This is a function of her potentials based on her rich resources and endowment and more importantly, her wonderful human resources," Ross added.
The US legislator explained that the simple holding of election in Nigeria does not make Nigeria a fully vibrant democracy, stressing that, "Nigeria started by removing military rule and this was necessary first step. The journey will not be without loopholes of various kinds and unforeseen problems."
He said the president Bill Clinton administration stands committed towards helping Nigeria in her quest for full democracy, adding that "America, as you know has designated Nigeria as one of four key countries in transition.
"There is no blueprint for Nigeria democracy than its diverse, dynamic people over 100 million plus" in number.
"Democracy must develop out of the resources of its people. It must be inclusive rather than exclusive. It must show the nation's diversity: regional, cultural and religious.
"Nigeria's democracy must be able to take the shocks which comes with these developments, which is not smooth..."

Date of Article: 05/18/2000
Assembly Passes Motion on Sale of Quarters to Workers
by Abubakar Muhammed, Minna

NIGER State House of Assembly has passed a motion calling on the state government to approve the sales of its quarters to civil servants on owner occupier basis.
The Speaker of the House, Alhaji Alhassan Jikantoro announced this after thorough deliberations on the motion.
He explained that the resolution by the house has became imperative because of the dilapidated condition of the houses and the huge resources required by the state government to renovate them.
According to him, the House Committee on Works and Housing which the motion was referred to, had discovered among other things that the state government would need over N1.2 billion to renovate its 1,145 unit of houses.
While stating that the houses have not been renovated 22 years after they were built, Jikantoro maintained that in view of the present financial position of the state, the committee recommended that it would be economically unwise for the state government to renovate the houses.
He also stated that the house committee recommended to the house that the proceeds from the sale of the houses should be ploughed back to build new houses.
The speaker stated further that has resolved that payment for the houses should be made on monthly installment by way of deduction from salaries of the said beneficiaries.
Similarly, the house has adopted a motion on reclassification of five roads from each of the 25 local government areas of the state to a trunk B roads.
In the resolution passed by the house the speaker disclosed that about 52 roads have been identified by the house, committee on roads to be incorporated into state roads by the state government.