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The jurisprudence of zoning or rotational governance, by Chimezie Nwodo

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Law, incidentally, does not enjoy a universal acceptance in terms of definitions. There are points of convergence as there are points which presuppose definitional parallelism. The absence of this universality in definition, when juxtaposed with other disciplines known to mankind, clearly underscores the uniqueness of law as a discipline. As such, any definition of law proffered will definitely lay bare the dictates of which school of thought which the proponent of such definition adheres to. This treatise, purposively, is not an attempt to offer lectures on Jurisprudence; as such, the urge to further elucidate on the theories of law will therefore be consciously avoided. Yet, it is imperative to mention that currently, laws which proceed from the people are favoured against laws which proceed from the Leviathan since law ought to be ‘people-oriented’. By so doing, the logic of force is obviated and the force of logic entrenched and enforced.

The attempt to constantly ensure that there is a viable atmosphere for the entrenchment of the force of logic in the affairs of a people or groups of peoples crystallized in democracy (or republicanism) as a system of governance. In this type of political arrangement, ‘people-oriented’ laws are ensured or at least, expected. It was in view of this that the extant constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, its innumerable amendments notwithstanding, had in the past and currently pilloried as ‘not autochthonous’.

It is unarguable; the fact that some norms that guide a particular society, especially those borne out of prolonged usage and acceptance, largely remain unwritten, uncodified and unlegislated upon, thus depriving them of the force of law. Yet, it does not in any manner reduce the conscious obeisance accorded to them by the majority of the populace. For instance, in the South of Nigeria, it is not illegal for someone to have carnal knowledge of the spouse of another, as long as it is lawful. But in the North of Nigeria where the Penal Code is operative, adultery has been legislated into an offence for which one, if proven guilty, can be penalized. Thus, in the South of Nigeria, no one can be penalized for adultery (which is in the realm of moral wrong); it is only expected that one should not engage in such moral wrong.

In these years leading to the 2023 general elections in Nigeria, zoning or rotational governance has once again taken the front burner in national (political) debates. Some persons have even, in a seeming feat of prophesy, suggested that the adherence to zoning or the lack therefore will determine the automatic survival or decimation of the Nigerian Republic – and even if the non-adherence to zoning does not immediately initiate the death of Nigeria, it would at least activate her winding-up proceedings. It is therefore deviously impish, to say the least, to even slightly suggest that a topic which dominates national discourse should be suppressed locally. In my very humble opinion, the foremost concern ought to be, as recently suggested by Nnamdi Nwokedi, to ensure that those who will be fielded from the desired zone be people who would not be overwhelmed by or averse to the art and demand of modern governance as I have also suggested elsewhere.

If we all agree that law is a set of rules or norms which guide a society, either borne of custom, collective habit or long usage, then the idea or practice of ‘zoning or rotational governance’, as unwritten, unlegislated and uncodified as it remains, is by every means, a law. It will be utterly puerile to argue otherwise. We have to bear in mind that the six geo-political zones which Nigeria has been partitioned into is not a product of any written law but an extra-legal policy adopted to make the management of a rather unwieldy polity easier.

Agaptus Nwozor submitted, and rightly so, that “the absence of an authoritative constitutional beacon as a guide for what constitutes Nigerian political zones does not invalidate their usefulness as essential categories.” Asides the whitepaper submitted to the General Sani Abacha administration following what was known as the 1994 constitutional conference, the only official document wherein zoning was adopted is the constitution of the Peoples Democratic Party in its Article 7(2)(c). According to Nwozor (supra), “the PDP constitution not only recognized the imperative of zoning and rotation as irreducible requirements for engendering feelings of inclusiveness and belonging, it also implied an order of rotation in 1999. Therefore, contrary to arguments that there was no order or sequence of rotation, there was indeed an inferable order evident within the restrictions imposed by the PDP in 1999: it closed its doors to northern presidential aspirants and only considered presidential aspirants from the south-east, south-south and south-west. The late Alhaji Abubakar Rimi, a North-Easterner, who defied the zoning and rotation principle to purchase the presidential nomination form, was refunded his nomination fee and was forbidden from contesting. This indicates that the PDP operated its zoning and rotation principle not as a tabula rasa, but as recognizing the realities of northern domination of the presidency since 1960.” What is more? The provisions of section 14 (3) and (4) and such similar provisions found in the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) if given a wider interpretation, will accommodate and support the idea of zoning as they have given the principles of fairness, equity and inclusion a legislative imprimatur.

If one is to draw an analogy from the Rimi instance above, then the argument that zoning never existed in Enugu State as some aspirants had stood for elections in spite of the touted existence of zoning will fall flat on its face. In the circumstance, that argument will be weightless, the deliberate violation of the zoning norm, which in my most humble opinion is borne out of a needless exhibitionism, notwithstanding. As a matter of fact, there will never be an end to people’s choice to stand on the opposite side of the law – and as always, there shall be consequence. In Enugu State, Chief Hyde Onuaguluchi, Chief Gbazuagu Nweke Gbazuagu, Fidel Ayogu, Okey Ezea, etc, were at some time in history, beneficiaries of the consequence of such stiff neck violation of what has become the norm. More than any other (PDP) State in Nigeria, it seems that Enugu State has over the years fine-tuned or perfected the zoning policy. It is worthy of note that in from 2007 till date, no person from Enugu East Senatorial District of the State has contested to be elected the Governor of Enugu State.

Recently too – and thankfully so – following the poor outing of the PDP in the 2015 general elections, a committee was set up by the party for the purpose of ‘self-examination’. That Committee was headed by Distinguished Senator Ike Ekweremmadu. After various sessions of introspection, the Committee held as follows: “Since the last president of PDP extraction came from the southern part of Nigeria, it is recommended that PDP’s presidential candidate in 2019 general election should come from the northern part of the country in accordance with the popular views expressed in the submissions to the committee.” The Ekweremmadu-Committee further held thus: “the zoning principle, which has been the strength of the party, should be strictly adhered to as a matter of urgency at all levels!” The resolution of the Committee is clear and unambiguous and as such, the meaning is not farfetched.

In view of the above, the treaties submitted on this issue by Austin Okolie, with respect, is quite pedestrian, to say the least; and instead of smoothening the path of the distinguished Senator, as intended, has only succeeded in making it rugged and in turn, branding him as opportunistic and desperate. The culture of the PDP, evident in their constitution and most recently, the recommendation of the Ekweremmadu-Committee as also highlighted in the essay of Ezenwa Okenwa, are hard, stubborn facts which, in my very humble view, have placed the distinguished Senator and his camp between a rock and a hard place as far as the issue of zoning is concerned. It would be a herculean task extricating themselves therefrom without bruises – that is, if the attempt does not end in abysmal failure.

In alliance with the submissions of Dr. Dons Eze, I will quickly add that the principle of zoning or rotational governance, as far as Enugu State is concerned, will effortlessly find its roots in Historical and Anthropological Jurisprudence, particularly, the ‘Volksgeist’ theory which emphasizes that “all law originated in custom”. The History of the zoning arrangement in Enugu State has variously been stated and analyzed; particularly the feeling that eventually led to Dr. Okwesilieze Nwodo, a political neophyte at the time, being the pioneer Governor of Enugu State – a choice made in vehement opposition to other known names that could have easily scooped the coveted mantle. The urge to go into that history is herein jettisoned and dismissed as needless.

According to Lloyd, “law is not an abstract set of rules simply imposed on society, but is an integral part of that society, having deep roots in the social and economic habits and attitudes of its past and present members”. Thus, if we are to abide by the dictates of reason, there should be no ruckus about zoning or rotational governance in Enugu State. Pray, tell, which section of our constitution made it mandatory that a President from the North of the country should be paired with a Vice-President from the South- and that a Northern Muslim President ought to have as running mate, a Christian from the South- and vice versa. Pray, tell again, where it was written that the Governor of Enugu State should be paired with a Deputy Governor from a different zone in the State as we have had in the Governor Nnamani administration, Governor Chime administration and currently Governor Ugwuanyi administration. Yet, we have so religiously adhered to that unlegislated norm. And when, for any reason, a departure from that norm is perceived, we go to town, bearing incendiary criticisms. In Enugu State, as a matter of fact, not only is the Deputy Governor produced from another zone other than that of the Governor; the Speaker of the State Legislature is produced from the third zone to complete the tripodal sharing of the three most important political offices in the State. In an immature political structure as the one we presently have, it is never in the interest of the State to create dangerous precedents as those who chant the anti-zoning mantra have undertaken – by going about putting spanners in the works of peaceful co-existence.

If Governor Chimaroke Nnamani is clannish as some people mischievously label him, he would have leveraged on the paraphernalia of State power, the followership he commanded, shunned egalitarianism and ensured that he was succeeded by another Governor from his senatorial district. Yet, he chose His Excellency, Mr. Sullivan Chime who is from a different senatorial district to succeed him. If His Excellency, Mr. Sullivan Chime had succumbed to primordial leanings, as some persons counseled and urged him to, the current administration of His Excellency, Dr. Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi would only exist in limbo. Now, His Excellency, Dr. Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, the amiable Governor of Enugu State, being forthright, in obeisance to the dictates of good reasoning and judgment, towing the path of wisdom, like his predecessors, deemed it expedient to pursue the cause of fairness, equity and unity has given a nod to the continued prevalence of the will of the people which runs through the contemporary history of governance in Enugu State. There is no justification, for statesmen and citizens alike, except those with a penchant for disunity, disharmony and chaos, not to queue behind him, marching towards the direction of probity in which he leads. In a society such as ours, blighted by political immaturity, the pros of rotational governance easily outweighs its cons – and any stance against same will metamorphose into an affront on the volkgeist; the will of the people.

Beyond any thirst for diatribes, no statesman worth that name, especially one currently under the umbrella of the PDP, knowing the position of the party on zoning and arrangements set out thereto, should wantonly truncate, or stand parallel to, the will of the people in that regard.

Chimezie Ogenna Nwodo, Esq., a legal practitioner, writes from Abuja.

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Opinion

Abia repeal of life pensions for ex-govs, deputies: Matters arising (1)

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By Ehichioya Ezomon

Abia State Governor Alex Otti’s the rave of the moment among his peer governors, and most Nigerians, for “infrastructural development,” and particularly for signing into law a Bill passed by the Abia State House of Assembly (ABHA) to repeal life pensions for former governors and deputy governors of the state.
Under the repealed law, former governors and deputies were paid lifetime salaries, and got houses in Abia and Abuja, prompting ex-Head of State and former President Olusegun Obasanjo – on a visit to Dr Otti to commend his novel move – to describe the life pension laws by state governors as “rascality” and “acts of daylight robbery,” and urged other governors to emulate the Otti example.
But did retired Gen. Obasanjo, Ph.D, also send similar entreaty to President Bola Tinubu and the National Assembly (NASS), to repeal pensions and entitlements for former presidents, vice presidents and heads of state? Or only former governors and deputies should curb their appetite for free money and materials after “retirement” from government?
Obasanjo’s advocacy should touch all former elected or appointed executive officeholders, as we shouldn’t have a “special breed” of Nigerians: former military heads of state, presidents, vice presidents, governors and deputy governors, who enjoy government’s freebies, and live in luxuries at the expense of toiling Nigerians in need of the bare essentials of life.
It’s as well to recall that in a valedictory session of the Federal Executive Council at the State House, Abuja, on May 24, 2023, then Vice President Yemi Osinbajo called for an upward review of pensions for former presidents and vice presidents.
Osinbajo, referencing President Muhammadu Buhari’s “personal integrity,” said: “Part of the problem with that is that sometimes, you and I end up getting the very short end of the stick. If you look at the laws today, our retirement benefits, yours (Buhari) will be N350,000 a month by law and mine will be N250,000 per month.
“Those, of course, as you can imagine, are very tiny amounts of money. And I think that one of the things that we must do is to, perhaps, see how we can amend that law so that I will not come to you in Daura (Buhari’s hometown in Katsina State) and ask for some of your bulls to sell in order to survive.”
As Sunday PUNCH findings, first reported on May 28, 2023, indicate, “severance packages for Buhari and Osinbajo, state governors and other political appointees leaving office in 2023 might cost the country about N63.45bn,” adding that, as stipulated by the Revenue Mobilisation and Fiscal Allocation Commission (RMAFC), “President Buhari will get a severance pay of N10.54m, which is 300 per cent of his annual basic salary, while Vice-President Osinbajo will receive N9.09m.”
In a manner of, “What a man can do, a woman can do it, and even better,” then First Lady, Mrs Aisha Buhari, also solicited increased out-of-office benefits for ex-presidents and vice presidents, and for the incorporation of former first ladies “among the beneficiaries.” She spoke on May 25, 2023, in Abuja, at the launch of a book, ‘The Journey of a Military Wife,’ written by Mrs Vickie Irabor, wife of then Chief of Defence Staff, Gen. Lucky Irabor (retd).
Mrs Buhari’s plea: “The Federal Government should consider us as people that need help not as magic makers. And on the privileges given to the former presidents of Nigeria, they should do more. It is still not enough considering what people go through in that house (Presidential Villa). And at the same time, I want them to incorporate women, the former first ladies, among the beneficiaries.”
Many Nigerians have lent voices to the Otti gesture, especially coming at an time of economic strangulation of the average and below-average citizens since the advent of the Tinubu administration, following the withdrawal of subsidy on petrol, and floating the Naira, which’s crashed against major foreign currencies, and sent inflation and the cost of living sky-high.
The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has asked President Tinubu to swiftly obey a court judgment, which orders the Federal Government to recover pensions collected by former governors, and to challenge the legality of states’ pension laws permitting those involved to collect such “outrageous pensions.”
Following a SERAP suit no: FHC/L/CS/1497/2017, Justice Oluremi Oguntoyinbo in a 20-page judgment on November 26, 2019, granted “AN ORDER of mandamus compelling and directing the Attorney General, AG, to urgently identify former governors and their deputies collecting pensions from their states and to seek full recovery of public funds from those involved.”
“Justice Oguntoyinbo also granted ‘AN ORDER of mandamus compelling and directing the AG to urgently institute appropriate legal actions to challenge the legality of states’ laws permitting former governors, serving as senators and ministers to enjoy governors’ emoluments while drawing normal salaries and allowances in their new political offices.'”
Then Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN), had argued that “the States’ laws duly passed cannot be challenged.” But Justice Oguntoyinbo differed, saying, “I do not agree with this line of argument by the Attorney General that he cannot challenge the States’ pension laws for former governors.”
“In my humble view, the AG should be interested in the legality or validity of any law in Nigeria and how such laws affect or will affect Nigerians, being the Chief Law Officer of the Federation,” the judge said, adding, “I have considered SERAP’s arguments that it is concerned about the attendant consequences that are manifesting on the public workers and pensioners of the states who have been refused salaries and pensions running into several months on the excuse of non-availability of state resources to pay them.”
Justice Oguntoyinbo didn’t expressly pronounce on the legality of awarding life pensions to former governors and deputy governors. Perhaps, the plaintiff, SERAP, didn’t include that in its averments and prayers. Which somehow left the judge to push the responsibility to the Attorney General – “being the Chief Law Officer of the Federation” – of finding out the “legality or validity of any law in Nigeria and how such laws affect or will affect Nigerians.”
But the National Industrial Court – as posted on the African Law eJournal on March 25, 2020 – had ruled that pensions for former governors and deputy governors are legal, as nothing in the amended 1999 Constitution of Nigeria precludes or prevents state houses of assembly from enacting laws to give such benefits to former state chief executives.
Michael Dugeri of University of Ottawa, Canada, posted the court’s ruling in the case of Incorporated Trustees of Human Development Initiatives & 39 Others v. Governor of Abia State & 73 Others, which borders on “legal validity of state pensions laws for political office holders in Nigeria.”
“The National Industrial Court, in this case, was invited to determine the question of whether any law, especially by the State Houses of Assembly, that stipulates pension of such public officials already covered by the constitutional mandate of the Revenue Mobilization, Allocation & Fiscal Commission (RMAFC), is ultra vires, null and void. The Court answered in the negative,” the report said.
Yet, as first reported by Vanguard on March 24, SERAP, while noting inaction by the Buhari administration on the Justice Oguntoyinbo judgment, urges President Tinubu, in a March 23 letter by its Deputy Director, Kolawole Oluwadare, “to emulate the good example of Governor Otti by urgently obeying the judgment.”
“Unless the judgment is immediately obeyed, former governors and their deputies, including those now serving as ministers in your administration and members of the National Assembly who receive pensions, would continue to evade justice for their actions,” SERAP says.
“Immediately obeying the judgment would show the sovereignty of the rule of law in Nigeria and go a long way in protecting the integrity of the country’s legal system. Obeying the judgment would also show you (Tinubu) as a defender of the Nigerian Constitution of 1999 (as amended), the rule of law, and public interest within government,” SERAP adds.
SERAP lists former governors, “who continue to collect double emoluments and large severance benefits” from 22 states, including Lagos, Akwa Ibom, Edo, Delta, Ekiti, Kano, Gombe, Yobe, Borno, Bauchi, Abia, Imo, Bayelsa, Oyo, Osun, Kwara, Ondo, Ebonyi, Rivers, Niger, Kogi, and Katsina.
As reported by the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) on March 20, the Abia pensions repeal law isn’t the first, as a few states had moved to abolish the law, but “many states showed nonchalant attitude toward doing so.” Still, the “Abia State Governors and Deputy Governors’ (Repeal) Law 2024,” which took effect immediately on Thursday, March 21, 2024, after Governor Otti signed it, forecloses former governors and deputy governors earning pensions.
But did the Abia repealed pensions law include other perquisites of office, which make the pensions per se to look like pocket money for a boarding-house student, who doesn’t really need extra money, as their parents or guardians have settled accommodation, feeding and provisions for them?
This and more will be explored in part 2 of the series, amid denial by two former governors of Abia State, Sen. Theodore Orji and Dr Okezie Ikpeazu, of receiving pensions since they left office, even as Governor Otti continues to enjoy the limelight of abolishing pensions for former governors and deputy governors of Abia State!

Mr Ezomon, Journalist and Media Consultant, writes from Lagos, Nigeria

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Dickson Tarkighir at 55: A study in doggdness

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Dickson Tarkighir
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By Tunde Olusunle

Many of his kinsmen and friends had a good laugh the day he was inaugurated into the eighth assembly of the House of Representatives, June 2015. Most probably unsure how to pronounce his surname, the Clerk of the “green chambers” as the lower deck of the national parliament is described, opted for a spontaneous improvisation.
Rather than set his tongue against his teeth, the Clerk after correctly pronouncing his first names settled for a simpler *Takiri!* By some coincidence, Tivlumun Nyitse my brother from our university days and cousin to *Takiri* and I watched the live telecast of that ceremony together. We had a very sumptuous laugh and called to congratulate him later that day. We reaffirmed he would have to don his new “baptismal necklace” for times to come and could hear his guffaw in the background. He took it in good spirits and has never made a fuss about it.

Dickson Dominic Tarkighir on that occasion was inaugurated as Member Representing Makurdi/Guma federal constituency of Benue State. I have been privileged over time to have met and developed relationships with sections of the Benue State middle class and political elite. I had encountered the amiable George Akume, (incumbent Secretary to the Government of the Federation), and the departed Ogirri Ajene his deputy, when they both governed the state between 1999 and 2007. Governors, (and their deputies when assigned), regularly had engagements in the State House where I functioned from under the Olusegun Obasanjo/Atiku Abubakar government. As “groundsmen” in Aso Villa, there was always the possibility of meeting dignitaries at that level. They were equally delighted to have you as a “strategic ally.” I’m also a friend of the affable Gabriel Torwua Suswam who succeeded Akume as governor in 2007 and Samuel Ioraer Ortom who took over from Suswam in 2015.

Four friends have also impacted my integration into Benue State where I’ve developed a broad network of friendships and acquaintances. Nyitse, my classmate since my first day in the University of Ilorin who is presently an associate professor of journalism has been most catalytic in this regard. He served as Permanent Secretary in the Benue State civil service for about 10 years and commands quite some respect in the Benue system. Through Tony Olofu, a retired Assistant Inspector General of Police, (AIG) with whom I went through the National Youth Service Corps, (NYSC) in Imo State between 1985 and 1986, I’ve also made friends from that sociocultural space. Shiaondo Aarga, alumnus of the University of Ilorin like Nyitse and I who also retired Permanent Secretary in Benue State, has also aided my acculturation. Shima Ayati was my colleague in the Obasanjo/Atiku government and we remain best of friends today.

I met Dickson Tarkighir through Tivlumun Nyitse when Nyitse was Permanent Secretary, Government House Administration, (PS-GHA) in the Suswam administration, almost two decades ago. Tarkighir was Managing Director of *Triggar and Gibbons Ltd,* an advertising and logistics support service company which was foraging for business opportunities in Benue State. I was a regular face in Benue State those years because I had a consultancy liaison with the government. Tarkighir’s outfit may rightly be described as the precursor of electronic billboards in Benue State. Tarkighir had successfully experimented with the concept in Kaduna and found new grounds in his home state. Nyitse’s office was the engine room of the Suswam administration which processed the governor’s instructions and conveyances to the various ministries, departments and agencies, (MDAs). The personable, outgoing Tarkighir was a regular caller in Government House, Makurdi ensuring alignment between the vision of government and the electronic copies that were displayed for public consumption.

A multitasking entrepreneur, Tarkighir had previously setup *Dasnett Mobile Services Ltd,* with the coming to be of GSM services to Nigeria over 20 years ago. He impacted the entertainment space of Makurdi the Benue State capital by establishing a classy, integrated nightclub and services outfit. Located at the very heart of Makurdi, he christened it *District 4 Lounge.* Its ancillaries included a functional restaurant and a bakery. He developed it into perhaps the most sought-after hangout in the city, a preferred destination for high octane visitors to the state, previously pampered ostensibly, by mouthwatering options in bigger cities. Tarkighir is a notably hands-on executive whose presence and subtle guidance of his staff on reminds of the doting style of Ken Calebs-Olumhense, the iconic proprietor of *Niteshift* those good old days in Lagos.

Governor Gabriel Suswam took special note of Tarkighir’s exertions and innovative strides and engaged him as Senior Special Assistant, (SSA) on Industries, in 2009. He was reappointed in 2011 following Suswam’s reelection. Tarkighir resigned his appointment in 2014 to contest for a seat in the federal parliament. He dared unfamiliar grounds in his quest for the House of Representatives office when he defected from the better established Peoples’ Democratic Party, (PDP), to the fledgling All Progressives Congress, (APC). He triumphed at the polls as part of the countrywide *tsunami* which displaced the PDP from the centre of national politics at the 2015 general elections. It seemed well advised therefore that he took the gamble of defection to and running on the platform of the APC.

Despite being a first timer in the congress, Tarkighir was proactive. First, he was keen on learning the ropes. He was listed to serve in nearly a dozen committees of the parliament which was good for requisite exposure. He was in the appropriation; defence; petroleum (downstream); population; navy; health services; Niger Delta affairs; inter-parliamentary; integration in Africa and the ECOWAS parliament committees in the House. With the hindsight of creeping unemployment in the country, he advised that the 25,000 ghost workers discovered by the federal government at the time, be replaced with genuine job seekers. He imposed upon himself the responsibility of unearthing vacancies in MDAs and assisting his primary constituents wherever he could. He soon donned the alias of “Mr Employment” amongst his constituents as attestation to his efforts.

Tarkighir sponsored several bills and motions. Agonised by the ravaging Fulani incursions into his state for example, he sought the creation of a cattle ranching department in the federal ministry of agriculture. He also sponsored bills on healthcare; internet security; need for special attention for hydroelectric power producing areas, among others. His motions encompassed those requesting support for his flood-devastated constituency; the need for the rehabilitation of the Makurdi-Gboko federal highway and the imperative for the declaration of a state of emergency on deadly attacks by herdsmen across the country. Tarkighir prosecuted a plethora of projects in his constituency for the betterment of the lives of his people.

Solar-powered street lights; electric transformers; boreholes; sewing machines; cassava processing equipment; submersible pumps; bicycles; tricycles and laptops were some of the life-improving accessories he availed his constituents. Medical outreaches were organised for mass enlightenment, even as skills acquisition programmes were also prosecuted. Tarkighir equally facilitated the completion of the *Akaakuma* dam, and the construction of residential quarters for the divisional police officer in *Gbajimba* within his constituency, and a primary school in *Ngban* in *Guma* local government area. Tarkighir didn’t win reelection in 2019. He refocused on his core entrepreneurship concerns always never forgetting the adage about charity beginning at home. He rehabilitated and expanded his *District 4* model through which he rescued a few more youths from the hungry streets. “I’ve been there, Oga Tunde,” he tells me about his experiences growing up, his mien suddenly sobering. “It’s not easy out there.” Dickson Tarkighir won the Makurdi/Guma federal constituency seat at the 2023 polls and has since returned to the 10th Assembly of the House of Representatives.

He was born April 12, 1969 in Makurdi and attended St. Thomas Primary School, *Ibume* between 1976 and 1981. He proceeded to *Nongov* Community Secondary School in *Tse-Kyo,* in *Guma* LGA. He obtained a bachelors degree in business administration from the Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma, Edo State in 2003. He thereafter consolidated his thirst for knowledge in this specialty by earning a masters also in business administration from the Ahmadu Bello University, (ABU), Zaria, in 2008. An indomitable quester for new vistas, he previously cut his career dentition with Mojo Electronics, Umuahia, Abia State, between 1988 and 1991. He also worked in the Kaduna station of the now defunct *Okada* airlines from 1992 to 1995. These were cross-country toughening experiences which have profited his worldview.

Tarkighir chairs the House of Representatives Committee on “Constituency Outreach,” created early in the life of the Fourth Republic in 2003. Among other responsibilities the committee exercises supervisory oversight on the implementation of Zonal Intervention Projects, (ZIP) by members, and addresses the interests of congressmen. In the ranking of House committees in the order of importance, Tarkighir’s brief is adjudged a “Grade A” outfit. He is reportedly the first parliamentarian from the north central geopolitical zone to chair his present brief. Tarkighir speaks impeccable Hausa which privileges him in our still largely parochial ethno-politics. He is happily married and blessed with children.

Tunde Olusunle, PhD, is a Fellow of the Association of Nigerian Authors, (FANA)

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Opinion

Why FG Must Enforce Graphic Health Warnings on all Tobacco Products

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By Paul Ashibel

Tobacco consumption remains a significant global health challenge, with dire consequences for both individual users and society at large.
In combating this epidemic, one policy tool has emerged as a potent force for change: graphic health warnings.
These stark visual reminders of the dangers of tobacco use serve not only to inform but also to deter, making their implementation on tobacco products a critical step in public health initiatives.
Also, graphic health warnings have been shown to have a profound impact on consumer behaviour.
Research indicates that prominently displayed warnings on tobacco packaging not only increase knowledge about the health risks but also motivate smokers to contemplate quitting or reducing their tobacco intake.
By confronting users with the stark reality of the harm they inflict upon themselves, these warnings serve as a powerful catalyst for behaviour change, nudging individuals towards healthier choices and ultimately saving lives.
Tobacco products such as shisha, cigars and smokeless tobacco have often evaded the graphic health warnings requirements.
This enforcement gap not only undermines the effectiveness of public health efforts but also allows tobacco companies to continue marketing their products with impunity, targeting vulnerable populations, including youth and marginalized communities.
Section 20 of the National Tobacco Control Act stipulates that “every tobacco or tobacco products package shall contain in writing and graphics, every health warning signs prescribed in this Act or any other law which shall cover not less than 50% of the total surface area of the package.”
In June 2023, the rotational graphic health warning of a contrast image of healthy lungs (non-smoker’s lungs) and diseased lungs (smoker’s lungs) with the text warning “smoking causes lung cancer was phased out after two years, and at the same time, the Federal Ministry of Health approved an image of mouth cancer caused by tobacco use with the text warning reading “smoking causes mouth cancer”.
The tobacco industry is expected to comply with this provision on all tobacco products, including shisha, cigars and like products, not only on cigarettes where skeletal compliance has been recorded.

The fact is the tobacco industry knows that these health warnings work, and in many cases thwart the effectiveness of the policy by delaying compliance, using poor resolution images that do not meet approved standards, and avoiding its application on all tobacco products.

The warnings are effective because they speak a universal language, transcending barriers of literacy and language.

Through compelling imagery and minimal text, these warnings communicate the grave health risks associated with tobacco use in a manner that is easily understood by individuals across diverse cultures and educational backgrounds.

Whether it’s a photograph depicting diseased lungs or a graphic illustration of the impact on oral health, these visuals leave a lasting impression, fostering greater awareness and understanding of the hazards of tobacco consumption.

There is no justifiable reason to why there are still tobacco products in the Nigerian market not complying with the approved set of pictorial and text warnings.

Between June 2023 and November 2023, the tobacco industry as provided by the Act had 150 days to sell tobacco products with the old warnings alongside those with the new warnings, after which every tobacco product sold without the new warnings and messages would be in violation.

The Act stipulates that non-compliant products are to be seized, and other penalties meted on the sellers.

A survey conducted by the Nigeria Tobacco Control Alliance at the end of the 150-day moratorium period showed that while there was some compliance on cigarette packs, other tobacco products had almost zero compliance to the policy.
Accordingly, all tobacco products currently being sold without the approved health warnings are sold under direct violation of the provisions of the National Tobacco Control Act, and the relevant agencies of government; Standards Organization of Nigeria, Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission, the Nigeria Police Force, National Security and Civil Defence Corps, etc., must step up to their responsibility of enforcing the graphic health warnings policy on all tobacco products as required by law.
Paul Ashibel works with the Nigeria Tobacco Control Alliance and writes from Abuja.

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