Thursday, April 26, 2018

Imperative of industrial harmony in Nigeria’s health sector

Nigeria’s health workers are at it again! The Joint Health Sector Union started another round of strike action last Wednesday, April 17. JOHESU, which draws its membership from the National Association of Nigerian Nurses and Midwives, Medical and Health Workers Union, Senior Staff Association of University Teaching Hospitals, Research Institutes and Associated Institutions, Nigeria Union of Allied Health Professionals and Non-academic Staff Union of Educational and Associated Institutes embarked on the industrial action after government failed to honour the agreement reached with the union on September 30, 2017.
JOHESU president, Mr. Josiah Biobelemoye, attributed the strike action to what he described as the “insensitivity and lackadaisical attitude of drivers of the health sector’’. He listed their demands to include upward adjustment of CONHESS Salary Scale, arrears of skipping of CONHESS 10 and employment of additional health professionals. Other demands are implementation of court judgments and upward review of retirement age from 60 to 65 years. Biobelemoye said that the union suspended its last nationwide strike on September 30, 2017 after signing a Memorandum of Terms of Settlement with the Federal Government.
According to him, the MoTS was supposed to be implemented within five weeks after the date of suspension of the strike. He, however, noted that six months after the suspension of the nationwide strike, government had yet to do anything tangible over the pending issues.
According to the JOHESU president, the union had on February 5 given a fresh 21-day ultimatum to enable the government meet the agreement reached. He said the union gave an additional 30 working days effective from March 5, after the expiration of the earlier 21 days’ ultimatum. Biobelemoye, who described the union members as peace lovers, emphasised that the 45 days was given simply because the union had the interest of the masses at heart. He therefore called on well-meaning Nigerians including traditional leaders, elder statesmen, opinion leaders and the general public to prevail on the government to implement the MoTS entered into with JOHESU. Biobelemoye explained that JOHESU members were not clamouring for equality with doctors but equity and justice, advising medical doctors and the Federal Ministry of Health to change their perception of the demands.
Truth be told, there is a frosty relationship between the two major unions in the health sector, that is, Nigerian Medical Association and JOHESU.  The non-doctors in the health sector believe that they are being maltreated and mistreated because they are not medical doctors. I listened to the JOHESU president on Radio Nigeria last week where he accused the Federal Government of giving preferential treatment to the medical doctors.  He said when doctors went on strike last year, government quickly sourced for money to pay them but a similar treatment is not being meted out to members of JOHESU. He recounted that as of September 2017 when JOHESU signed the memorandum with the Federal Government, the Federal Ministry of Health had yet to submit its budget for 2018. Unfortunately, JOHESU’s demand was not captured in the ministry’s 2018 budget. He linked all these to the fact that both the minister of health and minister of state in the Ministry of Health are medical doctors hence their sympathy for their colleagues working in the hospitals.
Whatever may be the issue, I think the Federal Government should stop being irresponsible. The impunity with which government at all levels breached signed agreements with different workers’ unions calls for concern. Why negotiating and signing agreement you don’t intend to honour or implement? For the sake of industrial harmony in the health sector, it is important for government to fairly and equitably treat all the unions in the sector.
As the JOHESU president explained, JOHESU members are not clamouring for equality with doctors but for equity and justice. Doctors alone cannot run health facilities. In fact, I learnt that doctors are just five per cent of medical workers while the remaining 95 per cent belong to JOHESU. The head cannot do without the neck and other parts of the body; hence, the need for fair treatment of all cadres of medical staff.
As things stand, for about a week now, all federal medical facilities have been grounded sequel to the JOHESU strike. The skeletal services being offered by medical doctors are not effective. Are the doctors going to process the patients, run laboratory tests, manage patients and perform the roles and functions of JOHESU members? Hundreds of lives might have been lost in the course of this strike as patients are forcefully discharged to go and seek medical support at the ‘Shylock’ private hospitals whose service charge is very prohibitive. Many patients are going to fall victim of quacks and charlatans who run unregistered and illegal clinics. There will also be those who will end up at the prayer sessions of many religious houses as well as herbal homes.
There is no way Nigeria will attain the goal of “Health for All” in as much as industrial crises still plague and persist in our country’s  health sector. As a panacea to reverse this ugly phenomenon, there is a need for full implementation of the Nigerian National Health Act 2014 which established the Basic Health Care Provision Fund to be financed from the Federal Government Annual Grant of not less than one per cent of its Consolidated Revenue Fund; grants by international donor partners as well as funds from any other sources.  It is the non-implementation of this Act in the past four years that is fuelling the crisis in the health sector.
Government at all levels should prioritise provisioning of qualitative and affordable health care services and ensure that health sector professionals are given their due rewards as at when due. The Federal Government should expedite action to resolve the ongoing JOHESU strike by simply honouring the 2017 agreement it signed with the labour union. Trying to cow the striking workers with the invocation of “No work, No Pay” service rule or hiring contract staff to do JOHESU members work are not the appropriate ways to address this labour crisis.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

2019 elections and use of state and administrative resources

“We campaigned on three major issues – to secure the country, revive the economy and fight corruption. We have elections next year, politicians are already pre-occupied with the polls, but I am bothered more about security and the economy.”
–President Muhammadu Buhari during his meeting with Britain’s Prime Minister, Theresa May, on April 16, 2018.
As we count down to the next general election scheduled for February and March 2019, apprehension has gripped Nigerians.  Many compatriots are worried about how governance is often sacrificed on the altar of politicking. As many aspirants declare their ambition to contest positions in the forthcoming elections, the norm is that governance will take the back seat as those currently occupying elective offices jostle with those seeking to wrest their positions from them. It is a known fact that election in many countries of the world, especially in Nigeria, is a war. I quite appreciate the above statesmanlike quote from President Buhari not to sacrifice governance for politics ahead of 2019. I do hope he keeps to that unforced promise.
I urge current elected office holders to put the country first and ensure that while pursuing their legitimate political ambition of seeking reelection, they do not lose sight of the need to deliver on their previous campaign promises of bettering the lives of their constituents. It was reported that the attendance by senators and House of Representatives members at plenary sessions has dropped significantly as many of them are found more in their constituency perfecting plans to ensure victory in their reelection bid.
Again, as politicians are engulfed in preparations for their elections, I write to remind them on the need to be careful not to abuse the state and administrative resources at their disposal. SARs are part of resources used in political finance and in many instances are wittingly and inadvertently misused or abused in order to gain undue political advantage. Among the SARs often abused include money; publicly (government)owned media, security agencies, government vehicles and airplanes, government personnel, as well as administrative powers.
Section 100 (2) of the Electoral Act 2010, as amended states that  state apparatus including the media shall not be employed to the advantage or disadvantage of any political party or candidate at any election. (3)  Media time shall be allotted equally among the political parties or candidates at similar hours of the day.  (4)  At any public electronic media, equal airtime shall be allotted to all political parties and candidates during prime time at similar hours each day, subject to the payment of appropriate fees. (5) At any public print media, equal coverage and conspicuity shall be allowed to all political parties. (6)  Any public media that contravenes sub-sections (3) and (4) of this section shall be guilty of an offence and on conviction is liable to a maximum fine of N500,000 in the first instance and to a maximum fine of N1,000,000 for subsequent conviction. These provisions of the law have often been observed in breach.
Many public media brazenly disregard this law as they are often instructed by their appointing authorities not to allow opposition parties and candidates have access to the state-owned media. Experience shows that many opposition parties and candidates have to rely heavily on private media to air their campaign adverts and news coverage. Sometimes, the state-owned media is used to demonise opposition parties and candidates as only negative and fake news on them are aired. The National Broadcasting Commission as the regulatory agency for television and radio stations in Nigeria has to rein in this act of impunity and mete out appropriate sanctions against erring stations.
This country has witnessed a lot of abuses of state and administrative resources especially in this Fourth Republic. There was an instance where a former President declared a two-day public holiday ostensibly to allow people travel home to vote during elections but really to prevent the Supreme Court from giving judgment on a matter about the candidacy of his Vice President who has been unlawfully excluded from a presidential contest. The Supreme Court judgment asking the Independent National Electoral Commission to include the name of the Vice President, who was contesting on the platform of another party than the one that brought him to power, on the ballot came barely five days to the presidential election. In January this year, a governor in a South-West state declared a two-day public holiday ahead of the state’s Local Government election ostensibly to allow people prepare for the election but really to stall the continuation of the court proceedings challenging the legality of holding the LG polls.
There was also the instance of an airport in Northern Nigeria being shut down for an emergency repair on the order of former aviation minister but really the order was targeted at frustrating opposition political party members planning to fly into the state for their party convention. Oftentimes, opposition political parties and candidates are denied permits to use publicly-owned facilities such as stadium or park for their campaign rallies. It is also in the nature of Nigerian politicians especially the incumbents to use government vehicles, personnel, and other facilities for their campaigns. Even when they use the media or other government facilities for their campaigns,   they either do not pay at all or pay a token that is not commensurate with the standard rate charged for the use of such facilities.
There have also been instances of abuse of coercive powers of the state by incumbents during the electioneering period. Security agencies are used to arrest, molest and hound opposition party members. The same way they use the anti-corruption agencies of government to arrest and carry out trial by media of opposition party members nursing political ambitions or known to be sponsoring some aspirants for elections. It gets really bad when laws are also made to target opposition political party members. Worst still is the use of state financial resources to bankroll the re-election of the incumbent or sponsor a successor. All these are acts of impunity that often rear their ugly heads during the electioneering period.
It is condemnable because it creates an uneven political field for contestants. It’s like one person riding a bicycle and another in a well-serviced car running a race, the outcome is definitely predictable. It is important for incumbent elective office holders to take heed and eschew abuse of state and administrative resources at their disposal. They are meant to be used for public good and not for undue political advantage.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Nigeria and the challenges of Universal Health Coverage

 “Health is a human right. No one should get sick and die just because they are poor, or because they cannot access the health services they need”
 –Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General
Health is wealth, so says the golden adage. A healthy nation is said to be a wealthy nation. The World Health Day is celebrated every year on April 7, under the sponsorship of the World Health Organisation. Last Saturday marked the 70th anniversary of the World Health Day. The theme of this year’s World Health Day is “Universal health coverage: Everyone, everywhere”, and the slogan for the 2018 campaign is “Health for All”. Incidentally, every December 12 is celebrated as the Universal Health Coverage Day under the auspices of the WHO.
According to the WHO, data shows that despite some progress, too many people are still missing out on health coverage. According to the international organisation,  “At least, half of the world’s people are currently unable to obtain essential health services. Almost 100 million people are being pushed into extreme poverty, forced to survive on just $1.90 or less a day, because they have to pay for health services out of their own pockets;  over 800 million people (almost 12 per cent of the world’s population) spend at least 10 per cent of their household budgets on health expenses for themselves, a sick child or other family member. They incur the so-called ‘catastrophic expenditures.’  Incurring catastrophic expenditures for health care is a global problem.”
Universal Health Coverage refers to a system that provides healthcare and financial protection to all citizens of a particular country. It is organised around providing a specified package of benefits to all members of a society with the end goal of providing financial risk protection, improved access to health services, and improved health outcomes.
In Nigeria, like other countries of the world, health insurance is the fastest way to achieve Universal Health Coverage. Unfortunately, the National Health Insurance Scheme established in 2005 has achieved only about three per cent coverage. According to a ThisDay report of December 21, 2017, Ghana which started its health insurance scheme the same year with Nigeria in 2005 has grown its scheme to more than 50 per cent. Statistics have shown that the level of out-of-pocket expenditure as a share of total health expenditure in Nigeria is still placed at 72 per cent, the highest on the continent and one of the highest in the world. Even poorer countries in sub-Saharan Africa like Kenya (26 per cent), Gabon (22 per cent), among others are doing better. Research also shows that countries afflicted with conflict and post-conflict like South Sudan (54 per cent) and Sierra Leone (61 per cent) are still better than Nigeria.
In order to speed up the attainment of Universal Health Coverage, the Nigerian National Council on Health a few years ago gave approval for states to create their own health insurance schemes through legislation. Many states have taken advantage of this opportunity. States that have set up health insurance schemes include Lagos, Oyo, Ekiti, Delta, Bayelsa, Cross River, Akwa Ibom, Kwara, Abia, Adamawa, Kano, Anambra, Sokoto, and Enugu. How much successes have these 14 states achieved in terms of health coverage in their states? Can this health coverage be extended to local government employees as well as made mandatory for the organised private sector workers?   To further smoothen the pace for a universal coverage for Nigerians and increase the percentage of Nigerians in the scheme, stakeholders, including the Chairman, Senate Committee on Health, Senator Lanre Tejuoso, are pushing for policy change to make the scheme mandatory for Nigerians, just as it applies in most countries where it has worked.
In the words of Tejuoso, “We are proposing that if every Nigerian, whether an ‘okada’ rider, barber, tomato seller, or recharge card seller, contributes N200 monthly towards their health insurance, the pool will significantly change healthcare for good in his country. For instance, assuming 100 million Nigerians pay N200 monthly, that will amount to N20 billion, and with this, poor Nigerians needing healthcare access will get it without them paying money from their pocket for it. Once you are a contributor to this pool, you will have access to any of our health facilities. This will significantly settle some basic healthcare issues in the country”.
Well said! However, it will be good to quicken the passage of the amendment to the Act setting up the National Health Insurance Scheme to make it mandatory for all Nigerians to contribute a token to enrol on the health insurance scheme. Desirable as it is, it may not work perfectly as many poor citizens may be unable to pay the premium. Government should therefore make health services free for certain categories of vulnerable Nigerians such as senior citizens who are 60 years and above, pregnant women and poor people who are suffering from terminal sicknesses and ailments.
Some experts have also called on government to subsidise community-based health insurance. My worry with the issue of subsidy is its propensity to being abused. Experience from subsidy regime in the oil and agricultural sector where government decided to subsidise petroleum products such as petrol and kerosene and fertiliser does not inspire confidence.
The entire health insurance scheme needs to be overhauled for better service delivery. Many enrolees currently under the scheme are complaining of inefficient and ineffective services by the Health Maintenance Organisations. There is also the bigger issue of funding of health sector. Some years ago, all African countries met, and agreed in Abuja to give at least 15 per cent of their entire national budget to health. Unfortunately, Nigeria’s health budget is hovering between five and nine per cent annually.
About two weeks ago, American billionaire, Bill Gates, was in Nigeria and called for greater investment in education, health and human capital development. In a recent exclusive interview on the Cable News Network, Gates was quoted as saying, “The current quality and quantity of investment in this young generation in health and education just isn’t good enough.”
The philanthropist had at a special session of the National Economic Council on Thursday, March 22, 2018 said Nigeria would do better with strong investments in health and education, rather than concentrate on physical infrastructure to the detriment of human capital development. He noted that   “Nigeria is one of the most dangerous places in the world to give birth, with the fourth worst maternal mortality rate in the world ahead of only Sierra Leone, Central African Republic and Chad. One in three Nigerian children is chronically malnourished.” If we intend to change the heartrending narrative and ensure the Universal Health Coverage, government at all levels in Nigeria needs to earmark more resources to the ailing health sector of the country. A stitch in time saves nine!”

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

‘Saint’ APC, ‘Sinner’ PDP and 2019 elections

 “The first lesson I learnt in my military training is to never reinforce failure. What we have now is failure. It will be foolhardy for Nigerians to reinforce failure by re-electing an ineffective and incompetent government in 2019”
 –Ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo on Monday, April 2, 2018
Nigerian politicians are at it again! They have started to heat up the polity ahead of the 2019 general elections scheduled for the first quarter of next year. On Monday, March 26, 2018, the Peoples Democratic Party apologised to Nigerians for mistakes the party made while in power. The National Chairman of the party, Uche Secondus, pleaded for forgiveness at a public national discourse on “Contemporary Governance in Nigeria.” Secondus apologised to Nigerians for “impunity, the imposition of candidates and other mistakes made in the past.” He assured Nigerians that under his watch, there would be no imposition of candidates or any form of impunity in the party’s activities.
The All Progressives Congress made a heavy weather of the apology. The party asked Nigerians not to accept the PDP’s apology and urged the party to make restitution for “looting” the treasury during its 16-year hold on power at the centre. The ruling party further asked all the PDP members who have allegedly defrauded the country to return the stolen wealth as a sign of true atonement for their sins. Meanwhile, the Federal Government had hitherto prevaricated on the execution of the judgment delivered in July last year by Hon Justice Hadiza Rabiu Shagari following a Freedom of Information suit number: FHC/CS/964/2016 brought by SERAP ordering the government to publish the list of Nigerian treasury looters. The judge had asked the Federal Government to tell Nigerians the circumstances under which funds were recovered, as well as the exact amount of funds recovered from each public official.
The APC saw a golden opportunity to hit at the PDP when the latter made public apology for its sins. It quickly rushed to the press last Friday with names of six PDP chiefs currently being tried in court for alleged corruption. This was followed up with a list of 23 others on Sunday, April 1, 2018. A list referred to by cynics as an April Fool’s list. Of course, many Nigerians were not impressed with the lists for several reasons. I had expected the Federal Government to publish names of those whose cases had been fully tried and suspects convicted by courts of competent jurisdiction, and not people still being tried in court. If at all the party wanted to grandstand by publishing the lists, they should have been appropriately labeled lists of suspected treasury looters! Under the Nigerian law, an accused is deemed innocent until proved guilty.
Another point of departure I have with the APC on the published lists of alleged looters is that they contained only names of the main opposition PDP members. No member of the APC was included in the lists. Are Nigerians to assume that all the APC members are saints and all the PDP members are sinners? Incidentally, a former aide to President Goodluck Jonathan, Reno Omokri, had in a perceived retaliatory move published names of 10 APC members whom he classified as being corrupt. Like those published by Alhaji Lai Muhammed for the APC, Reno’s list is also of those who have been dragged to court by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission on corruption allegations or those under indictment by panels of inquiry.  As of the time of writing this, neither the Federal Government nor the APC has yet to react to Reno’s list. It will be interesting to read what will be the defence of the APC. After all, as the old saying goes, what is sauce for the goose should be sauce for the gander.
Truth be told, the Federal Government and the APC are on a wild goose chase by trying to demonise the main opposition party. To my own mind, every political party, the entire 68 of them we currently have on the register of the Independent National Electoral Commission, is made up of the good, the bad and the ugly people. Just like the church named All Saints Church, it is a fallacy of overgeneralisation. Most elected representatives of the people irrespective of the political party that sponsored them for election are responsible for the nation’s woes. A pot should not be calling the kettle black. The APC should remember the wise saying that a person who lives in a glass house should not throw stones. In my own estimation, there is nothing the PDP did in its 16 years in government at the centre that the incumbent APC government has not manifested in its three years in power.
A case in point is the illegal and unconstitutional extension of the tenure of the current National Working Committee of the APC. It will be recalled that on February 27, the APC extended the tenure of the National Working Committee of the party for 12 months. Citing Article 13 of the APC constitution, which empowers the NEC to carry out the functions of the convention, the party said NEC decided to extend the tenure of the current NWC members and other executive committees at various levels for another 12 months, starting from June 30, 2018.This action has led to a lot of controversies with the Governor of Zamfara State, Abdulaziz Yari, and the Lagos APC distancing themselves from the position of the NEC. Similarly, an aggrieved member from Imo State, Mr. Okere Nnamdi, dragged the APC to  the Federal High Court in Abuja asking it to  sack the Chief John Odigie-Oyegun-led National Working Committee of the party.
Okere said the APC NEC erred in law and acted illegally, unconstitutionally in view of the combined reading of Section 223 (1) (a) and (2) (a) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended), Section 85 (3) of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended) and Article 13 (3) (ii) of the Constitution of the All Progressives Congress 2014 (as amended)” Exactly a month after the initial decision, President Muhammadu Buhari publicly ordered his party to rescind the decision to extend the tenure of the NWC. According to the President,  after due consultations, it became imperative to overturn the resolution to extend the NWC’s tenure as it contravened Article 17 sub-section 1 of the party constitution which recommends a four-year tenure for all elected officials.  The President further stated that the tenure extension contravened the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria which requires elected officials to present themselves for re-election after four years. He, therefore, stressed the need for members to avoid constitutional infractions which could make the party vulnerable to litigations.
The APC has yet to rescind that controversial decision. Rather, the party decided to set up a committee to look into the issue. Nigerians should also not forget how the party leadership tried in vain to impose principal officers including Senate President and Speaker of House of Representatives on the National Assembly in June 2015. Will a party like this make bold to say it has strong internal democracy and observes constitutionalism? Why is the party afraid of holding congresses and convention as and when due? I am of the opinion that if the party intends to conduct a transparent and credible congresses and convention, it should have nothing to fear. It should remember the saying that he who must come to equity must come with clean hands. Heating up the polity in order to gain undue political advantage ahead of 2019 polls is unwarranted and antithetical to democratic ethos.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Halting the wheel of corruption in Nigeria

The issue of corruption in Nigeria is a lingering one. The phenomenon is as old as humanity itself. The most intriguing thing is that most people claim to know much about it and condemn every other person but themselves for the scourge. The issue has become like that of the proverbial lost knife that no one is willing to admit being its last user. From time immemorial, government claims to be waging war against the ugly spectacle but rather than it abating, like cancer, it is metastasising.
Just last week Monday, March 19, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo blew the whistle on the last administration. All the newspapers reported the VP criticising  the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan, alleging that while it spent a paltry N14bn on agriculture in 2014, N15bn on transport, and only N153bn on infrastructure in three years, it shared N150bn two weeks to the 2015 elections. Incredible! He was reported to have said this at the 7th Presidential Quarterly Business Forum for private sector stakeholders at the State House Conference Centre, Abuja.  Osinbajo said the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari has been unable to deal decisively with corruption because it is endemic and has fought back on all fronts.
The same day the Vice President was making the above startling revelations, I was privileged to attend a town hall meeting organised by the Yar’Adua Centre, Abuja on the issue of corruption. The forum was tagged, “A Spanner in the Wheel of Corruption Town hall Meeting”. It featured a stage play entitled, “The Wheel”, a 30-year-old play written by the great Nigerian environmentalist, playwright and poet, Ken Saro-Wiwa. The play performed by Arojah Royal Theatre was a searing political portrayal of corruption in the Nigerian society.  It illustrated how corruption has permeated and percolated all strata of the society. Indeed, if the truth must be told, most Nigerians are complicit in this corruption chain. As the play depicted, most people within their spheres of influence indulge in corrupt practices. The civil servants, the market men and women, artisans, journalists, academics, contractors, politicians and people from all walks of life are grossly involved and that is why the ageless monster has refused to die.
The Special Guest of Honour at the town hall was the pioneer chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu. He commended the different anti-corruption agencies for their efforts at fighting the scourge but charged them all to do more. He claimed that the EFCC alone has about 3,800 cases of corruption in court in a society where the corrupt use their entire arsenal to fight against the staff of the agencies. Ribadu claimed Nigeria was doing better than all other African countries in the fight against corruption and that while many other countries had no single anti-corruption agency, Nigeria had many including the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission and the Code of Conduct Bureau. He claimed that only Nigeria had succeeded in recovering looted funds in Africa. He finally charged all and sundry to stand against corruption.
There was also a panel discussion involving representatives of the government, citizens, media, and the judiciary. The Executive Secretary of Nigerian Extractive Transparency Initiative, Waziri Adio, represented the government agency on the panel; Prof. Umaru Pate of the Bayero Univerity, Kano represented the citizens, Rosemary Othowo, Senior Programme Officer, International Centre for Investigative Reporting represented the media while Aare Isiaka Abiola Olagunju, Secretary General of Nigerian Bar Association represented the judiciary.  Patrick Okigbo of the Nextier Ltd moderated the session. The panel discussion as well as the questions and comments segment that followed it were eye-opening. Clinical diagnoses of the pull and push factors of corruption were highlighted. Efforts of government to fight corruption were also acknowledged. However, at the end of the programme, it was clear that the country is in a marathon race against corruption and not a 100meter dash. It was like holding a mirror to oneself and asking the person in there about who is responsible for the societal malaise.
It is patently clear that Nigeria needs a change of mindset in order to overcome the corruption challenge.  We all must inculcate and imbibe the right attitudes. However, in my own opinion, the high and mighty in the society, the elites in politics, business, military, religion and economy must lead the way. There is an adage that the front horse is the one at the back use to pace. Value reorientation must be demonstrated by our leaders. They must be the role models the younger ones will emulate. It is like parenting; the cotton harvested by the mother is what the daughter will thread.
 As the saying goes, examples are better than precepts. While sanctions may not be a sufficient deterrent to corruption, they do have a utilitarian value. Just imagine if all the big shots who have been dragged to court for corruption charges were successfully prosecuted and made to serve jail terms or pay heavy fines, many who are nursing corruption ambitions will be discouraged. Unfortunately, we have a near state of impunity in our fight against corruption as many corruption cases have lingered for more than a decade in our courts. Not even the Administrative of Criminal Justice Act 2015 which prescribes accelerated hearing of criminal cases has made the desired impact on corruption cases in Nigeria.
Furthermore, in resolving this corruption challenge, it is imperative to make the welfare of workers paramount both by government and private sector employees. A situation where workers are owed a backlog of salaries and allowances is an incentive to corruption. Hunger and poverty can make some people to misbehave. It is also most desirable to tie the nuts and bolts of our anti-corruption laws and make sure the agencies established to fight corruption are well-resourced. After all, money is the wheel of the gospel. It is impossible to make a brick without straw neither is it possible to make omelette without breaking an egg. Above all, our anti-corruption agencies must not be subjected to undue political influence.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Nigeria in a season of anomie

It’s indeed season of anomie in Nigeria. The country has been turned to killing field by heinous and fiendish insurgents and herdsmen. It used to be weekly bloodletting but it has since about two weeks ago turned into a daily ugly phenomenon. Not even the state visit of President Muhammadu Buhari to Taraba, Yobe, Nasarrawa, Benue and Plateau has been able to stem the orgy of killings by the murderous herdsmen. The President had earlier asked the Inspector General of Police, I. K Idris to relocate to Benue State while additional mobile unit has been sent to Benue to reinforce the existing force on ground. All these have achieved limited success as the killings have continued unabated. In the last few weeks with the latest being last Thursday, March 15, 2018, Benue State had conducted two mass burial of its citizens murdered in cold blood by the rampaging herdsmen.
When it became obvious that the Police are overwhelmed by the crimes and criminality of the villainous herdsmen, the Nigerian military stepped in. On February 7, 2018 the Nigerian Army announced that it has concluded plans to deploy its troops to conduct operation Ayem Akpatuma (Cat Race) from February 15 in a bid to tackle armed banditry, kidnapping and cattle rustling in some volatile states in the country. It was reported that   the exercise that will last till March 31 this year is an operation meant to end herdsmen/farmers clashes and attacks on innocent members of communities in Benue, Taraba and Nasarawa States by armed men. The operation Ayem Akpatuma, a Tiv term which means Cat Race in English translation is also targeted at combating cattle rustling in Kaduna and Niger States as well as sundry crimes in Kogi State. The Chief of Army Staff (COAS), Lt Gen Tukur Buratai, announced the launch of the operations at the Nigerian Army Headquarters Abuja. It has been more than a month since this military exercise commenced. Rather than abating, the evil ones seems to be gaining upper hand as the killings are now spreading to other states like Plateau and Kogi  where there have been prior relative peace.
Between Tuesday and Thursday last week, over 30 persons were allegedly killed by herdsmen in Dekina and Omala Local Government Areas of Kogi State. The State government in its reaction believed that the killings are politically motivated. On Thursday, March 8, 2018 when President Buhari went on a state visit to Plateau State, he launched the state Roadmap to Peace, a five-year strategic peace plan. He commended the state governor for uniting the people of the state, saying, “I have been monitoring the activities of the Plateau State Peace Building Agency. I am indeed quite impressed with the gains and successes recorded in the area of conflict management and peace building which has returned the state to the path of relative peace.” Unfortunately, hardly had the President left Jos back to Abuja when the killing spree began in some communities of Plateau State. The two-night attacks on Ganda village of Daffo district of Bokkos Local Government Area and on Miango village of Bassa Local Government Area led to the death of about 11 persons.
The states that have had bitter taste of the dose of criminality of suspected herdsmen attack include Kaduna, Adamawa, Taraba, Benue, Plateau, Ekiti, Ondo, Edo, Kogi, Enugu, Nasarawa and Zamfara. The surprising thing is that government seems to be at its wits end as all efforts to curb this menace seems futile. This has led to a lot of insinuation about lack of political will, poor intelligence gathering, sabotage, lack of adequate manpower and financial resources to rein in these marauders called herdsmen.
While the herdsmen are having a field day maiming, killing and destroying property of people with impunity, their partners in crime, the Boko Haram terrorists dealt a fatal blow on the Nigerian security forces when on Monday, February 19, 2018 they struck at Government Girls Science Technical College (GGSTC) Dapchi  in Yobe State and abducted 110 school girls. Though Federal Government had set up a 12 member committee to look into how and why the Dapchi abduction took place, one is at a loss as to whether any lesson was learnt  from a similar abduction that took place on April 14, 2014 in Chibok in Borno State where over 200 schoolgirls were abducted by the Boko Haram insurgents.
There were allegations that the Nigerian military was informed of plans by Boko Haram to attack and conduct mass abductions in Yobe State. It was reported that the Defence Headquarters was notified by the Defence Intelligence Agency of plans by Boko Haram militants to carry out a massive attack in February. The confidential memo dated February 6, 2018, and titled “Plans by BHT to Carry out Massive Attacks in Maiduguri and Damaturu” was allegedly signed by Brigadier-General E.A Adeniyi.  If truly the military was forewarned that these insurgents will carry out this abduction, what did they do to prevent it? Why did the military leave Dapchi without security? Even though the military is claiming to have handed over to the Police, the Police had denied vehemently that there was such handover. While the buck-passing is going on, government has pledged to negotiate with the terrorists for the release of the Dapchi girls. This is a bad omen as prior negotiations with the group for the release of over 100 Chibok girls further reinforced the terrorists as the money and some of the terrorist commanders allegedly swapped for the Chibok girls enabled the insurgents  to regroup and become more vicious.
The Dapchi kidnapping had further pooh-poohed the federal government claim that it had technically defeated the Boko Haram insurgents. The Constitution of Nigeria 1999, as amended in section 14(2)(b) says the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government. With the high level of insecurity in the country, it means the government has failed in abiding by the social contract it has with the people. The upshot of the prevalence of insecurity in Nigeria includes food insecurity and humanitarian crises. Millions of my compatriots are now living deplorable life in Internally Displaced Persons camp. These IDPs are no longer productive and have been turned to parasites. Public and private properties worth billions of Naira have also been destroyed by these terrorists.
The way out of this insecurity include the overhauling of the security architecture of this country, mopping up of small arms and light weapons in the hands of wrong people in the country, arrest and diligent prosecution of masterminds and arrowheads of these crimes against humanity, compensation to the victims of these crimes and enactment of law for the establishment of State Police and Cattle Ranching. There is also need to ensure that our security agencies are well resourced with human and material needs.
On the controversies generated over the withholding of presidential assent on the amended Electoral Act 2010 I think the president is in order to exercise that constitutional right. Likewise, it is within the right of the National Assembly to seek to override that veto. Unfortunately, we have begun to see the judiciary dragged into our electoral process too early in the lead up to 2019 general elections. I do not think it was right for individual or political party to approach the court to stop another arm of government from exercising its constitutional powers. What the Presidency need to do is to lobby the national assembly to see reason and make the necessary adjustment and not to override the presidential veto. I am happy that this issue, though subjudice, may have been discussed at the truce meeting held between the presidency and the leadership of National Assembly on Thursday, March 15, 2018. I foresee a situation whereby if the presidential veto is overruled, the members of the National Assembly who may have spearheaded that action will be denied ticket on the platform of All Progressives Congress.
When recently the Independent National Electoral Commission released timetable of election for 36 years (2019 – 2055) it came to me as a surprise. I do not totally agree with the commission on this action. We should actually be looking at possibility of holding all our future elections in one day and not two as INEC has proposed.
I enjoined all people of goodwill to join government to fight and overcome the nagging issue of insecurity in this country. As has been requested of us, “if you see something, say something!” Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.
This article was published today March 20, 2018  in the LAWYER pullout of Thisday newspaper P. 11

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Thank God, I am not a woman!

Yes, I thank God, I am not a woman. What a relief! I celebrate this because I cannot imagine how I would have coped with the mistreatment, molestations, and discriminations from the male folks who think they own the world. Globally, women’s rights are not guaranteed and well-respected. In Nigeria, nay Africa, the fate of women is worse off. It is said that poverty bears the face of a woman. Legally, culturally, socially, educationally, economically and politically, Nigerian women are discriminated against.  This is heart-wrenching!
Culturally, in many Nigerian societies, women are not perceived as being equal to men. They are not allowed to be community leaders neither are their views considered when decisions are to be made about their families and communities. A section of the Nigerian society believes that women are acquired as chattels and do not have a say in how families are run. They are denied inheritance rights and are mistreated including being divorced on account of not being able to give birth to a male child even when science has proved beyond reasonable doubt that a woman can only give birth to a male child when the husband donates Y chromosome to fertilise the X of the woman.
Education of a girl child is not prioritised in many Nigerian societies. The boy child owes that premium. Rather than being sent to school, they are married off at a tender age to go and procreate. When they become baby mothers, they face the challenge of being infected with Vesico Vagina Fistula. Many of the baby mothers infected with the VVF stink because of the frequent discharges. Unfortunately, those families who dare to enrol their girl children in school are now being discouraged with the abduction of over 200 Chibok girls in Borno State in April 2014 and the recent abduction of another 110 girls in Dapchi, Yobe State in February 2018. Even in the cosmopolitan Lagos State, schoolgirls have been abducted.
It does not come to me as surprise therefore that research has shown that women account for more than half the number of people living with HIV worldwide and that young women (10-24 years old) are twice as likely to acquire HIV as young men the same age. This is because of the high prevalence of rape and sexual molestations against girls and women.  There are also far more many women earning living as sex workers. In 2016, news broke about the sex-for-food phenomenon in some Internally Displaced Persons’ camps in the North-East Nigeria. In conflict situations, be it ethno-religious or political, women and children bear greater brunt of such crises. They are raped, maimed, and murdered while the traumatised survivors race to the IDP camps to live in deplorable conditions with no adequate food, shelter, clothing and medicare. Are you still wondering why I am thanking God that I am not a woman?
Economically, women are disempowered. Many of them are not in decision-making organs of the Ministries, Department and Agencies of government or are they to be found in the upper echelons of blue chip private companies. Men dominate those spaces. Those who want to obtain loans from the banks are asked for collateral which many women don’t have. Women are found more in menial jobs such as hawking, working as house helps, earning a living as site labourers and street sweepers. Some men who are financially buoyant sometimes bar their wives from working. To them, they are willing and ready to provide for all the family needs. What these men do not know or chose to ignore is that there is something called “occupational therapy”. Earning a living has its own therapeutic effect on a person.
In search of greener pastures, women are trafficked abroad to be used as sex slaves or house helps. They are the prime target of stalking ritualists who use their body parts for ritual money-making. Girls are also now being wired up as suicide bombers by insurgents. Socially, women are discriminated against. They are the butt of jokes of comedians and secular musicians portray them as sex symbols in their music. X-rated songs are composed for them while they are encouraged to dance almost naked in musical videos.
In politics, Nigerian women are worse off! Only a sprinkle of them are found in legislative assemblies at the federal and state levels. In the Eight National Assembly, out of the 109 senators, there are only seven women. For the House of Representatives, out of the 360 seats, women are occupying only 15. With almost a century of electoral democracy experience, Nigeria has yet to produce a single elected female governor while only four of them are currently occupying the seat of deputy governors out of the 36 states. In a federal cabinet of 36 ministers, only five are women. No female President or vice president elected yet in the country.
There are at present 68 political parties with few of them having female chairpersons. In many of these parties, the reserved position for women is that of Women Leader. Women do not fare well in Nigerian politics due to a number of artificial barriers and hurdles placed on their way. For instance, Nigerian politics is highly monetised, fraught with violence and discriminatory against the female gender. Nocturnal meetings are the norm and many married women who delve into Nigeria’s murky waters of politics are labeled as promiscuous and unelectable. Legally speaking, the law even discriminates against women. Did you know that Section 55(1)(d) of the Penal Code of Northern Nigeria provides that an assault by a man on a woman is not an offence if they are married, if native law or custom recognises such a “correction” as lawful, and if there is no grievous hurt. What kind of archaic law is that?
In order to change the tide in favour of women, many initiatives have been made. Apart from the fact that Nigeria is a signatory to many international human rights charters and instruments, we have participated in many international conferences aimed at addressing discrimination against women. Though Nigeria has signed on to the Convention on Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women, the country has yet to domesticate it. While it is good that Nigeria now has Violence against Persons (Prohibition) Act 2015, it has yet to have the Gender and Equal Opportunities Act. The bill was thrown out by the Senate. While it is true that by 1979 all Nigerian women therefrom acquired voting rights once they are 18 years old and registered to vote; and that we now have federal and state ministries of Women Affairs, a lot still needs to be done to ensure gender parity in Nigeria.
Just last Thursday, March 8, 2018, Nigerian women joined their counterparts the world over to celebrate the International Women’s Day while last Sunday was also celebrated by a section of the country’s Christian community as Mother’s Day. After the celebrations, what next? This is therefore a call to action to enhance the status of women in Nigeria and indeed globally. I like the theme of this year’s IWD which was #PressforProgress. Given the fact that the World Economic Forum’s 2017 Global Gender Gap Report findings revealed that gender parity is over 200 years away, it is indeed time to press for progress.
Nigeria needs affirmative action to redress centuries of discriminations against women especially in politics and public life. This can be done constitutionally through quota system as is the case in Kenya, Uganda and some other countries or by entrenching it in the constitution of our political parties or both. I may be glad not to be a woman but I have a mother, a wife and a daughter. For their sake and because of millions of Nigerian women suffering from discrimination, I am pressing for progress; for the removal of all forms of barriers against women. A bird cannot fly with one wing neither is it possible to clap with one hand. Gender parity will enhance national development as both sexes get to play equal role.