Sunday, September 27, 2009

This Amnesty Deal Must Not Fail !

Before President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua declared amnesty for all Niger Delta militants on June 25, 2009, Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta (MEND) and other disparate groups had made the Nigeria’s oil producing region near ungovernable due to the fierce armed struggle the militants engaged in against the Nigerian state. Not even the bombardment of Gbaramatu Kingdom in May 2009 in which about 53 communities were allegedly destroyed deterred the militants from avenging the attack on their communities. MEND on the night of July 12 struck with military precision on the Atlas Cove Jetty in Lagos killing about five security men on duty and reducing the jetty to rubbles. Before the attack in Lagos, oil pipelines had became a toy in the hands of the militants as they vandalise it at will while also taking oil workers hostage and institutionalising the culture of ransom kidnapping which has now spread to other parts of the country. Unrest in the oil-producing Niger Delta had reduced Nigeria’s crude production with daily output standing at about 1.7 million barrels, from the 2.6 million bpd in 2006.

In fairness to President Yar’Adua, he meant well for Niger Delta and seems to be taking the right steps in resolving the age-long neglect of the region. Not only did he make it one of his 7 Point Agenda; in his two years in office, the president has created a Niger Delta Ministry while also increasing funding for the Niger Delta Development Corporation (NDDC). A Presidential Panel on Amnesty and Disarmament of Militants in the Niger Delta was set up on May 5, 2009 to work out details of the amnesty programme which he later made public on June 25. Under the amnesty, the militants are to turn in their arms at designated centres and register for rehabilitation and reintegration programmes. The amnesty period is August 6 - October 4, 2009. About 10,000 militants are expected to take advantage of the amnesty. To demonstrate his genuine intention, the president through the Attorney General and Minister of Justice on July 13, 2009 discontinued the trial of MEND leader, Henry Okah who had been standing trial for alleged gun-running and treason.

However, since the announcement of the amnesty deal, some issues have cropped up which have threatened the success of the amnesty plan. The first was when South-South Governors’ Forum on July 23, 2009 threatened to pull out of the amnesty deal on the ground that the Petroleum Industry Bill, which seeks to reform the oil sector, does not take care of the interest of host communities. They also kicked against the reported movement of the proposed University of Petroleum from Effurun, Delta State, to Kaduna State while also alleging that the Federal Government does not have any concrete post-amnesty plan on the ground. President Yar’Adua met with the aggrieved governors and amicably resolved the issues with them.

The second major hiccup was when on September 4, 7, and 25, 2009 hundreds of militants took to the streets of Yenagoa, Bayelsa State to protest their alleged neglect by the state government and the Presidential Amnesty Committee. The ex-insurgents kicked against being housed in dilapidated building in rehabilitation centres and threatened to go back to the creeks to resume their 'struggle' if they are not paid their allowances. On August 7, 2009, Governor Timipre Sylva had shepherded about 32 militants to meet President Yar’Adua ahead of the formal submission of their arsenal at a well publicised event on August 22 in Yenagoa.

Perhaps, the greatest threat to the amnesty deal is the frosty relationship and muscle flexing between two Timis. The administration of Timipre Sylva, Governor of Bayelsa State has accused the Honourary Special Adviser to the President on Niger Delta Matters, Mr. Ndutimi Alaibe of undermining his authority. The Secretary to the Bayelsa State Government had in a reaction to the disarmament that took place at Azuzuma, Bayelsa State accused Alaibe of introducing politics into the amnesty exercise. The SSG also said the protest in Yenagoa is politically motivated to erode the gains recorded by his governor in the amnesty programme. It is an open secret that Timi Alaibe has his eyes fixed on the governorship of Bayelsa State and would want to make capital political gain of his present position. However, the issue at hand needs to be dispassionately tackled so that the amnesty deal does not get scuttled. There is need for the two Timis to sheath their swords and work together in the larger interest of Nigeria and their Niger Delta region.

It would be recalled that on September 6, 2009, thirty-year-old South Wing Commander of the MEND, Mr. Kile Selky Torughedi, a.k.a 'Young Shall Grow' submitted a large cache of weapons to Timi Alaibe. They included assorted guns and rifles, grenade launcher chargers, grenades, dynamites, bombs and gun boats. He claimed he had 350 fighters and that he speaks French and has soldiers from Liberia and Gabon. In footage of his village shown on Africa Independent Television (AIT) on September 17, I saw a Nursery school founded and funded by Kile as well as old women he engages on environmental sanitation on N10, 000 monthly salaries each. Talk of failure of governance!

With few days to the October 4 deadline for militants to embrace disarmament, the deal has recorded modest success in that less than a thousand of the expected 10,000 militants have so far laid down their arms as at the time of writing this piece. The reason behind this is not farfetched. With all sorts of complaints from those who were quick to accept the offer; the majority left in the creeks have their doubts about the sincerity of government on the amnesty programme. It is therefore high time the Presidential Committee on Amnesty became more proactive in resolving all outstanding challenges be it funding, logistics or political. This amnesty deal must not be allowed to fail for there may not be another chance for government to show sincerity of purpose in resolving the Niger Delta question. Now that MEND has extended its unilateral 60 days ceasefire which ended on September 15, 2009 by another 30 days, all hands must be on deck to ensure that the doubting militants are convinced to lay down their arms and embrace the amnesty deal. If need be the amnesty period should be extended. Above all, there must be immediate and sustained development of the Niger Delta region. This is the only way Nigeria can avoid a relapse into anarchy.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Nigeria and the MDGs

Nigeria is one of the 189 countries that endorsed the Millennium Declaration in September 2000 in United States of America. The Declaration sets out eight goals to be reached by 2015. They are: Eradicate extreme hunger and poverty; Achieve universal primary education; Promote gender equality and empower women; Reduce child mortality; Improve maternal health; Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases; Ensure environmental sustainability and, Develop a global partnership for development. These are to be fully achieved or met by half between 1990 and 2015. Is Nigeria any near achieving these goals in less than 6 years time?

Minister of Youth Development, Senator Akinlabi Olasunkanmi on July 15, 2008 said 64 of the 80 million youths in Nigeria are unemployed. He stated further at a 2-day stakeholders meeting on youth employment in Abuja that 1.6 million of the employed youths are underemployed and went on to inform that data made available by the National Manpower Board and Federal Bureau of Statistics indicated that only about 10 per cent of the graduates released into the labour market annually by universities and other tertiary institutions in the country were able to get paid employment. With this frightening statistics, any wonder that 300,000 people applied for a 7,000 job vacancies at the Nigeria Prison Service and Nigeria Immigration Service in 2008? During the recruitment exercise on July 12, 2008, Minister of Interior who oversees the two agencies said that 43 people were tentatively conformed dead. Again, with this mind boggling figures, is there any wonder that in the month of July 2008 alone, Nigeria lost 14 people who embarked on a dangerous sea crossing to Spain with the Spanish coastal guards saying that thousands of people die yearly in such escapade with Nigerians being the bulk of victims?

United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) announced that over one million infants die yearly in Nigeria while nearly a third of children less than five years of age are underweight. UNICEF, during the launch of its flagship publications on the situation of children throughout the world in Abuja, went further to say that Nigeria ranked amongst twelve countries in the entire world with the highest mortality rate of children below the age of five. The report quoted UNICEF Representative in Nigeria; Dr Robert Limlim as saying that half of Nigeria’s population lacked access to safe drinking water while the number of children crippled by polio has been on the rise. In fact, in the month of July 2008 alone, Nigeria records 52 new cases of wild polio according to Global Polio Eradication Initiative Weekly report because many parents still have the belief that vaccines contained birth control drugs. Nigeria also has high maternal mortality. To confirm the deplorable state of our health institutions, our dear President Yar’Adua has had to go abroad for medical attention. As the front horse is the one the back ones uses to pace, many of the current and former governors are also travelling out in droves for Medicare. If Nigeria’s health institutions were to be effective would there have been need for these people to go abroad for medical attention? The late Chief Gani Fawehinmi said his doctors in Nigeria could not appropriately diagnose his ailment until he traveled to Britain where he was properly diagnosed as having cancer of the lung. Yet, Cuba who has only sugarcane as its resource has had her president, Fidel Castro terminally sick for the past four years, yet I never read or heard that Fidel was flown abroad for medical attention.

The Punch of July 30, 2008 quoted the Assistant Country Representative of UNICEF, Mr. Karim Akadiri as saying that about 10 million school age children in both primary and secondary schools in Nigeria are not enrolled in any school, this comprised of 4.7 million children who were supposed to be in primary schools and 5.3 million others who are supposed to be in secondary schools but are currently idling away. Again, 15 million children are at present engaged in child labour with over 40 per cent of them at the risk of being trafficked yearly, both within and outside the country. Akadiri added that 1.8 million children have so far become orphans due to HIV/AIDS pandemic. As I write this, it’s been three months since labour unions in Nigerian universities went on strike while 19 States chapters of Nigerian Union of Teachers embarked on industrial action since September 1, 2009 due to State governments’ inability to pay them the salary increase they agreed on since 2008. Now with 10 million out of school despite the launch in December 1999 in Sokoto of Universal Basic Education and the protracted industrial disputes in the education sector, how do we hope to meet the Millennium Development Goals?

President Yar’Adua came up with 7 Point Agenda with many items in the agenda being linked to the achievement of the MDGs and the blurred Vision 20-20. However more than 2 years at the helms of affair, only the president and perhaps his cabinet know what the 7 Point Agenda means in real terms. The president has spent about 28 months planning and Nigerians await the implementation. Life expectancy in Nigeria is now 49, social infrastructures are in deplorable conditions, corruption is on the increase while culture of impunity pervades. Africa Peer Review Mechanism did its assessment on Nigeria in 2008 and here is what the report has to say about President Yar’Adua’s seven point agenda “It lacks specifications of the structural transformation to be taken”. The APRM report said further that: “One could categorize Yar’Adua’s seven point agenda as a political party-led government ambition that is even questionable in its realism. Although the document alludes to a Nigerian dream, it does not constitute a long-term vision”. Enough of sloganeering about the 7 Point Agenda. Where is the blueprint? Concrete action please!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Salvaging Nigerian Sports

This is not the best of time for Nigerian sports and their lovers. The sector that brought Nigeria and its sportsmen and women fame and fortune is in the doldrums. Our love song has turned to dirge. Things have fallen apart and the centre can no longer hold. Who shall restore us to our once glorious and illustrious path? Boxing used to be Nigeria’s king of sports before football. Boxing produced world and continental champions like Hogan ‘Kid’ Bassey, Dick Tiger, Nojeem Mayegun, Obisia Nwapa, Peter Koyenwachie, Bash Ali and most recently Samuel Peters. After the flash-in-the-pan success of Samuel Peters, Nigerian boxing went into a coma. While the popularity of boxing was waning, that of football and athletics assumed meteoric rise. Nigeria, for close to two decades, dominated Africa in track and field events like Long Jump, Sprints, Hurdles and Relays as well as Table-Tennis while football became the undisputed king of our sports. Football is the toast of Nigerians irrespective of tribe, religion, age, sex or political affiliation. It is a unifying factor and consolidated Nigeria as a global brand. 1994 -‘96, in my estimation, was the peak period of Nigeria’s football. In 1994, we won the Nations Cup and had a good run at the World Cup. In 1996, Super Eagles won the Atlanta Olympic football gold medal. Nigeria was rated 5th best footballing country in the world in 1994 while Gen. Oladipo Diya (Rtd.) referred to Nigeria’s 1996 Olympic gold medal as the mother of all gold. After that era, our other successes had been at the youth championship like U-17 and U-20 as well as the women football, particularly Super Falcons who are acclaimed African champion.

Nowadays, watching Team Nigeria in any sports is an invitation to heart-attack. Not only do we no longer play inspiring football, we have also been embroiled in all sorts of scandals with the most recent one being the detection by Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MSI) of 15 over-aged players in the Nigerian squad preparing for the 13th FIFA U-17 World Cup finals which Nigeria is hosting from October 24 to November 15, 2009. Before then, over $200,000 was alleged missing from the accounts department of the Nigerian Football Federation while issue of unpaid bonus also rocked the camp of Falcons during one of their international competitions. As things stand, Nigeria is as good as missing a second successive opportunity to be at the World Cup. Our chances of qualifying for the next 2010 Mundial in South Africa was blown after our ‘Super’ Eagles played a heart-rending 2-2 draw with the Carthage Eagles of Tunisia on Sunday, September 6, 2009. On top of the dismal performance the players were allegedly paid $10,000 ‘winning’ bonus even when they did not win. How better can a nation reward failure and mediocrity!

At the recently concluded World Athletics Championship in Berlin where Usain Bolt of Jamaica broke two world records and won three gold medals, not only that Team Nigeria didn’t win any medal, three of our athletes also failed dope test. In the 2008 Beijing Olympic in China, while Michael Phelps of USA won 8 Gold medals in Swimming events, Nigeria only managed to win a couple of Bronze medals through Blessing Okagbure in Long Jump and Chuka Chukwumerije in Taekwondo. To date, 1996 is Nigeria’s Olympic best outing with Chioma Ajunwa’s Long Jump gold medal as well as the football gold and few other medals in sprint.

If the truth must be told, poor performances and the dearth of laurels from Nigerian athletes in recent time is traceable to government’s domineering influence on our sports; calibre of our sports managers and the athletes themselves. How do I mean? There is high level of politics in Nigerian sports administration. There was a time when some state governors became chairmen of some of the sports associations and ran them like personal estates while some sport associations chairmen were imposed by Sports Ministry if not by the Minister himself. Coaches and athletes are sometime selected based on who they know in the corridor of power and not on their professional competence. Ethnic balancing and political consideration influence who gets appointed as coaches and who gets called up as an athlete, while inadequate funding made welfare of athletes’ Herculean responsibility. Of course, our sporting facilities are obsolete and badly maintained while there is also no blueprint for sports development. Athletes preparation for tournaments are largely shoddy and uncoordinated while some of them try to cheat the system by making false age declaration. Lack of adequate care and support have made some Nigerian athletes lackadaisical to national duty even as some have adopted dual nationality and are now representing other countries.

Crying over spilt milk will achieve nothing. In my own estimation, Nigeria’s sports sector needs total overhaul. This is the time to act on the various investigative reports gathering dusts in Nigeria’s Sports Ministry and Presidency. If there is a need to conduct fresh inquiry to unearth why it is no longer at ease with Nigerian sports, so be it. President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua must get to the bottom of the crisis in Nigeria’s sports. The Minister of Sports and Chairman of National Sports Commission (NSC) as well as Executive Councils of various sport associations/ federations must be thoroughly probed to know why sports under their watch are in coma. To my mind, it is only when the Augean stables had been cleaned in the NSC and the various sports associations that the private sector can be guaranteed to invest reasonably in Nigeria’s sports sector. If the president will act with dispatch to salvage Nigeria’s sports, he would be remembered by posterity as the one who gave the sector the desired national re-birth. A stitch in time saves nine.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

NYSC, a Scheme in need of Reform

The National Youth Service Corps was established in 1973 by General Yakubu Gowon (Rtd.) administration with the aim of fostering unity among Nigerian young educated elite. The Scheme is in its 36 years of existence amidst heated debate on whether or not the NYSC has outlived its usefulness. In fact, the incumbent Vice Chancellor of Bayero University, Kano, Prof. Attahiru Jega has suggested that the scheme should be converted into a military service and should be made voluntary. Others, including some serving corps members themselves have suggested that the scheme should be abolished.

There is no gainsaying that NYSC is in need of reform but to call for the scrapping of the scheme will be counter-productive. Available statistics shows that over 1.5 million has participated in the scheme in the last 36 years of its establishment. At inception, the scheme enrolled 2,364 but in 2008 alone, 250,000 graduates were mobilized for the mandatory one year service. What can be inferred from the above statistics is that there is an astronomic growth in the number of students mobilized for the scheme. However, has there been a corresponding provision of material, financial and structural resources to meet the huge number of participants? NO! According to the immediate past Director General of the scheme, Brig-General Yusuf Bomoi, challenges facing the NYSC include: dilapidated status of some orientation camps and inadequate camp facilities in the existing ones. Other problems listed include, corps members rejection by their places of primary assignment; underutilization of some serving corps members and fraudulent inclusion of names of unqualified people for service. Additionally, from my personal experience, lack of provision of accommodation for serving corps members by their places of primary assignment as well as exploitation of corps members by the NYSC staff and some of the corps employers also form part of the problem.

However, in spite of the numerous challenges facing the Scheme, it still has a lot of usefulness and relevance. It is exhilarating to wear the customized NYSC brown Khaki and crested vests, boots and tennis canvass. The Scheme also continues to expose young educated Nigerians to diverse cultures, traditions and customs of other ethnic groups as graduate youths are posted away from their States of origin and schooling. Moreover, corps members are used as ad-hoc census and electoral officials when the need arises. It thus widens ones worldview. The NYSC scheme has also promoted inter-tribal and inter-ethnic marriages. What’s more, many have equally been retained in States and places where they served. All these coupled with the perception of the Scheme as a means of poverty alleviation, albeit temporarily, are some of the enduring virtues of the NYSC that cannot be discountenanced even after 35 of its existence.

Some of the corps members who complained about the scheme are indolent and hedonistic. They want to be posted to city centers where they will have access to light, water, good accommodation and telephone services. Only a significant few take their posting to rural communities stoically. Yet, this scheme is about service, a national service for that matter. NYSC teaches the values of life. It teaches that all that glitters is not gold and that there is need to contribute to the upliftment of the society. That is why a component of it is a periodic community development service (CDS). What is fundamentally wrong if corps members who read Mechanical Engineering, Mass Communication, Law or Architecture are posted to primary and secondary schools to teach? There is none of these professionals who did not, I believe, possess a secondary school certificate before proceeding to the University or Polytechnic. Why then do corps members complain bitterly about being posted to schools to teach? Where are the industries and companies that would have assisted to absorb many of the professionals mobilized for the Youth Service? Even, the allowance being paid corps members (N9, 775), though very inadequate is meant to teach lesson in prudence and resource management. However, the Scheme, like every human endeavour, is susceptible to abuse and is far from being perfect.

The solution to the myriads of problems facing NYSC lies in diversified funding sources. It is high time States, local government and agency like Education Tax Fund are made to provide counterpart funding for the sustenance of the Scheme. Corporate bodies should also be made to chip in their support while the Scheme should be allowed to organize fund raising. It is imperative to stipulate provision of decent accommodation and a minimum wage payable as a prerequisite for all those who write in to request for corps members. Local and State governments would also need to construct more Corpers Lodge to accommodate those serving under the Scheme. Many of our insurance companies can also give free life insurance for serving corps members. I also subscribe to the idea of making the Scheme voluntary as the projected 300,000 figures for 2009 is astronomic. I bet many more graduate students will still willingly volunteer to engage in the Scheme. After all, due to the high rate of unemployment, there are people who are said to be involved in antics like name swapping in order to be re-mobilized to serve more than once. The managers of the Scheme can also start thinking about reducing the length of the service period to six months instead of one year or alternatively leave it at one year but use the last three months for intensive training of corps members in entrepreneurial or business skills. This can be a joint venture between NYSC and National Directorate of Employment (NDE). For those who successfully undergo this training, micro credit should be made available to them as a start-up capital for self-employment. This way, the government would start taming the current menace of unemployment. Lastly, NYSC will need to purge itself of the bad eggs in its midst while Zonal Inspectors (ZIs) also need to work harder at protecting the interest of serving corps members under them against the shylock corps employees. Some of these suggestions will need parliamentary amendment of the Act/ Decree establishing the Scheme. This should be drafted without further delay for passage into law.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

In Support Of Tenured Civil Service

By 2010, Nigeria shall hit the golden age of 50; however it is doubtful if she would have resolved her challenge of nationhood by then. Forty-nine years after Independence, government policies are still being viewed with ethnic lens. If there is a section of the 1999 Constitution the Nigerian elite do not joke with, it is section 14 (3), which makes application of federal character in the composition of government and its agencies mandatory. Every appointment the President makes is subjected to clinical scrutiny of ethnic balancing: from the appointment of cabinet ministers, armed forces service chiefs to board appointments, etc.

Until President Umaru Yar'Adua appointed Ogbonna Onovo as the Inspector General of Police (IGP), the Igbo had been lamenting that it was only Ndigbo that had not produced IGP for Nigeria. When the incumbent Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) governor, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, was appointed, some people accused the President of appointing his economic team from the North and indeed Kano State, since the current Minister of Finance is also a Kano indigene.

Some analysts have attributed the on-going banking reform as a Northern agenda aimed at undermining the domineering Southern interest in the banking industry. The Southern elite have also accused the incumbent Group Managing Director (GMD) of Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Sanusi Muhammed Barkindo, of ethnic cleansing in Corporation where they claimed many top southern staff have become casualty of the on-going reorganisation, to pave way for Northern dominance. Interestingly, some Northern elite have also openly condemned the new Civil Service reform setting tenure for the Permanent Secretaries and Directors in federal Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs).

One of the few things for which Yar'Adua must be commended is the introduction of tenured appointment for the Permanent Secretaries and Directors. According to the circular which was said to have been issued by the office of the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation on August 26, 2009,

Permanent Secretaries shall henceforth hold office for a term of four years, renewable for a further term of four years, subject to satisfactory performance, and no more; while directors shall compulsorily retire upon serving eight years on the post. The approval is said to be without prejudice to the relevant provisions of the public service rules which prescribes 60 years of age and/or 35 years of service for mandatory retirement.

Reports say there are 42 federal permanent secretaries out of which six retired after reaching the mandatory age. Nine of the remaining 36 who are said to be mainly from the Northern region are, by the new rule, to retire as from January 1, next year. Concerning the directors, the nation is said to have over 140 in 28 federal MDAs while parastatals have between 83 and 100. However, those who may be affected by the new circular will be about 60 directors. This is what some Northern elite said will effectively drag their region back by 25 years in the service and have condemned as "a cruel and illegal way of removing the top civil service and an attempt to decimate the highest level of Northerners in the civil service".

The mischief that this new reform is supposed to cure, according to the Presidency, is the fact that there is a chronic lack of vacancies at the top directorate level of the service and that subordinate officers are retiring ahead of their superior officers, creating a grave succession crisis in the service.

According to the President's spokesperson, Olusegun Adeniyi, "Ordinarily, the Public Service Rule prescribes three years as the maturity period for officers to earn their promotion to the next Grade Level, between GL.08 and GL.14, while the maturity period to move between GL.14 and GL.17 is four years. It follows simple logic, therefore, that an officer entering the civil service with a first degree would require a minimum of 27 years to attain the post of director (GL.17), leaving only eight years as maximum number of years that an officer could possibly spend on the two grades of director and permanent secretary.

"Unfortunately, available facts reveal that the records of some officers are not in sync with this model; and the real situation is that there are directors who have spent 10 to 12 years on post and still have more than five years to retirement; there are permanent secretaries who have been on the post for more than eight years and still have several years to retire, meaning a large number of hard-working and effective officers who could not be promoted due to lack of vacancies."

Is this the situation the antagonists of this reform want to sustain?

The tenure system, according to the Presidency, is primarily meant "to institute due process in the appointment of directors and permanent secretaries, arrest the succession crisis in the service, create vacancies, reinvigorate the system and boost the morale of qualified and deserving officers". This reform, if followed to the letter, will render useless the notorious practice of falsification of age and records of service by some of the civil servants. Good enough that the retiring permanent secretaries will be replaced by equally qualified officers from their states of origin. I enjoin Yar'Adua to stand by this noble decision; in fact, governors should introduce similar measures in their respective states to boost the morale of their bureaucracy.

This reform is long over-due and should be faithfully and dispassionately implemented.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Corporate Social Responsibility the MTN and Zain Ways

There are a few telecommunication companies operating in Nigeria. These include GLO, MTN, Zain, Multilinks/Telcom, Starcomm, Visafone, ZOOM and the latest entrant, Etisalat. All these companies are in business to make profit, no doubt; however, I find the corporate social responsibility of a couple of them commendable. They are MTN and Zain. These two communication giants support many noble causes. Two of such are: Who deserves to be a Millionaire? and Zain African Challenge: Battle of Brains. My bias and admiration for these two programmes are because they are quiz competitions which serve to enlighten, sensitize and educate the viewing public. The programmes were reminiscent of the popular quiz “Fastest and Best” sponsored by British Caledonian Airways on NTV Ibadan in the 70s and 80s.

The third edition of Zain African Challenge International Inter University Battle of Brains anchored by veteran John Sibi-Okumu has just ended. It was won by the trio of young lads from the University of Ibadan. The boys who did Nigeria proud are Olatunji Olaleye, Tolulope Oloruntoba and Nnaemeka Nwachukwu. They beat their colleagues from Kenyatta University, Kenya to the first position thereby winning $5,000 each for themselves and $50,000 institutional grants for their university. A total of 32 Universities all over Africa participated in the quiz competition. Another Nigerian university, University of Lagos also made it to the Semi-Final and was actually edged out by the University of Ibadan boys. UNILAG representatives came third and won $2,500 each. The final was aired from 7:30pm - 8:00pm on September 1, 2009, same day presentation of gifts to the winners was broadcast live on NTA Network. Even though the competition is in its third year, this is the first time Nigerian universities will be participating. Incidentally, I am an alumnus of both Universities of Lagos and Ibadan and was very happy that in spite of the rot in our decadent educational system in Nigeria, something good was still able to come forth from our Nazareth. Ironically, the Nigerian representatives in the competition were able to post this sterling performance at a time when public universities in Nigeria were marking the tenth week of being under lock and key as a result of the perennial industrial action by the academic unions.

Now to the MTN programme. I am an ardent fan of the Frank Edoho’s quiz programme ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire?’ The ace presenter’s fluency, dramatization, humour and jibes get audience glued to the television from 8 – 9pm every Friday and Sunday. Information available on the website has it that the programme is a general knowledge television quiz programme that debuted on ITV in United Kingdom in 1998. Its UK host is Chris Tarrant. The show is said to be licenced in 100 countries making it the biggest hit TV quiz in the world!

There is no gainsaying the fact that the producer of the programme -General Entertainment Television Production (GET TV) and the sponsor, MTN make a lot of money off Nigerians who have to call or send SMS at N200 and N100 respectively to get a chance to be on the quiz or win some monetary reward on the Home Play segment. Be that as it may, the interesting thing the producer and the sponsor of the programme have done is the innovation and deep commitment to corporate social responsibility. From time to time, they bring couples, children and celebrities to play on the programme either to win money for themselves or for charity.

It was in line with this corporate social responsibility that MTN and GET TV have introduced ‘Who deserves to be a Millionaire?’ On the quiz, celebrities are brought to win money for some of Nigerian’s long forgotten or unsung heroes. Beneficiaries of this kind and financial gestures include Peter Fregenne- Nigeria’s former national goaltender who is sick and need financial lifeline. Julius ‘the genius’ Agwu, a comedian was brought to play the game with him. Next was Mr. Taiwo Akinkunmi who designed the Nigerian flag. Akinkunmi is also sick and lives in abject poverty in Ibadan. Brought to play with him was the duo of Kate Henshaw- Nuttal, Nollywood actress and Tee Mac, a Musician.

Also featured on the programme was Georginta, a Traffic Warden in Lagos whom Funmi Iyanda, presenter of New Dawn on NTA and Stella Damascus Aboderin, an actress, assisted to win some money. Others who have been on the quiz are Mr. Samuel Harzan, an honest Nigerian who returned a sum of N93 million he found to its owner only to be given a paltry N8, 800! Brought to play with him on the programme was Prince Jide Kosoko, an actor. Also brought on the programme was Davies Offor better known as Clarus in the rested soap opera, New Masquerade as well as Usman Baba Pategi popularly known as Samaja who the duo of Kunle Bamtefa and Uche Nwosu both of the popular soap opera, Fuji House of Commotion assisted to win some money for his eye operation.

The striking thing about these episodes was that those who won N250, 000 had their winnings doubled for them while Bank accounts were also opened for each of them for the general public to chip in their financial support towards these unsung and forgotten heroes of our country. For me, it is a challenge to Federal, State and Local Government to make sure -like a verse of our National Anthem read – that ‘the labor of our heroes past shall never be in vain’. It is not too much for government to take adequate care of our ailing heroes and give a befitting National and State honours to those who made Nigeria proud in their prime. These heroes and heroines need to be celebrated and honoured. To the management and staff of Zain and MTN, producers, presenters and all those connected with these two didactic programmes, I say keep up the good work!