Monday, November 30, 2009

A return to good sportsmanship

Congratulations to the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF), National Sports Commission (NSC), Presidential Task Force (PTF) Super Eagles players and Nigerians on our recent qualification for the first Football World Cup to be hosted by an African country.
The November 14, 2009 qualification was a divine favour coming at a time when the majority of Nigerians had given up on the senior national football team due to its lacklustre performance in the run up to the qualification matches.
Also deserving kudos is the Coach John Obuh who tutored U-17 football team that came second in the just concluded cadet championship hosted by Nigeria. The Nigerian lads lost 1-0 to debutant Switzerland at the final played on November 15, 2009.
The raging controversy between the NSC and the NFF over the issue of whether to appoint a foreign coach or technical adviser for the Super Eagles is a needless distraction.
In my own opinion, the NFF did right by sticking with Coach Shuaibu Amodu as the head of Super Eagles coaching crew for the 2010 Nations Cup in Angola and the World Cup in South Africa. Amodu, by his track record at the senior national team, is the best coach in Nigeria today.
He qualified Nigeria for 2002 World Cup but was denied the opportunity of taking the team to the mundial. He has done the same again and unfortunately, instead of celebrating this man, many Nigerians including the NSC are demanding for his sack.
In this era of re-branding and the campaign for patronising Made-in-Nigeria, is it not awkward that we still hold strongly that only a foreign coach can guarantee us a sterling performance at the World Cup?
History does not support this. I have discovered that all the countries that have won the senior World Cup did it with indigenous coaches. On several occasions that Nigeria has engaged the services of foreign coaches, their performances have been average. Yet, these foreign coaches are paid mind-blowing salaries and allowances. If the NSC and NFF will give adequate support and working conditions to indigenous coaches, they too will perform excellently like their counterparts abroad. Again, the timing is wrong to replace Amodu.
The Nation Cup starts in January and World Cup in June 2010, appointing even a world-class coach now may be counter-productive as it takes time to nurture a team.
Now that Amodu has been endorsed by the NFF, the next thing is for the PTF, NFF and NSC to ensure that adequate planning and financial provisions are made for the Super Eagles.
The team must be called to camp early, quality friendlies must be played before the Nations Cup in Angola while Amodu and his coaching crew should also look within and in the Diaspora for talented, young and committed footballers to blend with the ageing members of the national team.
Sporting authorities should also heed FIFA's advice about adequate maintenance of the eight stadia used for the FIFA U-17. Our bane in this country has been the absence of a maintenance culture. Ten years ago, Nigeria hosted a cadet championship but within a decade the entire infrastructure has become dilapidated through neglect. Examples of this can be seen in the National Stadium in Surulere, Lagos and the Liberty Stadium in Ibadan, Oyo State.
These two stadia that were venues for the Nigeria ‘99 football are eyesores.
This fate should not be allowed to befall the Kaduna, Bauchi, Ijebu-Ode,
Abuja, Enugu, Kano, Calabar and Teslim Balogun stadia. The state of the art facilities provided for the U-17 tournament should not only be preserved but improved upon. Stadiums are not meant for football alone but for sports generally.
Even though the football pitches and spectators stands may have received greater attention during the recent soccer fiesta, other sporting facilities should now be upgraded and put to good use. Sport is a good social investment, a unifying factor and a good instrument of international diplomacy.
Apart from helping to positively engage the youths, it is also a goldmine for professional practitioners, especially those who ply their trade in Europe and America.
The controversy over the age falsification of some of our U-17 players is very disheartening and such should be avoided in any future age-grade championship. Cheating to win laurels is against the spirit of sports. The brouhaha trailing the N13 billion spent on the FIFA U-17 Championship should also be thoroughly investigated and culprits brought to book. Nigeria must return to the path of glory in football, nay sports.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Nigeria Fire Service and Disaster Management Challenge

Disaster strikes every day. In Nigeria, managing calamities when they occur has been very challenging. There have been plane crashes, road accidents, boat mishaps, building collapse and fire outbreaks that exposed our poor state of preparedness for disaster prevention, control and management. The Nigeria Fire Service is one of the several agencies responsible for disaster management. According to the charter of the Federal Fire Service, its statutory responsibilities cut across: Ensuring safety of lives and property and giving impulse to capacity building of the nation’s fire services through the establishment and monitoring of standards in fire prevention, fire education and training; national fire statistics and promotion of legislative instruments for a fire safe nation as well as promotion of capacity building in the State Fire Services through manpower development, appropriate fire stations and equipment and effective community based fire safety outfits.
Among the roles the Nigeria Fire Service perform are: Formulation, monitoring and evaluation of policies on national fire safety delivery; preparation and submission to the Federal Government, as situation demands, proposals for national fire safety development programmes and plans; provision of inputs for the construction of public structures and all buildings above four floors such as corporate headquarters of Ministries and Parastatals; fire cover for major events hosted by the government; resource persons for commissions of enquiry whenever they are set up to investigate the cause of a Fire incidence and provide recommendations to forestall future occurrences. Others are, promotion of fire prevention and basic fire fighting in markets, schools, hospitals, industries, corporate organizations and the hospitality industry; and fostering of interaction between Federal Fire Service and Fire Services in the States in order to enhance community fire safety partnerships aimed at minimizing careless fire outbreaks.
The scorecard of Nigeria fire service is very dismal. The agency has become an anathema, a byword such that the phrase fire brigade approach has been coined in Nigeria to describe late response to issues or assignments and unconventional work ethics. Among the many challenges of the Service are: shortage of fire stations, lack of effective communication system, shortage of water supply, obsolete equipment, poor training, shortage of manpower, lack of welfare package for officers and men of the fire service (this include attractive salary and insurance policy) and road traffic jams. The situation has worsened to the extent that Nigeria now depend more on multinational construction and oil companies for disaster management.
Fortunately, the Service itself is aware of its low rating and lack of confidence among Nigerian populace. However, it is also quick to provide an alibi in the fact that the agency over time has suffered untold neglect by the government. Federal Fire Service is an agency under the Federal Ministry of Interior and the ministry is responsible for the budget allocation to the Service. Perhaps because Fire Service does not generate income to government as other agencies in the ministry such as Nigeria Immigration Service and Nigeria Customs Service, coupled with our notoriety at misplaced priorities, Nigeria Fire Service is perennially starved of fund. This attitude must change if we intend to have an effective and efficient Fire Brigade.
In October 2009, the first National Fire Conference was held in Abuja. At the end of the conference, the following resolutions were reached: The immediate implementation of the report of the committee on the reorganization of Fire Services in the country as approved by the Federal Executive Council and ratified by the Council on Establishment; review of the present fire fighters training modules for continuous professional development; establishment of more fire stations to reduce response time during emergencies; improved water supply within the metropolis with hydrants located at not more than 100 metres along the reticulation lines as well as for every fire station to have a water tanker of not less than 10,000 litres capacity as an interim solution; improved communication system for better management of emergencies for enhanced safety delivery and to expedite action on the three-digit toll-free national emergency number; better surveillance of the country’s water ways; improved fire fighters personal protective gears and accident insurance policy; Joint training/simulation and mock exercises for all disaster responders to enhance operational co-operation, command and control; approval of a proposed National Fire Safety Code and improved funding by government for the Federal Fire Services at states and federal levels.
During the conference, it was revealed by the Comptroller General of the Federal Fire Service, Mr. Olusegun James Okebiorun, an engineer, that plans are afoot to set up a National Fire Academy, which will be the official fire training institution for the country with its main campus in Abuja. Through the academy, future fire-fighters will engage in practical and hands-on equipment training to meet international standards and the institution will offer various levels of training for crew command, watch command, station command and brigade command. Other activities to be undertaken in the academy are fire ground operations, search and rescue operations, fire prevention, fire protection, fire investigation, records keeping, supervising techniques command and control and fire service administration.
Quite a shopping list! However, the missing links are the milestones and the timelines within which all these will be done. As the 2010 budget is being put together, the cost implication of some of these recommendations must be factored into the appropriation bill. Disaster management is a serious business which must not be taken with levity. So many lives and properties have been lost to preventable catastrophes. Even when the unenvisaged ones occur it behoves the government at all levels to ensure that there is timely, coordinated and effective response so as to minimise loss. It is a good thing that the Federal Fire Service is advocating for private fire stations to compliment the services rendered by the government fire brigade. It is also heart-warming to note that the Federal Fire Service is embarking on reorganization for enhanced productivity; collaborating with water board for improved water supply and fire hydrant installation and working with the Federal Road Safety Corps on awareness education about right-of-way for Fire Fighting Vehicles on emergency calls. All these are far-reaching commitments. It is important for the Nigerian mass media and the general public to lend support to the campaign on fire and general disaster prevention and control.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Celebrating 150 Years of Media Practice in Nigeria

Sorrow can take care of itself, but to get the true benefit of joy, you must share it- Mark Twain
Nigeria mass media is in a celebration mood and justifiably so. It is 150 years since Iwe Iroyin fun awon ara Egba ati Yoruba; the first newspaper in Nigeria was published in Abeokuta by late Reverend Henry Townsend. It debuted in 1859. Many newspapers have hit the news-stand thereafter. They include the Lagos Weekly Record, Lagos Standard, Lagos Daily News and West African Pilot. Others include Daily Times, National Concord, Third Eye, Post Express, The Diet, The Comet, Weekend Classique, A.M News and Daily Sketch to mention but a few. What all the aforementioned dailies have in common is that they are defunct. The high mortality rate of Nigeria’s print media made the diamond anniversary of Nigerian Tribune worth celebrating with pomp and pageantry. It is to the eternal glory of the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo that Nigerian Tribune was established on November 16, 1949. That Tribune managed to survive 60 tortuous years of operation speaks volume of the resilience, focus and courage of the founding father of the newspaper as well as its successive managements.
Sixty hearty cheers to Nigerian Tribune; the paper of the masses, the voice of the oppressed, the champion of the cause of the Yoruba and the Nigerian nation. The little acorn sown 6 decades ago has grown to become a mighty oak. Today, there is no gainsaying that Nigerian Tribune ranks among the nation’s best in the practice of journalism. The paper’s editorial, news reportage, features, and commentaries help in shaping public policy. I am glad to be associated with this news medium which has been offering me its platform to ventilate my views on various topical national issues. I recall with nostalgia my first published article with the newspaper in its Monday, December 11, 1995 edition with the caption: Which Way to Survive? My advice to the management of the Tribune is to improve on the printing quality of the newspaper, particularly that of the picture.
Another legacy of Papa Awolowo is the Nigerian Television which came to being on October 31, 1959. Awo as the Premier of the Western Region demonstrated an uncommon vision when his administration thought it wise to establish the very first television station in Africa some 50 years ago. Then known as Western Nigerian Television (WNTV), the premier TV station was established in the ancient city of Ibadan being the capital of the then Western Region. WNTV later transformed to Nigerian Television (NTV) before being later renamed Nigerian Television Authority (NTA). It is said that there are now over 50 State owned television stations across the country as well as about a dozen licensed private TV stations. The revolution caused by the advent of TV in Nigeria is significant. Unlike just listening to radio, people are now able to enjoy both sight and sound simultaneously. Even the name given to the television in Yorubaland is indicative of its uniqueness. It is called amohunmaworan (which literally translate to a medium that captures voice with pictures). Today, the medium that started by operating for few hours a day has now grown to operate 24 hours service while there is now a flourishing business of Satellite Television which has further revolutionalised the broadcast industry with variety of local and foreign programming.
The overall assessment of 150 years of the existence on Nigerian Press shows that though it is a joyous occasion, it is equally a time for sober reflection. Legally speaking, section 22 of Nigeria’s 1999 Constitution states that “the press, radio, television, and other agencies of the mass media shall at all times be free to uphold the fundamental objectives contained in this Chapter (i.e. fundamental objectives and directive principle of state policy) and uphold the responsibility and accountability of the Government to the people”. Nigerian media have fared well on this count. However, better performance can be enhanced if the Freedom of Information regime is in place. This is long overdue.
It is true that s. 39 of the 1999 CFRN guarantees right to freedom of expression and the press. However, in practice, there have been several attempts to curtail these rights. This has been a recurring decimal under the successive regimes in Nigeria be it military or civilian. It would be recalled that many newspapers and broadcast stations were proscribed by the military juntas while several journalists were murdered, molested, injured or hounded into exile. Sadly, harassment and killing of journalists is yet to abate as under the present civil rule, similar incidences have been recorded. Media houses have been shut down while journalists have been murdered in cold blood by assassins. The last of these dastardly acts was the September 20, 2009 murder of Bayo Ohu, a political correspondent with The Guardian newspaper.
Among other challenges facing media practice in Nigeria is the poor funding of many of the media outfits by their proprietors as well as low return on investment. It is an open secret that many of the established newspapers and broadcast stations be it public or private suffer from inadequate funding. Salaries of media practitioners are not only relatively small, they are also not paid as at when due. Many of them are rarely exposed to specialised training; they have no insurance policy and are generally ill-motivated. This inadequate welfare package makes journalists susceptible to pecuniary influences and is partly responsible for the exodus of highly skilled media practitioners into other field of human endeavours. Closely link to this is the poor reading culture in Nigeria. In a country of approximately 150 million people, I doubt if there is any newspaper that can boast of a million daily print run. Many newspapers depend more on adverts than sales to break even while few additionally indulge in organising all manner of awards in other to shore up their income. Unhelpful is the high cost of production which has necessitated the constant increase in the price of newspapers and adverts and is largely responsible for the high mortality rate of media houses in Nigeria.
Internet or virtual journalism has also undermined the performance of our traditional print media. With a click of the button, people can now access media publications from all part of the world. The orthodox media has risen to the challenge by establishing their respective websites and publishing online editions which are available to readers with internet access free of charge; this has reduced the patronage of printed version thereby leading to loss of revenue. Worth mentioning is the menace of quacks among Nigerian media practitioners. It is a common phenomenon to see these fake journalists gate-crashing into workshop or conference venues with fake identity cards in order to earn a living. This is unbecoming.
The challenge before media regulators like Nigerian Press Council, Nigeria Union of Journalists, Nigerian Guild of Editors, Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria, and Newspaper Proprietors Association of Nigeria is to stamp out all these unethical practices. These bodies need to engage Nigerian government to assist in the creation and sustenance of the enabling environment for media practice. Media practitioners too must reciprocate this gesture by eschewing the practise of junk or yellow journalism. They must be factual, professional and patriotic as any act of indiscretion on their part can set the nation ablaze.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Nigeria Varsity Crisis: Not yet Uhuru

It is heart-warming to know that the Academic Staff Union of Nigerian Universities has on Friday, October 23, 2009 decided to suspend indefinitely the 4 months old industrial action embarked upon by the union. It would be recalled that government owned universities, made up of 27 federal universities and 35 State universities, had been on strike since June 22, 2009 leaving out the 41 private universities (this is inclusive of the 7 newly licensed). The 2009 ASUU-FG agreement had taken eight years and no fewer than four strikes to conclude and kudos must be given to Comrade Governor Adams Oshiomole of Edo State for his sagacity in brokering the deal after it was initially deadlocked. It is hoped that government did not sign the October 21 agreement just to avoid the embarrassment of proposed ASUU and other varsity unions’ street protests during the on-going FIFA U-17 World Football tournament.
The gist of the signed agreement include the approval of about 50% salary increase for the university lecturers, administrative autonomy for the universities, 70 years retirement age for university professors and enhanced funding of the universities as well as signing of the agreement centrally. According to ASUU President, Professor Ukachuwku Awuzie, the agreement signed with the Federal Government prescribed the UNESCO minimum of 26% of the annual budget to education, which, he said, must be achieved by 2020 in accordance with the vision 20:2020 of the Federal Government. Nonetheless, the union has called on the Federal Government to ensure that 18 per cent is allocated to education in 2010 budget and progressively as indicated in the signed agreement.
On the autonomy granted the universities, Awuzie said financial autonomy was not given to the universities, but certain prescriptions that would enhance administrative autonomy for smooth and effective running of the university from department to council levels were included in the agreement. To this end, he said the proposed amendment for the JAMB Act, Education-National Minimum Standards and Establishment of Institutions Act- and the National Universities Commission (NUC) Act (2004) would be presented to the National Assembly “without prejudice to any other proposals that might be brought or have been brought before the National Assembly.” ASUU president also clarified that the agreement signed was binding on all universities operating in Nigeria, saying “what the union negotiated was a minimum benchmark.”
He also made case for the assistance in funding to the state universities by the Federal Government, citing Section 164 (1) of the 1999 Constitution empowering the National Assembly, adding “the agreement contains in addition to the constitutionally backed assistance, a provision for a new direction of the Education Trust Fund (ETF) intervention in Higher Education, access to the Petroleum Technology Development Fund (PDTF) among others.”
From the tone of the agreement it can be deduced that it is yet a long way to freedom for Nigerian universities. Other things that need be done before a lasting peace can return to our ivory towers include the conclusion of negotiation and signing of agreement with other unions in the universities, these include: the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU), Non-Academic Staff Union of Universities (NASU) and National Association of Academic Technologists (NAAT). The union also said that the agreement signed with the Federal Government “does not address the brain drain in a way that will significantly reduce this threat to the development of Nigeria,” adding that the issue was yet unresolved as the government failed to meet up with the demand for ‘African Average’ on the salary increase.
This is another challenge. Brain-drain has been one of the major problems of tertiary education in Nigeria. There is high turn-over of staffs who are leaving the academia for greener pasture in Nigeria’s private sector and for foreign universities. ASUU has also enjoined people of goodwill to pressurise government to implement the signed agreement and that its members who participated in the strike should not be victimised. This is instructive. It is based on precedent that government is not to be trusted. The UNILORIN 49 saga was a case in point when in May 2001 forty-nine staffs of University of Ilorin were sacked in defiance of a court order for participating in strike action. It is also worth recalling that primary and secondary school teachers in 19 states recently had to embark on another round of strike because of their state governors’ failure to implement the 27% pay rise agreed with them since 2008. It is hoped that the governors will not make good their threat not to honour any agreement signed centrally between ASUU and Federal Government.
It is important for the federal and state governments to capture the financial cost of the implementation of the October 21 agreement in their respective 2010 budget. National Assembly should pass all the necessary legislations to give effect to this agreement. Most importantly, there is need to develop a blue-print for Nigeria’s education sector. Ad-hoc, cosmetic solution will not take us anywhere. In a world ranking of universities published in July 2009 by US News & World Report, no Nigerian universities ranked among the top 400 in the world. It will take a conscious and systematic step to address this. A lasting peace in the universities must also factor in the students. It is unfortunate that the menace of campus cultism has continued unabated in many of Nigerian universities in spite of amnesty granted repentant cultists under President Obasanjo’s administration. These terrorist groups must be uprooted from our ivory towers for peace to reign.
Government, University Senates and their Governing Councils must also enforce discipline on campuses. Lecturers, staff and students who are involved in admission racketeering, sex for grade, gratification for marks, cultism, indolence, truancy, hustling and all acts that are tantamount to compromising the integrity of the university system must be effectively sanctioned. ASUU must ensure that the whole semester the students have lost to strike is made up for them through intensive teaching and supervision. To whom much is given, from him much is expected.