Thursday, June 25, 2015

Nigeria’s fake professionals

I am worried about the growing cases of fake professionals in Nigeria. There is hardly any week that arrests of some of these impostors, quacks, and charlatans are not made. Virtually every profession has them. There have been many reported cases of fake doctors, lawyers, architects, engineers, journalists, teachers, pharmacists, soldiers, police and clerics to mention but a few. They are the chaff in the wheat; the weed in the beautiful garden of many otherwise noble professions. These quacks are often smooth operators. They are bold, articulate, well dressed and understand the buzz words or the lingoes of the professions they are impersonating. Even though they are not properly certified by the regulatory body of their adopted profession to practise, they nonetheless are able to wangle fake certificates and identity cards to back up their fraudulent claims.
Early this month, this newspaper reported a sensational case of a fake medical doctor who had been practising for nine years with a purportedly stolen certificate of his friend. It was reported in the Sunday Punch edition of June 7, 2015 that a senior official of the Federal Ministry of Health, Martins Ugwu, who had been practising as a medical doctor for close to 10 years, had been arrested by the police upon discovery that he stole the medical licence from his friend. Ugwu, who is a Senior Medical Officer II on Grade Level 13, was found to have impersonated his friend, Dr. George Davidson Daniel, who is undergoing a residency training programme in Jos, Plateau State.
The culprit, who was due to be promoted as an Assistant Director in the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control, a parastatal of the Federal Ministry of Health, had been working in the civil service since 2006 under the name of Dr. George Davidson Daniel until he was indicted by the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria as an impostor. The council said so far, it is investigating and prosecuting some 40 cases of quacks in courts. Imagine what threat fake practising doctors constitute to public health. Some of these counterfeit doctors operate in the cities while many of them are to be found in rural communities. Because they are unqualified, they carry out wrong diagnoses and treatments; some even carry out surgeries and other highly technical medical procedures. Many preventable deaths are traceable to these impostors.
In the same medical profession, there have been several reported cases of fake pharmacists who gave wrong drug prescriptions to patients. Some genuine pharmacists who operate private pharmacy stores sometimes run their shops like hospitals where they double as the medical doctor carrying out diagnosis, laboratory tests, drug prescriptions and dispensing. The import of this is that while they are certified pharmacists, they are however operating beyond their level of professional competence by doubling as medical doctors which they are not. Similar stories have been told of qualified nurses who operate private hospitals as medical doctors. I am not saying that a nurse cannot set up a hospital but he will need to hire other health professionals such as medical doctors and pharmacists and not operate as trinity – nurse, pharmacist and medical doctor- when the only qualification such a person has is that of a nurse.
Fake builders, architects and civil engineers are largely responsible for the high incidences of building collapse in this country. Given that they are not qualified ab initio, they then offer wrong services to clients leading sometimes to huge economic waste and threat to lives. There are also many unqualified teachers and lecturers in our academic institutions. The Vanguard of July 14, 2014, reported that the Plateau State Government had dismissed 1,400 teachers found with fake certificates during the biometric data capturing exercise. The Chairperson of the State Universal Basic Education Board, Mrs Lyop Mang, allegedly disclosed this in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria in Jos. She said the institutions where the certificates were obtained had confirmed that the certificates were not authentic.
I have heard of fake university and polytechnic lecturers too. Indeed, there are also fake students who are referred to as NFA meaning “No Future Ambitions”. Some of them are initially genuine students who probably in the course of their studies performed woefully and had been advised to withdraw or had been rusticated for some unbecoming behaviour such as cultism or exam malpractices. These NFAs often do not inform their parents about their ordeal but rather keep it to themselves while pretending to be students loafing about the school campus, collecting tuition fees and other maintenance allowances from their parents and guardians.
Even in the noble profession of journalism, the fakes are as many as there are genuine ones, if not more. Many of these quacks are to be found at notable hotels and event centres where training, workshops, conferences and social events take place. Some of them are well dressed and possess multiple identity cards of different media organisations including non-existing ones. They often approach guests for interviews which are never published and demand gratifications for performing what should be a normal professional assignment.
Recently, Hon. Justice Mahmud Mohammed, who is the Chief Justice of Nigeria, raised the alarm about the intolerable number of fake lawyers in the country. According to the CJN, “Indeed, judges find it difficult to identify which counsel, appearing before them, is genuine or otherwise. Of even greater concern is the fact that members of the public are often left in a quandary over who they can place their trust, property and even lives in.” One of such cases in point happened three years ago when Magistrate O.O. Martins of the Igbosere Magistrate Court in Lagos sentenced a 74-year-old Ghanaian, Keinde Dodo, to five years’ imprisonment for pretending to be a lawyer and representing litigants in courts in Nigeria for 15 years. The septuagenarian had pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy, forgery, stealing, escape from lawful custody and falsely representing litigants on February 10, 2012.
Among the causative factors of this sad development in our society, which incidentally is a global phenomenon, are high rate of unemployment, grinding poverty, greed, psychological quest to fulfil a desire and pervasive culture of impunity.
It is heart-warming that the Nigerian Bar Association had risen up to the challenge of fake lawyers and has come up with measures to exterminate the ugly phenomenon. The NBA recently re-launched its seal and stamp for legal practitioners. This is in fulfilment of the requirement of the Rules of Professional Conduct for Legal Practitioners, 2007 which makes it mandatory for every legal document signed and filed by a lawyer to bear a stamp and seal approved by the professional body. This is a commendable effort. Each regulatory organ of every profession needs to institute similar counter measures to deal with the bad eggs among their professions. Those that have instituted such mechanisms need to enlighten the public on how to identify the black sheep or sore apples among them and where and how to report these scoundrels. The security agents, particularly the police, which have the power of arrest, investigation and prosecution, should endeavour to work collaboratively with the regulatory bodies to stamp out these undesirable elements in our noble professions.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The dehumanisation of Nigerian workers

“I sit on a man’s back choking him and making him carry me, and yet assure myself and others that I am sorry for him and wish to lighten his load by all means possible….except by getting off his back”
― Leo Tolstoy, What Then Must We Do?
The above quote is what the lame excuse given by the Osun State Government on its inability to pay its workers seven months’ salaries reminded me. According to a statement made available to journalists in Osogbo on Thursday, June 11, by Governor Rauf Aregbesola through his media aide, Mr. Semiu Okanlawon, he said: “This administration remains very sensitive to the welfare of Osun workers. The financial situation of the state that has made it unable for the state government to pay workers’ salaries is disheartening and painful.” How can a government owe workers so much for so long and still claim to be sensitive to their welfare? As the saying goes, “Sorry does not heal a festering sore.” Anyway, I hope the state government fulfils its promise made last Sunday, June 14 to pay the workers’ salaries before June 30.
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But it is quite heart-rending that Nigerian workers have been and are still being dehumanised by being denied their rights to remunerations. The Holy Book says a labourer deserves his wages. This culture of owing salaries has now become entrenched in both public and private sectors of Nigeria. For the records, this ugly phenomenon did not start today nor is it limited to Osun State cited above. I recall that the administration of Chief Bola Ige in Oyo State (1979 – 1983) owed workers’ salaries for several months. My father was a victim as he then was a teacher in the state.
It was reported that about 23 states currently owe their workers’ salaries and other allowances. Among the notorious states are Akwa Ibom, Imo, Oyo, Osun, Benue, Plateau, Rivers, Kogi, Abia, Bauchi and Cross River. The situation is so bad that Governor Rochas Okorocha of Imo State asked President Muhammadu Buhari to bail the states out of their financial predicament. During the courtesy visit to Buhari on Tuesday, May 5, 2015, Okorocha was quoted as saying, “…we are hoping that the President-elect will do all the things that are humanly possible to bring about a bailout not only for the states but the Federal Government, at least for people to get their salaries and turnaround the economy.”
It remains to be seen if the Federal Government who has been borrowing to pay salaries to its workforce is in a position to offer any financial bailout to states. It is true that many states have been unable to meet their financial obligations due to the shortfall in their monthly allocations from the Federal Government due largely to dwindling oil revenue arising from the sharp drop in the price of crude oil in the international market. The just concluded general elections must have taken additional toll on the economy of the states given the huge sums expended by some incumbents to prosecute the “electoral war”. It is an irrefutable fact that many political office holders use public funds to oil their election campaign machineries in what is obviously an abuse of state and administrative resources. Despite that however, much of the problem is also due to many of the governors’ lack of ability to think out of the box and failure to set right priorities. The question is, how is a landlocked state like Katsina, with about 34 local government areas, able to meet its financial obligations to workers and even retirees as and when due while states in the South-South which additionally collect from the 13 per cent oil derivation fund are still gasping for financial breath?
The inability of many states to pay workers’ salaries and settle the pension and gratuities of their retired civil servants has turned many of them into beggars. A retired teacher from Oyo State sent me an epistle via text messages on Friday, June 12, 2015. The old man who claimed to have retired in 2009 narrated his ordeal and asked me for financial support. Not getting prompt response from me, he followed up with a call about 30 minutes later. Quite unfortunately, I could not help out because of my own too many financial commitments which are already choking me.
I really empatise and sympatise with the senior citizen but there is a saying in Yoruba land that when a fire guts a man and his child, the father must first douse the one on him before attempting to put off the one on his child. The man’s story resonates with me as my father, who is now deceased, was a victim of a similar hardship which invariably expedited his death. He, like the man whose story I just shared, was retired from the Osun State civil service in 1995. After a fruitless wait for his pension and gratuity, he became hypertensive, eventually suffered what the doctor called moderately severe heart attack from which he later miraculously recovered but because he could not procure and use his medications as prescribed he eventually died in June 1998.
Let nobody think owing a backlog of salaries is peculiar to the public sector or government employment. Far from it! Many private enterprises are worse off. I have worked in a private organisation where I was owed nine months’ salaries! How I managed to cope with a wife and a child then was a miracle. I recall that then, I was only existing but not living. Similar stories abound in many private enterprises. There have been reports of media houses owing their workers upward of eight to 12 months’ salaries, some private schools and other business concerns indulge in similar conditions.
The socio-economic implications of this ugly phenomenon are very dire. Among other things, it brings about bribery and corruption, indolence, truancy, low self-esteem, depression, and other forms of ill-health. How do you convince a hungry worker to be loyal, diligent and honest? Given that survival is the first law of nature, a starving worker will cut corners and commit all manner of malpractices and sharp practices to live. The Nigerian Constitution says that security and welfare of citizens are the primary reasons of governance. It is most unfortunate that both are at present lacking in Nigeria. The new administration of President Muhammadu Buhari must summon an emergency Council of State meeting to look into how this issue of unpaid salaries can be urgently resolved. The Nigeria Labour Congress, Trade Union Congress and similar pressure and interest groups must also step in to halt and reverse this anti-labour development. It is not only a welfare issue but also a security issue as these hungry workers and their famished families pose great threats to the peaceful coexistence of their communities and society at large.
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Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Crucial Issues Before President Buhari on Nigeria’s 2015 Budget

An Abuja-based Development Consultant and Executive Director, OJA Development Consult, Abuja, Jide Ojo, in a note to The Guardian, titled: “Crucial Issues Before President Buhari on Nigeria’s 2015 Budget”, noted that there are many challenges with the implementation of the 2015 budget.
“The issue is the over reliance on oil revenue. The monoculture of Nigeria’s economy is having negative impact on the country. There is the challenge of dwindling oil revenue in the international market; oil theft with about 100,000 barrels per day being lost to illegal bunkering; lack of accountability and transparency in the oil and gas sector of the economy; the non-passage of the Petroleum Industry Bill (though the House of Representatives passed it on Thursday, May 28, 2015, there was no concurrence of the Senate).
“The low revenue base of the country to finance the budget has resulted in a situation where over 20 of the 36 states of Nigeria could no longer pay salaries of their workforce as and when due. This is because of the drastic reduction in the federal allocation to the states and local government. Even the Federal Government has had to borrow to pay salaries of its workers.
“Governments at all levels are most likely not going to be able to implement both the recurrent and capital expenditure of their budget as passed by their respective legislative arms. It is therefore incumbent on the government to prioritise its programmes and projects and take on those within its lean resources.
“The new administration of President Muhammadu Buhari will also do well to run a lean government be ensuring that the extant 42 member cabinet is trimmed down considerably within constitutional provision. There is a need to cut down on the number of political aides, presidential air fleet, State House budget. The same should apply to the governors and local government chairmen,” Ojo said.
The expert also advised the new government to roll out its economic blue print so that investors can have a clear direction of the government and how they can key into it, as well as widen its non-oil income by imposing tax on some luxury items like exotic cars, private jets, foreign wines and spirits (alcoholic drinks like champagne).
“Government should remove subsidy on petroleum products and allow forces of demand and supply to determine the price. More public, private partnerships need to be encouraged. Many of the current white elephants projects initiated by the outgone administrations should be discontinued and probably sold off and the proceeds used to fund some key infrastructural projects.
“The turnaround maintenance of our four petrol refineries should be of utmost priorities and if this cannot be achieved, they should be sold off. Government should also decisively deal with the challenge of oil theft and willful vandalism of oil and gas pipelines.
Above all, early submission and passage of the budget is important and should be the new culture. Likewise is proper implementation of the yearly budgets.
This is an excerpt from The Guardian interview titled "Many troubles of 2015 fiscal plan for new govt" http://www.ngrguardiannews.com/2015/06/many-troubles-of-2015-fiscal-plan-for-new-govt/

Advice to Nigeria's Eight Parliament

Hearty congratulations to all the newly elected principal officers of the eighth national and state assemblies. It will be recalled that sequel to the March 28 and April 11, 2015 elections which produced new members of the Senate, House of Representatives and state Houses of Assembly, political parties of these members had organised retreats for them to share with them their expectations. In the same vein, the National Institute for Legislative Studies as well as Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre, Abuja had also organised trainings for them. It is my sincere hope that the knowledge imparted on them at the series of training and retreats will be put to good use.
With the inauguration of the legislative arm at both federal and state levels as well as the emergence of principal officers (Senate President, Deputy Senate President, Speaker House of Representatives, Speakers, state Houses of Assembly, Deputy Speakers, Majority Leaders, Minority Leaders, Chief Whips, chairpersons and vice chairpersons of various committees) after much horse-trading and power play, it is now time to institute good governance and deepen our democracy. The principal officers and indeed all members of the legislative arm should cease to see themselves primarily as party men and women but as representatives of the people of Nigeria.
If truth be told, Nigerian legislators are seen more as parasites on the country’s economy. They are routinely criticised for earning so much for doing little work. The Seventh Senate said it passed 123 bills in four years but 46 of such were passed on the eve of its departure causing people to ask why the lawmkers filibustered on the passage of those bills till the twilight of their tenure. People have also asked why many of the bills that would help promote good governance such as the Petroleum Industry Bill were not passed into law.
It is heartwarming that much of the leadership crises that rocked previous National Assembly did not manifest in the last one. Former Senate President David Mark and all of his principal officers as well as former Speaker Aminu Tambuwal and his principal officers held their positions for four solid years since their inauguration in June 2011. They managed to navigate their way round the proverbial banana peel that had accounted for the fall of many of their predecessors. It remains to be seen how the Eighth National Assembly will be able to maintain that track record given the intrigues that played out ahead of the elections of its principal officers.
It is very distasteful that many state Houses of Assembly were rocked by leadership crises during the last session. Notable among them were Ekiti, Enugu, Rivers, Taraba and Edo states. It is a sad commentary on our national life that in more than half of the state assemblies, principal officers were routinely changed over flimsy excuses. It is however noteworthy that many of the crises witnessed in both the national and state assemblies were sponsored mostly by the executive arm, especially the governors who ruled like emperors or Lord of the Manor.
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Many of Nigerian governors brook no disobedience to their orders to the state Houses of Assembly. Any Speaker who is unwilling to carry out the governor’s command is deemed disloyal to the government and has his or her removal stage-managed. Similar stories abound at the national level especially during the administration of Olusegun Obasanjo under whose tenure between 1999 and 2007, the Senate had five presidents. (Evan Enwerem, Chuba Okadigbo, Pius Anyim, Adolphus Wabara and Ken Nnamani).
The political parties under which some of the lawmakers were elected also contributed in no small measure to the instability experienced in many of the legislative houses. It is on record that the Peoples Democratic Party in a bid at demonstrating party supremacy wanted Mrs Mulikat Akande Adeola as the Speaker of the House of Representatives in the last dispensation. The lawmakers revolted and voted en masse for Aminu Tambuwal. A similar scenario has also played out in the Eight National Assembly where by sleight, the party wanted its members to vote for Senator Ahmed Lawan as Senate President and Femi Gbajabiamila as the Speaker of the House of Representatives. As it turned out Tuesday, the members rebelled and voted instead for Bukola Saraki and Yakubu Dogara as the Senate President and Speaker of the House of Representatives respectively. The political crisis that engulfed the Ekiti State House of Assembly after the loss of the APC in the governorship election of June 21, 2014 to the PDP’s Ayodele Peter Fayose is traceable to the APC whose lawmakers deliberately made the state ungovernable for the new helmsman by serving him an impeachment notice.
My advice to the legislative houses at the federal and state levels are as follows: Members should work for national interest and not parochial or sectional interest. It should be Nigeria first before any other considerations. Second, new members should familiarise themselves with the provisions of the 1999 Constitution particularly as enunciated in Chapter Five which deals with the Legislature. They should also read and digest the House Rules guiding the activities of their assemblies. Third, much as I do not want them to be a rubber stamp legislature or an assembly of “Yes Men and Women”, they should also ensure that their relationship with the other arms of government especially the Executive is not adversarial. The roles of the three arms of government are clearly spelt out in the Nigerian constitution which is the ground norm and each is expected to serve as checks on the other. Invariably, much as the presidential system of government which Nigeria runs promotes separation of powers, it also institutes checks and balances to prevent one arm becoming overbearing over the others.
I also enjoin the newly inaugurated lawmakers to be dutiful, conscientious and painstaking in their deliberations. They should not be absentee lawmakers and should shun personal aggrandisement and scandals which dogged previous assemblies. They should cut down on their vacations and work to ensure that no bill spends more than one year or a maximum of two years before they are passed. It is disheartening that many bills spend four years before they sail through; this is not good enough. Furthermore, our legislators should also ensure a prompt decision on the list of appointees sent to them from the executive, take their oversight functions seriously and come up with motions that promote public good. If they fail to be good representatives of the people, they must realise that the constitution has given the electorates power to recall them and if that is not feasible, it will soon be another general elections when they will seek to renew their mandate.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Why you should stop smoking, now!

Just last Wednesday, 48 hours to the end of the Jonathan administration, the former President decided to give the country some parting gift by signing six bills into law among the scores awaiting his assent. One of the lucky few to be signed into law was the Tobacco Control Bill. The National Tobacco Control Act 2015 is a domestication of the World Health Organisation’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. The new law is aimed at ensuring effective regulation and control of production, manufacturing, sale, labelling, advertising, promotion and sponsorship of tobacco and tobacco products in Nigeria.
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I commend ex-president Jonathan for giving Nigeria a new legal framework for combating the monstrous challenge of controlling the consumption of tobacco. I dare say however that it is the easiest part that has been done. The most challenging aspect is that of enforcement of the law. Banning of smoking in public places did not start today. The law has been there but has been observed in the breach. In fact, some states like Lagos and Ekiti have laws which ban smoking in public places yet the act is carried out with impunity.
In the past, tobacco advertising companies were compelled to warn smokers of their likelihood to die young while cigarrete manufacturing companies were also asked to write on the pack that the substance is dangerous to human health. These warnings have not in anyway stopped more people from smoking. A 2012 Global Adult Tobacco Survey carried out in Nigeria revealed that the bulk of Nigeria’s 4.5 million estimated adult smokers were male. While 10 per cent of adult men in Nigeria consumed tobacco, only 1.1 per cent of the women did. Unfortunately, the 4.5 million smoking adults exposed 27 million others to harmful secondhand smoke, the report added, with government buildings and restaurants the most likely places nonsmokers get exposure to tobacco. The survey also estimated that an average smoker in Nigeria spent N1, 202.5 on tobacco products monthly. On the whole, Nigerians spent an average of N7.45bn on tobacco monthly, and N89.5bn yearly.
According to my research, smoking is the most preventable cause of death in the United States. Almost one-thirds of deaths from coronary heart disease are attributable to smoking and secondhand smoke. Smoking is linked to about 90 per cent of lung cancer cases in the United States. About 20 per cent of adult men and about 16 per cent of adult women smoke. The highest percentage of people who smoke are between the ages of 21 and 34. About 54 per cent of American children ages between three and 11 years are exposed to secondhand smoke. On the average, smokers die more than 10 years earlier than nonsmokers. Another study has also shown that China has more than 300 million smokers, and that more than one million people die each year due to smoking-related diseases, according to the National Health and Family Planning Commission.
Given the grave danger smokers constitute to themselves and the society at large, it is important to step up the enlightenment campaigns in order to rid this country of one veritable source of preventable death, one which kills more people than HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined. Someone said smokers are wittingly or unwittingly committing suicide.
That’s true! For instance, smoking is said to harm nearly every organ of the body and affects a person’s overall health. Smoking can make it harder for a woman to become pregnant and can affect her baby’s health before and after birth. Smoking increases risks for preterm (early) delivery; stillbirth (death of the baby before birth); low birth weight; sudden infant death syndrome (known as SIDS or crib death); ectopic pregnancy and orofacial clefts in infants
Smoking can also affect men’s sperm, which can reduce fertility. Smoking affects the teeth and gums and can cause tooth loss. It can increase risks for cataracts (clouding of the eye’s lens that makes it hard for people to see). Smoking is a cause of type 2 diabetes mellitus and can make it harder to control. The risk of developing diabetes is 30-40 per cent higher for active smokers than nonsmokers. Smoking is also a cause of rheumatoid arthritis.
If all these health hazards affect only the smokers, one would have shrugged and exclaimed that “It serves them right!” However, smoking equally affects nonsmokers. According to an investigation, secondhand smoke constitutes danger to nonsmokers, especially children. Nonsmokers who have high blood pressure or high blood cholesterol have an even greater risk of developing heart diseases when they are exposed to secondhand smoke. Studies show that the risk of developing heart disease is about 25-30 per cent higher among people exposed to environmental tobacco smoke at home or work. Children of smokers also have more respiratory infections than children of nonsmokers.
Given the serious health implications and complications of smoking, why then do people still smoke? A lot of people smoke out of curiosity, peer pressure, for social integration, to relieve stress, and for fun. Whatever reasons that may be advanced for this killer habit, it is not good enough considering the fact that the habit is suicidal. It behoves the federal and state Ministries of Health and Information to wage a sustained campaign against tobacco smoking in Nigeria.
There is no doubt that this ugly phenomenon of preventable death via smoking is a global challenge. This newspaper in its Monday, June 1, 2015 edition published a report on how China is dealing with the problem. It says, “Tough anti-smoking measures have gone into effect in the Chinese capital, where smoking is now banned in restaurants, offices and on public transport. Under the law rolled out on Monday, anyone in Beijing who violates the bans, which include smoking near schools and hospitals, must pay $32.25. The current fine, seldom enforced, is just $1.60. Anyone who breaks the law three times will be named and shamed on a government website. And businesses can be fined up to $1,600 for failing to stamp out smoking on their premises. The government will also no longer allow cigarettes to be sold to shops within 100 metres of primary schools and kindergartens, according to state media.” The report also claimed that at least 1,300 inspectors would be dispatched to enforce the ban, supported by volunteers.
I do hope our government will come out with creative and effective ways to combat this menace, especially in public places. If anyone chooses to die young, so be it but smokers should stop constituting public nuisance to the non-smoking populace.
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