Thursday, August 27, 2015

Nigerian IDPs and 2015 World Humanitarian Day

“In a world that is ever more digitally connected, each of us has the power and responsibility to inspire our fellow human beings to act to help others and create a more humane world”
– UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon
Last Wednesday, August 19, was the United Nations’ World Humanitarian Day. This year’s theme was, “Inspiring the World’s Humanity.” According to the UN, the World Humanitarian Day is a time to recognise those who face danger and adversity in order to help others. The day was designated by the UN General Assembly to coincide with the anniversary of the 2003 bombing of the UN headquarters in Baghdad, Iraq. It is also an opportunity to celebrate the spirit that inspires humanitarian work around the globe.
In Nigeria, the day was observed with seminars, conferences and roundtables. At one of such events organised by the National Emergency Management Agency last Wednesday in Abuja, the UN Resident Coordinator for Nigeria, Mr. Daouda Toure, raised a red flag about the worrying situation of the Internally Displaced Persons the country currently harbours. He was quoted as saying that Nigeria at present has the highest number of IDPs in the world. Hear him: “We need to remind everyone that 1.5 million displaced people are part of the biggest figures as we speak today in the world. So the highest number of displaced people today in the world is in Nigeria. It is not in the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria or in any other part of the world. It is here in Nigeria and we need to do something about it.”
There you are! Our dear country has the gold medal in refugee status in the world. What an unenviable position! Toure did not just tell us the magnitude of the IDP challenge this country faces, he charged us to do something about it. The UN Resident Representative enjoined all and sundry to help out the IDPs in any way possible. He noted that, “Many of them have lost their sources of livelihood and it will be difficult for them to find their feet. This is one reason why we should mobilise ourselves and resources to assist those directly affected by the activities of insurgents and is one of the key reasons for the World Humanitarian Day.”
Several factors give rise to refugees or IDPs in Nigeria. These include natural disasters such as flooding, desertification, erosion, and ethno-religious violence. For instance, the problems associated with cattle rustling particularly in north-western Nigeria, feud between herdsmen and farmers in north-central states such as Plateau, Benue and Nassarawa as well as the fiendish campaign of Islamic insurgents in Adamawa, Yobe, Borno and Gombe states in North-East have all jointly given this country the infamous position of being the number one home of the IDPs.
Different tiers of governments and indeed some non-governmental organisations have been trying to help ameliorate the sufferings of IDPs in Nigeria. The Federal Government through the National Emergency Management Agency has done a lot to cater to the basic needs of IDPs. They set up camps for them; they also feed and provide basic hygiene and sanitation materials for them. Organisations such as the Red Cross and Red Crescent, Catholic Relief Services and UN Refugee Agency better known as the UNHCR have all been helping out to mitigate the sufferings of IDPs in Nigeria. It is worth mentioning that the Independent National Electoral Commission under the former chairman, Prof. Attahiru Jega, also ensured that the IDPs were able to vote at their campsites during the March/April 2015 general elections.
The administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan in July 2014 also set up Presidential Committee on Victim Support Fund under the leadership of Lt. Gen. Theophilus Y. Danjuma (retd.). The VSF swung into action and held a fundraising dinner to mobilise funds to help victims of the Boko Haram insurgency and by extension the IDPs. Danjuma led his committee members to meet with incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari on Friday, July 31, 2015. While briefing the President on the activities of the VSF, Danjuma said that out of the N55.92bn pledged at the committee’s fund-raising dinner last August, only N33.54bn was still outstanding, including N5bn from the Federal Government. He said the fund currently has N23.33bn in four bank accounts and that the committee received approval from the Jonathan administration to incorporate the fund into a trust fund, to “insulate it from political interference.”
It is shameful that people make pledges they don’t intend to honour. That to me is ungentlemanly and unpatriotic. I do know that many a time people grandstand at fundraising events in order to get applause. Some contractors also make pledges in the vain hope that it will give them access to contracts from which they will later redeem their financial vows. Yet the Bible in Ecclesiastics 5 verse 5 says: “It is better not to make a vow than to make one and not fulfill it.”
I am glad that Danjuma has reiterated the need for those who made pledges at the VSF fundraiser to come forward and redeem their vows, and pledged that the committee will name and shame them if they failed to do so. It is heartwarming that President Buhari promptly directed the Head of Service of the Federation, Mr. Danladi Kifasi, to facilitate the immediate release of the N5bn pledged to the fund by the Federal Government. I do hope other debtors will toe that honourable path.
Government is obviously not doing enough and indeed cannot all alone carry the burden of IDPs in Nigeria. In the opinion of a non-governmental organisation, Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre, the Federal Government needs to adopt the National Policy on Internally Displaced Persons and domesticate the 2009 Kampala Convention on IDPs. CISLAC also want the National Commission for Refugees, Migrants and Internally Displaced Persons to be adequately strengthened to take charge of IDPs beyond emergency situations including reintegration and provision of durable solutions. Good points!
The 2015 World Humanitarian Day in Nigeria was not all about IDPs. It was also time to remember some of our fallen heroes and heroines who sacrificed their lives so that the rest of the society can be at peace. One of such notable persons fondly remembered and celebrated last Wednesday was the late Dr. Ameyo Stella Adadevoh who helped to contain the spread of the Ebola Virus Disease last year. I say kudos to those who have been voluntarily donating blood, those who have been helping with care and support for IDPs, those helping accident victims to access medical care, those young graduates serving under the National Youth Service Corps and many others offering noble volunteer services. Your patriotic labour of love shall not be in vain.
As rightly pointed out by the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon, at the beginning of this piece “…..each of us has the power and responsibility to inspire our fellow human beings to act to help others and create a more humane world.”
  • Follow me on twitter: @jideojong

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

For Nigerian private universities to succeed

“In the 2015 admissions applications, while UNILORIN recorded 107,491 candidates to come tops, UNILAG had 62,473 applications. It can admit just 9,000 candidates. But private universities like Obong University, Ntak, had 16, Southwestern University, Okun-Owa, received two, Wellspring University, Ogbaneki, had seven and Kwarafa University, Wukari, had five. The highest number of applications among private universities was the 3,042 received by Covenant University, Ota. Clearly, something is wrong here”
– The PUNCH editorial, August 5, 2015
It costs a fortune to establish higher institutions of learning in Nigeria. According to the National Universities Commission’s guidelines for the establishment of higher education in the country, there is a litany of requirements to be met. Among several other things, the applicant has to supply a concrete and guaranteed source of financial support for the university to the tune of N200m, N100m for Polytechnic or Monotechnic, and N50m for a College of Education, over a period of five years.   Also, a proposed institution shall have clearly spelt out a master plan for infrastructural and programme development for at least 20 to 25 years which shall make adequate provision for: – (b)   Minimum land area of 100 hectares for a university, 50 hectares for a polytechnic or monotechnic and 25 hectares for a college of education, in a salutary site. The library, laboratory and workshop facilities including instructional tools and consumables shall be adequate and there shall be long-range plans for sustaining them.
For the establishment of private universities, stringent measures are put in place by the NUC. Apart from the initial 11 things the promoters of the enterprises have to submit to the NUC which is inclusive of a bank guarantee to the tune of N200m, there are other 14 steps which includes interviewing the promoters, verification of the documents, security screening of the owners and board members, two rounds of verification visits and ultimately approval by the Federal Executive Council.
A former Executive Secretary of the NUC, Prof. Peter Okebukola, in an interview published in this newspaper on November 8, 2014, opined that though there was no minimum amount specified in the NUC guidelines for setting up a standard university, there are minimum facilities and human resources that should be available before a university is licensed. According to him, the minimum amount to set up a university can be estimated from the cost of such facilities and resources. He said the amount was N3bn in 2003, but it is about N5.5bn now. He, however, said Covenant University, Ota, Ogun State, Landmark University, Omu-Aran, Kwara State, American University of Nigeria, Yola, Adamawa State, and Afe Babalola University had a cost range of between N7bn and N12bn at take-off.
According to the NUC, there are 61 licensed private universities in Nigeria at present while there are 40 state and 46 federal universities. The crux of my argument here is that the private universities which are majorly owned by religious institutions and individuals, due to the poor patronage being received, need to be encouraged to survive and succeed. There is no gainsaying that many of these private universities cannot compete favourably in terms of facilities and personnel with their government-owned counterparts.
In spite of the huge capital outlay needed to establish higher institutions in Nigeria, the few individuals and corporate bodies who have ventured to help bridge the admission gap of aspiring undergraduates would need to be assisted to survive. While it is true that they are in private business and can charge fees that will enable them to break even and make profit in the long run, without incentivising the existing private institutions, our educational system may collapse.
At present, the 86 government-owned universities have low carrying capacity even though the bulk of university admission seekers make them their preferred choice. According to The PUNCH editorial quoted above, “For the second year in a row, 98 per cent of the 1,436,837 school-leavers that sat for the UTME (in 2015) applied to federal and state-owned public schools, while only 15,000 (or two per cent), applied to 48 of the 62 private universities.”
It has been said that high tuition fees charged by private universities make them unattractive to admission seekers. However, the universities have no choice but to charge “cost-recovery” fees given the high start-up capital as well as recurrent expenditure the business owners incur. Much of the funds used in setting up these private universities are borrowed from banks and other financial houses with interest. On top of that, they have to provide their own electricity, water, roads, security, hostel accommodation for staff and students, pay taxes and other sundry expenses.
Considering the social service these entrepreneurs provide which includes expanding the carrying capacity of Nigerian universities, it won’t be out of place to solicit among others a 20-year moratorium on tax for them. This will ensure that they are made to pay tax when they must have started making profits. They should also be included on the beneficiaries of Tertiary Education Trust Fund. Right now, TETFund only gives intervention grants to government-owned universities, polytechnics and colleges of education. Even if the grants will not be at par with those of academic institutions owned by government, whatever financial support they are able to get from government will help improve their facilities and capabilities.
Provision of good road network, electricity, water and security by government for these private universities will reduce their cost of operations and as such make them to charge affordable tuitions. Government may also wish to subsidise the tuition of students attending private universities to make it affordable and attractive for them as schools of choice. In the alternative, students’ loan board and scholarship schemes should be set up for those attending private universities. These will make indigent but brilliant students to get financial succour that will see them through their studies at such high paying tertiary institutions. There is also the possibility of making soft loans or interest-free loans available to proprietors of private universities to enable them procure needful facilities for their institutions thus making it easier for them to provide quality education.
These proposed incentives for private universities, if accepted and implemented by government, will help reverse the current frustrations of over a million students who annually sit for the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination but cannot get admitted to the more affordable public-owned universities and neither could afford the expensive private universities where they could easily get admission. I also use this opportunity to implore many parents sending their children to sub-standard foreign universities and other tertiary institutions to reconsider their stance and patronise our private universities in as much as they are able to provide quality education, far higher than what obtains in some ivory towers abroad.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Buhari’s commendable steps in Niger Delta

Going by the paltry votes he got in most of the Niger Delta states during the March 28, 2015 presidential election, one can say that President Muhammadu Buhari is very unpopular in the region. Perhaps, if ex-President Goodluck Jonathan were not to be from that region, he would have fared better there at the polls.
Be that as it may, Buhari is demonstrating by his actions in recent time that he is the President of the entire country, including those who did not vote for him. In his about 70 days in office, Buhari has done the following for the Niger Delta region: Appointment of Rear Admiral Ibok-Ete Ekwe Ibas from Cross River State as the new Chief of Naval Staff. This is in spite of the fact that the Inspector-General of Police, Solomon Arase, who is from Edo State, is from the same South-South zone. The appointment of a Niger Delta son from Bayelsa State, Brig. Gen. Paul Boroh (retd.) as the new Coordinator of the Amnesty Programme. Prior to this appointment, thousands of ex-militants were thrown out of their accommodation and training programmes in foreign institutions while allowances of those studying within the country could not be paid. The commencement of operation by the Port Harcourt and Warri refineries after a successful turnaround maintenance is also praiseworthy.
However, to me, by far the most commendable thing the President has done in the Niger Delta region was the approval for the implementation of the United Nations Environmental Programme Report on Ogoniland despoliation. News filtered out last Wednesday, August 5, that Buhari also approved the compositions of the Governing Council and Board of Trustees of the Hydrocarbon Pollution Restoration Project which were majorly facilitated by the recommendations of the Executive Director of UNEP, the UNEP Special Representative for Ogoniland, Permanent Secretaries of the Federal Ministries of Environment and Petroleum Resources, and other stakeholders, including the amendment of the Official Gazette establishing the HYPREP to reflect a new governance framework on the project.
The report stated that members of the governing council and their representatives would include one representative each from the Ministry of Petroleum Resources, Federal Ministry of Environment, Impacted State (Rivers); four representatives from the oil companies and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation; two representatives from Ogoniland; one representative from the United Nations System while the Secretariat would be headed by the Project Manager.
Similarly, the composition of a Board of Trustees for the HYPREP Trust Fund will be made up of the Federal Government, the NNPC, one representative; International Oil Companies, one representative; Ogoniland, one representative and the United Nations System with one representative.
A statement by the presidential spokesman, Mr. Femi Adesina, stated that “a contribution deposit of $10m will be made by stakeholders within 30 days of the appointment of members of the Board of Trustees for the Trust Fund who will be responsible for collecting and managing funds from contributors and donors.” It added that the environmental clean-up of Ogoniland will commence in earnest with the President’s inauguration of the HYPREP Governing Council and the Board of Trustees for the Trust Fund just as a new implementation template has also been evolved at the instance of the President.
For those who may not know why I am joyous about this approval for the implementation of the UNEP report, let me recap, albeit briefly, the decades of agony of Ogoniland for which many lives have been lost including that of the environmental rights activist, poet and playwright, Ken Saro Wiwa. In a February 23, 2012 article published in this newspaper entitled, “Despoliation of Nigerian environment”. I noted, inter alia, that on August 4, 2011, the United Nations Environment Programme submitted the report of its Ogoniland Oil Assessment to President Goodluck Jonathan. The findings of the assessment team are earth-shaking and mind-boggling.
According to UNEP, pollution from over 50 years of oil operations in the region has penetrated further and deeper than many may have supposed. Over a 14-month period, the UNEP team examined more than 200 locations, surveyed 122 kilometres of pipeline rights of way, reviewed more than 5,000 medical records and engaged over 23,000 people at local community meetings. Detailed soil and groundwater contamination investigations were conducted at 69 sites. Altogether, more than 4,000 samples were analysed, including water taken from 142 groundwater monitoring wells drilled specifically for the study and soil extracted from 780 boreholes.
Some of the key findings of the assessment team included: Some areas, which appeared unaffected at the surface, were in reality severely contaminated underground and action to protect human health and reduce the risks to affected communities should occur without delay; In at least 10 Ogoni communities where drinking water was contaminated with high levels of hydrocarbons, public health was seriously threatened. In one community, at Nisisioken Ogale, in western Ogoniland, families were drinking water from wells that were contaminated with benzene- a known carcinogen-at levels over 900 times above the World Health Organisation guidelines; Control and maintenance of oilfield infrastructure in Ogoniland had been and remains inadequate, the Shell Petroleum Development Company’s own procedures had not been applied, creating public health and safety issues.
The impact of oil on mangrove vegetation has been disastrous; when an oil spill occurs on land, fires often break out, killing vegetation and creating a crust over the land, making remediation or re-vegetation difficult; while the impact of individual contaminated land sites tend to be localised, air pollution related to oil industry operations is all pervasive and affecting the quality of life of close to one million people. Artisanal refining (a practice whereby crude oil illegally obtained from oil industry operations is refined in primitive stills), is endangering lives and ultimately causing pockets of environmental devastation in Ogoniland and neighbouring areas.
The expert assessors made the following propositions: Through a combination of approaches, individual contaminated land areas in Ogoniland can be cleaned up within five years, while the restoration of heavily-impacted mangrove stands and swamplands will take up to 30 years. However, all sources of ongoing contamination must be brought to an end before the clean-up of the creeks, sediments and mangroves can begin. The report recommends establishing three new institutions in Nigeria to support a comprehensive environmental restoration exercise. These are the Ogoniland Environmental Restoration Authority to oversee implementation of the study. The authority’s activities should be funded by an Environmental Restoration Fund for Ogoniland, to be set up with an initial capital injection of $1bn contributed by the oil industry and the government, to cover the first five years of the clean-up project.
An Integrated Contaminated Soil Management Centre, to be built in Ogoniland and supported by potentially hundreds of mini-treatment centres, to treat contaminated soil and provide hundreds of job opportunities. The report recommends creating a Centre of Excellence in Environmental Restoration in Ogoniland to promote learning and benefit other communities impacted by oil contamination in the Niger Delta and elsewhere in the world. Lastly, reforms of environmental government regulation, monitoring and enforcement, and improved practices by the oil industry were also recommended.
It is striking that a Niger Deltan was the President when this report was produced in 2011. He did not demonstrate sufficient political will to implement this lifesaving report. It took a President of Northern extraction to dust up and order its implementation. As stated in my 2012 referenced article, “Government must also take stringent measures against oil explorers in Nigeria who have been ‘playing kite’ with the lives of our people through their unprofessional operations in our oil fields. We must save our environment by ensuring that acts of negligence by oil companies are no longer treated with kid gloves.” While I laud Mr. President on his Niger Delta initiatives thus far, I further crave his indulgence to do all he can to stop pipeline vandalism, oil theft as well as complete the East-West road.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Towards safety on Nigerian roads

Did you know that nearly 1.3 million people are killed on the world’s roads each year? That up to 50 million people are injured, and many remain disabled for life? That 90 per cent of casualties from road deaths occur in developing countries? That the annual road traffic deaths are forecast to rise to 1.9 million people by 2020; and that road traffic injuries are the number one cause of death for young people worldwide?
The United Nations projected that this year alone, road traffic injuries will be the leading health burden for children over the age of five years in developing countries like Nigeria and that the economic cost to developing countries is at least $100bn a year. Road traffic injuries place an immense burden on hospitals and health systems generally. Road crashes are preventable and a global action plan includes practical measures which, if implemented, could save millions of lives. These 10 aforementioned nuggets prompted the United Nations General Assembly to proclaim the UN Decade of Action for Road Safety 2011-2020 in a landmark resolution that was co-sponsored by 100 countries.
Officially launched on 11 May 2011, the Decade of Action has the official goal of “stabilising and then reducing” global road traffic fatalities by 2020. Nigeria is a signatory to this UN Decade of Action and the implementing agency is the Federal Road Safety Corps. As a means of keying into the DoA, the FRSC launched the Safe Road in Nigeria. The mission is to reduce road crash deaths and injuries by 50 per cent by 2020. In drawing attention to the SR project, the agency came up with seven facts. They are: Road crashes kill more than HIV/AIDS and Malaria; there’s someone you know who has been killed or injured in a crash; people are killed or injured in road crashes every day; all road crashes can be prevented; most crashes are caused by the driver’s reckless behaviour and not always as a result of bad roads; the idea of a “Safe Road” in Nigeria is more of changing our driving behaviour than advocating good road infrastructure and lastly, we can reduce deaths and injuries due to crashes by 50 per cent if we make a commitment to: not drink and drive, not drive speedily, wear seat belts and crash helmets, not use phone or eat while driving, obey traffic rules and tell people about the Safe Road Nigeria initiative.
It is important for all drivers and commuters to join in this crusade for safe road in the country. As stated in fact two above, “there is someone you know who has been killed or injured in a crash.” The official half year statistics for 2015 gleaned from the website of the FRSC show that the number of road traffic crashes stands at 4,421; the number of persons killed is 2,418; the number of persons injured is 14,315; the number of persons involved is 29,446 while the number of vehicles involved is 7,467. Though these statistics show high number of cases but compared to previous years, there is a minor reduction.
However, it is still intolerable that over two thousands lives have been lost to preventable road accidents as of June 2015.
It is remarkable that the FRSC is not folding its arms. It has been doing a lot to reduce road traffic crashes through its four cardinal programmes, namely, education, enlightenment, subtle force and full enforcement. Just last week, precisely on Monday, July 26, the Corps Marshal of the FRSC, Boboye Oyeyemi, inaugurated the “Operation Scorpion” in Lagos. This is a major operation against the menace of truck and tanker operations aimed at ensuring that operators of the vehicles abide by traffic rules and regulations.
According to the Zonal Commanding Officer of the FRSC Zone 2 Lagos, Assistant Corps Marshal Nseobong Charles Akpabio, “Operation Scorpion involves checking vehicles, especially trailers to determine their level of compliance with laid down safety standards on brake system, latching of trucks, worn out or expired tyres, broken or lack of headlamp and trafficators, non-possession of driving licence and valid documents as well as general mechanical status of vehicles and health conditions of the drivers.” In fact, the Corps said from September 1, the special operation on petroleum tankers, as jointly agreed to by the stakeholders will commence. This is commendable.
The agency has also designed what it called penalty points. “These are points allotted to traffic offences accumulated in the driver’s record. If a driver receives a statutorily maximum number of points, the driver shall be warned and or have his or herlicence suspended or withdrawn.” These penalty points are also accompanied by payment of fines.
It is important for the motoring public to know that “Warning is notification issued to a traffic offender who has accumulated 10 – 14 penalty points. Suspension is the temporal removal or interruption of authority or right to drive a vehicle or ride a motorcycle/tricycle, as a punishment for a period of time, having accumulated 15 to 20 penalty points. Withdrawal is the act or condition of taking away the authority or the denial of the right to drive a motor vehicle or ride a motorcycle/tricycle on Nigeria roads, having accumulated 21 and above penalty points.”
There are over 40 traffic offences that a driver may commit. The notable ones are as follows: Dangerous driving is a Category 1 offence with a N50,000 fine and 10 penalty points. Failure to cover securely unstable materials such as gravel, sand, refuse, etc which are capable of spilling on the highway thereby constituting hazards is another Category 1 offence with a N5,000 fine and five penalty points. It is worthy of note that this has been a great nuisance that many motorists and commuters face on the roads.
A driver who is involved in a crash or sees a crash, but fails to report it to the FRSC and/or other appropriate authorities shall be held liable for an offence of failure to report road crash. It is a Category 1 offence that carries N20,000 fine and 10 penalty points. It will be recalled that the agency has come up with a toll-free line 122 with which the attention of the Corps Marshals can be called to any emergency.   The failure of a road construction company to provide adequate warning and/or directional/diversion signs at road repairs or road construction sites is another Category 1 offence with fine of N50,000. Lastly, the refusal of any hospital or medical personnel to accept and administer treatment on road crash survivors or accept corpse(s) of victim(s) is also a Category 1 offence which carries a fine of N50, 000.
It is important that we all support these initiatives by obeying traffic rules at all times. However, much as most of the road crashes are traceable to human errors, it is equally important for government at all levels to ensure that our roads are in good condition. There is no gainsaying the fact that bad roads contribute in no small measure to the carnage on roads. In addition to fixing the roads, we also need to revive the railways to divert most of the haulage business to the rail lines. Many of the cargoes that move through articulated vehicles are best shipped or transported via rail. As we approach the “ember” months, I enjoin all road transport unions to collaborate with the FRSC by sensitising their members on safe driving. They should ensure that their members install speed limiters in their vehicles and that they do not drink and drive nor overload their vehicles with passengers. Likewise, the Police Road Traffic Wardens as well as Vehicle Inspection Officers should collaborate with corps marshals to ensure safety on our roads. Road safety is everyone’s business!
  • Follow me on twitter: @jideojong