Sunday, July 31, 2016

Opening up Nigerian economy via train services

On Tuesday, July 26, 2016, President Muhammadu Buhari commissioned the $1.46bn Abuja – Kaduna rail service which is Nigeria’s first-ever standard gauge rail track to go into operation. It happened to be a project inherited from previous administrations. For me, it underscores that government is a continuum and I look forward to completion of many other projects initiated by previous regimes. On the day of the inauguration, I was a guest on Politics Nationwide, a magazine programme of Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria where I discussed the import and importance of the resuscitation of Nigerian train services.

Unknown to new generation of Nigerians, the railway services in Nigeria is over hundred years old. In fact, according to information garnered from the website of Nigerian Railway Corporation, the first rail line in the country was constructed from Lagos to Ibadan (193km) between 1898 and 1901. By 1964 the 640km Kano – Maiduguri rail line, then known as Bornu extension, was completed.  . Presently, the Railway system is made up of 3,505 route kilometres and 4,332 track kilometres. In addition to this is the 19km 1067mm gauge extension from Port-Harcourt to Onne deep sea port and the 277km standard gauge rail construction of 1435mm from Ajaokuta to Warri.

My first experience of riding in a train was in 1980 when my elder sister and I traveled from Ibadan to Jos to spend part of our long vacation with an uncle who was residing in the Plateau State capital. It took us 48 hours to make the journey. We left Ibadan about 9pm and arrived Jos at the dawn of the third day. It was a novel and exciting experience for me and the memory of that trip lingers 36 years after. I recalled writing down the names of every town we got to in the small notebook I took with me.

Unfortunately, train services, just like other government transport corporations like the Nigerian Airways and the Nigeria National Shipping Line went comatose due to a number of factors. These include, corruption, undue political influence in the administration of these transport companies, sabotage, and lack of maintenance culture among others. At a point in time, Indians were brought in to run Nigerian Railways profitably and efficiently. By the time the administration of the corporation was handed to Nigerians they ran the organisation aground. Nigerian Railway used to be one of the highest employer of labour in those days. There were many Nigerians like me whose first time experience of knowing about other parts of Nigeria was through a jolly ride in the train. Not anymore!

With the ‘killing’ of Nigerian railways through maladministration and other factors enumerated above, our roads became overburdened. Haulage businesses which were best done via rail thrived through the use of articulated vehicles which are most times overloaded and constitute nuisance on our roads due to frequent accidents. Why on earth should we be moving cement, petroleum products, solid minerals as well as heavy machinery on roads? In the first instance, many of these roads are not well built; to now have heavy cargoes moved across the country on them end up damaging the roads and shortening their lifespan. Unfortunately, with the destruction of Weigh Bridges by Obasanjo administration, many articulated vehicles plying our roads now deliberately carry more luggage than the trucks were meant to carry.  The good thing is that rail services is gradually coming back and with it is the provision of alternate transport services which is cheaper and safer.

The point being made here is that the decades of overreliance on roads for movement of people and cargoes is about to end. Train provides a complimentary transport services to other means of transportation such as vehicles, ships and airplanes. With the commissioning of the Abuja to Kaduna rail services, jobs are being created as the Nigerian Railway Corporation will now be recruiting more staff to manage the transportation business. Also, farmers, traders and other private individuals now have a cheaper and safer if not faster means of transportation from Abuja to Kaduna. I learnt a seat in the First Class cabin of the train goes for N800 while the Economy goes for N500. That is cheaper than traveling to Kaduna by car.

I have a number of appeals to make to President Muhammadu Buhari, the management of Nigerian Railway Corporation, the National Assembly and the general public. First, PMB should ensure that all outstanding rail projects in Nigeria are well resourced to ensure their speedy completion. I learnt that the Abuja – Kaduna railway project was part of the wider Lagos – Kano rehabilitation work initiated since 2009. As that corridor has been given prime attention, so should the Lagos –Ibadan corridor. In my own estimation, given the huge vehicular traffic on the expressway and being a major artery road that links Lagos seaport and airport to the rest of the country, a high speed rail services from Lagos to Ibadan will greatly decongest the road and make the road which is at present being rehabilitated to last long. The Lagos to Calabar rail project being initiated by PMB government should also be accorded high priority to ensure its speedy completion so that it does not turn to another East – West road debacle.

The PMB administration should remove railway from the exclusive legislative list and take it to concurrent list of our Constitution.  The Nigerian Railway Act should be amended to allow for private sector participation in the provision of train services. Just imagine what would have become the lot of our transport system if it’s only government that provides road, air and water transportation? Private sector has a great role to play in the provision of efficient, safe, reliable, and affordable train services. The time to open up for private sector participation is NOW!

For the management of Nigerian Railway Corporation, safety and security should be given prime attention. Train provides mass transit and any security breach or attack on the train will engender huge casualty which will lead to lack of patronage. We cannot discount the fact that Nigeria is still battling with terrorism, thus, sophisticated gadgets needs to be procured to enhance proper screening of passengers and cargoes that will be commuted on the train. There is also the need for effective policing of the rail lines to forestall derailment. Knowing full well that rail lines pass across major towns and cities, the railway crossing on our roads should be properly gated and effectively controlled to avoid accidents with vehicles. It cannot be over-emphasised that high maintenance culture is desirable.

For the commuters, they should pay the correct fares for the services. They should not indulge in hanging or sitting on the trains in order to enjoy free ride as is common in Lagos. They should alert the Railway Corporation if they suspect foul play in case some undesirable elements decide to remove rail track in order to cause derailment. They should not also build close to rail track or encroach on the Corporation’s land.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Nigerians disdain for preventive medicine

What is preventive medicine? According to American College of Preventive Medicine, “It is a branch of medicine that focuses on the health of individuals, communities, and defined populations. Its goal is to protect, promote, and maintain health and well-being and to prevent disease, disability, and death.” There is a popular saying that prevention is better than cure and that an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure. In developed climes, this aspect of medicine is accorded high priority. Unfortunately, in Nigeria the emphasis seem to be on curative medicine.

Preventive medicine or healthcare manifests in a wide range of areas. Experts say there are four layers of prevention which are Primal, Primary, Secondary and Tertiary. For decades, government at all levels in Nigeria has been giving free vaccination to children from 0 – 5 years against six "killer" diseases, namely diphtheria, polio, tetanus, tuberculosis, measles and whooping cough. Unfortunately, many parents still held on to superstitious beliefs and refused to immunize their children. This is why Nigeria hitherto became notorious as one of the few countries where wild polio is still endemic. Thankfully, for two years now, no new polio virus has been found in Nigeria and by next year the country will be certified polio free if there are no new reported cases. It rends my heart when I see polio victims because it is a preventable disease.

There have also been free HIV/AIDS and Tuberculosis screening and treatment in public hospitals. Yet, many at risk people refuse to go for free counseling and testing. They relish in the myth that what you do not know will not kill you.  By the time the diseases may have ravaged their bodies, it will be too late to treat. It has been repeatedly said that women should go for period breast and cervical cancer screening. In fact, many public hospitals offer free counseling to women on how they can, on their own, check their breast for any possible onset of cancer. It is heart rending that many of our women refuse to heed this life-saving advice. By the time the cells would have mutated and they now go to hospital for testing, it is often too late to effect a cure.

Routine medical checkups have been advised by medical experts. However in Nigeria, it is an elitist practice. Many of us never go for checkups. There are many walking corpses in Nigeria who though appear healthy on the surface but are living dead. Some of the people in this category have high blood pressure or high blood sugar without them knowing because they never go to check at heath centres. Any wonder there are high incidences of sudden deaths in Nigeria? There are people who have itches in their eyes and instead of going for eye test would rather walk into a pharmacy for eye drop. A simple eye screening would have revealed if it is onset of glaucoma or cataract or mere eye irritation. By resorting to self-help, many have become irreversibly blind.

For decades, Nigerian government has been trying to roll back malaria without success. The disease, though preventable, is one of the major killer sicknesses in Nigeria especially among Nigerian infants between 0 – 5 years old. The irony is that by observing simple environmental hygiene, experts say we can greatly reduce the endemic nature of the disease. All we need do is clearing our premises of stagnant water, bushes, dirt and any other things that mosquitoes can use to breed. It has been also advised by health practitioners that we should sleep inside mosquito repellant nets. How many of us observe these simple procedures? Billions of Naira are spent annually for treatment of malaria with attendant loss of man-hours due to absence from work by those who catch the disease.

Do you know that mere hand washing is a life saver? According to Center for Diseases Control and Prevention, “Keeping hands clean is one of the most important steps we can take to avoid getting sick and spreading germs to others. Many diseases and conditions are spread by not washing hands with soap and clean, running water.” Diseases that hand washing could help prevent include:  influenza (flu), Streptococcus (pneumonia, strep throat), respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and the common cold. Others are:  Salmonella, shigella, hepatitis A, giardia, enterovirus, amebas and campylobacteriosis.

Many of us who are diabetic and hypertensive today could have avoided the diseases if only we are disciplined by adopting a lifestyle change early enough. Eating natural, balanced diet, low salt and sugar intake and regular exercising have been discovered to prevent these diseases. Unfortunately, many Nigerian preferred to indulge in eating of processed food otherwise known as junk food, intake of excessive sugary drinks and yet are very lazy at exercising. There are those who erroneously believe that pot-belly or being overweight is evidence of good living. Many people also do not know the order of eating. A lot of people eat fruits immediately after meals when in actual fact, according to nutritionists, fruits are best when eaten on empty stomach or some minutes before meal. There are those who could not eat without drinking cold water. This has been found to be unhygienic as it will impede quick digestion of the food particularly if it’s oily food. Warm water, experts advised, helps to fasten the digestion process.

It’s rainy season now but many mothers instead of wearing warm clothing for their children, would rather wear light clothing for them thereby exposing them to cold and catarrh and possibly pneumonia. There are even adults who say they cannot do without fan and air-condition even during rainy season. This is an open invitation to pneumonia. Open defecation is unhealthy. It can lead to outbreak of diseases such as cholera, typhoid and hepatitis A, yet many houses and offices in Nigeria do not have toilet facilities. This is sad! Simple thing like proper waste disposal can enhance good health.

It is high time government at all levels see to it that they embark on massive sensitisation campaign on the importance of preventive medicine. Environmental health officers otherwise called Sanitary Inspectors need to be deployed to every nooks and crannies of the country to help in promoting environmental sanitation.  Individuals and families must be more responsive to their health needs. We need to imbibe healthy living habits by eating right, recreating, excising, going for routine medical checkups and stop indulging in self-medication.  It is important to realise that health is wealth and a healthy nation is a wealthy nation!

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Nigeria, ethnic jingoism and religious bigotry

Nigeria for long has been plagued with primordial sentiments. Two of such are ethnic jingoism and religious bigotry. According to the World Factbook,”Nigeria, Africa's most populous country, is composed of more than 250 ethnic groups; the most populous and politically influential are: Hausa and the Fulani 29 percent, Yoruba 21 percent, Igbo (Ibo) 18 percent, Ijaw 10 percent, Kanuri 4 percent, Ibibio 3.5 percent, and the  Tiv 2.5 per cent. Interestingly, each ethnic group lays claim to being superior to the other.  Hausas claim that their group is born to rule. The Igbos believes they are the Jews of Nigeria with superior intelligent quotient than all other ethnic groups. They cite their inventive prowess, educational excellence and humongous achievements in commerce and industry to buttress their point. The Yorubas too are not left behind. They claim to be the most sophisticated among the lot. They boasted that they are the most cultured, cultivated and civilised in Nigeria. They say they are the pace setter in fashion, music, film and the general entertainment industry. They also took pride as being the primus-inter-pares (first among equals) in the information and communication industry, particularly mass media.

This act of chauvinism has done a lot of harm than good to this country. Those fanning the embers of ethnic superiority fail to see the inter-dependent nature of the country. They ignore the hundreds of years of inter-marriages, migration and cultural diffusion that have taken place among the various ethnic groups.  It is quite unfortunate that in spite of mouthing unity in diversity with part of our old national anthem saying that “though tribe and tongue may differ, in brotherhood we stand” we are only paying lip service to unity in Nigeria.  All attempts to unite Nigeria have remained largely unsuccessful. Despite the fact that Nigerian Constitution forbids regional or state based political parties, until recently when All Progressives Congress was registered by the Independent National Electoral Commission, with the exception of the Peoples Democratic Party, all the other political parties are nothing but regional parties. The Alliance for Democracy, Action Congress and Action Congress of Nigeria  only flourished in the South West; All Progressive Grand Alliance remain largely Igbo party; All Progressives Party and All Nigerian Peoples Party were Hausa/Fulani political parties because that is where they won most of their elective positions.

Another attempt to unite Nigeria, particularly after the three year fratricidal civil war of 1967 – ’70, was the establishment of the National Youth Service Corps. Perhaps, it worked to an extent as I recall with nostalgia my Youth Service year in Delta State in 1997. It did widen my horizon about the people and culture of Delta State. It is on record that many Corps members have through the scheme gotten automatic employment, married among the natives of the communities where they did their national service and have remained permanently settled in the State. Quite unfortunately, the NYSC scheme is fast losing its relevance as many students mobilised for the scheme now influence their postings to their state of origin or region. This became the norm after the advent of the Boko Haram insurgency in 2009 as well as the murder of 10 Corps members in Bauchi state after the 2011 presidential election.

Furthermore, Nigerian government is finding it difficult to properly fund the scheme due to the exponential increase in the number of university and polytechnic graduates. Today, many moblised graduates attend the orientation camp only to disappear after being posted to places of primary assignment. It is the norm now to name football clubs “united”. Perhaps copying from the Manchester United Football Club of Britain, many club sides are now going by that appellation. Names such as Plateau United Football Club, Nasarrawa United FC, Bayelsa United FC, Rivers United FC, Ikorodu United FC, Kwara United FC are now the fad. Yet, in many of these states, unity is a rare commodity as ethnic clashes are recurring decimal.

In Nigeria, there are three dominant religions. They are Islam, Christianity and African Indigenous Religion.  Though the religions preach peace, unfortunately, some of the adherents are bigots. These are the people who are giving these religions bad name. For instance, Islam is a religion of peace, however, considering the extremism shown by Islamist groups like Boko Haram and Maitatsine, many victims of terror perpetrated by these groups will hardly agree that the religion preaches peace. Even among the Christian faith in Nigeria, there is a lot of bigotry. There is both intra-faith and inter-faith bigotry. Many Christian denominations especially those with Pentecostal inclination are highly intolerant of adherents of other faiths. They quote the Bible in 2 Corinthians 6: 14 which says “Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers.” If that is said of unbelievers, what about believers in Christ? Many Pentecostal churches preach against the practices of the orthodox churches like Catholic, Baptist, African, Methodist, and Anglican. They claimed they are too carnal and less spiritual. That is the more reasons the Pentecostal churches do not join the orthodox churches in observing the 40 days fast during the Lenten season. Christians and Muslims in Nigeria see the practitioners of African Indigenous Religion as common enemy. They see the adherents as evil and uncivilized people.

Religious bigotry is not only a group affair but could also be individual trait. There are persons who have denied their children marriage to people of other religious denominations and faiths. So many parents have disowned their children for daring to marry anyone outside of their ethnic group and religion. They do not subscribe to the dictum that love is blind. This kind of hatred for other ethnic and religious groups is not only perpetrated by the uneducated, even well lettered personalities have tenaciously held to such primordial sentiments. The major challenge is that majority of us believe in stereotypes. There is the tendency these days to typecast Islam as religion of terrorists. Even as we label all cattle herders as Fulanis who kill and maim farmers over grazing lands. The funniest thing is that even within the same ethnic group, there is high level of intolerance and stereotypes.  Among the Yorubas; Ekitis and Ijesas are believed to be very stubborn, the Ijebus are believed to be very fetish, the Ibadans are believed to be street-fighters while Lagosians are believed to be hedonistic. All these are not grounded in any scientific research.

If not for the ethnic and religious chauvinisms which have crept into our society, Nigeria would have been a better place to live in. Many of the killings, maiming and destruction of properties in defence of ethnic agenda or religious beliefs are perpetrated out of ignorance or mischief. There is need for tolerance among all ethnic groupings and religious faiths. Government needs to lead the way by ensuring that perpetrators of hate speeches among the diverse ethnic and religious groups are made to face the wrath of the law. Traditional and religious leaders also owe it a duty to foster unity among their people. It’s also important for Nigerian media to join in the crusade against ethnic and religious chauvinisms.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Nigeria and the menace of illicit drug trafficking and abuse

"On this International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, I call on countries and communities to continue to improve the lives of everyone blighted by drug abuse by integrating security and public safety with a heightened focus on health, human rights, and sustainable development." — UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon

By resolution 42/112 of 7 December 1987, the General Assembly decided to observe 26 June as the International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking as an expression of its determination to strengthen action and cooperation to achieve the goal of an international society free of drug abuse. The theme for this year was “Listen First!” As part of the commemoration for 2016, Radio Nigeria on 16 July 2016 hosted three guests on its audience participation network programme, “Radio Link” to discuss the challenge of illicit drug trafficking and abuse.

The guests were the Chairman/Chief Executive Officer of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency, Col. Muhammad Mustapha Abdallah (Retd); Country Representative of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime in Nigeria, Ms. Cristina Albertin and a medical practitioner in Abuja, Dr. Tayo Daramola. For the two hour duration of the programme, I listened with rapt attention as the analysts painted a scary picture of the menace in Nigeria. Incidentally, that same day, I finished reading “The Cobra”, Frederick Forsyth novel on how to wage war against illicit drug trafficking.

According to UNODC, “Drug trafficking is a global illicit trade involving the cultivation, manufacture, distribution and sale of substances which are subject to drug prohibition laws.” Among the prominent drugs being trafficked are Methamphetamine, Amphetamines, Cannabis, Heroin, Opium, Cocaine, Ecstasy and Hallucinogens.  This illicit trade worth billions of dollars is very lucrative for the barons who use every conceivable means of transportation including airplanes, ships, animals, catapults, sandbag bridges, tunnels and human beings (mules) to move their dangerous wares around the world. These drugs, despite not being cheap, are in high demand universally hence the constant supply by the unscrupulous businessmen who trafficked them.

According to the 2015 World Drug Report, it is estimated that a total of 246m people - slightly over 5 per cent of those aged 15 to 64 years worldwide - used an illicit drug in 2013. Some 27m people are problem drug users, almost half of whom are people who inject drugs. An estimated 1.65m of people who inject drugs were living with HIV in 2013. This year’s World Drug Report notes that men are three times more likely than women to use cannabis, cocaine or amphetamines, whereas women are more likely than men to engage in the non-medical use of opioids and tranquilizers. Additional finding point to high level  of drug use in prison, including the use of opiates and injecting drug use.

In Nigeria, the rate of drug abuse is alarming! Youths, ages 13 – 35 are reportedly more involved in drug abuse. Sadly, housewives have also allegedly caught the bug with many of them indulging in intake of psychoactive substances such as cannabis. Some drug addicts even sniff pit latrines or gutter or take excess codeine in order to feel high. People use hard drugs for many reasons. Experts said adolescents have reported that they experimented with marijuana to enhance sexuality; to feel more confident; for pleasure and relaxation; to make themselves more comfortable in social situations; to understand themselves better; for acceptance by their peers; to achieve elevated social status; to defy authority; and to expand their minds.

Drug abuse is a self-destructive habit. Those involved easily get addicted. According to Dr. Tayo Daramola, substance abuse affects all organs of the body from kidney to liver to heart. It can lead to memory loss and depression of the central nervous system. It can also predispose the abusers to domestic and road accidents, likewise stealing and job loss. It can also lead to mental disorder as well as negatively affects the abusers social interaction. It has equally truncated the careers of many promising and talented sports personalities and entertainers. It is thus a super destroyer!

Nigerian government recognises early enough the dangers posed by substance abuse and thus set up agency to fight the menace. According to NDLEA, it is on record that Nigeria flagged off its narcotic control efforts in 1935 when the Dangerous Drugs Ordinance was enacted to control drug trafficking and abuse. In 1984, Nigeria recorded another landmark effort when the Federal Military Government promulgated the Special Tribunal (Miscellaneous Offences) Decree No. 20 of 1984 to frontally confront drug trafficking within the Nigerian shores. Section 3 (2) (K) of the Decree provided that “any person who, without lawful authority deals in, sell, smoke or inhale the drug known as cocaine or other similar drugs shall be guilty under section 6 (3) (K) of an offence and liable on conviction to suffer death sentence by firing squad. In view of the fact that the drug menace continued to rise in profile, Decree No. 48 of 1989, now an act of parliament CAP N30 laws of the federation of Nigeria 2004, established a new body, independent of other existing law enforcement agencies in the country called the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency.

Though the Agency has recorded tremendous success in terms of arrests and prosecution of drug traffickers, particularly at our airports, seaports and hinterland; however, NDLEA is highly incapacitated in terms of dearth of manpower and equipment. The Agency has below 5,000 workforce spread over 48 commands across the country. It therefore cannot deploy effectively to man our thousands of legal and illegal international border entry points. It was reported that a paltry N91m was earmarked for the Agency in 2016 budget.  Snail pace of Nigeria’s judicial process coupled with lack of diligent prosecution by NDLEA lawyers are also some of the extant challenges faced in the war against illicit drug trafficking and abuse.

The way forward for Nigeria, experts have said, are as follows: The need to decriminalise drug abuse. By this, instead of sentencing drug addicts to prison terms, they should rather be sent to rehabilitation centres to wean them off their addiction and affliction. Two, there is need for massive and sustained public sensistisation against drug trafficking and abuse so that those who indulge in them can begin to see the harmful effects of their habit. It is noteworthy that these two have been linked to terrorism. For instance, proceeds of illicit drug trafficking have been traced to terrorism financing while many people who engaged in crimes and criminality are known to have perpetrated such heinous acts under substance influence be it alcohol or hard drugs.  

Third, there is need to fasten the prosecution of those caught for illegal drug trafficking. Special courts or tribunals established for that purpose have been advocated. Fourth, the country needs  standard rehabilitation centres. At present there is reportedly none and psychiatrist wards of hospitals are also doubling as rehabilitation centres. This is not ideal. Fifth, better funding of NDLEA is desirable to enable the agency perform its statutory responsibility effectively and efficiently.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

What to do to make Nigeria viable

There is a near unanimity of opinion that Nigeria is at the brink of collapse. The country is widely believed to be sick and in urgent need of a lifeline. Some analysts are of the opinion that Nigeria has started to manifest all indicators of a failed state. Security and welfare of citizens are no longer guaranteed. About 30 of the 36 states are not able to pay their labour force as at when due. Private enterprises are closing down businesses or downsizing their workforce due to the very inclement operating environment. The workers unions are routinely embarking on industrial actions to press home demands for humane working conditions. Go to various embassies and see how Nigerians are queuing up in droves for visa interviews. They just want to leave the place of their birth in search of greener pasture. Anarchy looms!

Before the June 23, 2016 Brexit referendum in the United Kingdom in which our colonial master decided by a narrow margin of 52 per cent to leave the European Union,  pressure groups like the Niger Delta Avengers, the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra, and Indigenous People of Biafra have been seeking self-determination or resource control. The Brexit outcome has been a morale booster for them as these groups are now also calling for a referendum for self-determination in Nigeria. The Igbos, Ijaws and some fringe minority groups are daily wailing about their marginalisation within Nigeria especially under the President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration. They pointed to the lopsided appointments the President has been making in favour of the North and the Muslims. The President has said recently during the Eid-el- Fitr sallah celebration that Nigeria’s unity is non-negotiable. That statement has equally generated a lot of furore.

As a way out of the myriads of malaise plaguing the country,  which many people believe is a mere geographical expression, many prominent Nigerians and groups have for some time now been advocating for the restructuring of the country. There are those who believe that the unity of Nigeria is not sacrosanct and that there is need to convoke a sovereign national conference made of ethnic nationalities to discuss the basis of our unity or federalism. Another school of thought believes the 2014 National Conference report would do just fine if only President Muhammadu Buhari will sign it off for proper implementation.  Again, there are those who simply want PMB to set up a constitutional conference where a process led, participatory and inclusive constitution will be fashioned out.  They said that the draft of this new constitution will be subjected to nationwide referendum just as was done in Kenya in 2010. Yet,  some others believe all of those thoughts  are delusional as the National Assembly as presently constituted are elected representatives of the people of Nigeria and should be allowed to amend the extant constitution to reflect the restructuring pattern desired by Nigerians. (It is noteworthy that NASS has already commenced the fourth amendment to the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria.) Cacophony of voices you would say! 

 For those who are rooting for restructuring, the scope and timeline for the exercise have generated another round of heated argument. There are those who believe that diversification of the economy is tantamount to restructuring. There are those who believe it is just an integral part of it. Those with a radical bent are calling for wide range of changes  such as devolution of powers from the federal to state governments; local government autonomy;  resource control for states;  review of revenue formula in  favour of states;  creation of state police;  merger of unviable states and local governments or altogether go back to regionalism of the 60s;  reverse to parliamentary system of government as was the case in the First Republic Nigeria;  adoption of single chamber parliament  as against the present bicameral legislature at the centre. (Some are calling for outright disbandment of Senate as was the case in Senegal in September 2012.) There are those also calling for rotational presidency as well as zoning of political offices to be enshrined in  the constitution rather than leaving it as internal political party affairs. Furthermore, there are those calling for the amendment to section 147(3) of the Nigerian Constitution which makes it mandatory for the president to appoint at least a minister from each of the states of the federation.

The good thing about all these agitations is that if the PMB administration will dispassionately look at them, it will help to strengthen our democracy. The ‘national questions’ as some political scientists have tended to label the agitations, is not something to be wished away but something to pay attention to. I am all for restructuring provided it will enhance good governance and lead to higher standard of living for the greater majority of Nigerians. The cry about marginalisation is strident because of lack of opportunities for self-actualisation by many Nigerians.

Even if Nigeria will break up, let us go the way of Czechoslovakia and not Yugoslavia. It would be recalled that while the former was peaceful, the latter was achieved after a long internecine war where hundreds of thousands lives were lost. The dissolution of the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republic (USSR) was also largely peaceful.  In 2014, United Kingdom held a referendum for the Scottish people to know if they want to stay or leave the UK. They voted to stay. I have always advised ethnic jingoists spoiling for war of self-determination to look at the example of South Sudan who fought a protracted war with Sudan only to degenerate into civil war barely two years after gaining independence in 2011. 

I believe we are better off together as a country. Our diversity is our strength and should be harnessed for national development. The evils we have to deal decisively with are corruption, nepotism, cronyism, social inequalities, self-aggrandisement; elite-centred governance rather than a pro-poor government. With inclusive government, equitable distribution of opportunities and delivery of dividends of democracy the cry of marginalisation and restructuring will gradually cease. Nigeria must survive!

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

My voyage to Yankari Game Reserve, Bauchi

I am a culture icon. I love Nigerian culture and have been doing everything to promote it. I prefer our native attires to foreign ones, likewise is my bias for Nigerian cuisines, films, and music. Through the use of social media, I have been promoting my native Yoruba language by delving into my repertoire of our proverbs and translating them into English language for global audience.  I have visited many Nigerian tourist sites and written about the need to harness their potentials for national development.  More so, as we venture to diversify our economy into the non-oil sector.

Some of the Nigerian tourist sites I have previously visited include the Obudu Cattle Ranch, Old Residency Museum, and Tinapa Business Resort all in Cross River State. I have also been to Gurara Waterfall and Zuma Rock in Niger State, Shere Hills and Jos Museum in Plateau State; Olumo Rock in Abeokuta and Awo Mausoleum in Ikenne in Ogun State, Kano Tie and Dye Pit and Aminu Kano Mambaya House in Kano State. Others include, Ikogosi Warm Spring in Ekiti State; Igun Street Bronze Carving Centres, Oba of Benin Palace and Bini Museum in Edo State; Ife Museum, Ooni of Ife Palace, Oranmiyan Staff site in Osun State; Mapo Hall, Ibadan Zoological Garden and Agodi Gardens in Ibadan, Oyo State; National War Museum in Umuahia, Abia State; River Niger and River Benue Confluence Point in Lokoja, Kogi State and Lagos Bar Beach, Badagry Slave Centre, First Storey Building in Nigeria as well as National Arts Theatre all in Lagos State.

Outside of the shores of Nigeria, I have had the privilege of visiting some of the tourist sites of countries I have visited. These include: Cape Coast Castle, Elmina Castle, and Kakum National Park in Ghana; Jet d'Eau, the Flower Clock, Geneva Museum, Boat Ride on Geneva River and the Palace of Nations  in Geneva, Switzerland. In the United States of America, I have had the privilege of visiting the White House, Lincoln Memorial, and the United States Capitol. In Egypt, I have been to the Nile Riverview of Beheira, Alexandria castle built over 500 years ago and Mediterranean sea beach both in Alexandria and the vintage Pyramids and Sphinx at Giza. During my recent visit to Uganda (February 2016), I was at the Nabugabo Sand Beach in Masaka District, Makerere University as well as the Uganda Equator. These are just to mention but a few of my odysseys as a veteran tourist. 

My latest adventure took me to another of Nigeria’s landmark tourist sites, that is, the Yankari Game Reserve in Bauchi which was established in 1956 but open to public on December 1, 1962. Unknown to many, Bauchi State has a total of 55 tribal groups in which Hausa, Fulani, Gerawa, Sayawa, Jarawa, Kirfawa, Turawa Bolewa, Karekare, Kanuri, Fa’awa, Butawa, Warjawa, Zulawa, and Badawa are the main tribes. In Hausa language, the word Bauchi means the land of freedom and tourism. What is now known as Bauchi was until 1976 a province in the then North-Eastern State of Nigeria. According to the 2006 census, the state has a population of 4,653,066. The State governor is Barrister M.A. Abubakar, whom I have known during his tenure as a national commissioner at the Independent National Electoral Commission.

It is noteworthy that the state has produced many prominent Nigerians. They include the first Prime Minister of Nigeria, Alhaji Tafawa Balewa, the incumbent Speaker of the House of Representatives and Number Four Citizen of Nigeria, Rt. Hon. Yakubu Dogara, the immediate past Executive Secretary of Tertiary Education Trust Fund, Prof. Sulaiman Elias Bogoro as well as the present INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu. Bauchi State is the home of Wikki Tourist Football Club. I was so excited seeing women riding motorcycles in the State. This is because it is uncommon to see such in South West Nigeria where I am from. I also noted that commercial transport operators in the State are in love with Opel Vectra car which is very prominent on Bauchi roads.

The State is blessed with a number of mineral resources like Cassilerite Limestone, Kaolin, Gypsum, Antimony, Iron Ore, Gold, Marble, Columbite and Zinc. Noticeable deposits of Petroleum related resources have reportedly been discovered, while precious stones like Sulphur, Amities and Aquamarine are also available

The Yankari Resort and Safari is situated about 115km south-east of Bauchi Town in Alkaleri Local Government. Its attractions include a wide variety of animals including the African Bush Elephant, Olive Baboon, Patas Monkey, Lions, the African Buffalo, and Hippopotamus, among others. There is also the Wikki natural warm spring with excellent bathing facilities, Marshall Cave and fish ponds. The Park is reputed to be the first of its kind in West Africa.

Before my last Saturday’s visit to Yankari, I had previously been to the tomb of the late Prime Minister of Nigeria, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa which is located along the Ran Road in Bauchi.  It would be recalled that Balewa was assassinated in the 1966 coup that led to the Nigeria civil war. The tomb site is also a museum which houses the personal effects of the late Prime Minister, including his wrist watch, radio and cap, displayed in glass cases.

My adventure to Yankari Game Reserve was very memorable. I was amazed at the Wikki natural warm spring. If I were not hydrophobic, I would have joined the multitudes of Nigerians and foreigners swimming in the pool. The safari tour of the 2,244 square kilometres (866 sq mi) of the Game Reserve was very refreshing. Though it contained over 50 species of animals and 350 species of birds, my team was not fortunate to see many of them as it was getting to midday when we went on the tour and many of the animals were said to have gone inside the forest to shield themselves from the sun. I was however able to visit the museum and saw many of the animal skins and carcasses, as well as   hunting gear on display. I also saw the various herbs and plants.

I like the serenity and the natural ambience of the Resort. Unfortunately, the restaurant there is very sloppy with its catering services and I left the Park very hungry when I could not get food to buy. I would advise visitors to the Game Reserve to bring along their food except they are going to be lodging in any of the 110 well-furnished chalets provided by the Park management.  I was also very disappointed that there were not many branded souvenirs to buy there. What was available at the time of my visit was a child’s T-shirt. The management of the Park should know that this is a goldmine it could tap to boost its internally generated revenue. There was also an earth-mover (Caterpillar) which broke down blocking the pathway in the Game Reserve. The management ought to have towed this off the road or create another path for the tour vehicles. On the whole, it was a memorable voyage and I look forward to many more future visits.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Citizens’ role in Nigerian security

The security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government – Section 14 (2) (b) of 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as amended.

Globally, the greatest danger faced by many countries is not the much parroted economic recession but insecurity. Many hitherto safe havens are now faced with the monster of terrorism. Just last Monday, July 4, 2016, Saudi Arabia was hit by wave of terror attacks which claimed four lives. Not even Medina, one of the holiest sites in Islam – was spared.  Iraq, Syria, Turkey, Belgium, France, United States of America, Ukraine, Niger Republic, Cameroon, Chad, Mali and our dear Nigeria are some of the countries that have in recent past been faced with terror attacks. Indeed, I can say without equivocation that insecurity is one of the top three problems facing Nigeria at present. Since 2009, insurgency has been plaguing the country with about twenty thousands lives lost to the Boko Haram challenge alone. Alongside are the soaring incidences of kidnapping for ransom, banditry, herdsmen attacks on farmers, cultism, rape and other sundry acts of criminality.

Annually, Nigeria defence budget ranks among the top three in terms of allocation. Yet the country is less secure. This is in spite of the creation of many security agencies. Today, apart from the traditional security outfits constitutionally established such as the Police and armed forces – Navy, Air force and the Army; Para-military agencies such as the State Security Service,  the National Intelligence Agency,  the Defence Intelligence Service  as well as  the Nigeria  Security and Civil Defence Corps have been established by the Acts of  Parliament. Many private security companies have also been licensed to operate in the country. The question is, in spite of all these plethora of security agencies, why do Nigerians still feel unsafe and insecure?

After much brooding, I found that the missing link has been the citizens of this country. We are the ones that have made the country ungovernable.   I concede that it is not all of us, but a significant number of my compatriots. How? When the Nigerian Constitution placed the burden of security and welfare of the people on the government, the grundnorm simply asked us to take care of ourselves. Government is not a person. It is an impersonal noun. People run government, isn’t it? We, electorates, who are part of the citizenry, elect our leaders to secure our lives and care for our wellbeing. It’s a form of social contract. The point is that, the leaders we have elected or appointed as the case may be are part of the citizenry. Now, if the leaders will serve us well and not engage in rat race for personal aggrandisement, this country would have been a better place to live.

It all starts from the basics. Take our electoral process for instance, according to George Jean Nathan, “Bad officials are the ones elected by good citizens who do not vote.” Many of us fail to exercise our franchise at elections. We refuse to take interest in dispassionately assessing who become our leaders. Instead of following political debates, we are busy following English Premiership Football or Telemundo. On the day of election, we complain about the weather and refuse to participate in the voting process. We fail to join political parties and never bothered to contest elections even when we are convinced we could do better than the present crops of political actors and gladiators. We prefer the appellation of social critics and human rights activists. So when the clueless and brainless get voted into office, we increase our wailing. 

When the dishonourable citizens get into political offices either by election or appointment, nothing noble could be expected of them. That is why we see all manner of atrocities being committed by our so called leaders.  A case in point is the unfolding drama about the mind-boggling N2.1bn meant for the purchase of arms and ammunition to fight insurgency in the North East Nigeria which was allegedly diverted by our former National Security Adviser. The immediate past NSA in cahoots with some top military brass as well as their civilian collaborators reportedly used the money meant to buy sophisticated weapons to fight insurgency to partly illegally fund the elections of some political gladiators while the remaining was used to purchase some archaic military hardware. Anyone following the revelations from the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission at the court proceedings where some of these looters are at present being tried would be shocked at the gargantuan and humongous sums of money reportedly stolen and now partly recovered from some of these scoundrels in government.  Just picture in your mind how the unpatriotic acts of the accused citizens have led to the death and displacement of thousands of their fellow citizens.

The people who are engaged in pipeline vandalism, cultism, kidnapping, armed robbery and other sundry crimes which have made this country insecure are mainly compatriots, fellow citizens.  There are those of us who are guilty by association. Take for example those in charge of our armoury either in the military or police who sell or loan weapons to criminal elements to perpetrate crimes on the rest of society.  There are also those of us who are fifth columnists and saboteurs who leak information to criminals on how they can go about their evil business without being caught. We aid and abet the criminals by not giving vital information which could lead to their arrests to security agencies.  In many neighbourhoods where the resident associations decided to hire private security guards to protect them, there are some tenants and landlords who often refuse to pay their security fees as at when due. That is wrong!

Our salvation lies in our hands as it concerns security. We need to collectively change our nonchalance attitude to safety and security. As a good citizen, if you see something, say something! As rightly observed by Andrew Jackson, “Every good citizen makes his country's honour his own, and cherishes it not only as precious but as sacred. He is willing to risk his life in its defence and is conscious that he gains protection while he gives it.” Let us be the change we want to see. Let’s be good citizens in our own right and see whether all these hullaballoo about insecurity  will not be reduced to the barest minimum. We are the world, we are the government, we are the ones that will make Nigeria secure.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

The spat between the Nigerian Senate and Presidency

Since his emergence as the Senate President on June 9, 2015, Senator Bukola Saraki -  medical doctor, former aide to President Olusegun Obasanjo, two term governor of Kwara State, former chairman of Nigeria’s Governor’s Forum and two term Senator – have been in the eye of the storm. His emergence as Senate President allegedly irked his party, All Progressives Congress, leadership. The party executive had thrown its weight behind Senator Ahmed Lawan from Yobe State as the the preferred choice.

However, using his political dexterity, the Kwara born political tactician decided to cut deal with senators from his former party, Peoples Democratic Party. He triumphed and was sworn in as Senate president and concomitantly as the chairman of the National Assembly.  As part of the deal, Senator Ike Ekweremadu from the opposing PDP was voted in as Deputy Senate President. APC leadership saw this as an affront, a sacrilege! PDP had ruled Nigeria for 16 years and in the four electoral cycles that the party held sway; it never shared the leadership positions with the opposition parties in the National Assembly as done by Senator Bukola Saraki and his group of like-minded senators.   

That is how the trials and travails of the Senate President began. No sooner had he won that his wife was invited by Economic and Financial Commission for questioning over financial matters when she was the first lady of Kwara State. It was soon the turn of her husband, Bukola. A directing staff in the Office of Attorney General and Minister of Justice dragged the distinguished senator to the Code of Conduct Tribunal .The original 13 counts comprise false asset declaration and maintaining of offshore account while serving as Governor of Kwara State between 2003 and 2011.

Recently there were additional two charges that Saraki continued to receive salaries and emoluments as governor of Kwara State after the expiration of his tenure and at the same time, from the Federal Government, as a Senator between June 2011 and October 2013. The other additional charge is that Saraki failed to declare to the Code of Conduct Bureau on assumption of office as Governor of Kwara State in 2003, his leasehold interest in the property at 42 Remi Fani-Kayode Street, Ikeja, Lagos.

The senate president has since last year been battling for his political life at Justice Danladi Umar’s CCT. His legal team has been using all the tricks in the law books to buy time or have the charges quashed. They have been filing all manner of ex-parte motions and interlocutory appeals. Saraki’s counsels have also challenged the jurisdiction of the tribunal to try him while also arguing that the CCT is not properly constituted. The Senate President’s legal team has equally asked the judge to disqualify himself due to a supposed EFCC indictment of a bribery allegation against him.

While still facing the asset declaration trial, the Attorney General and Minister of Justice Mr. Abubakar Malami, SAN on behalf of the federal government dragged the SP and his deputy, Senator Ike Ekweremadu as well as the former Clerk of the National Assembly and his deputy to the Federal High Court in Abuja over an alleged forgery of senate rules. Senator Suleiman Hunkuyi, had petitioned the Inspector General of Police alleging forgery of the Senate Standing Rule 2015. This was investigated by the police and a report on it submitted to the AGF. Mr. Malami, purportedly acting on the police report in June 2016 decided to file criminal charges against the four accused persons.

However, before this, Senator Gilbert Nnaji on June 23 had filed a case against the IGP and AGF at the Federal High Court challenging the propriety of the police report on the alleged forgery of the Senate Standing Rule. He later filed a motion ex-parte in which he asked the court to stop the IGP and AGF from taking any step on the police report, pending the determination of the originating summon. Sequel to the action filed by Senator Nnaji, Justice Gabriel Kolawole had asked parties not to do anything on the police report during the pendency of the civil suit so as not to render the civil action nugatory.

Last Thursday, June 30, 2016 Justice Kolawole berated the AGF, saying he ought to use his power under the law to terminate any charge filed in breach of court process but he found himself as a promoter of such abuse. He said the AGF acted in bad faith because before his appointment as AGF, he was one of leading lawyers to Hunkuyi who authored the petitions upon which the police report was prepared and upon which the forgery charge initiated by the federal government was predicated. By his involvement as a private lawyer in the civil matter before the criminal charge was preferred against the defendants, Kolawole insisted that the AGF knew of the pendency of several court actions on the issues and ought to have used his office and law to terminate the flagrant abuse of the legal process.

Expectedly, Saraki and Ekweremadu alongside their like-minded senators have accused the presidency and APC party leaders as being behind their political travails. They alleged witch-hunt and political persecution. Some PDP senators have threatened to withdraw their support for Buhari presidency while some APC senators have also said they will decamp to the PDP. In the course of the roforofo fight between the two arms of government, the senate had attempted to amend the CCT act as well as insert immunity clause for the leadership of the National Assembly in the proposed constitutional amendment. Senate had also summoned the AGF to appear before it to explain the issues of conflict of interest, abuse of office, disrespect of a subsisting order of a court and violation of the principle of Separation of Powers. Nigeria Chief Law Officer is yet to appear before the senate to answer the query.

The presidency has washed its hands off senate leaders trial saying the law is taking its course.  Presidency has also said that it is not the senate or National Assembly that is on trial but a couple of individuals. Those who believe that do not  understand what in military parlance is called espirit de corps or solidarity. The question is: If Saraki were to have obeyed the party decision not to contest the senate presidency, will he have been accused of false asset declaration or forgery of senate rules?

Political persecution or not, what is happening is good for our democracy. It shows that no one is above the law and that there is no expiry date for crimes committed. If VIPs like the No. 3 and 4 citizens could be called to answer for their actions, then there is no one that cannot be tried for crimes committed. It may yet be a blessing in disguise for the accused persons as their trial is a golden opportunity to defend themselves and possibly get discharged and acquitted of all the allegations leveled against them.

Follow me on twitter @jideojong


Sunday, July 3, 2016

Panacea to harmful widowhood practices in Nigeria

"The 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda with its pledge to leave no one behind has a particular resonance for widows, who are among the most marginalised and isolated.” –United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon.

June 23 of every year has been set aside by the United Nations as International Widow’s Day. This year’s theme is “Never Alone”.  The UN General Assembly declared 23 June 2011 as the first-ever International Widows’ Day to give special recognition to the situation of widows of all ages and across regions and cultures. According to the international organisation, “absent in statistics, unnoticed by researchers, neglected by national and local authorities and mostly overlooked by civil society organisations – the situation of widows is, in effect, invisible. Yet abuse of widows and their children constitutes one of the most serious violations of human rights and obstacles to development today. Millions of the world’s widows endure extreme poverty, ostracism, violence, homelessness, ill health and discrimination in law and custom.”

There are estimated 259 million widows around the world with a sizeable number of them in underdeveloped and conflict prone environment. In Nigeria, the 1967 – ‘70 civil war and the Boko Haram insurgency from 2009 to date have created more widows than at any other time in the post-independent era Nigeria. This is because men are the ones that are mobilised to fight war. It is difficult to have accurate statistics of widows in Nigeria as nobody seems to be tracking it. However, the number will be in millions.

Widowhood rites differ across different tribes and ethnic groups in Nigeria and there are over two hundred and fifty ethic identities in this country. Some of the harmful practices include confinement, defacement, disinheritance, ritual cleansing, and discrimination.  To further break it down, once a man dies, the wife automatically becomes confined indoor to mourn the departed husband. The duration of this rite vary from one culture to the other. During this period, particularly in Igboland, the widow’s head is shaved clean and she is made to sleep on bare floor. Some widows are also not allowed to bathe during the morning period while they are made to wear black cloth. In some culture, as a proof that the widow has no hand in the death of the husband, she is made to swear and drink of the water used in bathing the corpse of her husband. Failure to do this is interpreted to mean that the woman is the architect of the death of her husband. That could lead to her excommunication.

In some cultures, particularly among the Yorubas, the widow could be affianced to the younger brother of the deceased husband. Thus, the same woman could have children for two brothers within the same family. The major challenge widows’ face is that of disinheritance. More often than not, these endangered species are stripped completely of their husbands’ assets by their families. It matters little if the properties in question were jointly owned by the couple. In such circumstance, the woman, especially if she happens to be a full time housewife will become economically disempowered and would then graduate to a destitute as she will find it increasingly difficult to fend for herself and her children, especially if they are still very young.    This wicked act of confiscating and denying women inheritance has cut short many widows lives as they become stressed, sick and ultimately died prematurely if they are not helped out of poverty on time. In fact, this is what often leads many young widows to remarry.

In a locus classicus case on inheritance, Nigeria’s Supreme Court in April 2014 ruled to abolish the ancient culture in Igboland that denies women the right of inheriting property in their father’s house. Specifically, a five-man panel of Justices of the apex court held that the practice conflicted with section 42(1)(a) and (2) of the 1999 Constitution.  According to the court, “Any culture that dis-inherits a daughter from her father’s estate or wife from her husband’s property by reason of God instituted gender differential should be punitively dealt with”. Despite this noble judgment, the inhuman act of disinheritance of widow is still very much in practice in Igboland.

It is easier to deprive widows of their inheritance if the marriage is contracted under native law and customs, especially when the husband dies intestate, that is, without a Will (a statement of what somebody wants to happen to his or her property after he or she dies, or a legal document containing this statement.) The widow may also lose out of benefiting from her husband’s pension savings, gratuity, insurance claim, bank savings and other financial investments if she is not made the Next-of -Kin in the records of those transactions.  The ripple effect of harmful widowhood practices is that it concomitantly affects the children of the deceased as the destiny of many of them may be truncated if they do not have anyone to assist them through schools or acquisition of life skills after the death of their fathers.  More so, if the children are still at tender age or formative years of their lives.

It is high time something drastic is done to halt these harmful cultural practices. Government, civil society organisations, culture icons, opinion moulders; traditional rulers and religious leaders need to embark on comprehensive sensitisation campaigns against these obnoxious and archaic practices.  Men should learn to write Will so that their family will be legally guided on the sharing of their estates. Men, particularly those who have one wife should make their spouses their Next-of-Kin if they truly love them. If they would not do that for any personal reason, then it should be their sons. Should they make the mistake of using their brother or sibling as Next-of-Kin, they should be rest assured that their immediate family will be cheated out of any accrued benefits derivable. Economic empowerment of our wives should also be of utmost importance. The starting point here is even to have those who are illiterates trained up in formal education. This will make them aware of their rights, even as widows. Second, it will make such educated women employable and as such able to support in the home management. Should that not be an option, the wives could be assisted to learn a vocation or start off a trade.

For widows who are at present suffering from these antediluvian cultural norms; they need not die in silence. They should speak out and seek help. National Human Rights Commission, Legal Aid Council, Office of Public Defenders, National Association of Women Journalists, International  Federation of Women Lawyers, Women Rights Advancement Protection Alternatives, Women Aids Collective  are few of the state and non-state actors from which they could seek help.

Jide is the Executive Director of OJA Development Consult.