Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Are Nigerian food vendors merchants of deaths?

Every living thing – human beings, animals and indeed plants - need food and water to live. They are one of the basic necessities of life, the other two being clothing and shelter. Ironically, many Nigerians are being fed with poisons in the name of food. A visit to our foodstuff markets will reveal to discerning minds that many of the raw food offered for sale are not fit for human consumption. They are either adulterated or contaminated.
Nutrition experts said many of the chemicals used to preserve most of the foods on sale in Nigeria are dangerous to human health. Some of the poultry products on sale in our markets are preserved with poisonous chemicals. An April 29, 2016 report in Thisday newspaper entitled “Imported Frozen Poultry Product as a Silent Killer” stated that “Medical experts have noted that these imported products are poisonous because smugglers use formalin, to preserve and keep them fresh from neighboring countries till it gets to Nigeria. Formalin is a cancer causing chemical capable of initiating liver and kidney diseases.” Even local butchers have been accused of using formalin to drive away flies from their meat while some fruit sellers used it as well to preserve their fruits from going bad quickly. I have also watched a clip where some frozen chickens were being injected with steroids to increase their sizes.
In order to reduce or totally prevent post-harvest loses, many commercial farmers use all manner of toxic pesticides and insecticides to preserve their grains. Some of the chemicals applied are supposed to be for six months or a year but in situations where there are huge demands for such grains, they are prematurely brought to the market for sale. With the toxicity levels of these products still high, they end up posing health challenges to consumers.     
Some  plantain and banana sellers are alleged to be using ashes and carbide to forcefully ripen their products. This is a dangerous practice as it constitutes health hazards to consumers. Many women who go shopping at the local markets will bear me witness of the many adulterated products being offered for sale. It ranges from rice, to beans, garri, yam flour, cassava flour, grinded pepper, egusi, groundnut oil, palm oil to honey and all sorts. Only experienced women and men know how to spot the difference between the fake and the original.
Some canned foods are not left out. They are either fake or expired; yet they are offered for sale to unsuspecting members of the public. Same goes for many of the bottled drinks. There is a raging controversy that many of the soft drinks contain certain amount of pesticides. Early this year, a Lagos High Court ruled that high levels of benzoic acid and additives in some soft drinks could pose a health risk to consumers when mixed with ascorbic acid, commonly known as Vitamin C. There is also the fear that the sugar contents of many of the soft drinks produced for consumption in Nigeria is too high and makes consumers prone to obesity and diabetes.
Due to epileptic power supply, many of the restaurants, cafeteria and bukataria (some call them cholera joints) operating in Nigeria are said to use all manner of preservatives whose chemical compositions may not be health friendly. That’s why some of the meals offered for sale there have funny taste.  As I write this, despite the warning by Honourable Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh for Nigerians to stop the habit of cooking moimoi (beans paste) with cellophane (nylon) bags, the practice is still sustained in many households.
It will be recalled that Ogbeh made the disclosure on June 2, 2016 when he spoke at the public hearing on Food Security Bill, organised by the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development in Abuja. According to him, cellophane bags contain a large dosage of dioxins that are harmful to health. He advised lovers of the delicacy to make use of leaves in the preparation rather than cellophane, adding that leaves do not contain such poisonous substance.
 Ogbeh, a farmer with decades of experience, said beans and grains preserved with over dosage of pesticides by farmers and sellers had killed many unsuspecting Nigerians. He also said the consumption of (pure) water in sachets exposed to sun at over 28 degree Celsius was poisonous and its consumption responsible for many cases of kidney and liver failure among Nigerians. The minister said poorly boiled meat could cause tuberculosis. He warned further that the wrong application of fertiliser by farmers has also led to consumption of poisonous foods. “Unknown to many farmers, there is specific fertiliser for specific crops in specific states in line with soil texture’’, he said. Despite this timely warning more than a year ago, Nigerians still carry on with scant regards for food safety.
Food safety is very important but our people cared less about it. Often times, I see women using road sides to dry cassava flour and grains such as guinea corn, maize, rice and the likes. This is a dangerous practice. It is the mishandling of our food that led to many instances of families dying or having running stomach after meal. It would be recalled that in June 2015, the local gin, popularly known as ogogoro reportedly killed 70 people in Woji and Gokana communities of Rivers State. Nnanna Onyekwere, the Director Public Health Services, Rivers Ministry of Health, while confirming the deaths told the News Agency of Nigeria in Port Harcourt that two of the survivors had visual impairment. The deaths were recorded as a result of contamination of the locally brewed drink.  It is most disheartening that our government is trying to promote genetically modified organism better known as GMO food consumption. It is widely believed that they are unsafe.
It is imperative for Nigerian health officials responsible for food safety and security to redouble their efforts to educate Nigerians about the dangers of some of the foods and drinks being consumed in this country. National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control, Ministry of Health, especially Department of Public Health and Preventive Medicine, Environmental Health Officers or Sanitary Inspectors, National Orientation Agency and Nigerian media among others have a big role to play in sensitizing, the public and confiscating as well as arresting  anyone who imports or locally manufactures dangerous foods and drinks. There is no gainsaying that many of the itemised unwholesome practices in the handling of Nigerian foods are what is responsible for the rise in incidences of cancer, kidney, heart and liver failures, hypertension, diabetes and indeed premature deaths. A stich in time saves nine!

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Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Why Ndi-Anambra should ignore IPOB

Anambra, the Light of the Nation, is set to witness the election of a new governor come next Saturday, November 18, 2017. The Independent National Electoral Commission had on February 23 this year published the timetable for this looming election. The 10 months advance notice is now down to 72 hours before the D-Day. Such is life; it’s a day that is not set that does not come.
What will happen on Saturday? Will the over two million Anambra registered voters heed the call of Indigenous People of Biafra and boycott the election or will they turn out en-masse? Will the incumbent Governor Willie Obiano retain his coveted seat as the number one citizen in the state or will he be dethroned? Will the election be concluded on the first ballot or will it be inconclusive? Will the poll be peaceful and credible or will there be violence and electoral heist? I am not Nostradamus, the man who saw tomorrow. However, I will appeal to the good people of Anambra to allow for peaceful, credible and successful election that will be exemplary.
Anambra is allegedly the state with the highest number of Billionaires. A state renowned for its commerce and industry is also the home state of political heavyweights like the first President of Nigeria, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, former Vice President Alex Ekwueme, First Senate President of Nigeria Nwafor Orizu. Leader of Biafra, Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, the home state of literary icons like Prof. Chinua Achebe, Cyprian Ekwensi ,  Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche, Philip Emegwali, Prof. Dora Akunyili and Prof. Chike Obi;   the home of former Secretary General  of Commonwealth, Chief Emeka Anyaoku, the state of business mogul, Sir  Louis Odumegwu Ojukwu  who was the first Nigerian millionaire and first president of the Nigerian Stock Exchange. It is also the state of  ace highlife musician, Chief Osita Osadebe.
According to INEC,  Anambra State is made up of  21 Local Government Areas, 326 Registration Areas (Wards), 4,608 Polling Units,  while 2, 158, 171 registered voters are expected to participate in the election. About 23,000 ad-hoc staff will be deployed to conduct the election while the Nigerian Police is deploying about 26,000 personnel to maintain law and order during the poll.  Since the announcement of the election date on February 23, a lot of activities have been undertaken by different stakeholders.
On the part of INEC, the commission has conducted  voter education, recruitment and training of poll workers, monitoring of the conduct of political party primaries, conduct of Continuous Voter Registration Exercise, spearheading the meeting of Inter-Agency Consultative Committee on Election Security, accreditation of election observers, party agents, and  journalists, meeting with different stakeholders like the political parties, civil society organisations and the media as well as procurement of both sensitive and non-sensitive election materials. The CSOs working on election have observed the CVR exercise including distribution of Permanent Voters Card and transfer of voters registration details on request by voters. CSOs have also been grossly involved in the conduct of Security Threat Assessment, Voter Education as well as recruitment and registration of election observers with INEC.  They have also partnered with the media to conduct debate for some of the frontline candidates in the election. On the part of security agencies, they have been doing mapping of flashpoints and hotspots, profiling and deployment of personnel for election security.
Now, all seems set for a hitch free gubernatorial election in Anambra State come next Saturday. Unfortunately, IPOB over the weekend has been issuing conflicting orders to the people of Anambra State. The first was to threaten anyone who comes out to vote on Saturday with death. This initial hardline stance was later moderated to call for total boycott by the voters. This development is very disheartening. It is heart-rending because in the last two gubernatorial elections in the state, voters turnout had not been impressive. In 2010, the turnout was a mere 17 per cent of the total registered voters while in 2013 when the last governorship poll was held, the voters turnout was 24  per cent. That happened when there was no subtle threat by IPOB. What will now happen with the IPOB’s order of mass boycott?
It is important for Ndi-Anambra to know that, in as much as voting is not compulsory in Nigeria; it is their inalienable right to exercise their franchise. They should stop being arm-chair critics. This is the time to either reward the incumbent governor with a second term in office, if he had governed well or vote him out of power, if he has misruled them. Interestingly, Anambra is making history next Saturday by fielding the highest number of candidates in any election since Nigeria started electoral democracy in 1922. There are 37 candidates vying for the governorship position. Of that number, five political parties are fielding female governorship candidates while eight other political parties are having female deputy governorship candidates.  In truth, these 37 candidates are made up of contenders and pretenders. In actual fact, going by popularity, visibility and campaign expenditure,  there are just about five serious contenders in the election and these were the ones that featured in the CSO led  political debate moderated by Channels Television last Sunday, November 12. They are the candidates of All Progressives Grand Alliance, All Progressives Congress, United Progressive Party, Peoples Democratic Party, and the Progressives Peoples Alliance.
As the Election Day approaches and campaign ends tomorrow, political parties and candidates contesting the election should eschew malicious and unfounded rumor peddling. The fake news peddled by one of the party chairmen last week that two lorry loads of sensitive election materials were moved to a hotel in Awka should be disregarded and withdrawn by the person who made the unsubstantiated allegation.   INEC needs the support of all the election stakeholders to guarantee and deliver peaceful and credible election. Poll workers must resist the temptation of being financially induced to perpetrate electoral fraud by politicians. Contestants and their supporters must also eschew violence before, during and after the elections. Security agents on election duty must be very professional. They should stick to their duty of providing election security. Political parties must join INEC and CSOs to mobilise voters to come out and vote. The electorate too must conduct themselves in orderly manner at the Polling Units. Those who have no PVC or not willing to vote should not bother coming to the precinct of the PU. Party agents too must ensure orderly behavior at their Polling Units while accredited journalists should be factual and embrace conflict sensitive reportage. May the best candidate win!

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Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Dry season and the need for safety precautions

As the rainfall recedes and dry season takes over in Nigeria, a mixed grill of emotion is palpable. Those whose houses are prone to flood and have therefore gone to take refuge elsewhere are joyful to return home with the cessation of rain. Also gone is the blowing off of rooftops by windstorms, the marshy roads, the excessive wetness and other negative things associated with the rainy season. Now we are effectively in dry season. Should we rejoice?
Well, yes. We should be happy that the dry season is here. The harvest season for the farmers is here. Time of plenty and cheap food is here. Time of festivities, celebrations and partying has come Time of vacationing has dawned. However, dry season brings with it harmattan haze. Now, the fog and dew of harmattan makes visibility poor. Indeed, many flights are cancelled for that single reason as many pilots will not dare to fly blind; same with vehicular traffic. Poor visibility arising from harmattan smog has been responsible for many road crashes. It is ironic that some drivers who could not see up to 50 meters ahead of them will still be running at top speed because of the false sense of security that they are familiar with the road. What if the vehicle coming in opposite direction is not familiar with the highway as you are? It is therefore important for drivers, especially commercial drivers, to be extra cautious driving through the harmattan fog.  It is advisable that they drive with their headlamp and hazard lights on. This will indicate to other road users that a vehicle is coming their way.
A huge challenge posed by dry season is the numerous fire outbreaks associated with it. Annually, billions of Naira is lost to fire disasters in Nigeria. Wildfires are very common this season and any careless handling of fire this period could spell doom for many farmers. Smokers should beware of how they dispose off their cigarrete butts.  Those who are in the habit of hunting for bush-rats should take caution not to set farmlands on fire in order to smoke out rats and rodents. In our homes, everyone must be thought about safety and security. Many homes now use cooking gas especially in urban centres. This is an inappropriate time for children to be playing with matches in the kitchen or near cooking gas. Anything that is highly inflammable can cause major fire disaster, if not handled with care.  Over the weekend, a house in my neighbourhood was gutted by fire. Luckily only a part of the building was razed as sympathisers quickly moved in to assist in putting off the inferno.
Gas stations, fuel depots and public and private buildings should ensure that they have fire extinguishers handy as a first aid in case of fire outbreak. All electrical appliances not in use should be switched off and removed from the sockets to prevent electrical sparks from power surge. Nigerian Fire Service should be proactive by embarking on massive public awareness campaigns on prevention of fire outbreaks, evacuation tips in case of fire disasters and how to contact fire service in an emergency. The Fire Service at all tiers of government must be well resourced to rise up to the challenge of rapid response to emergency during this season. The media should partner the Fire Service in carrying out this fire safety and security campaign. Many of our radio and television programmes should centre on how to prevent and respond to fire disasters with experts from the Fire Service invited to come and educate the public. National Orientation Agency also owe it a duty to partner with the Nigerian Fire Service to embark on public outreach through road shows across our market places, motor parks and  other  public spaces to educate the masses on dangers and prevention of fire disasters.
It behooves the Federal Road Safety Corps to also carry out public enlightenment programmes at our motor parks to educate the commercial drivers on how to drive when there is harmattan miasma. This should be stepped up to radio and television programmes.
It is noteworthy that dry season is not only associated with high incidences of fire disasters; it also brings about outbreak of certain types of diseases. These include meningitis, catarrh, cough, sunburn, conjunctivitis, stomach ailments, skin diseases like heat rashes and rabies. The dust of the dry season can also trigger asthma and bronchitis attacks. A lot of people and animals will also experience dehydration while the excessive heat can cause sleeplessness.  It is therefore important for parents and guardians to ensure proper clothing for family members and other preventive measures in order to stay healthy this season.
Another thing that dry season triggers is the migration of animals. Because many rivers and streams will dry off likewise the vegetation, animals will foray to wherever they can get green pasture and water for their consumption. It is therefore very likely that many cattle herders will move their herds to where they could get food and water. This may cause spike in the herders and farmers clashes as the famished cattle may not discriminate between the farmers cops and grass in their incursion. Am flagging this issue so that relevant authorities can start mapping out preventive measures that will help to preempt this foretold conflict.
As we hold our parties this season let us be mindful of how we handle fire and combustible materials. Let us take heed of the dangers inherent in this hot, dry season. Let all relevant government agencies such as the FRSC, NOA, Nigeria Meteorological Agency, Nigeria Fire Service, and the Nigeria Emergency Management Agency get prepared, like Boys Scout, to play their role of sensitization, prevention, rapid response and rescue. I must warn that Nigerian public should do away with the dangerous culture of fiddling  with fireworks this Yuletide season. Safety first, safety always!  
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Wednesday, November 1, 2017

The birth of North East Development Commission

“I expect that the expeditious coming into force of the commission will remedy the long years of under-development suffered by the region. The recovery and redevelopment of the zone devastated by terrorism is expected to last decades.” – Rt. Hon. Yakubu Dogara, Speaker, House of Representatives.
News broke last week that President Muhammadu Buhari has assented to the North East Development Commission bill passed by the National Assembly. I congratulate the Speaker of House of Representatives and Senator Ali Ndume who are the lead sponsors of the bill in the two chambers of National Assembly. I equally felicitate with all sons and daughters including residents of the beleaguered North East Nigeria on this well-deserved federal intervention. The lamentable development situation in that geo-political zone is well known. Even when there was no Boko Haram insurgency, NE has always lagged behind in human development index.
In May 2015 Senator Abdul-Aziz Murtala Nyako did a concept note calling for the establishment of North East Development Commission. In that paper, the Senator quoted the National Bureau of Statistics 2010 data to buttress his campaign for the establishment of NEDC. According to him, “NBS’ 2010 Statistics show that the North East of Nigeria has the worst socioeconomic conditions in the country. Its average absolute poverty rate put at 69 per cent is above the national average of 60.9 per cent. This characterizes the Zone as having the highest rate of poverty in Nigeria.” The Senator did not stop at that. He quoted other credible sources such as the United Nations Children Fund and West Africa Examination Council. While the national average of Out-of-school children in primary school as at 2011  is 26.3 per cent, that of NE region stood at 44.8 per cent; also while the country’s national average  of  Out-out-school children (Junior Secondary School as at 2011) is 25.7 per cent, that of NE zone was 49.6 per cent. Similarly, as at 2012, while the national average percentage of candidates with five credits and above including Mathematics and English was 30.9 per cent that of NE stood at mere 8.72 per cent.  It is that bad!
Before the 2009 kickoff of hostilities by the insurgent group better known as Boko Haram, NE used to be peaceful with majority of the inhabitants of the six states that made up the region namely Adamawa, Borno, Yobe, Gombe, Taraba  and Bauchi engaging in agriculture. The geo-political zone has also produced many political juggernauts, academic giants and business octopus. Among them are the first Prime Minister of Nigeria, Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Balewa from Bauchi State, former Chief of Army Staff and Minister of Defence, Gen. T.Y Danjuma from Taraba State, ex-Vice President of Nigeria, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar from Adamawa State, and incumbent number four citizen and Speaker of House of Representatives, Rt. Hon. Yakubu Dogara from Bauchi State.
The Presidential Initiative for the North East in its 2015 – 2020 Economic Reconstruction and Redevelopment Plan succinctly captured the situation in the NE when it stated thus: “In the past, the North East region was renowned as a bastion of commerce and trade with prominent local enterprises and well established trade routes across the Sahara. It was known for its large agricultural potential, with 80 per cent of the population engaged in farming and contributing significantly to the regional and national GDP…….Over the past two decades however, the region has regressed with low education levels, access to healthcare/ other basic amenities and low GDP per capita. A once promising zone now trails the other regions of Nigeria across all socio economic indicators.”
As the Chief Executive Officer of Forward in Action for Education, Poverty and Malnutrition, a non-governmental organisation headquartered in Bauchi, I bear testimony to the gross underdevelopment of the NE geo-political zone. Our intervention which covers eight thematic areas namely  education, peace and conflict management, gender and disability issues, water and sanitation, nutrition, health, Orphans and Vulnerable Children as well as Democracy and Good Governance has been able to impact positively on the zone with funding support from many international donor agencies. Yet, our intervention, just like several others in the zone is like a drop in the ocean because there is so much to do but the resources are very limited. It is thus heartwarming that North East Development Commission will help scale up and speed up development in the zone.
Press release from the Office of Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly matters – (Senate) Senator Ita Enang says NEDC will among other things: Coordinate projects and programmes within the Master Plan for the rehabilitation, resettlement, reconciliation, reconstruction and sustainable development of the NE  Zone in the fields of infrastructure, human and social services, including health and nutrition, education and water supply, agriculture, wealth creation and employment opportunities, urban and rural development and poverty alleviation. It will also liaise with Federal Ministries, Departments and Agencies, States and Development Partners on the implementation of all measures approved in the Master Plan for the stabilisation and development of the NE by the Federal Government. Assess and report on any project being funded or carried out in the NE by any Federal Ministry, Department and Agency or company that has an agreement with the Federal Government, and ensure that funds released for such projects are properly utilised.
Other functions include: To liaise with other stakeholders on the tackling of humanitarian, ecological and environmental problems and degradation that arise from natural causes, insurgency and industrial activities in the NE Zone.  Seek humanitarian, human, material, technical and financial support from Development partners (local or international) and NGOs with a view to developing the NE Zone. Co-ordinate civil-military confidence building and stabilisation measures and also activities that lie within the civil-military interface especially before, during and after military and security operations; and Act as the focal point to coordinate and harmonise all other interventions programmes and initiatives that the FG  is involved with in the NE  Zone.
This is a very wide mandate and I do hope the bureaucrats who will manage this new commission will learn from the pitfall of Niger Delta Development Commission which over the years has been embroiled in all manner of controversies including allegations of corruption, project abandonment and inefficiency largely as a result of political intrigues.
NEDC is coming at the right time as the commission should be able to get its first budgetary allocation from the 2018 budget the president will be presenting soon to the National Assembly.  Now that we have the new commission, will the TY Danjuma led Victim Support Fund and the Presidential Initiative for the North East still be existing alongside the new commission or will they be merged with NEDC? I expect them to be dissolved into the new commission. For NEDC to succeed better, the insurgency in the zone must be halted; otherwise, whatever is done at the epicenter of the crisis may be tantamount to mopping a leaking roof.  
Lastly, I will enjoin Federal Government to prioritise national development rather than continuing to set up regional intervention agencies. Recall that the bid to set up South East Development Commission was botched at House of Representatives earlier in the year and other regions too may soon be justifiably angling for intervention agencies.  

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Wednesday, October 25, 2017

FG’s criminal abandonment of government projects

Anyone living in Nigeria needs a shock therapy from time to time, unless perhaps one does not listen to news or follow up with trending stories. Few days back I learnt from the news that there are over 500 abandoned federal government projects in Akwa Ibom State alone! The revelation was made by a Commissioner in the State. How could that be? But then, I remember that this is Nigeria where anything goes. A Sunday, June 28, 2015 report in the Daily Trust says that the Director of Administration of Chartered Institute of Project Management of Nigeria, Mr. David Godswill Okoronkwo stated in an exclusive interview with the newspaper that there are approximately 56, 000 abandoned government projects across the country. He listed them according to geopolitical zones. In his words,  “South-east has 15,000, South-west, 10,000: South-south, 11,000: North-west, 6,000: North-central, 7,000: North-east, 5,000 and Abuja, 2,000.” All these projects were estimated at N12trn.
Earlier on March 4, 2010, former President Goodluck Jonathan inaugurated 20 man Ibrahim Bunu led Presidential Projects Assessment Committee to among other things take inventory of all federal government projects, assess level of funding, and project status. The committee on June 2, 2011 submitted its report to the ex-president. It made an inventory of 11,886 on-going projects (as at then) with N7.78tn estimated cost out of which FG had paid N2.696tn to contractors leaving a balance of about N5tn. Volume one of the report shows that of the geo-political zones, South-South zone had 1,755 projects amounting to N2.1tn followed by North Central zone with N630bn with 1,844 projects. The last in ranking is North East zone with 466 projects amounting to N98bn.
A July 2, 2017 report in The Guardian on Sunday says that Akwa Ibom Integrity Group published over 300 projects abandoned by the Niger Delta Development Commission in the State. Leader of the Group Chief Okon Jim alleged that the Commission abandoned a total of 121 rural roads, 75 classroom blocks, 69 rural water schemes, 43 mini-electrification projects among others across the state.
While the bulk of the abandoned projects are those initiated by the federal government. State governments and indeed local governments are equally complicit in this ignoble and criminal game of abandoning projects. Just last Sunday, October 22, 2017, The Nation newspaper published a features story where it detailed how seven states namely Abia, Rivers, Niger, Ogun, Plateau, Bayelsa and Akwa Ibom states wasted billions on uncompleted projects. The newspaper cited the example of the Monorail Project in Rivers State, which was conceived and began by the former governor of the state, now Minister of Transportation, Chibuike  Rotimi Amaechi, in his first tenure as governor in 2008. It was designed to cover 12 kilometres at the cost of N50bn. Unfortunately; it was abandoned at the point of 2.6 kilometres when the former governor completed his second tenure in office. Sources said the work already done as at then, which was described as Phase 1A, gulped N33.9bn.
Other abandoned projects in the seven states with their estimated contract sum as published by the newspaper include: Minna Airport City awarded at the cost of $600m, Minna five-star Hotel – N19.6bn, Abia International  Hotel – N6bn to complete and would need about $25m to expand,  Jos Main Market — N5bn to rebuild, Bayelsa Hotel —N13.9bn, Ibom Tropicana —N33bn, Ibom Specialist Hospital (completed but shut down)—N41bn.
Is it not very heart rending that a country with high level of infrastructural deficit will initiate these plethora of capital projects and abandon them? Why start a project you do not intend to complete? What’s the value for money in this mindless pastime of our administrators?  Who benefits from this criminal neglect of capital projects?
The Ibrahim Bunu led Presidential Projects Assessment Committee blamed mass failure of public projects over the years to corruption, inadequate budgetary provision, poor project conceptualization and institutional mediocrity. Bunu noted that following the committee’s in-depth assessment of many of the projects, “there is indeed evidence of large scale, widespread institutional mediocrity, deficiency of vision and a lack of direction in project management, which result in poor conceptualization, poor design and faulty execution. Needless to add that this has resulted in avoidable loses of billions of naira to the government.” Considering the fact that this report was submitted to federal government six years ago, why has there been no conscious effort by the immediate past and indeed the present administration to have a paradigm shift on capital projects initiation and implementation?
From the initial statistics earlier reeled out in this piece, it would be noted that non-completion of capital projects has been continuing with reckless abandon even under this present Buhari administration. This is sad! I would have thought that President Buhari would have demonstrated courage to implement the PPAC report knowing that government is a continuum. What I thought this current administration would have done different would have been to categorise the abandoned and uncompleted federal government projects to those it can fund, those that are white elephants that needs to be auctioned off to the public as well as those it wants to complete through public-private-partnership. In fact, government can use the proceed from those auctioned abandoned projects to complete the viable ones it needs resources to complete.

If Buhari had concentrated energy and resources on completing most of the thousands of abandoned projects it would have bridged the infrastructure deficit of this country and would have had a lot more to showcase in terms of projects completion in its two and half years in office. For me this is a low hanging fruit that should be plucked. Of what point is the craze to initiate a new project when you’re not sure of completing it in the lifetime of your administration?  As experience has shown, successors are hardly interested in completing the projects of their predecessors even if they belong to same political party. This is untoward. Many of the abandoned project sites have been taken over by weeds, delinquents and reptiles thereby posing environmental hazards to law abiding members of the public. This unwholesome practice should be discontinued by all tiers and arms of government. If you can’t get the resources to complete a project, simply get the private sector to build, operate and transfer or better still, auction it off.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Oyo Government laudable move to curb noise pollution

The recent move by the Oyo State government to enforce the law banning noise pollution in the state is a commendable one.  Indeed, it’s long overdue. It will be recalled that in March this year the State House of Assembly had invited the Commissioner  for Environment and Water Resources,  Isaac Ishola and his counterpart from the  Information, Culture and Tourism Ministry  Toye Arulogun to explain why the law banning noise pollution is still being observed in breach. The duo explained their efforts and challenges and were informed by Speaker of the Oyo State House of Assembly, Hon. Michael Adeyemo to use the force of law to make defaulters to comply if dialogue is not yielding positive results. Section 58 of the Oyo State Environmental Sanitation and Waste Control Regulation (No. 6, Vol. 38 of 2013) is targeted at curbing noise pollution of religious houses and entertainment outfits.
On August 15 this year, the two commissioners addressed the press to update the public on how they are faring with the enforcement order. At the inter-ministerial press briefing in Ibadan, the Commissioner for Environment gave a two-week ultimatum to churches, mosques, as well as clubs and restaurants to remove their outdoor speakers or face prosecution. The Commissioner further explained that the state government was committed to reducing the noise level in residential areas to 45 decibel at night and 60 decibel in the afternoon within five meters radius. He also disclosed that some places of worship had been sealed up for noise pollution, while no fewer than 372 environmental offenders have been prosecuted in the last one year.
Commissioner Ishola was quoted as saying “We are giving churches and mosques with external speakers two weeks to remove them. You don’t use religion to disturb others. I am a Christian and I have supervised the locking up of three churches for disturbing their neighbours with noise. If I can do that against churches I will do it against mosques and other places.” The commissioner equally enjoined all owners of vehicles and motorcycles to take them for emission test at the offices of three consultants approved for the exercise. He said: “If you own a vehicle, motorcycle or generator, it must be subjected to gaseous emission test. The essence is not to make money for government, but to control gaseous emission believed to be one of the major causes of cancer and other ailments. The ministry has two mobile courts that would sit during the day and we have arranged that magistrates’ courts should also try environmental offenders.”
I wonder why it took the intervention of the State House of Assembly to ginger the Commissioner for Environment in the Pacesetter State to wake up to his duty. The law had been there since 2013 but was not enforced. I am a resident of Ibadan and know the inconvenience I and my family have had to endure from the religious houses that envelope us during their diurnal and nocturnal services. Anytime churches around my house have vigil, I know for certain that there will be no sleep for me that night. This is because of their loudspeakers which are usually tuned to the highest decibel for maximum reach. What these perpetrators does not know or chose to ignore is that they are constituting environmental nuisance and it shows that they do not love their neighbours.
Am very glad to learn of the latest enforcement action by Oyo State Ministry of Environment.   It would be recalled that Lagos State government set the pace in Nigeria in 2010 by banning religious houses from mounting outside speakers. The level of noise pollution allowed in the state is between 55 decibel during the day and 42 to 45 decibel at night. Noise pollution refers to undesirable levels of noises caused by human activity that disrupt the standard of living in the affected area. Researchers said indoor and outdoor noise pollution sources include car alarms, emergency service siren, mechanical equipment, fireworks, compressed air horns, barking dogs, audio entertainment systems, electric megaphones, and loud people.
In case you do not know, noise pollution impact negatively on human health. Experts warned that it can cause annoyance and aggression, hypertension, high stress levels, hearing loss, sleep disturbances and loss of concentration. Others are tinnitus which can lead to forgetfulness, severe depression and at times panic attacks. In animals, noise can increase the risk of death by altering predator or prey detection and avoidance, interfere with reproduction and navigation, and contribute to permanent hearing loss. Sociologically speaking, high noise pollution can aid security breaches. Criminals such as armed robbers, kidnappers and rapists can perpetrate their heinous and fiendish acts with impunity under the cover of noise which will make it impossible for victims to get help as their shout will be drowned by the din around them. Thus, noise pollution does more harm than good. In fact, I see no good in it. Why must we disturb the peace of our neighbours and our environment in the name of practicing religion, marketing or enjoying ourselves?
It is imperative for all and sundry to support Oyo State government and indeed all governments that have passed legislations against noise pollution to ensure compliance with the law. It behooves the Oyo State government to adequately sensitize the citizenry on the dangers of pollution.  In sane societies, religious houses and entertainment centres are encouraged to acquire acoustic furniture, internal speakers and erect padded walls to minimise noise. The government also needs to publish where infractions against the laws can be reported including their phone numbers and e-mail addresses. In addition it should set up monitoring team to enforce compliance.

 National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency as well as State and Local Government Environmental Protection Agencies need to belt up and partner with National Orientation Agency and Nigerian print and electronic media to sensitise Nigerians on the dangers of environmental pollution in general and noise pollution in particular. Beyond the use of traditional mass media, as individuals, we can use the social media (Twitter, Facebook, SMS, WhatsApp, Blogs) to educate other people who may be unaware of the hazards of noise pollution.  Protecting our environment against pollution is our collective responsibility. We must endeavor not to be part of the problem but must do everything to be part of the solution; the change vanguard.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Reversing Nigeria’s deplorable water, sanitation and hygiene situation

Three weeks ago, precisely from September 20 – 22, I was at Yankari Game Reserve for a three day workshop organised by WaterAid Nigeria. It was an eye-opener! Did you know that 57m people in Nigeria don't have access to safe water?   Did you know that over 130m people don't have access to adequate sanitation in this country?  Did you know that our dear fatherland is the worst country in Africa for urban sanitation access?  Were you aware that in this country, almost 60,000 children under five years old die every year from diarrhoea diseases caused by poor water and sanitation? These are not my personal opinion; it is from WaterAid, an international organisation that is working in 37 countries of the world which has been in Nigeria for about 20 years now.
If the above statistics from WaterAid shocked you, calm down and wait for the one from United Nations Children Fund. According to UNICEF, “About 70m people, out of a population of 171m, lacked access to safe drinking water, and over 110m lacked access to improved sanitation in 2013. Open defecation rates, at 28.5 per cent pose grave public health risks. Every year, an estimated 124,000 children under the age of five die because of diarrhoea, mainly due to unsafe water, sanitation and hygiene. Lack of adequate water and sanitation are also major causes of other diseases, including respiratory infection and under-nutrition. Many schools in Nigeria lack safe, private toilets and hand-washing facilities. This affects enrolment and performance, particularly in the case of girls.” Peradventure, this grave situation was partly why Sustainable Development Goal six was on ensuring access to Water and Sanitation for all by 2030.
Even without any official statistics, it is an open secret that the water, sanitation and hygiene in Nigeria is very deplorable. Even in urban centres there is no state in Nigeria, including the Federal Capital Territory that is 100 per cent covered by public water supply. In FCT with the exception of parts of Bwari and AMAC Area Councils, the others like Gwagwalada, Kuje, Kwali and Abaji have no public water supply. In Ibadan where I was born, schooled and live, there is largely no public water supply. If there is, perhaps it may be in the Government Reservation Areas of Bodija, Agodi, Jericho, Iyaganku and Oluyole. In fact, since I was born, water though is on government concurrent legislative list has been made to be citizens’ responsibility and not government’s. So sad! In many communities around the country people fetch their drinking water from the stream or well. In some instances, animals and human beings share same water sources, which should not be. A good water is supposed to be colourless and tasteless. Unfortunately, potable water in many homes is brownish and had taste which means they are not safe for human consumption.
Since there is hardly water for drinking in many homes, little is available for sanitation and hygiene.  As seeing from the above statistics, open defecation is still a serious challenge in Nigeria with a whooping 130m not having access to adequate sanitation. This is so because many homes, schools, public buildings and business complexes are built with few or no toilet facilities. A visit to many rural communities will reveal that most of them indulge in open defecation as their homes are built without even a pit laterine. Despite federal and state governments’ pronouncement of environmental sanitation days, many citizens hardly participate in the cleaning of their environment. Many residential houses are overgrown with weeds while the drainages are blocked due to dumping of solid wastes in the gutters and water channels. These unwholesome practices apart from causing flooding are also harbinger of diseases.
Personal hygiene is alien to many people in this country. Because of shortage of water, clothes are not washed as at when due. Many do not even brush their teeth twice daily as recommended by dental experts. Washing hands after defecation or when one’s hand is soiled is a Herculean task for many people as they see it as waste of scarce water resource. Though it is advised that fruits should be washed before being eaten, many people ignore this hygiene practice and carelessly eat unwashed fruits.
The implications of not embracing WASH are grave. It affects health and even the economy. Experts said many of the water and insect borne diseases such as cholera, typhoid, malaria, dysentery, and the likes can be drastically reduced if only we all adopt water, sanitation and hygiene practices. In spite of the acute shortage of water in many metropolitan areas of the country, the few privileged communities that have pipe borne water also engage in water wastages. Because the publicly supplied water is highly subsidised to make it affordable, many residents who enjoy this facility are known to be lackadaisical in the way they use water.   Their leaking taps and pipes are not repaired promptly.
Anytime I pass by and see water gushing out of burst reticulated water-pipes I am sad. This is a scarce commodity being allowed to waste.  Another concern is that sometimes water supply from Water Corporation or Board is either coloured or full of particles, thereby unsafe for drinking. It behooves Water Board to fix these broken pipes promptly. The Board should make available hotlines to call to alert it to areas where citizens have noticed broken pipes leading to water wastage. For those who do not have access to chlorinated pipe borne water, they should embrace the simple practice of boiling their drinking water once they are not sure of its safety.
I do know that the common practice now is for people to buy sachet or bottled water believing that it is very safe to drink. That is however not totally true. Many of these water manufacturing companies are either not licenced or adulterate their product after licensing from Standard Organisation of Nigeria and National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control. Health experts have also recently made it clear that it is unsafe to drink processed water in plastic container when it has been exposed to too much sun or heat. It has been said by experts also that indiscriminate drilling of boreholes in search of water is dangerous as it is not environmentally friendly.

The imperative of environmental sanitation and hygienic practices cannot be over-emphasised. We need to clean our environment as a habit even without government prompting. Personal hygiene such as hand washing and oral hygiene will make us live a healthy life. And as the saying goes, cleanliness is next to Godliness and a healthy people are wealthy people. 

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Fortes and foibles of Buhari’s 2017 Independence Day speech

Hearty congratulations Nigerians! Last Sunday, October 1, 2017, our dear country attained 57 years of independence from colonial rule.  Expectedly, a number of activities were lined up to celebrate the epochal event. In line with the somber mood of the nation, there was no rolling out of the drums or any elaborate ceremonies. Prayers were duly offered in mosques and churches and the president addressed the nation at 7am after which he travelled to Maiduguri to celebrate the day with our troops fighting Boko Haram insurgency in the North Eastern part of the country.
In the last 72 hours, I have been busy analysing President Muhammadu Buhari’s Independence Day speech across different electronic broadcast platforms. I watched the broadcast in the studio of Nigerian Television Authority after which I discussed it on the station’s flagship programme ‘Weekend Deal’ for some 15 minutes. I thereafter moved to Arise TV for another two part discussions first with former Speaker of House of Representatives, Rt. Hon. Umar Ghali Na’aba and later with veteran journalist, Mrs. Moji Makanjuola. Thereafter, I was on ‘O & M Show’ on African Independent Television. The day after saw me discussing the speech on ‘Majelisa’ on Kiss 99.9 FM, and ‘Frank Talk’ on Peoples Television.  
I have read the president’s aforementioned speech severally and have even re-read his 2016 Independence Day speech to find out the No. 1 citizen’s trail of thoughts. I must confess that the president needs to be commended for his articulation and elocution.  In the 2017 speech, the president made use of more statistical data than he did in 2016. However, his areas of emphasis are slightly different from that of 2016. In 2017, the president’s areas of emphasis were in three areas: Security, Economy and Anti-Corruption.  Same as last year’s, broadly speaking.  However, under economy, the president did not say anything about the refineries, roads, railways, dams, and housing scheme of his administration as he did last year.
In using data, the president reminded us of the two million deaths in the country’s 1967 – 1970 fratricidal civil war, promising not to allow what he called ‘a re-run’.  He gave the breakdown of the successes recorded in the agricultural sector. According to Buhari, “The Federal Government’s agricultural Anchor Borrowers Programme, which I launched in November 2015, has been an outstanding success with: N43.92bn  released through the CBN and 13 participating institutions, 200,000 small holder farmers from 29 states of the federation benefitting, 233,000 hectares of farmland cultivating eight commodities, namely Rice, Wheat, Maize, Cotton, soya-beans, Poultry, Cassava and Groundnuts, in addition to fish farming.”
On fertilizer, the president said: “Since December last year, this Administration has produced over 7 million 50Kg bags of fertilizer. Eleven blending plants with a capacity of 2.1 million metric tons have been reactivated. We have saved $150m in foreign exchange and N60bn in subsidy. Fertilizer prices have dropped from N13,000 per 50Kg bag to N5,500.” He went further to say that: “a new presidential initiative is starting with each state of the Federation creating a minimum of 10,000 jobs for unemployed youths, again with the aid of CBN’s development finance initiatives.”
The president was sincere and honourable to admit that power remains a huge problem. He said as of September 12, 2017 production of power reached an all — time high of 7,001 Megawatts. Government is increasing its investment, clearing up the operational and financial log jam bedeviling the industry and hope to reach 10,000 Megawatts by 2020. He noted that the special window created for manufacturers, investors and exporters, foreign exchange requirements has proved very effective. According to him, since April, about $7bn has come through this window alone.  PMB said the country has recorded seven consecutive months of lower inflation, Naira rate is beginning to stabilise, appreciating from N525 per $1 in February this year to N360 today.
Still talking statistics, the president informed the public that in order to stabilise the polity, the Federal Government gave additional support to states in the form of: State Excess Crude Account loans, Budget Support Facility, Stabilisation Fund Release to state and local government as follows: N200bn  in 2015, N441bn in 2016, N1tn in 2017. Altogether totaling N1.642tn. This, he said, was done to enable states to pay outstanding salaries, pensions and small business suppliers who had been all but crippled over the years. The questions are: Have the states fulfilled their part of the bargain? Have they used the funds as directed by the federal government?
From the president’s speech statistics, it is possible to have an infograph that will drive qualitative and quantitative analysis.
Though the president enumerated his government’s five pillar N500bn Special Intervention Programme as consisting of:  Home Grown School Feeding Programme, N-Power Job creation to provide loans to small-scale traders and artisans, Conditional Cash Transfer, Family Homes Fund and Social Housing Scheme, he however did not give a desirable breakdown of how much has been spent on each strand of the programme, successes and challenges. This is a huge gap in his otherwise laudable speech.
 In the government’s fight against corruption, the president said his government has: Empowered teams of prosecutors, Assembled detailed databases, and Accelerated the recovery of stolen funds. He recounted that the Administration’s new institutional reforms include: Enforcing Treasury Single Account, Whistle-Blowers Policy, and Integrated Payroll Personnel and Information System. Again, statistics would have helped drive home the point here. Am sure Nigerians would love to know how much has been realised from TSA, implementation of the Whistleblower policy and IPPIS payment system. How much loot has been recovered both internally and from outside the shores of the country? How many ghost workers have been detected to date? How many persons have been convicted for corruption under the administration?
Arising from last year’s speech, Mr. President you promised that our four refineries will be repaired so that Nigeria can produce most of our petrol requirements locally, pending the coming on stream of new refineries. “That way we will save ten billion USD yearly in importing fuel.” How far with that promise? What is the status of the Water Resources Bill encompassing the National Water Resources Policy and National Irrigation and Drainage Policy to improve management of water and irrigation development in the country?  How many of the twelve River Basin Authorities have been revived? Nigerians will also be delighted to know the status of the itemised 12 federal roads meant for dualisation, reconstruction or rehabilitation in your last year’s speech.
Mr. President sir, you said your government is initiating a pilot housing scheme of 2,838 units uniformly spread across the 36 states and FCT and that it is expected that these units will be completed within 4 – 6 months. Was your government able to deliver on this promise? Why is it that there was no project commissioned by your government to mark our 57th Independence Anniversary? In conclusion, it is important for you sir to know that name-calling and tongue-lashing people calling for self-determination will achieve nothing. Equal right, justice and fair play will. Negotiating with the ‘hot-headed’ agitators is the best way out.

Follow me on twitter @jideojong 

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Need for improved services at Yankari Game Reserve

I was at Yankari Game Reserve, Bauchi last week. From Tuesday, September 19 – Saturday, September 23, I was at the foremost Nigeria’s tourist site for the second time. My first visit, purely for tourism, was on July 9, 2016. However, this time around I was there for official business; to attend a three day workshop organised by WaterAid Nigeria. During my first visit, I only stayed for approximately four hours, however, this time I was there for four nights and was therefore able to get familiar with the environment and assess the facilities. Before I delve into my overall impression of the Game Reserve, let me first say a few words of introduction about it.

There are over 100 tourists’ sites in Nigeria with eight of them being national parks. The parks, according to Wikipedia are: Chad Basin National Park, Cross River National Park, Gashaka-Gumti National Park, Kainji National Park, Kamuku National Park, Okomu National Park, Old Oyo National Park and Yankari National Park. Yankari was originally created as a game reserve in 1956, but later designated Nigeria’s biggest national park in 1991 and managed by the National Parks Service until 2006 when responsibility for the management of the reserve was handed back to Bauchi State Government. It is the most popular destination for tourists in Nigeria and, as such, plays a crucial role in the development and promotion of tourism and ecotourism in Nigeria. It is also one of the most popular eco-destinations in West Africa.

Let me tell you why should endeavor to visit the Park. It is a new world. It broadens visitors’ worldview about life. It is a large wildlife park that covers an area of about 2,244 square kilometres (866 sq mi). Yankari contained Nigeria’s richest wildlife oasis with over 50 species of animals and 350 species of birds. Some of the animals include the African Bush Elephant, Olive Baboon, Patas Monkey, Lions, the African Buffalo, Leopard, Wild Cat and Hippopotamus, among others. There is also the Wikki natural warm spring with excellent swimming facilities, Marshall Cave and fish ponds. The Park is reputed to be the first of its kind in West Africa.

YGR has a 110 room Wikki Resort Hotel at the center of the Park. Other structures include a safari and conservation center, a student’s hostel, a restaurant and bar, sports facilities, religious centers, camping ground, conference halls, a research education center and an airstrip. I like the architectural design of the chalets. It is indeed a combination of a strong blend of traditional architecture with modern building technology. I also like the fact that the entire 115Km of the road from Bauchi town to the Park is built with solid asphalt.  The environment is scenic, serene and natural. There is uninterrupted water supply. The place is also very secure with armed security personnel as well as CCTV (WCS Camera-trap) to ensure safety and security of both the animals and the visitors to the Game Reserve. There is no gainsaying that I thoroughly enjoyed my five day stay at Yankari.

There is a saying that the biggest room in the world is that of improvement. You can always better your best. Yankari management need to do a lot more to improve the facilities at the Park both for customer satisfaction as well as in order to generate more income. In my July 13, 2016 article in this column I recounted my experience during my first visit. I raised the issue of the need for the management to produce branded souvenirs for sale. Am sure a lot of tourists and others there on business trip will like to buy mementoes to preserve memories of their visit.  Unfortunately, more than a year after my unsolicited advice was given, nothing has been done. The only small shop that exists on the camp sells groceries.  It is advisable that more stalls be allowed to offer varieties of goods for sale including arts and crafts of Bauchi State and indeed Northern Nigeria.

There is need for improved telecommunication service at the Park. Only two telecom companies – MTN and Airtel – have network there. Thus, if you’re not a subscriber of these two, you’ll be totally shut out of communication with outside world for the duration of your stay there. The internet services offered by the two are also very slow. I advise that more GSM service providers should be encouraged to provide telecommunication services there.

Furthermore, I observed that there is no bank at the Park. I learnt that the closest place to get any banking service is at Alkaleri, the Local Government headquarters. That is quite far from Yankari which is about 40 minutes from when you turn away from Bauchi – Gombe highway. My advice is that banks should consider setting up a small office at the Park or at least install their Automatic Teller Machines to enable visitors to the Game Reserve, who may be cash-strapped, to withdraw money from their account. Point of Sale machines should also be made available to enable people who may not have cash on them to pay through the device.

The sporting facilities at the Park need to be rehabilitated. The lawn-tennis court is in a state of disrepair. The electricity supply also needs to be improved upon. Light is mostly available at night from about 6pm. Without electricity during the day, it will be very discomforting to stay in the rooms as the air conditioners will not be working and it’s not advisable to open the windows for ventilation as most of the mosquito nets are in tatters hence all manner of flying insects roam in to constitute nuisance to lodgers. I suggest the management of the Park should provide standing fans in the room as alternative to air conditioners in case the latter malfunctions or for the use of those who are allergic to ACs. I equally suggest that strong wire-nets that are not easy to be torn off by the stubborn baboons on the camp should be installed on the windows.

The intercoms in the rooms also need to be made functional. If this communication device is reactivated it will be easy to reach out for different services including housekeeping, restaurant, reception, etcetera.  The management of Yankari should also license some reliable people to offer car hire services. The restaurant should be manned by educated people who understands and can communicate effectively in English language. They should also see to it that their customer service is prompt. I also propose that maintenance of facilities at the Park be given top priority.  

I know some of these requested services will cost the management some money. However, it will be a worthy investment which will be recouped over time as more tourists who have idyllic  experience will not only want to come back but will also tell their friends, colleagues and family members about their enjoyable stay thereby enticing them to visit.  Only the best is good enough for Bauchi, the Pearl of Tourism.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Lessons for Nigeria from 2017 International Day of Democracy

Since 2007, United Nations has set aside September 15 of every year as International Day of Democracy. This year’s IDD was celebrated globally last Friday. In Nigeria, save for some media houses which hosted discussions around the issues raised in this year’s theme which is “Democracy and Conflict Prevention” nothing much was heard from government quarters. This may not be unconnected with the fact that Nigeria, since 1999, has chosen May 29 as her own Democracy Day. That choice has not been without contention as many Nigerians, especially those from South West geo-political zone are of the opinion that June 12 should have been chosen as Democracy Day in commemoration of the June 12, 1993 presidential election which was annulled by the military junta of General Ibrahim Babangida (Retd.). Many political observers felt that on that day, Nigerians set aside primordial sentiments such as ethnicity and religion and voted for a pan-Nigeria  Muslim-Muslim ticket of Bashorun MKO Abiola and Ambassador Babagana Kingibe in a widely acclaimed freest, fairest and most credible election in Nigeria.
According to the United Nations, “This year's theme of democracy and conflict prevention focuses on the critical need to strengthen democratic institutions to promote peace and stability. A more integrated approach to foster resilient societies calls for effective and inclusive democratic governance with respect for human rights and the rule of law.“ The world body observed further that: “Resilient societies are able to mitigate disputes through mediation, dialogue and a reasonable degree of legitimacy of their institutions. Developing effective conflict prevention mechanisms and infrastructures provides a foundation to resolve grievances and sustain peace. Processes, such as peace agreements, elections and constitutional reforms, can help maintain equilibrium between competing interests and reduce fragility and the likelihood of organised violence.”
It cannot be better said! Nigeria, it is very instructive, needs to strengthen her democratic institutions in order to promote rule of law. Which institutions are we talking about? Political parties, election management bodies, the legislature, the judiciary, the executive, the media and the civil societies, among others. There is no gainsaying that though these institutions are working in Nigeria, they need to be more efficient and effective. Take for instance the political parties; this is a critical institution of democracy that is responsible for leadership recruitment, interest articulation and political socialisation. Political parties sponsor candidates for election and they are the sole platform for electoral contest for now, until perhaps the proposed amendment for introduction of independent candidacy sails through the ongoing constitutional amendment exercise.
Unfortunately, our political parties in this country leave much to be desired. Many of them lack internal democracy. They also lack cohesion and are known to observe most electoral laws in breach. Topmost among them are the laws against money politics and electoral violence. The kind of leaders being recruited for Nigeria by the country’s political parties are more of treasury looters, self-centred and integrity-deficient. Any wonder that 18 years into this Fourth Republic, the country hasn’t got much to show in terms of democracy dividends to the suffering masses. It is instructive to note that political parties give birth to at least two out of the three arms of government. They are the executive and legislature. The products of these two vital organs of government have not justified the implicit trust and confidence that make people to vote for them at election. It has been more of personal aggrandisement for them and nonchalance towards the plight of the poverty-stricken populace.
What is the nexus between democracy and conflict prevention? In a democracy, institutions of government are supposed to work harmoniously to guarantee peace and stability without which there can be no development. The Nigerian Constitution put it succinctly when it says in section 14 (2) (b) that “the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government.” The fragility of Nigerian state is not in doubt given the various agitations for self-determinations by different interest groups top of which is the clamour for secession by the Indigenous People of Biafra. The country has also been on tenterhook since the Niger Delta militancy began with emergence of groups such as the Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta, Niger Delta Avengers and the likes.  In the North East, since the 2009 emergence of Boko Haram insurgency, there has been no lasting peace nationwide.
The UN in the 2017 International Day of Democracy is pointing us in the direction of what we need to do not only to prevent conflict but to also bring about peace and stability. These include inclusive governance. In truth, marginalisation, discrimination, injustices and inequalities help to fuel discontent and rebellion. As rightly observed by Albert Camus, “Rebellion cannot exist without the feeling that somewhere, in some way, you are justified.”   It is very important that Nigerian government explore the options of dialogue, mediation, peace agreements, credible elections, constitutional reforms among others to redress these perceived injustices. Military option alone will not work. We have seen what dialogue did in the Niger Delta. By giving the people of that region Niger Delta Ministry, Niger Delta Development Commission, Amnesty Programme, 13 per cent derivation, proposed regularisation of illegal refinery into modular refinery scheme,  emergence of President Goodluck Jonathan first as Vice President in 2007, Acting President in 2010, and president in 2011, the restiveness in the Niger Delta region has reduced considerably.

I am of the opinion that similar measures need to be taken to allay the cry of marginalisation by the Igbo. Appointment into key government positions under this administration, fixing of infrastructural challenge of the geo-political zone and at least a Vice-Presidential slot in 2019 and presidency in 2023 will go a long way to douse the current political tension being generated by the IPOB strident call for self-determination. Heeding the call for economic and political restructuring of this country will also help the Buhari administration to stabilise the polity. Above all, rule of law in terms of supremacy of the law, equality before the law and fundamental human rights are very crucial to peace and stability of any democratic country; and for Nigeria, it is imperative. Whether we like it or not, there can never be peace without justice just as there can never be genuine development without peace.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Leadership lessons I learnt from King Sunny Ade

Over time, as a media personality featuring on various radio and television programmes and writing for newspapers, I have often advocated for diversification of Nigerian economy as a panacea to our pulling out of economic doldrums. However, I failed to appropriate and adapt the same message for myself, until recently. I pride myself as a psephologist, an expert on election matters.  I have, prior to my setting up my consultancy outfit, worked for both national and international organisations working on delivery of credible and peaceful elections. Meanwhile, in the ancient town of Ibadan, among my friends and colleagues, I have on many occasions demonstrated my dexterity as a compere at social events. I have served as Master of Ceremony at several of my friends’ wedding receptions and other parties.
I have been rendering this service, pro bono, free of charge as lawyers are wont to saying.  However, recently at the launch of   Westminster Foundation for Democracy‘s Youth Empowerment Programme held at Sheraton Hotels and Towers in Abuja, I was engaged as the Master of Ceremony. Earning my first pay as an MC opened my eye to the opportunity to diversify my revenue base. I therefore informed friends, colleagues and acquaintances about my skill as a good compere. One of those I told was Dr. Pius Osunyikanmi, a friend and former schoolmate at postgraduate level at University of Ibadan who was a former Special Adviser to President Goodluck Jonathan and is currently the Director General of Technical Aid Corps in Abuja. Pius boosted my image as an MC last Friday, September 8, 2017 when he asked me to anchor at the guest reception after the burial ceremony of his father-in-law, Pa. Oluyemi Akinfolademi Adesuyi at Ile-Oluji, Ondo State.
In attendance at the august event in September was the Ondo State governor, His Excellency Arakunrin Rotimi Akeredolu, SAN, his deputy HE Agboola Ajayi as well as commissioners. Others include the All Progressives Congress party executive in Ondo State, Senators, House of Representatives members, honourable members of the Ondo State House of Assembly, business moguls, academic juggernauts and several other dignitaries. On the band stand was the King of juju music, the inimitable and indefatigable King Sunny Ade, a multiple Grammy Award nominee and winners of many national and international music awards. KSA was also a former president of Performing Musicians Association of Nigeria better known as PMAN.  
Being his ardent fan, it was a humbling experience sharing the same stage with a living legend and music icon like KSA. Though I have met him informally once at a hotel in Ibadan many years ago, last Friday was my first contact with him at business level. I watched, rather, studied him closely as he plied his trade on stage. I noticed how he applied his voice, eyes, legs and body to deliver quintessential performance on stage. I have never danced like I did to the timeless music of the legendary entertainer last week. For those who knew me closely, much as I liked music, particularly old school, evergreen music, I am not a good dancer. Am just too self-conscious. However, I threw caution to the wind last Friday as I danced to the enthralling melodious music of KSA. My wife, who was at the party with me, was very surprised to see me dance.
You may want to ask whether I was engaged to dance or to anchor the dance session. Well, my job was at interludes. To recognise dignitaries and organise the dance sessions of the deceased children and family members as well as other dignitaries with the musician. Thus, while not holding the microphone to perform my appointed duty, I decided to also relax with the king’s music.
What did I learn from the king of juju music? A lot! I learnt his attention to details. KSA knows immediately when his band member errs. He knows when his drummer, pianist or guitarist is not giving him the right musical key or off tune. He uses his eyes to reprimand the band member who is out of line. I also saw him walk to the sound engineer several times to get him to adjust some things be it to increase the volume of a particular microphone or reduce the volume. While he disciplines his band members on stage, he equally rewards good performances on the spot. When any of his band members did well, he doles out money from his pocket to give the exemplary staff, even while on stage. In my presence he gave money to his drummers, his Hawaiian guitarist and his sound engineer.  That is carrot and stick principle.
KSA is an astute businessman. Part of my job as the event anchor was also to time each dance session with him. The instruction handed to me was to give each of the family members 10 minutes each. With King Sunny Ade, once the money is flowing, there is no relinquishing the microphone. On several occasions, I gave the sign for him to stop to enable me call the next group to come on stage, the King held on with his musical performance until there was no more doling out of currency notes to him in appreciation of his musical dexterity. That somewhat made my job as a compere  a bit challenging. One thing I also admire about him is his organisational skill. Apart from band-boys which include his instrumentalists, vocal back-ups and sound engineer; KSA has three people collecting names of dignitaries that he will need to adulate. They are like his marketers who go round to compile names of very important personalities whom he need to praise-sing. Aside these men, there are two bouncers stationed in front of the stage to keep unwanted guests and miscreants in check.

KSA as a master of his musical trade knows his onions well. He knows when to slow down the pace of the song and when to fasten it, when to change the tune, when to dance, when to sit, when to dramatise, when to relax and when to be serious. He demonstrated all these skills as I watched on in amazement. The only thing I didn’t see Sunny do last Friday was to play his trademark guitar. For those familiar with the legend, he’s regarded as a guitar wizard. Could it be age that made the king not to play his guitar at Ile-Oluji? I doubt it. Even at over 70 years of age, the music icon is still nimble on his feet as he danced skillfully with his vocalists. My chance encounter with him last week has left an indelible memory on my mind. Thanks KSA for making my day. Kudos for the soul-lifting performance and leadership qualities. Happy birthday to you sir as you clock 71 on the 22nd of this month. 

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Election dispute resolutions in Nigeria and Kenya

Last Friday, September 1, 2017 the unprecedented happened in the East African country of Kenya.  The Supreme Court of the country, led by Chief Justice David Maraga upturned the electoral victory of President Uhuru Kenyatta. The apex court said the August 8 election was fraught with irregularities and deeply flawed. According to their lordship, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission, which was in charge of the vote, “failed, neglected, or refused to conduct the presidential election in a manner consistent with the dictates of the Constitution” .The court in a majority decision of four against two justices therefore asked the IEBC to hold a re-run election within 60 days.  Since that news broke, I have been privileged to analyse the import and implications of the judgment on different media platforms. I have featured on programmes on Nigerian Television Authority, Radio Nigeria, Arise Television, Raypower 100.5 FM and   African Independent Television.
Since that epochal judgment was delivered last Friday, a lot of commentators and analysts have been pouring encomiums on the Kenyan judiciary while castigating the IEBC and the election observers who said the election was credible and conducted according to international best practices. Many have even said that Nigerian judiciary should learn from their counterpart in Kenya. Not so fast! I dare say that while the action of the Kenyan Supreme Court is noble and commendable, I will rather prefer us sticking with our own election dispute resolution mechanism than copying that of Kenya. It is important to note that each country has its own peculiar history shaping its laws.
There is need for Nigerians to know that the entire court process from filing to delivery of judgment took two weeks. That was possible because the Constitution of Kenya in Article 163 (3)(a) says “The Supreme Court shall have exclusive original jurisdiction to hear and determine disputes relating to the elections to the office of President arising under Article 140.” According to Article 140 (1) of Kenyan Constitution:  “A person may file a petition in the Supreme Court to challenge the election of the President-elect within seven days after the date of the declaration of the results of the presidential election. (2) Within fourteen days after the filing of a petition under clause (1), the Supreme Court shall hear and determine the petition and its decision shall be final. (3) If the Supreme Court determines the election of the President-elect to be invalid, a fresh election shall be held within sixty days after the determination.”  This is a supersonic election dispute resolution mechanism!  
Little wonder that Engr Raila Odinga never got justice in the three previous times he has filed petitions at the country’s Supreme Court. How much evidence can a serious petitioner garner within one week of conduct of election? Kenya has 40,883 Polling Stations and if a petitioner had to prove fraud in all or majority of those units as our own system here requires, not only will it be practically impossible to collect credible evidences and assemble witnesses within that timeframe. It will also be impracticable to prove electoral heist beyond reasonable doubt in 14 days specified by the Kenyan law. It would be recalled that Odinga has so much lost faith in the Kenya judiciary that he said initially after the August 8 election that he will not go to court but was hoping for United Nations intervention. Thankfully, he later reconsidered and subsequently went to court. Even at that, he was not confident of victory as he was as shocked and pleasantly surprised as many Kenyans by last Friday’s judicial victory.
It is important to understand Nigeria’s election dispute resolution processes. Unlike in Kenya, Nigeria’s 1999 Constitution (as amended in 2010) in section 239 (1) says that “Subject to the provisions of this Constitution, the Court of Appeal shall, to the exclusion of any other court of Law in Nigeria, have original jurisdiction to hear and determine any question as to whether - (a) any person has been validity elected to the office of President or Vice-President under this Constitution. An aggrieved candidate has a right of appeal to Supreme Court if dissatisfied with the ruling of the Court of Appeal in presidential matters.
Also, the Court of Appeal has the constitutional right to set up election petition tribunals which according to the Electoral Act 2010 in section 133 (3)(a) says shall be constituted not later than 14 days before election. Section 134 of the Act is very important to this discourse. Unlike the supersonic process in Kenya, that section of our law in subsection (1) says “An election petition shall be filed within 21 days after the date of the declaration of results of the elections.” (2)”An election tribunal shall deliver its judgment in writing within 180 days from the date of the filing of the petition.” (3) “An appeal from a decision of an election tribunal or court shall be heard and disposed of within 90 days from the date of the delivery of judgment of the tribunal.”
It is important to note that what happened in Kenya last Friday was a fluke; a flash in the pan. While I concede that it is a ‘locus classicus’ as it is said in law and an unprecedented happenstance in Africa, it is most likely not sustainable. The luck Odinga and his party, National Super Alliance had was the ability to prove in a very short time that there was electoral fraud only at the level of result collation and electronic transmission of result. According to a report in New York Times of September 1, 2017 (online edition), “Walter Mebane, a professor of statistics and political science at the University of Michigan who studies elections worldwide, volunteered to run the voting results through a computer model he developed to detect electoral fraud….he and his team found patterns that showed widespread manipulation.” Will Odinga and his party have been able to prove election manipulation in the country’s 40,883 polling stations, 290 constituencies and 47 counties in two weeks?
Lest we forget, Nigeria’s judiciary especially the top echelon (justices of the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court) has been demonstrating a lot of courage and judicial activism in election matters. What happened in Kenya last Friday nearly happened in Nigeria in 2008 when the Supreme Court in a split decision of 4 – 3 upheld the flawed presidential election of April 21, 2007. While Justices George Oguntade, Maryam Mukthar and Samuel Onnoghen held that there was substantial non-compliance with the Electoral Act 2007, however the remaining four members of the panel, namely, the then Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Idris Kutigi, Justice Iyorgyer Katsina-Alu, Justice Niki Tobi and Dahiru Musdapher upheld the election. Since 2007, Nigeria’s judiciary had annulled several governorship, senate, House of Representatives, State Houses of Assembly elections. That arm of government is responsible for the staggered gubernatorial election we now have in Nigeria and has assisted immensely to reduce incidences of electoral violence and deepen Nigeria’s democracy.

In conclusion, people should stop blaming election observer missions as if they are the one that conducted the election. They only reported what they saw in the areas where they deployed during the pre-election and Election Day. At the collation point they are hardly present. Now that the IEBC has fixed October 17 as the new date for the presidential rerun election in Kenya, I do hope the electoral commission will do a better job than it did on August 8. It should overhaul its system especially by taking into account factors enumerated by the Supreme Court in nullifying the earlier poll. May the best candidate win!