- Inside the Discos’ crazy billing racket
In reckless disregard for metering, electricity distribution companies fleece Nigerians of at least N1.7 billion monthly while government regulators look the other way. ADEOLA YUSUF, in this investigative report, unveils the anomalies in the system that seem to have no end in sight.
Thursday, August 30 was deliberately set aside by electricity consumers in Ijeshatedo, SuruLere Local Government Area of Lagos State, to say enough is enough. In hundreds, they thronged the office of Eko Electricity Distribution Company (EKEDC) in protest of what they termed killer bills. They sang song that officials of the power utility firm could not dance to, and in high but uncoordinated voices, they issued threat. On top of their voices, still, they declared end to payment of their monthly electricity bills to EKEDC until the power utility firm installs prepaid meters in their houses. The residents of Peace Estate Odan- Otun in Ado-Odo/Ota area of Ogun State under the Ibadan Electricity Distribution Company (IBEDC) network had a similar agitation but they took their own protest a step further. On November 7, they descended on a team led of Ibadan Electricity Distribution Company (IBEDC) staff led by one Mr. Fatai. The team has gone to the area to enforce payment of bills considered “crazy” by the angry residents. For Chief Theo Okechukwu, a 57-year-old customer of Enugu Electricity Distribution Company (EEDC), the electricity distribution companies deliberately refuse to meter customers. “Their workers just do anything they like and allocate any figure or amount to the consumer. Some use the estimated billing to punish some electricity consumers,” he complained bitterly to New Telegraph. From the North to the South, East through West, crazy billing or lack of adequate metering is a ‘lucrative business’ for Discos and a nightmare for consumers.
Beginning of sadness/darkness
It started with the bad news: All electricity consumers in Nigeria will, no matter what – not get adequate metering for electricity– they will not all be on pre-paid metering, a situation that will make many pay more for less power consumed. The Group Managing Director, Sahara Power Group, co-owner of Ikeja Electricity Distribution Company (Ikeja Electric), Kola Adesina, echoed this opinion, which is popular among electricity distribution companies in Nigeria. At a power stakeholders’ forum in Lagos, he declared as impossible, the notion that all Nigerians connected to power grid would be metered within five years. “Government with huge budget at its beck and call could not meter 30 per cent of Nigerians in 53 years, now suddenly, five years down the line, we expect magic to happen. It is not possible,” Adesina said.
As at the last count, less than 20 per cent of electricity consumers have been connected to the pre-paid metering system nationwide. Others that made up of over 80 per cent on the grid are swindled monthly. The Discos, according to investigations by New Telegraph, issue revenue target ranging from N10 million to N18 million per 500 Kv transformer to their staff and these targets are met through the billing system for those with no pre-paid meters. In Ota axis, checks by this newspaper revealed, the least target given by IBEDC to its staff is N12 million per month. Each 500 Kv transformer connected to the 33 KvA transmission network are given N18 million monthly revenues target. The areas under this network include Ijagba, Eledi-Atala, Dada Asaila, Lafenwa and Odan- Otun. While customers with pre-paid meters at their three bedroom flats recharge N2500 monthly, their counterparts with the same units consumption are being given N18, 000 monthly bills. The case is the same across the 11 discos nationwide and in one month bills of over N1.7 billion is slammed on customers with no measurable metering.
NERC: Toothless bull dog
Going further, electricity consumers in Nigeria flooded the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) with 262,096 complaints in six months. Crazy billing, also known as estimated billing, a document of the commission sighted by this newspaper showed, topped chat as 95,553 grievances remained unsolved. The latest document showed that between January and June 2018, a total of 166,543 complaints were resolved out of 262,096 during the period. Also, 95,553 complaints – most of them – bothering on inaccurate billing are yet to be resolved.
Reps to the rescue
The House of Representatives had, in line with these heightened cases of crazy billing, surged the probe of 11 power distribution companies (DISCOs) as customers’ complaints over crazy billing hit the record high. The ad hoc committee on electricity, which said this in Lagos at a public probe of the estimated billings by DISCOS, maintained its readiness to subject existing laws in the sector to proper scrutiny. Chairman of the committee, Israel Ajibola Famurewa, who led other members to the meeting, declared that the probe would be carried out in all the geo-political zones.Electricity consumers, who stormed the venue of the probe, came down hard on distribution companies who they alleged have now become reckless with inflicting crazy bills on them. Rising under Community Development Association (CDAs), electricity consumers’ groups and consumers’ protection association, they tasked the government to wade in before the issue snowballed into violence. Stating that “a movement is building up” among consumers, over 100 representatives of customers on the network of the Ikeja Electric, Ibadan Electricity Distribution Company (IBEDC), Eko Electricity Distribution Company (EKEDC) and Benin Electricity Distribution Company (BEDC) lamented at the public forum that the companies have now formed the habit of swindling the communities on transformers and other equipment bought through community efforts. Chairman, Magodo CDA, Mr. Bode Ojomu, who stated that the intervention of the House of Representatives was timely, maintained that hapless consumers may resort to violence over crazy bulling. “A movement is building up as we speak and if nothing is done urgently to address this issue, it may lead to violence,” he said. His view was corroborated by Lady Kara Maduforo, a customer on the network of EKEDC, who told the commit-tee that the DISCO’s attitude on crazy billing is inhuman. The representative of the Consumers Protection Agency, Mr. Shadrach Bamise, stated that NERC has failed woefully in its duty as the watchdog of the industry.
Criminalizing crazy billing
A bill seeking to prohibit the issuance of estimated electricity bill to electricity consumers in the country has passed second reading at the House of Representatives. The Electric Power Sector Reform Act (amendment bill), sponsored by Femi Gbajabiamila, leader of the House, proposes a legislation to criminalise such billings method. By creating new sections 68 to 72 in the act to prohibit estimated billing in the country, the bill will make it a right of every Nigerian to have a prepaid meter. Speaking at plenary on Tuesday, Gbajabiamila said the bill will address complaints of extortion by electricity consumers across the country. Part of the provisions of the bill states: “Every electricity consumer in Nigeria shall apply to the electricity distribution company carrying out business within his jurisdiction for a pre-paid meter and such consumer shall pay the regulated fee for pre-paid meter to be installed in his premises and the electricity distribution company shall within 30 days of receiving the application and payment install the pre-paid meter applied for in the premises of the consumer. “If a customer is not metered within 30 days after the application has been duly made, the relevant electricity distribution company is prohibited from refusing to connect the customer or disconnect the customer in the event that the customer has been connected or estimate his bills.” Pally Iriase from Edo said rather than lessen the burden of payment for electricity, the estimated billing is “digging dip into people’s pocket.” He also said: “The privatisation of NEPA has led us to financial oppression today.”
The electricity consumers in Ijeshatedo, SuruLere Local Government Area of Lagos State told newsmen in Lagos in separate interviews that they were tired of paying estimated bills, while the neighbouring communities enjoyed minimal charges on their prepaid meters. Mr. Eniola Taiwo, a resident of Ogunlana Street, told this newspaper that electricity consumers in the area were usually served outrageous bills ranging from N10, 000 to N35,000 monthly. Taiwo, who doubles as the General Secretary of the Ogunlana Community Development Association, said that the association had written several letters to the management of EKEDC that manages the area. “In spite of the community’s efforts to ensure that EKEDC installs functional prepaid mmeters in the area, the distribution company has not replied to any of our letters. “We, the electricity consumers in Ijeshatedo, still stand on our request for installation of prepaid meters before we can resume paying electricity bills. Consumers in Lawanson, Mushin, Pako Aguda and Itire are enjoying minimal bills through their prepaid meters, why should Ogunlana be an exception? “The company has no reason bringing in the police or army to disconnect our power supply since it has not granted our request. Since the company refuses to reply to our letter of May 3, we know that what it is trying to tell us, is that we mean nothing to them,’’ Taiwo said. A banker, Mrs Chinyere Akinfenwa, another resident of Ogunlana Street, Ijeshatedo, said she received a bill of N15,000 monthly. Akinfenwa said that a colleague of hers who lived in a similar residential apartment at Adetola Street in Aguda spent N2,500 to recharge her prepaid meter monthly. “How can I pay N15,000 to EKEDC monthly while my colleague pays only N2,500 monthly? This is injustice and cheating. “The Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) has mandated all Distribution Companies (DISCOs) to ensure that they issued prepaid meters to all their consumers, so EKEDC should comply. Unless we are metered accordingly, nobody will pay; we are in a civilised world now,’’ Akinfenwa lamented. A fashion designer, Mr. Bode Adefarasin, also of Ogunlana Street,urged EKEDC to stop the distribution of electricity bills in the area because they were fed up with estimated billing.
No end in sight
Group Managing Director of the Sahara Power Group Ltd, Mr. Kola Adesina, however said that it was impossible to meter all electricity customers in Nigeria. Speaking at the maiden Power Sector Roundtable organised by his company in Lagos, Adesina said; “When I hear the argument about metering, I wonder because we argue about what should come last to come first. Estimated billing is a universal phenomenon; it is not a Nigerian thing. Everyone should not assume that it is only in Nigeria that you don’t have meters. It is definitely and certainly impossible for the universe as we have it today to be metered. That’s the reality.” But Andrew Idowu Desmennu, an engineer and the Managing Director/ Chief Executive Officer of Andrew D. Idowu and Co., has a different position. Desmennu disagreed with Adesina’s stand, saying it is possible to meter every electricity consumer in Nigeria. He said: “This is Nigeria of the 21st century and not the Nigeria of 1999. Awareness has come. I will like to take on the MD of Sahara Group Ltd., Mr. Kola Adesina, point-by-point. “It is as dangerous as setting a time-bomb with short fuse albeit for the obliteration of the DISCOs because it is like telling Nigerians that they can’t prevent being ripped off by the distribution companies. It will just be a matter of time before the masses will use the existing laws to create avenues for alternative means of generating and distributing power to the consternation of the DISCOs. “My questions to Adesina are these: Is it possible to meter every point of energy collection of the DISCOs? Is it possible for the generating companies, Gencos, to give estimated billings to the Nigerian Bulk Electricity Trading, NBET, Plc? Is it possible for the DISCOs to agree to buy a percentage of the power they distribute to us from NBET and the market operators on estimated billing? Can the DISCOs agree to pay for energy they are consuming on estimation?” he said. Adesina had argued that the problem was lack of trust. On this, Desmennu replied: “The DISCOs are the main reason there is no trust. In a situation where your meter reads130 units over a period of one month and a DISCO brings a bill in excess multiplication of that unit by 300% (3,000) only to come around later to effect a manipulation of that same meter to even read 7,800; times two of the earlier estimation after the power on the transformer has been disconnected from the grid, how can there be trust from the consumer? “How can there also be trust when a consumer, who recharged N2, 000 on his prepaid meter, is yet to fully consume it even after three months and his neighbor in the same compound without meter is made to pay over N3, 000 every month? How can DISCO be trusted when, for a period of 30 calendar days, not once was there electricity given in a particular community and the DISCO still brought a bill of N3,000 to N6,000 to the consumer? The CEO of Egbin also argued that the meters do nothing but just calibrate usage. In his response, Desmennu said; “Why do you have a wrist watch or a clock if not to calibrate time for you? How do you know how much to pay on your phone if not metered? So how are you supposed to know what to pay if not by this infrastructure that is just for calibration? How do you come about your own estimation of billings if not by this infrastructure that just calculates usage?”
The proper metering
The prepaid meter is a new development which is supposed to take care of the anomalies in the analogue system. It is digital and really, if it is well implemented, consumers will be better off, because what you consume is what you pay for. But in the estimated billing system, it’s just a matter of the rule of the thumb, according to Mr. Maurice Okafor, a journalist resident in Enugu.
No end in sight
The five-year tenor review for associated Performance Agreements (PAs) signed in August 2013 between the Federal Government and core investors in power distribution companies has been shifted to December 31, 2019. The promise to put customers on proper metering system is contained in this Associated Performance Agreements (PAs) and with the shift in the date for their review, Discos cannot be punished for inability to properly meter their customers. The core investors have been mounting pressure on the government over the review earlier envisage for October 31, 2018. The Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE), which signed the PAs on behalf of the government on Friday, November 1, 2013 announced the new date for review on October 14, 2018, blaming the alteration of the date on delay by the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) in subsequent issuance of “Tariff Order with an effective date of January 1, 2015 thus automatically commencing the five-year tenor of the Performance Agreements executed between the core investors and the BPE.” The Tarrif Order was based on approval of the outcome of the baseline loss study in the distribution stratum of the entire power value chain. Director General of BPE, Alex A. Okoh, said in a statement made available to New Telegraph that the f-year Performance Agreement for all the electricity distribution companies, with the exception of Kaduna DisCo, became effective on 1st January 2015 and the fifth year anniversary for final performance review would therefore be 31st December 2019. “The Bureau wishes to assure the public that the relevant agencies of government are conducting a periodic review of the performance of the Dis- Cos under the management of the core investors with a view to evaluating the achievement of the terms of covenants agreed with the Federal Government well ahead of the December 2019 dateline,” the statement read. According to the BPE, following the “interest shown by various stakeholders in the electricity industry and indeed the general public with regards to the date for the final review of the performance of the privatised electricity distribution companies (DisCos), the Bureau of public Enterprises (BPE) wishes to clarify as follows: “(1) That pursuant to the successful conclusion of the privatisation transaction for ten (10) of the DisCos, the utility companies were handed over to the core-investors on the 1st of November 2013. The associated Performance Agreements signed in August 2013 provided, amongst other performance indices, that the core investors covenanted to achieve agreed reduction targets of aggregate technical, commercial and collection losses. “(2) That due to lack of adequate technical information relating to the state of the infrastructure at the time of concluding the transaction, the base level of losses in the utilities imputed in the Performance Agreements were based on provisional estimates. “(3) That the terms of the Performance Agreements provide for a 5-year tenor during which the core investors in the DisCos were required to fully achieve far-reaching efficiency improvement targets. The Performance Agreement further provides that a study to establish the baseline level of aggregate technical, commercial and collection losses for the performance measurement would be carried out by the DisCos within one year after takeover and the outcome presented to the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) for approval. The approved loss level shall form the basis of determining the performance of the core investors by BPE and subsequent tariff computation by NERC. “(4) That NERC subsequently approved the outcome of the baseline loss study and issued a Tariff Order with an effective date of 1st January 2015 thus automatically commencing the 5-year tenor of the Performance Agreements executed between the core investors and the BPE.” In this regard, the bureau said; “We wish to clarify that the five-year Performance Agreement for all the electricity distribution companies, with the exception of Kaduna DisCo, became effective on 1st January 2015 and the fifth year anniversary for final performance review would therefore be 31st December 2019. “The Bureau wishes to assure the public that the relevant agencies of government are conducting a periodic review of the performance of the DisCos under the management of the core investors with a view to evaluating the achievement of the terms of covenants agreed with the Federal Government well ahead of the December 2019 dateline.”
FG, Discos’ bickering
Meanwhile, news about bickering between the Federal Government and investors, according to checks by this newspaper, outshined information, if any, about achievements of privatization the scheme that came with many promises for Nigerians. Friday, November 1, 2013, it was that the assets of the defunct Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) were handed over to investors who had coughed out over N472 billion. The dotted lines were signed, which among other things, promised to rescue millions of Nigerians from the jaws of epileptic power supply, decayed infrastructure, crazy billing and other vices that characterized the PHCN years. The Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Raji Fashola, personally signed a statement late July, which revealed his thoughts on the roles played by the DISCOs through Association of Nigerian Electricity Distributors (ANED) in the power privatisation exercise.The ANED, on the other hand, organised world press conference to detail the role the minister played or did not play, that made the power sector to be at the state it is after five years of privatisation Fashola descended heavily on the management of (ANED), the umbrella body of Electricity Distribution Companies, DISCOs, describing it as interloper and “non-performers.” The minister, who particularly took a swipe at the Executive Director of Research and Spokesperson of ANED, Mr. Sunday Oduntan, in a statement he personally signed in Abuja, challenged Oduntan’s ANED to pay, without further delay, the N800 billion it owes Nigerian Bulk Electricity Trading Company, (NBET). He said: “Electricity consumers, which include Fashola, want better service; NBET wants its money; about N800 billion, so she can pay GENCOs. “If DISCOs can prove that FGN owes more than what we admit, they should deduct, N72 billion, from N800 billion and pay the remaining N728 billion, which they owe NBET.” The DISCOs, however, declared that actions and inactions of the minister are responsible for their woes. Oduntan, said this at a world press conference in Lagos. He maintained that the minister’s relationship with stakeholders is headmaster/ pupils rapport, in which no room is given for sincere collaboration. The ANED spokesman said that interactive and collaborative talks that would aid development of the sector are not allowed at the monthly stakeholders meeting. Besides, he said that the minister only comes around, read speeches and give orders to those he is expected to engage in “mind-to-mind talk” to get solutions to the challenges facing the sector. “Under the watch of Mr. Fashola as the minister, the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) has conducted no minor review of the Multi-Year Tariff in violation of the law. This has worsened the under recovery in the entire value chain far above N1.1 trillion,” he said.
Enraged by lack of transparency in the power privatization, Mr. Fashola was also in July sued over his failure to account, for “the spending on the privatisation of the electricity sector and the exact amount of post-privatisation spending on generation companies (GENCOS), distribution companies (DISCOS) and Transmission Company of Nigeria.” The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) which instituted the court action also wants Fashola to explain if such spending came from budgetary allocations or other sources.” In the suit filed last week at the Federal High Court, Ikoyi, Lagos, SERAP is seeking “an order for leave to apply for judicial review and an order of mandamus directing or compelling Mr Fashola to provide specific details on the privatisation of the electricity sector, the names of all the companies and individuals involved; and to publish widely including on a dedicated website any such information.” The suit followed SERAP’s Freedom of Information request dated 7 May 2018 to Mr Fashola giving him 14 days to provide “information on the status of implementation of the 25-year national energy development plan, and whether the Code of Ethics of the privatisation process which bars staff of the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) and members of the National Council on Privatisation (NCP) from buying shares in companies being privatised were deliberately flouted.” The suit filed on behalf of SERAP by its counsel, Ms. Bamisope Adeyanju read in part: “Publishing the information requested and making it widely available to the public would serve the public interest and provide insights relevant to the public debate on the ongoing efforts to prevent and combat a culture of mismanagement of public funds, corruption and impunity of perpetrators.”
The government should urgently safe Nigerians from being swindled by addressing the issue of crazy billing before it gets out of hand. The problem of insufficient metering started with silence then to protest and now contest in court. The next possible means is violence and it must be avoided.
HOUSING DEBACLE: NIGERIANS LIVE IN SLUMS, SLEEP UNDER BRIDGES
- ‘Landlords take advantage of this and see themselves as mini gods’
Across the country, low-income earners are still in quagmire, regarding their own houses. This may be the reason stakeholders are worried that despite government claims of formulating policies to provide shelter for appreciable percentage of the citizenry, there are no indicators to justify the claims. The mortgage institutions in the country, according to ISIOMA MADIKE, in this report are also largely inactive
Madam Onyeka Nkemakonam is a widow. She lived in a mini-flat apartment at No 5, Lagos Street, off Akilo Road, Agege, Lagos, with her family for close to six years.
She lost her husband, Nnamdi, in May last year. After the burial rites of her husband and the mandatory mourning period, Nkemakonam returned to Lagos with her four children, to face new challenges of life without the breadwinner.
Her landlord, sensing that it could be difficult for her to continue with the payment of rent, decided to issue a quit notice to her. She pleaded for time, which she thought the landlord had consented to. But she was wrong. Unknown to Nkemakonam, her landlord had a different game plan.
The man, according to what later played out, might have decided to test the signed tenancy law in the state. He ejected her, along with other tenants with the aid of thugs, a few months after.
One of the tenants, Christopher Johnson, a commercial bus driver, who raised the alarm, said he was at Obalende when someone called to inform him that thugs and fake policemen were at his residence in an apparent move to eject all the tenants in the bungalow building.
“I had to abandon what I was doing at Obalende Park and rushed home. I met other tenants outside the house, their properties and mine had already been vandalised by the thugs,” Johnson narrated to Saturday Telegraph.
According to him, items lost to the hoodlums were clothes, phones, laptop, a travelling bag and N70,000 cash he had been saving to rent another apartment. Other tenants in the house also claimed they lost sums of money ranging from N50,000 to N90,000 to the invaders. Nkemakonam said the N250,000 donated to her to complete her husband’s building at Sango Ota area of Ogun State during the burial of her husband, was also stolen.
The total money lost to the thugs was over N360,000, according to claims the tenants made at the police station, where the matter was reported. Narrating her ordeal to Saturday Telegraph, Nkemakonam said she was in the room when the thugs rushed in, threatened to break her head with a hammer after which they bundled her out of the room.
“They claimed they were from the court with an instruction to eject us. The landlord has been on the run since then,” she said amid tears. Like Nkemakonam, many Nigerians, especially those living in the cities, have tales of woe the other to tell about their ordeal in the hands of landlords.
Many people have had terrible experiences in the hands of landlords whose power seems to be growing unchecked. And since shelter is one of the basic necessities of life, many are determined to acquire this essential need. It has thus become a major concern for both individual and governments in the country.
In fact, the scorecard of any government in the country has, more often, been assessed on its ability to provide housing for its populace. Shelter, indeed, is very important and obligatory in human living. It is imperative for every human being to have a home.
However, the individual financial capacity often hinders the purchasing power, hence, the prevalence of house rent in Nigeria. This may be the reason why most landlords take advantage of this and see themselves as ‘mini gods’.
They believe they have power, which can quickly change the livelihood of any person negatively. However, many of the home occupiers in Nigeria today are largely tenants, who pay for accommodation monthly or yearly. And, the uncontrollable rise in the country’s population, particularly in urban areas has resulted in an unimaginable demand for housing.
The overall cases of landlord palaver over the years are alarming and mind boggling. Most of the landlords today, who hitherto were tenants, do not care about the laws or rules guiding landlords and tenants relationship. The thinking is that the house belongs to them and they are free to make their decisions anytime. Though, government at various levels had come up with difficult landlord/tenancy laws, they have only achieved very little in addressing the problem.
In Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory, only the well-to-do can afford to rent an apartment in the metropolis as the costs appear not to be for small salary earners. Judith Nmakwe, a civil servant said: “The rate of accommodation in this city has assumed an alarming dimension; you cannot see a beginner, I mean someone who is trying to start life, settle down in Abuja. A room apartment at the boys’ quarters is what most people can afford here,” she said. There are other views. According to another resident, Ade Adebayo, the FCT is not meant for everybody to settle.
“You cannot compare Abuja with other places in the country. This is the capital of Nigeria and it’s no dwelling place for every Tom, Dick and Harry. However, not all houses are expensive; it depends on the area you choose to live. Many settle on the outskirts where rent is quite reasonable,” he said. But, Lagos and Abuja are not isolated cases.
In Ibadan, the Oyo State capital, Bidemi Babatope, narrated her ordeal in the hands of her 58-year-old landlord. She had earlier paid for two years house rent, but after a year of occupancy, the landlord demanded that she paid more. Reason: Because other landlords had increased their rent. Babatope declined such demand and referred the landlord to his tenancy agreement, which they both signed. That was not enough to dissuade the shylock landlord as he refused to acknowledge his agreement. The consequence was that Babatope was given a seven-day quit notice to evacuate the room.
“He gave me the notice on a Saturday, the following Monday, he started knocking my door early in the morning, telling me that someone had paid for my room and that I should move out in two days’ time. Though I had been busy looking for a room before then, but I couldn’t get one. In fact, I was not financially buoyant enough to do much running around or guarantee a decent house since the man said, he won’t return my money until I move out. “As I was praying the next day, I noticed a carpenter was working on my roof, I thought it was a usual change of a leak in the roof but again, I remembered that my room was not in need of repairs. As I dashed out to find out what was going on, the landlord said he was removing my roof so that I will know that I had overstayed my welcome in the house. Unfortunately for me, rain fell that day and most of my properties were destroyed,” Babatope recounted. Residents of Port Harcourt in Rivers State are also groaning.
They have called on the state government to intervene in the high cost of housing in the city. They said that unless something was done urgently by the authorities to address the astronomical cost of housing in the state, some of them might be forced to relocate to the suburbs. Currently, rent offered for a oneroom “self-contain” apartment goes for between N200,000 and N250,000 per annum while a one-bed flat costs as much as N600,000 in some locations. Likewise, two-bed room is offered for rent at between N600,000 and N700,000 depending on the area.
One of the residents, Kelvin Onwuka, lamented that house rent in the city was fast getting out of the reach of public servants. He said it was becoming increasingly difficult for government employees to live in good houses.
Onwuka, a civil servant, said that housing was a critical social service issue and called on the federal government to enact laws that would regulate housing, especially rents in the country. But, Mrs. Josephine Okenwa, a landlady, attributed the high cost of housing to the rising cost of building materials. She said one way to solve the problem was for government to also regulate cost of the materials. “You cannot expect someone to sell goods below their cost prices; that is what we have been passing through and government knows about it.
The first thing the government should do is to ensure that cost of materials for building is reduced and it can, therefore, address the issue of rent,” she said. Building experts see housing as an economic product over which an average investor wants profits.
It is, perhaps, for this reason that the Lagos State government passed a tenancy law. It was targeted at making life comfortable for its citizenry and safeguarding the low income earners in the state. The law, however, has thrown up endless debate among major stakeholders in the real estate industry. Its provisions made it unlawful for a landlord or his agent to demand or receive rent in excess of six months from a sitting tenant. With the law, it becomes illegal for any landlord to receive more than a year rent from a new tenant otherwise he will be made to pay N100,00 or sentenced to three years imprisonment.
Similarly, it will also be unlawful for a tenant to offer to pay more than a year rent, even though, it allows for the two parties involved (landlord and tenant) to sign a tenancy agreement. But, as plausible as the law may seem, most landlords, stakeholders and property developers have argued that such would never achieve its purpose.
According to them, the Nigerian society has failed to provide sufficient housing facilities for the people. It is argued that the problem of insufficient accommodation should be tackled first before promulgating such laws.
The general case of landlords make Nigerian housing situation looks like a lawless one as they do not care about what the law says concerning their actions and inactions. An Abuja-based Estate Surveyor and Valuer, Ahmed Shehu Dogon-Daji, said that even when rent control laws are available they cannot be implemented because of the refusal of grant to fund research on local building materials through the Nigerian Building Roads Research Institute (NBRRI). He also pointed to the refusal of government to bring the price of cement down because of interest or romance with some manufacturers.
Another Abuja-based property developer and MD, Urban Shelter Ltd, Musa Aliyu, admitted that though the courts are there, absence of rent control laws tend to make all landlords abuse the situation. The Lagos State Publicity Secretary of All Progressives Congress, Joe Igbokwe, also submitted: “Dubious and lazy landlords in the country have no conscience.
They rely on houses they built 30,40 years ago to pay school fees for their children and children of their concubines in Nigeria and abroad.” As it stands today, many Nigerians still rest their heads under the bridge in the dark hour. Such people, who cannot afford a house rent, are left to sleep in the cold at night, exposing themselves not only to the vagaries of the weather but other dangers. Less privileged tenants also live in uncompleted buildings.
These kinds of people are exposed to hazards both night and day. There are others too, who often consider themselves lucky but live in the slum where all forms of inhuman act tivities abound. They inhabit the slum because they cannot afford the cost of a decent accommodation. The efforts of the federal government, particularly the National Assembly and state assemblies to propose rent control legislation have met with unrealistic fantasy. This is as a result of the failed situation on the supply side of the real estate market and the failure of the existing and subsisting rent control legislation and home ownership schemes to address the problem of housing in Nigeria. Housing generally has not ranked high on the scale of priorities for social spending by successive administrations in the country.
This may be the reason efforts at providing low-cost housing have been minimal, despite the creation of the Federal Mortgage Bank of Nigeria (FMBN) in 1977, as shanty towns and slums are common sights in urban areas leading to overcrowding. It has been estimated that about 85 per cent of the urban population live in single rooms often with eight to 12 people per room, making living conditions very dehumanising. Former MD, FMBN, Gimba Ya’u-Kumo, said that lack of a robust mortgage financing system in Nigeria had made rate of home ownership in the country one of the lowest in Africa. Ya’u-Kumo noted that mortgage credits accounted for less than five per cent of total lending portfolio of Nigerian banks and just about 13.5 per cent of mortgage lending by Primary Mortgage Banks (PMBs).
According to him, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) supervision report 2008 revealed that 90 per cent of housing developments in Nigeria were selffinanced through personal savings for periods upwards of 10 years. He said that housing not only satisfied the basic human need for shelter, but a key component of economic growth and development. He pointed out that provision of housing was not only a key driver of economic development, but that it formed a substantial part of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of most developed countries.
“The supply gap for low and medium income groups is huge, reaching a crisis level in some cities in the country. This is heightened by the rapid urbanisation of the population,” he added, noting that the World Bank had predicted that the housing problem in Nigeria would become even more acute by the year 2020 if adequate measures were not taken. In his contribution, Prof. A.O. Olotuah of the school of Environmental Technology, Federal University of Technology, Akure, said: “The Nigerian housing is fraught with a plethora of problems, especially for low-income earners, who incidentally constitute the majority of the population. Fundamental to this is the lack of access to housing finance by this segment of the society.”
In Nigeria, like in many other developing nations of the world, housing problems are multi-dimensional. The problems of population explosion, continuous influx of people from rural to the urban centres, and lack of basic infrastructure required for good standard of living have compounded housing problems over the years.
Access to this basic need by the poor, who constitute the largest percentage of the world’s population, has remained a mirage, which needs to be critically addressed. Perhaps, this may be the reason why President Muhammadu Buhari’s Independence Day Speech on October 1, hinted on what the government intends to do in the real estate sector. He said: “We have initiated the National Housing Programme.
In 2014, four hundred million naira was voted for Housing. In 2015 nothing. “Our first budget devoted a whooping N35.6 billion to the housing sector. Much of the house building will be private sector led but government is initiating a pilot housing scheme of 2,838 units uniformly spread across the 36 states and FCT.
This initiative is expected to reactivate the building materials manufacturing sector, generate massive employment opportunities and develop sector capacity and expertise.”
Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, unveiled the plans by the federal government to deliver mass housing for Nigerians. He said that 360 houses would be built in three states through Public Private Partnership (PPP) arrangement in the first phase, develop “Rent to Own” housing scheme for those who cannot afford mortgage and incorporate a new housing model into the National Building Code.
He, however, lamented that the money appropriated for housing sector was grossly inadequate. Former Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mohammed Bello Adoke (SAN), added his voice to the housing debacle when he noted that Nigeria with a population of well over 150 million people requires housing unit per annum. According to him, this is to replenish decaying housing stock, as well as to meet rising demand and avert a further crisis in the sector. Ms Ama Pepple, former Minister of Housing and Urban Development, also pointed out that Nigeria was facing a national housing deficit of over 17 million units.
She was blunt in saying that the country required additional one million housing units a year to reduce the national deficit with a view to averting crisis in the year 2020 and beyond. In like manner, former Head of State, General Abdulsalami Abubakar, believes that housing defines culture, style and provides the much needed security, even as he urged the three tiers of government to intervene in the building construction sector. He said the intervention, which should be in the form of direct construction of houses, was necessary for the sake of the low-income earners, who were in need of mass housing.
One time president, Nigerian Institute of Quantity Surveyors, Agele Alufohai, also said there was the need for an evolution in the mortgage system with a view to strengthening the build- ing construction sector. He stressed the importance of a viable mortgage system that could strengthen home ownership, and urged government participation in the process through the creation of an enabling environment.
“If we have a mortgage system where the rent you pay will lead to owning a house, then we talk of low-income housing. Elsewhere in the world, you pay rent to mortgage institutions and between 20 and 25 years, you become a landlord and move from being a tenant. Government has to move in to provide the enabling environment by encouraging mortgage origination.”
His former counterpart in the Institution of Estate Surveyors and Valuers, Emeka Eleh, equally said tenants would have a better deal if the supply of homes increases since, according to him, the nation’s housing sector is ruled by landlords. “I believe the solution to our housing problems may not even be short term. We have to deal with the problem: access to suitable and title land on which people can build. There are statistics on how badly we are doing in that area,” Eleh added.
OPEN DEFECATION:How we eat, drink our ‘shit’ without knowing, says 80-year-old Ibadan trader
‘Shit’ in the open is a huge challenge in the country. About 24 per cent practice this according to findings from the 2018 WASH National Outcome Routine Mapping (WASH NORM) survey. The practice contaminates water, food supplies and makes it one of the most deadly issues the nation faces nowadays. ISIOMA MADIKE, in this report, looks at efforts to get 47 million Nigerians to use the toilet and end open defecation in 2025
Alhaja Suliat Ogunbola, 80, is one of the aged traders at Ogbere Idi Osan Market in Ona Ara Local Government Area of Oyo State. Ogunbola is in pains, though not as a result of her old age. She is unhappy because the environment where she ekes out a living looks more like a slum. And beneath the relentlessly slummy surface of the market lies a kind of moral discomfort. The drainage ditches are smelly and blocked with faeces, which she said, often overflows when the rains come, into shops and pathways, such that the vicinity is wholly composed of human waste.
Ogunbola described it not only as an eyesore but a shame to find human faeces litter such a public place. She told Saturday Telegraph that she, like the other women in the market, are willing to use toilet facilities and save themselves the agony of spending the money they don’t even have in treating all manners of diseases in hospitals.
It is because we can’t find a decent toilet to use, she said, that makes them resort to their old ways of defecating without qualms. Ogunbola said: “No bi our fault. Yes, we have toilets in this market, but no water to flush after use.
That is the reason why we now use our bowls which we empty at a more convenient time in the derelict public toilet at the other end (pointing to the location) of the market where we don’t pay any money. “Who does not want to use a decent toilet? Let the government provide a more decent one and make sure there is water supply to prevent us from contracting disease while trying to defecate. Don’t forget we are women and could easily contract disease from dilapidated toilets. Some of us urinate anywhere we can find a space and get infected in the process.
This way flies feast on our faeces and bring them back to our foods and water. My son, we eat and drink our ‘shit’ in this market without knowing.”She pleaded that the state or local government should come to their aid and do the right thing to save them from dying prematurely. Another trader, a 70-year-old widow, Felicia Akindele, also expressed worry over the spate of open defecation in the market. The traders who spoke to Saturday Telegraph during a visit to the market recently, said the development poses hazard to their health and businesses.
“It is obvious that more toilets need to be built to cater for our needs and that of our customers and I think this has been a major challenge for us,” Akindele, who equally lamented scarcity of water for usage in the available toilets, said. However, the only good toilet in the market was built by private initiative.
It supposed to be a decent convenience but for lack of water in its compartments to flush after use. The borehole within the vicinity which should serve the toilets has broken down and those charged with maintenance of the facility seemed unperturbed about it. For Ogunbola, “we had been forced to improvise on the water scarcity by bringing water along from home every day for our convenience.
I found this routine very tough to do at my age but it is still better for me than to risk my health.” A few other traders said they had to also make do with their bowls to avoid direct use of the toilets. “I use a bowl for my convenience and then pour the waste into the toilet thereafter.
The three functioning toilets at the market cater for over 200 traders, in addition to customers, which is not even gender-sensitive,” another, who declined to give her name, said. Yet, Abimbola Oderinde, a principal environmental health officer in the local government, who was sighted at the market, told Saturday Telegraph that her office was pleased with the health condition in the market. According to her, “we do sensitise the traders on the need to maintain hygiene at all times and they adhere.
She however, blamed some of the traders she said, flouts the rules to defecate in the open market. This reporter visited the market as part of a two-day media dialogue hosted in Ibadan, the Oyo State capital by the federal ministry of information’s child rights bureau in collaboration with The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), with the theme “Clean Nigeria: Use the toilet campaign”. Strange as the testimonies may sound, they represent typical scenarios in several communities, as poor living conditions and the dearth of sanitation facilities are peculiar features of many neighbourhoods across the country.
A major outcome of the lack of sanitation facilities is open defection which, according to Chisoma Okpara, Chief scientific officer and acting coordinator for the clean Nigeria campaign, usually provokes the outbreak of waterborne diseases such as cholera and dysentery, particularly among the children. But Ogbere Idi Osan’s Market is not alone in this mess.
At the Kosofe-Ketu community a few days ago, a young man dashed out of his room with clenched teeth, pulled open his zippers, took a quick look to his right and left, retired to a small bush by the school building, and dropped off lumps of smelly faeces. His action surprised no one, for it is a tradition of sort in this part of the mega city. In virtually every open space in and around the neighbourhood, heaps of faeces literally jostle for space with human beings.
From the homes, they are wrapped up in newspapers and launched from windows, scattering into a spatter mess. It piles the streets as though they are articles of ornament. Yet, no one seems to bother about it. “This is how we do it here.
You can hardly find a toilet in most homes and where you find one, it is untidy; not good for any decent use. Most times, what you find is a makeshift toilet in which wooden plank platform are constructed with buckets under it.
The sight of such is quite disgusting. For all these, we consider it convenient and comfortable doing it in the open, and since it suits us, it should not be anybody’s headache,” said an elderly man, who declined to give his name.
He added: “This practice is common in this community, especially in places where toilet facilities are a luxury. When nature calls, everyone responds differently.” The old man’s excitement, many believe, is simply a collective adaptation to extreme hardship. He, like many others in the Kosofe community, were born and bred in that ghetto.
Though, he and his likes seem to have a fascination for defecating in public places and in bushes, they are not alone in this act and Kosofe is definitely not an isolated case. It is a common practice in the city of Lagos.
But, such behaviour, according to some, clearly portrays the level of helplessness and frustration in most Nigerian communities. Many of the families living in Nigeria, especially in villages, do so at a heightened risk of hygiene-related diseases. This is due to poor infrastructure and inadequate toilets.
As a result, open defecation is very common, with many families regularly using river banks as open air toilets. These highly unhygienic practices put the communities at a high-level of risk in relation to a range of water borne diseases. Many families are simply unable to build functioning toilets due to a lack of resources and knowledge on safe hygiene practices.
Incidentally, lack of safe water, according to Bioye Ogunjobi, WASH specialist for UNICEF Nigeria, has contributed to this menace in recent time. This may be the reason wh y he harped on improving access to potable water and toilet facilities which, he believes will largely reduce open defecation. Curbing this nuisance will, he further said, check morbidity, avoidable diseases and improve the quality of life.
Sadly, efforts by government to provide public toilets and enforce sanitation habits have been vitiated by igno by some Nigerians. President Muhammadu Buhari has keyed into the campaign “Clean Nigeria, Use the Toilet”, to end open defecation in the country by 2025.
Buhari is said to be prepared to launch the campaign at a date yet to be announced. This follows the disturbing report of Nigeria being listed among the top five open defecation countries in the world. The country, according to reports, rose from its 5th position in 2003 to 2nd place in 2015 behind India. Also worrisome is the disclosure by the former Minister of Water Resources, Suleiman Adamu that Nigeria is set to overtake India in this inglorious index.
The former minister observed that the country was unable to attain the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) targets for water supply and sanitation because of poor investments, low capacity and other challenges not limited to rural areas. The President had in November 2018 launched National Action Plan for Revitalising WASH, where he also declared a state of emergency on water and sanitation sector in Nigeria, an important aspect of the plan is for the country to be open defecation free.
The National Plan of Action is a significant political milestone towards achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 6 to reach everyone, everywhere with clean water and decent sanitation by 2030. Adamu said Nigeria has developed a road map, 2016-2025, to end open defecation. He added that out of the 774 local government areas, only 13 are open defecation free.
He said: “13 out of 774 local governments is very dismal but it is work in progress. But we have also made some progress as 20 to 21,000 communities in the country today are open defecation free. The problem is we still have 47 million people practicing open defecation and Nigeria has been moving up the ladder since 2012 from being number four or five in the world to having the ranking of number two.
“India is number one but India has been working to end open defecation, in the last four years they have taken over 500 million out of open defecation. And India plans to declare itself open defecation free by October. Once that happens, Nigeria will become the number one country in the world that practices open defecation.
You will all agree with me that this is an honour we do not want to have.” The World Bank’s recent statistics, according to reports, show that regions with high rates of open defecation experience catastrophic waste management problems. Unfortunately, the warnings by the World Health Organisation (WHO) that open defecation can lead to cholera, typhoid, trachoma, diarrhea, stomach upsets and poor overall health have not been heeded, according to experts.
The aggregate opinion is that the environment suffers as a result of open defecation because it introduces toxins and bacteria into the ecosystem in amounts that it cannot handle at a time. This, experts said, leads to build-up of filth.
The load of microbes, they also said, can become so much that, in the end, they end up in aquatic systems thereby causing harm to both aquatic life and humans. But there are known solutions to tackle the menace.
To overcome this problem, the government needs to invest more in WASH. UNICEF has said that about N95 billion will be needed per year to eliminate open defecation in Nigeria. It also advised that the country could achieve economic gains as high as N359.1 billion ($US 1.026 billion) annually from the N455 billion it loses due to lack of sanitation.
Besides, the government’s Open Defecation-Free Roadmap, experts said, should be more than a plan to eliminate the nuisance by 2025, it should, according to them, also put into consideration the N234 billion needed to attain open defecation-free status in its annual budget.
The experts also recommend that the 774 local governments should be involved in the campaign to end open defecation in the country. And that bill should be initiated to promote sanitation and take urgent action to implement Open Defecation-Free Roadmap. Available statistics revealed that access to sanitation has been on the decline from 30 per cent in 2010 to 28 per cent in 2015 while open defecation has been on the increase in Nigeria.
The 2018 National Outcome Mapping Report has also shown that 47 million Nigerians defecate in the open, while the country loses N455 billion (US$1.3b) annually due to poor sanitation. Last year, the findings by the Brookings Institute, based on a projection by the World Poverty Clock, indicated that Nigeria had overtaken India as the country with the largest number of people living in extreme poverty, with an estimated 87 million Nigerians believed to be living on less than $1.90 a day.
The link between poverty and poor sanitation is very thin, intertwined and tenuous. According to Nigeria WASH Poverty Diagnostics Report, the country’s sanitation sector is in a critical condition. The report shows that the economic growth of Nigeria, which has an estimated population of over 180 million, has not translated into rapid poverty reduction.
This may the reason why Adamu warned at the National Council on Water Resources meeting, held in Abuja between November 13 and 15, 2018, that if India would be able to exit from its number one position in the list of countries with poor sanitation and open defecation by November, it would be a “national shame” for Nigeria not to do the same. “I have been to India, the country has been adequately mobilised on issues of sanitation and open defecation.
It is, therefore, a civic responsibility for all of us,” he said. Four years ago, only 40 per cent of Indians were using toilets but now, over 95 per cent of them are practising full sanitation practices. “The Indians have not only stopped to defecate in the open, they are also recycling their waste into usable products; they have experienced a lot of transformation within these years. “The Indians have built over 80 million toilets; we need this kind of quantum leap in our country.
Very soon, wherever you go in the world, you would hear that Nigeria is number one in open defecation and that is a national shame, which we must not allow to happen. Though the federal government would soon enter into a technical cooperation with India to salvage the Nigerian situation,” he added.
Rolf Luyendijk, the Executive Director, Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC), also said that policymakers should take concrete actions to rid the world of more than 800 million open defecators.
He particularly noted that hundreds of millions of schoolchildren had no access to school toilets, with cholera outbreaks resulting in hundreds of thousands of child deaths every year from poor sanitation and hygiene. Luyendijk said apart from considering the data, the call for action from all tiers of government to accelerate progress on sanitation projects globally and nationally was very imperative. He stressed the need to invest in a common matrix and monitoring system across programmes to absorb more funds.
“Instead of us all chasing the numbers — with scattered and relatively small projects and programmes — I really think that we need to pull together and strengthen the system and absorption capacity to scale up and accelerate programming.
We need to get behind ending open defecation roadmaps; we need to invest in a common matrix and monitoring system across programmes so that we can absorb more money but we don’t have our own monitoring frameworks,” he said.Open defecation, according to experts, has an economic, social, and health impact on national development.
Nigeria, it is said, loses about 1.3 per cent (N455 billion) of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) annually due to poor sanitation and a third of that cost is linked to open defecation. It is also said that more than 100,000 children under five years of age die each year due to diarrhoea; of which 90 per cent is directly attributed to unsafe water and sanitation. However, one in four children under five years of age are said to exhibit severe stunting, while one in 10 are wasted, due to frequent episodes of diarrhoea and other WASH-related illnesses.
This frequent episodes of WASH-related diseases cause absence from school or work, as affected people take time off to heal, and some to take care of a sick relative. There is also the issue of poor education outcomes in which reduced school enrolment and attendance due to time lost in search for water and frequent illnesses are rampant. Open defecation equally results in loss of dignity, increased risks of insecurity and violence against women and children. However, the country, experts have said, needs to add two million toilets per year between now and 2025 to achieve the target of Universal Basic Sanitation. Its current delivery of improved toilet is approximately 160,000 per year.
The Nigerian government has made some progress towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goal 6 and eliminating inequalities in the WASH sector. For instance, the Partnership for Expanded Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (PEWASH) programme was formulated and launched in 2016 in direct response to the challenges affecting the rural WASH sector, with the aim of achieving 100 per cent WASH coverage in rural areas.
The “Clean Nigeria: Use the Toilet” campaign to end open defecation is a key initiative that is designed to reach many unserved populations. Sanitation financing mechanism, through the engagement of micro finance institutions, community-based savings and loan schemes, as well as a government pool fund, are also being used to make loans available for households, especially the rural poor, to construct improved toilets. Also, a national Village Level Operation Maintenance (VLOM) strategy for managing water supply facilities in all rural communities in Nigeria has been launched. National guidelines are being drafted by the Federal Ministry of Water Resources to appropriately mainstream gender issues in WASH programming in the sector.
The WASH National Outcome Routine Mapping survey disaggregates national WASH data across regions, sub-sectors, and household wealth, gender, literacy and disabilities status. It also explores equity and dignity indicators, such as gender-separate toilets for privacy in public institutions and safety of water systems and toilets for children and people living with disabilities. Other priorities, according to government, are sanitation and hygiene promotion and awareness creation.
It is in her place to also advocate for the provision of WASH services and infrastructure development in rural communities, schools, health care facilities, and across marginalised and disadvantaged groups. Adamu wants to see support sanitation demand creation and supply chain through community engagement, market-based sanitation, and that financing are also priorities while advocating for a strengthened WASH sector policy. He also advocated for institutional environment at the national and subnational levels for better WASH governance and service delivery.
The government, he said, is aiming to supporting the presidential declaration of the state of emergency and the national action plan for the revitalisation of the WASH sector. “What is needed to achieve this is a strong political commitment in leadership at all levels to improve sanitation and increased budgetary allocation.
The programme needs increased support from the media for the dissemination of behaviour change messages, institutional advocacy, and increased coverage of human interest stories on sanitation “There should also be an increased private sector engagement in the WASH sector through business investment and corporate citizenship/ corporate social responsibility as well as sanitation and hygiene awareness creation through branding and promotion,” he said.
However, becoming an open defecation free community does not happen overnight. It takes a process of mobilisation, engagement, and action. The first stage is pre-triggering activities in which officials of Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Agency (RUWASSA) and local government area WASH department or the State Task Group on Sanitation (STGS) to carry out an advocacy visit to sensitise and mobilise the support of political, traditional and religious leaders and community members.
They seek their support in implementing a Community- Led Total Sanitation (CLTS). There are also the triggering activities. During this phase, CLTS facilitates (LGA WASH Partners and RUWASSA) to engage community members to analyse their sanitation practices and see how open defecation threatens the community. This will ginger the community members to take collective action to develop a Community Action Plan (CAP) to improve sanitation and open defecation. At this stage, sanitation marketing is conducted, with displays of improved latrine options for households to select their preferred choice.
Issues of inclusiveness are also integrated into the CLTS approach to ensure that the needs of all the groups are captured, without leaving anyone behind. For the post triggering activities, the WASH department/unit within the local government area and other local partners follow-up and monitor the CAP. RUWASSA provides supportive monitoring during this period. When the community is able to curb the trend of open defecation, they self-declare that they are now ODF and inform the LGA.
SALLY MBANEFO: I DRESS THE WAY I DO BECAUSE PEOPLE DIDN’T BELIEVE I’M NIGERIAN
Mrs. Sally Mbanefo is a former Director General Nigerian Tourism Development Council (NTDC). She told FLORA ONWUDIWE how her presence has transformed the tourism sector in Anambra State and sundry issues. Excerpts…
Is it okay to address you as Barrister Sally Mbanefo?
Yes of course
It was reported that most female bankers were tasked in a specific period to meet certain financial target of their companies, and if you could not, you were fired; what was your experience working in the bank. Did you exceed targets?
Luckily, I never worked in marketing as a young banker. I was always an operations person, also trade finance, corporate finance and treasury.
Why do you dress the way you dress? Your parentage is more western; you should have more of Italian traits than African, but reverse is the case. What really made you to be passionate about African culture?
I think it’s the paradox effect of looking like a foreigner and yet so proudly Nigerian. I am proudly displaying Nigeria publicly. When you look at me you are convinced beyond all reasonable doubt that I am connected to Nigeria
What are the cultures you feel people should know about your biological mother, or other cultural values that you think might interest readers?
The culture of the families of both my parents is love, love and love
Taking up government appointments has been a great honour; what has been the challenges and how did you overcome them?
There has not been any challenge, it has been all work, work and fun.
Did the appointments come to you as a surprise?
Indeed, all were total surprises, but always accepted as the will of God. But don’t forget my private sector Curriculum Vitae is top of the range, one which prepared me for such jobs. What I mean is I had reached the peak of my career and achievements in the private sector.
While you were trying to settle down, what was the immediate obstacle and how were you able to resolve it?
Settling down in Anambra, as Commissioner of Ministry of Diaspora Affairs, Indigenous Artworks, Culture and Tourism, was quite easy, because we have an amazing governor with a loving and caring wife who takes good care of all of us in his cabinet. Before I came, they have already made provisions for my accommodation. Our Governor, Chief Willie Obiano and his wife Chief Mrs. Ebele Obiano have made me so comfortable in Anambra State and as you know, Anambra is the safest state in Nige-ria; so, I have not encountered any difficulty settling down.
In carrying out your duty as the Director General of Nigerian Tourism Development Council (NTDC), what were those areas you excelled that distinguished you from your predecessors?
When I was the DG of NTDC, we had our three-point strategic imperative; firstly, to rebuild the NTDC to be able to drive the tourism sector. Secondly, to grow the tourism value chain for job creation and revenue generation, and thirdly to re-invent Nigeria’s tourism industry through PPP projects. We launched a domestic tourism campaign, opened tourism information desks in the six geopolitical zones. We created a domestic tourism calendar on our websites enumerating all the key festivals and tourism sites with dates and frequencies compiled from all the state. We also created a tourism map indicating all the tourism sites, waterfalls and caves in various states. We initiated the tourism visa on arrival in collaboration with the ministry. We collaborated with various embassies for best practice in tourism, capacity building. We bridged the gap be- tween the p u b – l i c and private sectors through many projects, and by the grace of God all these agenda turned into our achievements. I also invested a lot in staff training.
Are you taking after the late mother Theresa of Padua, now Catholic saint; she lived her life rendering selfless services to the needy, showing love to the downtrodden, and you have also shown that. Are you naturally inclined in this direction?
I love Mother Theresa, she is my role model. I want to be like her, mother Theresa of Nigeria. In fact that is exactly the kind of life I want to live, making people especially the poor happy. Giving sacrificially and praying for lost souls.
Nigeria’s flag colour (green and white) reflects in your attire which you proudly flaunt, at what stage did people start to identify with you with this outfit?
When I became the DG of NTDC my main job was to sell Nigeria to the outside world. Considering my foreign appearance, many people did not really believe that I am from Nigerian, so I decided not only to appear in our traditional attires, but to also wear Nigeria everywhere I went, or go.
You are one of those in the art community that is passionate about arts; in what areas of art are you good? Art is an in born talent; I am good at paintings with over 100 paintings. I’m also good in sculpting. I did not get to study art when I was in England before I came back to Nigeria to study law. But I started actively painting at the age of 16. Art is a God given talent; every piece of art has a story behind it. When I retire, I shall officially go to an art school to upgrade my sculpting talent and study history of arts- my passion.
You are one of those in the art community that is passionate about arts; in what areas of art are you good?
Art is an in born talent; I am good at paintings with over 100 paintings. I’m also good in sculpting. I did not get to study art when I was in England before I came back to Nigeria to study law. But I started actively painting at the age of 16. Art is a God given talent; every piece of art has a story behind it. When I retire, I shall officially go to an art school to upgrade my sculpting talent and study history of arts- my passion.
What do you do at your leisure time?
Once I am not working, I am praying. I pray a lot especially at my leisure. I am also a prayer coach, teaching people how to have a relationship with their creator. I have done this over the years with youths but now I’m doing it with the adults.
You have risen to an enviable height and young women may want to emulate you; what is your advice?
As a woman there are certain assets that one needs to have. Firstly, humility of purpose, of person, of character and of attitude. I have learnt this in all my working years with the Yoruba. Secondly, choosing one’s battles, at work and at home, to ensure peace of mind and thirdly trying to be a woman of silence. It is not everyone who provokes you that you respond to, save your energy for more positive things and fight only battles that are necessary, choose your battles.
What did you achieve working at Lafarge cement company?
Lafarge was an amazing experience because it was my first job outside the banking sector; I did quite a bit there. Initially, they had me manage a staff discontent and shareholder crisis; a job I had successfully concluded at the bank I had just left to join them. We also helped restructure the finances by taking them to the capital market and also restructured the shareholder expectations. We did process reengineering, changed management and restructured the whole company.
ADULTERATED PRODUCTS: KILLING CONSUMERS THROUGH ALTERED FOOD ITEMS’ PACKS
‘Now I make it a law to pour juice into cups before taking it’
Not everyone go through the products they buy. And for those who do, how certain are they about the state of these products? The saddening reports of adulterated and expired food items, especially drinks and sausages produced here in Nigeria, keep coming in at an alarming rate. ISIOMA MADIKE, in this report, looks at the hazards posed to consumers by this situation and other forms of consumer abuse
With an inviting display of drinks, which comes at relatively friendly prices, the Walk-In Fridges at many stores in Lagos, have become magnet for many customers. Shoppers planning parties, events or just want to buy themselves a few drinks can find the Walk-In Fridge drinks a good bargain due to their discounted prices. The cold-room like giant fridges have doors and spacious interior through which shoppers can walk through, and is stocked with mainly bottled and canned beer brands, stacked in crates or packs.
The added incentive for the buyer is that he gets the drinks, inclusive of the bottle and liquid content, at the cut-rate prices, against the practice elsewhere where he or she has to exchange his or her empty bottles before he or she can buy the product. Incidentally, not everyone who goes to the stores has a good story to tell. Just recently, a middle-aged woman, who identified herself simply as Mima, had a soured experience she would not wish her worst enemy. She shared a disturbing image of what she claimed her daughter found inside one of the bottles of malt drink they bought from Shoprite on January 14. According to her, the strange object was discovered by her daughter after the family got back from Shoprite where they had gone shopping.
She said: “My daughter took the malt drinks to the refrigerator after which she decided to take a sip from one of the bottles. She perceived a foul smell as she did that which prompted her to pour the remaining content out into a glass cup. What we saw was, indeed, horrifying. I couldn’t describe whether it’s a mushroom, robber or a piece of glass. My daughter was troubled as a result and was taken to a hospital. I am sharing this so that other children will not fall into this trap. “Unfortunately, when I called the customer service number found on the bottle, the response was quite discouraging; the speaker from the other end tried to blame me for their carelessness.
This is terrible and I believe it can only happen in Nigeria where anything goes with nobody caring a hoot.”
But Mima’s experience is not an isolated one. Another lady, who preferred to be called Motunrayo, came back from work on Monday, January 8, to meet her first child, Tobi, vomiting and complaining of a stomach ache. He was taken to the hospital for treatment and stayed indoors afterwards to properly recover. “I remembered that Tobi had asked for one of the packs of juice we had at home, which was purchased from a major supermarket the Saturday before that Monday. On taking the juice, he started to complain of tummy ache and almost immediately started to vomit without finishing the drink, though the stomach pains subsided almost immediately. My younger sister took it away from him and noticed some black stuff on the straw and proceeded to cut open the pack. It was then she observed that the juice appeared whitish with an off look from what it should normally look like.
“We immediately kept the remaining packets left in the carton away and warned him not to take from it again. But when I got back that Monday and noticed that the pains had started again, I had to cut open the remaining ones left in the carton, and what we found out can only be imagined. We noticed biological matters, which looked like fungus in them. It was black, white and quite disgusting,” she recalled. Yet, Mima and Motunrayo are not alone in this.
Adaeze, who lives at Palm Grove area of Lagos State, also told this reporter that it happened to her sometimes in 2017. “I don’t buy it regularly but when my nieces and nephews show up for holidays, I got a carton. In one of such occasions, I was having some difficulty getting my juice out through the straw, I cut it open and saw green mold. “We had to cut open the remaining packets and two more had mold in them. Now I make it a law to pour juice into cups before taking it. The kids don’t like it so I got fancy cups that make it more fun than drinking from a plain cup,” Adaeze said.
Abimbola’s experience was in the traffic. She was on her way home from work. She flagged down a hawker to buy a sausage roll and a bottle of soft drink. She had already popped the former into her mouth when she remembered that she had not checked the expiry date. To her dismay, the roll had expired four days earlier. In an almost similar situation, Ibrahim, who stays at Lagos Street, off Akilo Road in Ogba, returned from work with a headache. He reached for his first aid box and thankfully there was a pair of tablets left in a sachet of paracetamol. He briskly pressed the tablets out of the sachet, but just before he put them into his mouth, he looked at the expiry date on the sachet… “the drug expired only yesterday.”
Confused, he contemplated going ahead to take the drug. But, he thought of the consequences. Would taking the paracetamol not be a fatal mistake or should he simply continue to suffer from the headache? This was Ibrahim’s dilemma. Many in his shoes would have faced that too.
In a country like Nigeria, where many consumers are illiterate, they are likely to be susceptible to exploitation by dishonest dealers. This may be why health experts often advise consumers against eating expired foods and had always counselled to throw them away when they are past their shelf life. However, one way to know if a particular food is beyond its shelf life is to check the food label for a stamped date, usually with the inscription: “expiry date” or “best before”. But in Nigeria, this inscription means little or nothing as they have often been manipulated. Many dubious retailers have been caught many a times in this act by the authorities concerned, though no concrete steps had ever been taking to put a stop to such.
With this attitude, checking expiry date, at present, may not be a guarantee of safe products any longer. In most cases, the cartons and each individual pack of items would have months ahead as expiry dates when in actual fact such products had long expired. If one is very observant however, the manipulation of the original expiry stamps could be detected.
A seamstress, Hamzat Abiodun, told Saturday Telegraph of the experience she had on Friday, March 27. She had gone to a frozen food store at Ogba to buy food ingredients she wanted to use to prepare soup but ended up buying a bag of Semovita from one of the newly opened shops in the vicinity. “When I opened the bag the next day, I discovered maggots inside the Semovita. I was surprised because before I bought it, I checked to assure myself of the genuiness of what I was buying.
That was why it was so surprising what l later found in the bag of Semovita; I was really shocked and could not believe what I was seeing. I went back to the shop but met the sales girl who said that her aunt had gone out. I waited for her because I needed to lay a formal complaint.
“By the time she returned she could not fathom the reason for the state of the Semovita and pleaded, saying she was sorry. Yet, she added annoyingly that there was nothing she could do. Though I understood her predicament, but the way she spoke in a dismissive manner got me angry, and I started lashing out at her. I threatened to let hell loose if she does nothing to compensate me. I left a while after but promised myself not to buy anything from her shop again,” Abiodun added.
Prince Ifeanyi works in a cosmetic company somewhere in Ikeja, Lagos. He recalled how their managers used to give them certain chemical with which they use in cleaning plastics. But the cleaning was much more than we thought. “We were often instructed to use it to also clean batch numbers, the production and the expiration dates. The plastics then will be taken to the machine where new numbers will be printed on them.
“At first, I thought it was a normal thing to do. But when I came to really understand the fact that we were altering what could be damaging to other people’s life, I just collected the pay for that month and stopped working there. I felt it was wrong to change such expiry dates. From that moment I didn’t feel comfortable working there anymore. I had to opt out because my conscience had started to prick me,” said Ifeanyi. Blessing Onyedika, an indigene of Anambra State, has her story as well.
“The day was Thursday, January 30, at Ojota, Lagos. An opened bottle of diet mineral drink lay before my desk. I have always been a fan of that brand’s products because of their catchy advertisements and mantra. But there was something wrong with this beverage on this particular daya swig from the bottle was enough to arrive at a conclusion. The ‘best before date’ on the bottle’s cap answered my doubts. The drink or rather the ‘poison’ before me had long expired. “I made a dash to the shop where the drink was bought.
A rather naïve sales attendant apologetically collected it from me. Her offer to replace the drink only unearthed more rot. Stacked in a corner of the room were cartons of expired stock. In alarm, she opened the refrigerator and more expired bottles smiled at us.
Off course all the bottles bore the date 01/07/2018. There is also this rumour about a major retailing chain in Nigeria selling expired products. Although the rumour has not been properly verified by the authorities concerned, many believe that the management and staff of the superstore have been silently killing Nigerians by tactfully reducing prices of adulterated products. Not long ago, a family reportedly lost one of their sons, who died from food poisoning from eating a contaminated cheese bought from the retail giant. Many have had similar testimonies too. However, a list of different terms and what they mean have been provided by food health experts to further educate consumers on the appropriate thing to do.
One of such terms is “Sell by” date. The labelling “sell by” tells the store how long to display the product for sale and advises customers to buy the products before this date. This is basically a guide for the retailer, so that the store knows when to remove the item from its shelf.
This though, is not mandatory because the issue is with the quality of the item (freshness, taste, and consistency) rather than whether it is on the verge of spoiling. According to experts, “sell by” date is the last day the item is at its highest level of quality, but it will still be edible for some time after. Another is “Use by” date: After this date foods may be unsafe to eat even if they look fine, because the nutrients in them may become unstable or a build-up of bacteria may occur.
This is the last date recommended for the use of the product while at peak quality. The date is determined by the manufacturer of the product. Most visible “use by” foods include milk, meat, and vegetables. And then, the common one, “Best before” date. This refers strictly to quality, not safety. This date is recommended for best flavour or quality. It is not a purchase or safety date.
The “Best before” date simply indicates that the product may lose some of its quality after this date. If one stores these foods properly, one can still expect them to retain their colour, taste, texture and flavour. “Best before” foods include canned foods, cereals, biscuits, sauces, chocolate, sugar, flour and frozen foods. However, it is advised not to throw foods away just because they are past their “Best before” dates. This only means that such foods are no longer at their peak of freshness. There is also “Guaranteed fresh” date.
Though not too common in this part of the world, it usually refers to bakery items. They will still be edible after the date, but will not be at peak freshness. However, to make sure food lasts until its date mark, it is important to follow storage instructions, such as “keep refrigerated” and “store in a cool, dry place”. Sometimes, heating the food can kill bacteria, according to food experts.
Yet, there are the categories of contaminated products that are purely burn out of share negligence of the workers, who are supposed to supervise the purity of such items in the line of production. This happens especially in bottling companies in which the workers on production line are supposed to check at every point to make sure no dirt gets in into the bottle before corking it up. But often times, this simple process is neglected either genuinely or by share wickedness on the part of some dubious employees. A 54-year-old shop-owner in Idumota, Lagos, who prefers to remain anonymous, told this reporter he would not stop selling food past its sell-by date if there are demands for them. “If the food is well packed, even if it has expired, people can consume it without being worried.
Of course, what I sell is cheaper and people like that. When they buy I make them aware that I don’t take any responsibility for the quality or any effects caused,” she said.
Another beverage vendor at Mushin market, who also does not want to be named, admitted he usually changed expiry dates. “I make up a new expiry date. People say that most of the products can be consumed after the expiry date for at least one year; so I don’t see why I should throw away such items. What I do is to change the stamp to a later date and people can buy them. “I have never got into trouble with the government because I perfect what I do. People are dying because of violence and I’m not the one killing them. So, if they have any health problems as a result of what I am doing, they have a doctor to take care of them,” he jokingly said.
But health officials are concerned by the increasing number of fake foods and medicines on sale in the country. “Doctors have raised serious concerns about the increasing number of people who get foodpoisoning as a result of consuming such products,” said a woman who identified herself simply as Kafayat, a senior official in the Lagos State Ministry of Health. Yet, expired products are not just peculiar to shelves of some stores or supermarkets in Nigeria alone. They can be found all over the world. For example, In November 2014, some shoppers who picked a number of items in a few stores in Houston, Texas, USA, found out when they got back home that some of the items had expired since April 2012.
This kind of experience abound in other countries as well Reacting to the issue of adulterated dates, the Public Relations officer of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), Obiazikwor Christiana, said that NAFDAC only deals with regulated products. These, according to her, include items such as drugs, cosmetics and medical devices. “For products we have two dates on them; the manufacturing date and the expiry dates; although there are also batch numbers on them. Expiry date means the date that the producer has advised users to discontinue using such products. The product is no longer safe for use after that day. And any consequence from the usage of that product the producer is no longer liable for it.
And that is why we advise people to read product labels very well so as to make sure that products they buy are not expired. “Any product that has manufacturing date without expiry date can never be approved by NAFDAC. So, it is even a way of identifying a good product. No product can last forever.
Garri that we use in our houses cannot last be forever. Even yam, there is an extent you keep yam in the barn no matter how you want to preserve it. With time it will start shrinking and turn to something that you can no longer eat. These are natural things not to talk of things that you use preservatives that have chemical components,” she said. In like manner, the General Manager, Lagos State Consumer Protection Agency, Mrs Oluwakemi Olugbode, is irked by what she called the brazen attitude of businessmen, who capitalise on Nigerians’ low knowledge about their rights on consumables to cheat. She said: “We consumers must take our destinies in our hands and go the extra mile to check the life span of what we consume. You are kings and you have the right to determine who gets your money.
If you see products that are near expiration just don’t buy. And when you don’t buy, they stay on the shelf and over time, those who put them on the shelf would be forced to remove them. Stop making billionaires out of unscrupulous and dubious businessmen, who go to other countries to bring products that are not safe for consumption at unbelievable cheap prices into Nigeria.” Olugbode said on assumption of duty, she discovered through a consumer survey conducted, that the level of consumers’ awareness of their rights and responsibilities was abysmally low. She said that over time, this lack of awareness has been exploited by some businesses to brazenly engage in all sorts of sharp practices that undermine the safety, comfort and economic interest of the consumers.
She also frowned at the manner some products were being stored in markets, warning that improper storage, like leaving packaged or bottled water exposed to the sun, has been undermining the quality of such products.
“It is common knowledge that even when they were not expired, the quality of most products gets compromised when stored under harsh weather conditions. It is worrisome that most super stores across the country stock their bottled water and beverages under direct sunlight in front of their shops for weeks on end. The practice of storing such items under the sun is unacceptable as it negates the storage conditions stipulated by the manufacturers and thereby exposing consumers to injury,” she added.
The Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON) has also warned Nigerians to be careful of the products they buy and not to buy any merchandise without expiry date defective. Bottled Water (Labelling) Regulations, under the NAFDAC Act, made similar provisions in the cases of prepackaged foods and bottled water respectively. Surprisingly, despite the indifference on the part of many Nigerians to report and or enforce product liability laws, particularly the violations of the legal requirement of expiry date labels in consumer products, Nigerian laws did not treat it with kid gloves. Paragraph 21 of the Prepackaged Food (Labelling) Regulations and Paragraph 16 of the Bottled Water (Labelling) Regulations, NAFDAC Act prescribes permanent or temporary prohibition from the importation, exportation, manufacture, distribution, sale of and use of the consumer items in each case, or in addition, a fine of N50,000 as penalty for contravention thereto.
It is also an offence under Section 9 of the Consumer Protection Council Act, for a manufacturer or distributor of a product to fail, on becoming aware after such a product has been placed on the market of any unforeseen hazard arising from the use of such product; and to notify the general public immediately of such risk or danger and cause to be withdrawn from the market such product.
Not too long ago, NAFDAC revealed that importers of substandard products had devised a new strategy of repackaging expired products and making them look like valid products. An example is the case of some dairy products imported into Nigeria from Holland. It was discovered that the milk had expired but was repackaged and another valid date put on the packs.
FAILURE IN EXAMS, LACK OF FUNDS, BREAKUPS FUEL UNDERGRADUATE SUICIDES, SAY EXPERTS
Suicide, according to medical experts, is a serious health problem. It is currently said to be the third leading cause of death for teenagers between the ages of 15 and 24 years. However, depression, which is also a serious problem for adolescents, is one of the significant biological and psychological risk factor for youth suicide. While substance use remains extremely widespread among today’s youths, it is related to both suicide mission and depression. ISIOMA MADIKE, in this report, attempts to look at a combination of individual and societal factors that contribute to the surging trend of this malaise among the country’s undergraduates
With undergraduates’ suicides on the rise in Nigeria, a mother who lost her son a few months ago, but prefers to remain anonymous, described her son, Tony as a “typical” teenager. Tony, she said, was a 300-level student of Chemical Engineering in one of the universities in the Southwestern part of the country. He was an athlete, who led a youth group at a church. At the time of his death, she didn’t see that he was struggling, despite her job as a teacher and her degree in counselling.
“You don’t get an instruction booklet with kids,” she said, adding: “So you don’t know what’s normal or not normal.” Since her son’s death by suicide at the age of 21, she has devoted time to researching youth mental health and suicide prevention. She now recognises her son’s tendency toward perfectionism and recalled how he’d begun struggling in some of his courses at the university.
He had mild Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and had been prescribed medication that came with a side effect warning about potential suicidal thoughts in adolescents. She believes he might have planned suicide for some time before he left church early one Sunday, walked home alone and took his life. The keys for parents, she said, were listening and communicating.
“Be very honest about mental illness and different feelings. Listen to their emotions. If they are on any medication, it’s important that the adults in their life, including teachers, are aware and watching for changes in behaviour. Anything that is not typical of their ‘normal,’ is an opportunity to start a conversation.
And it’s important to be direct when you believe there is something wrong with your child or your student,” she said. Mental health professionals, she said, recommend asking directly if a young person is thinking about harming themselves. According to her, the health experts, see that as the best approach and won’t put ideas in their heads or otherwise make things worse. But beyond parents being vigilant and involved with their children’s mental health, she’d like to see schools start teaching coping behaviours earlier and offering more support groups for youngsters to share their feelings.
“There is the need to be a lot kinder and a lot more accepting of people’s differences,” she said. While the woman acknowledged that it can be hard for parents and teachers to connect with kids as technology changes, she, nonetheless, would like to see more youth-led programmes so that they can connect with people their own age in their own way about mental health.
“I think there is a disconnect with these kids. They live on social media. Faith communities also could do more to engage families in discussions about mental health. Suicide affects everyone,” she said. The distraught woman however, highlighted what she called the fantasy of life, which youths see with lofty dreams as they look into the future with great expectations. She said: “They usually don’t believe life could defeat them. So, they look forward to winning all life’s battles. But when their dreams begin to fade, depression sneaks in, with hope giving way to despair while sadness takes the place of joy in their hearts.
It is at this stage that they start thinking of death. Unfortunately, in their quest to escape the reality of life, they leave pains in the hearts of those who loved them.” Incidentally, many, including health experts, seem to agree on depression as the possible cause of most suicide incidents. Hopelessness, feelings of guilt, loss of interest, insomnia, and low self-esteem are some of the most popular symptoms of depression. Suicide, according to them, is a serious health problem as they quoted global statics that suggests it is currently the third leading cause of death for teenagers and young adults between the ages of 15 and 24 years.
Apart from depression, which is said to be a serious problem for adolescents, and a significant biological and psychological risk factor for youth suicide, substance use remains extremely widespread and is related to both suicide mission and depression. Aside Tony, there have been many more in recent times.
The surging trend of reported cases of suicide by youths, with some of them announcing their intentions on the social media, has remained a major challenge for both parents and government. On June 8, a final year student of Ekiti State University (EKSU), Oluwafemi Akindeko, attempted suicide due to poor academic result. According to PREMIUM TIMES, Akindeko is a final year student of the Accounting Department. He was waiting for his results to be released so as to proceed for clearance for the National Youth Service Commission scheme.
When the result was released, it wasn’t what he was expecting; he failed one of his major courses, BUS 418, which he believed meant he would spend an extra year in school. Prior to his act, he made a series of post on his WhatsApp status, expressing displeasure and loss of hope.
In some of his posts, he said: “Everything about today is just bad… God help me. This month is not smiling. Why is today like this? God help me throughout this month. From June 1, everything hasn’t been good. All I want to do now is to commit a crime and be sentenced to life imprisonment. So, keep off, so you won’t fall a victim. “Life and education is something I don’t want again.
I guess going off is the best for now. I’m dropping this in case you call me and I’m not picking or you send a message and I’m not replying. Ire Ooooo! God be with the living. I regret ever coming to this world and I regret ever choosing to be educated. I swear. EKSU, you are cursed.”
He reportedly consumed sniper insecticide to die by suicide. Some of his friends also were quoted to have said that Akindeko cut himself before he was rushed to the hospital. The media was also awash with the story of another 300-level student of Medicine and Surgery at the Faculty of Basic Medical Sciences of the Niger Delta University, Amassoma in Southern Ijaw Local Government Area of Bayelsa State, who died by suicide for failing his examination. The student, who was identified only as Ebiweni, reportedly dived into Amassoma River and drowned before help came.
He was said to be among the 22 students shortlisted to be withdrawn from the college for failing the Bachelor of Medicine exams beyond the level that they could be placed on academic probation for another academic year. Reports had it that the deceased could not absorb the disappointment that came with the news despite attending the counselling session organised by the university for the affected students before being asked to withdraw from the institution. He was also said to have dropped a hint about his suicidal intention through his WhatsApp status update. Another, a 22-year-old Chukwuemeka Akachi, of the Department of English and Literary Studies at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, also took his life in an unpleasant circumstance. Akachi, a native of Eha-Alumona in Nsukka Local Government Area of Enugu State, was said to have had a long battle with mental illness.
It was said that he had on two previous occasions drank kerosene and petrol in an attempt to kill himself but was rescued. In a bid to make him void the thought of taking his own life, two of his lecturers were said to have taken interest in counselling him, including creating opportunities to have leisure with him whenever they noticed a slight change in his countenance. But their efforts were not enough to dissuade him. There was also a 400-level Law student of the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile-Ife, identified simply as Ige. He reportedly killed himself at his residence outside the campus of the university a few days after his lover allegedly broke up with him.
It was gathered that Ige, said to be above average academically by his colleagues, was found dead in his apartment at Asherifa area, a stone’s throw from the campus. His suicide note, reads in part: “Father, while reading this message, I would have been gone” before he allegedly ingested some substance later discovered to be poison. He was said to be a member of the Christ Apostolic Church Fellowship on campus and had met the lady who was said to have financed his education for over eight months of their relationship before the bubble burst. The lady, an undergraduate, is also a member of the same fellowship. She was said to have broken up with Ige because of his poor background and could no longer cope with him.
This development, reports said, subjected Ige to emotional trauma. He was said to have threatened that he would die by suicide should his lover remain adamant on her decision before he finally took his life. He was described by some students as a person who lived a lonely life. In what is fast becoming a fad among students of higher learning in Nigeria, a 16-year-old 100-level student of Microbiology in a university in the South-East, identified simply as Mercy, also killed herself. Mercy allegedly took ‘Sniper’ days after she wrote on Facebook that she wanted to see God’s face and speak with Him face to face. Her fellow students and a neighbour revealed that she killed herself due to financial pressures. One of her neighbours reportedly said she died after she took “rat poison mixed with battery extract.”
One of her friends said: “Mercy often isolated herself in class and looked depressed. She told me she was tired of living on his boyfriend. She actually struggled to meet up with her financial needs but the boyfriend tried to share the little he has with her. But as a woman, she felt she was becoming more of a burden to him.” Suicide rate among Nigeria’s undergraduates appears on the increase with sniper becoming a ready tool for them in such situation. However, many health experts have blamed poor understanding and treatment of stress and depression for the rampant malaise. Most people feel sad at times but believe it’s a normal reaction to loss or life’s struggles.
Yet, experts said that when intense sadness — including feeling helpless, hopeless, and worthless — lasts for many days to weeks and keeps one from living his or her life, it may be something more than sadness. At that point, they said, it could be clinical depression –a treatable medical condition. According to the DSM-5, a manual doctors use to diagnose mental disorders, one has depression when five or more of these symptoms last for at least two weeks: A depressed mood during most of the day, especially in the morning, feeling tired or having a lack of energy almost every day, feeling worthless or guilty almost every day and a hard time focusing, remembering details, and making decisions. Others are sleeplessness or sleeping too much almost every day, having almost no interest or pleasure in many activities nearly every day, thinking often about death or suicide (not just a fear of death), feeling restless or slowed down, lost or gained weight. WebMD also shows that sadness, sleeping problems, irritability, and more may be signs to seek help for depression.
It could equally occur when one feels irritable and restless, overeat or stop feeling hungry, have aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems that don’t go away or get better with treatment, feeling sad, anxious, or “empty” feelings. While these symptoms are common, not everyone with depression will have the same ones, said Oye Gureje, a Professor of Psychiatry and Director, WHO Collaborating Centre for Research and Training in Mental Health, Neuroscience, Drug and Alcohol Abuse, University of Ibadan.
How severe they are, how often they happen, and how long they last, he said, could vary. He also said that symptoms might happen in patterns. For example, depression, Gureje said, might come with a change in seasons (a condition formerly called seasonal affective disorder). However, it’s not uncommon for people with depression to have physical signs of the condition, he added.
They may include, according to him, joint pain, back pain, digestive problems, sleep trouble, and appetite changes. One might have slowed speech and movements, too. The reason, the experts said, was that brain chemicals linked to depression, specifically serotonin and norepinephrine, play a role in both mood and pain. He said: “Depression may have other specific features, such as anxious distress, that is worrying a lot about things that might happen or about losing control. Another typical feature is when one can feel good after happy events, but also feel hungrier, need to sleep a lot, and are sensitive to rejection. It could also be psychotic in which one believes things that aren’t true, or see and hear things that aren’t there.
“These are familiar to everyone but that only a few people would see it as mental issue that would require the attention of those trained to deal with such challenges. These could affect life substantially, if they persist.” Another child and adolescent consultant psychiatrist, also at the UCH, Ibadan, Professor Olayinka Omigbodun, said there is a universal intervention in preventing depression and suicide in children and adolescent to promote mental health and wellbeing and child adolescent mental health. She called for the review of mental health laws to provide proper care for affected persons in Nigeria.
“We cannot talk about the proper treatment of mental health issues if we do not have a law to back it up and we also need to understand that mental health issues affect everyone,” she said, adding, “the burden of depression on adolescents affect their interpersonal relationships and could be linked to other problems including smoking, drug abuse, academic failure, physically inactive and secondary behavioural problems like truancy and stealing.” She defined depression as a mood disorder characterised by persistently low mood and a feeling of sadness and loss of interest. She said: “It is a persistent problem, not a passing one, lasting on average 6 to 8 months.
Diagnosis of depression starts with a consultation with a doctor or mental health specialist. It is important to seek the help of a health professional to rule out different causes of depression, ensure an accurate differential diagnosis, and secure safe and effective treatment. “As for most visits to the doctor, there may be a physical examination to check for physical causes and coexisting conditions. Questions will also be asked – ‘taking a history’ – to establish the symptoms, their time course, and so on. Some questionnaires help doctors to assess the severity of depression,” Omigbodun said. Omigbodun, however, pointed out that depression is different from the fluctuations in mood that people experience as a part of normal life. “Temporary emotional responses to the challenges of everyday life do not constitute depression.
Likewise,the feeling of grief resulting from the death of someone close, is not itself depression if it does not persist. Depression can, however, be related to bereavement – when it follows a loss, psychologists call it a ‘complicated bereavement.’ Dr. Raphael Ogbolu, also a consultant psychiatrist at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), Idi Araba, and coordinator, Suicide Research and Prevention Initiative (SURPIN), looked at the issue differently. He said that the youth are less traditional and are more likely to be single parents, but more entrepreneurial and into phones than television.
This, he attributes to the advent of social media. The advent of GSM meant that their popular mode of communication was less likely to be face-to-face, and as such “this generation more often lives in a virtual world where social media gained a lot of prominence.”
The Director-General of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), Professor Moji Adeyeye, who was quoted by the Punch, looked at the direction of drug abuse. She said there was the need for parents and religious institutions to do more in discouraging youths from abusing drugs, especially controlled substances. She also called for the creation of more rehabilitation centres to cater for drug addicts. “We don’t have enough rehabilitation centres for our youths and people addicted to drugs. Right now, we have only 10 centres in the country.
We need like 10 centres in each geographical zone. We need to provide more rehabilitation centres.” The Spokesperson for the National Orientation Agency, Paul Ogenyi, however, blamed the incessant suicide cases on the disintegration of societal values including an increase in mental cases. He said in the past, people remained positive even when faced with financial crisis but the new culture of making money through any means and the glorification of money over values had made people to see money as a life or death matter. Ogenyi said, “Societal values have disintegrated and parents have failed. Also, institutions in charge of moulding the minds have also failed.” Clerics have also commented on the increasing rate of suicides among youths of the country. According to an Islamic scholar and lecturer at the Lagos State University, Ojo, Dr. Alayinde Yusuph, suicide is Haram; it is forbidden.
“You shouldn’t kill others let alone yourself. “Among the prohibited things in the Holy Quran, suicide is one of them because before the advent of Islam, the Arabs used to kill their daughters to run away from hardship. But the Holy Quran frowned at it. It is called Wabil jannat. So, the Holy Quran forbids it totally.” Yusuph, who aligned with Ogbolu, said because of the new media, adolescents of today were likely to have less social and interpersonal skills compared to the older generations. With this problem, he said, a lot of ‘make believe’ and fake personalities came into play.
He said: “For that reason, we now have children who will become sad because they cannot show off like their mates, even if they are fake. This in turn can affect their selfworth.” Also, the Senior Pastor, Transformation Chapel, Emmanuel Ohere, told Saturday Telegraph in a separate interview that as Christians, taking one’s own life was wrong and not biblical.
“No man or woman has the right to take his or her life; the messages and admonitions from the church, is also helping to curb the ugly incident. Unfortunately, the situation is made worse by a technological world where someone can create a photo-shopped image of a ‘beautiful’ person. What all this does is to diminish the self-esteem of a child who already lacks self-belief and confidence.
The clerics observed that adolescents attempting suicide by overdose at increasing rates was further evidence that the pervasive public health problem needs more conversation, money and experts. “The church, mosque and parents, should also be useful in this regard,” Ohere added.
MentalHealthNg, while confirming the reality of depression, which it acknowledged as a precursor to suicide, has advised people mounting pressure on singles to get married or couples who are childless, to desist from such attitude. It did not stop there but urged those asking fat people to slim down and slim people to eat so that they can get fat to also have a change of heart. Others are to stop body shaming people because, according to the organisation, abusers may not have any idea what others are passing through in life and that the best anyone could do is to have a nice thing to say to people as a way of encouraging them.
It equally advised ladies to be mindful of competitive life which, it said, did more harm than good. Fashion, it started, could come and go just like phones are evolving every day. It added: “People should be contented with the little they have at present while Nigerians should cultivate the habit of sharing their problems by talking to someone, especially medical experts, instead of taking their lives.”
SWEET TALES OF MOTHERHOOD
- I was called a man, witch for not being able to give my husband a child –Nwaka
In-vitro Fertilisation (IVF) may have been shrouded in secrecy because of the stigma associated with it while the procedure is quite demanding. But the flood of testimonies from couples appears to be rubbishing the shame connected with it as Nigerians are now realising that a successful IVF is not only a scientific miracle but a breakthrough in itself. In this report, ISIOMA MADIKE, tells the story of those who became proud mothers through the assisted reproductive technology
On the outward, Mrs Elizabeth Nwaka, could pass for a wellto- do trader at the popular Mile 12 market in Lagos. But that could be a smokescreen. In actual fact, Nwaka was an unhappy woman that had been denigrated and called names by her in-laws for a challenge that was not her making. She was child- less after many years in matrimony.
She said: “I was called a man by my in-laws, especially my mother-in-law, who saw no reason for two ‘men’ to be married. I was also branded a witch; while some of my sisters-in-law accused me of donating my ovaries to the occult world they believed I belong to.
“The most painful thing was listening to deliberate discussions of some women of childbearing age in my presence. They would deliberately discuss such issues as labour pains, antenatal care, immunisation and dentition experienced in baby growth and the likes. All these were aimed at mocking as well as making me feel incomplete as a woman.
“Fortunately, while I went through these humiliations, my husband stood by me. He just kind of developed a thick skin and deaf ear to all what his people were taking me through. He gave me strength and his unwavering supports were such that he never left me in the lurch.
He was a rare breed. We visited spiritualists, white garment and Pentecostal pastors we thought should be potent enough to help my situation. But they all failed.” Time, which is of essence, was ticking for Nwaka. Soon, hope gave way for hopelessness to set in. Menopause was knocking at her door. But she was not willing to give up.
And just at the nick of time, miraculously, a lifeline came from the horizon. This time, through the support of improved technology, Nwaka became a proud mother of a baby boy. Pathetic as Nwaka’s story may seem, hers was not an isolated case. Mrs. Bolanle Balogun also had fertility problems after signing the dotted lines with her husband many years ago. “I did so many things at different healing homes and hospitals. Despite my age, I never gave up on my dream of having a child. So, when a relative told me about a fertility centre in Lagos, I prayed and took my chance.
“I and my husband put our money together. Although we didn’t have much money but the doctors helped us. We went to the hospital and they gave us some treatment, and thank God it worked,” Balogun said. She became a proud mother after undergoing In-Vitro fertilisation (IVF). But there was the issue of stigma having conceived through Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) or IVF.
“That wasn’t an issue for me at the time; even now it’s still not an issue. From the day I was told I was pregnant, I called my mother and mother-in-law to tell them I was pregnant. My child is now two years old.”
Mrs. Kate Adikwu’s case was not entirely different. She had her three children through IVF. Adikwu confessed that the problem of infertility in Nigeria can drive couples and families involved to the edge that at some point they will not care about the “how” of the conception of the children they so desperately want. In her case, there was intense pressure and trials from worried members of the family after six years of wait.
“At a point, the mothers-in-law want to see children and not how you got them, she said, adding, “I had two children through ART, but the third one, was a miracle sort of as he came naturally.
My ART children look very much like me and my husband. This is because the sperm and eggs used are from us only that it was assisted conception. The genetic identities are so strong.
“Some people nonetheless accused me of going to one place or the other to conceive but i didn’t mind because I trusted God and they were eventually shamed after hearing my testimony. I want to encourage others going this ‘hell’ trying to conceive to try this technology. I bet they won’t regret it though it could be stressful but it’s worth the trouble.” Yet, these three were not the ones who are proud mothers today through the IVF miracle.
History was also made in Abeokuta as another woman became Africa’s oldest IVF mother who delivered a baby boy at 67, a few years back. Mrs Ajibola Otunbusin was reported to have broken all known records in that respect in the process.
Not only had she became the oldest Nigerian woman at the time to give birth through IVF, she was said to be the oldest African in recorded history to give birth to a baby, and the 2nd oldest mother in the world. The baby was delivered at Atoke Medical Centre, Abeokuta, on October 20, 2018. The elated mother had undergone the IVF procedure at the St Ives IVF & Fertility centre.
With her successful conception and delivery she became the latest in a long line of women who had benefited from the highly lauded IVF programme. Speaking to Thelagostimes, Otunbusin narrated how her efforts to have a child had taken her to several specialist hospitals in Nigeria and India where she underwent numerous procedures without success.
“This might be hard to believe but I am 67 years old and I have been married for over 39 years. I have done several IVF both in India and in Nigeria that failed. At several points, I had said to myself: ‘So I will die without a child of my own?’ But I never gave up on God. I held on to the belief that at the appointed time, God will remember me. And my husband kept encouraging me.
In 2018, I started the procedure with joy and I ended it with joy from above,” she said. While glowing with the radiance that comes from a long mission finally accomplished, Otunbusin advised other women who are encountering challenges with childbearing not to lose hope. She urged them to remain positive and try all medical methods while also looking up to God for the fruit of the womb. There have been other fascinating stories of those who waited for so long a time before experiencing what many call the joy of motherhood.
One of such stories is on a woman who reportedly waited until her ripe age of 63, before becoming a mother, which many chose to call the Plateau miracle. Mrs Margaret Davou achieved the unthinkable and was very happy when she struggled to breastfeed a baby for the first time in her life.
Bes Hanny, as she called her, according to reports, looked fragile at birth though; she nonetheless was the cynosure of every eye that visited the Gynaeville Specialist Hospital along Old Airport Road in Jos, where she was delivered.
She attracted numerous well-wishers, all eager to have a glimpse of a child whose arrival caused the retired civil servant to shed tears of joy. Dr. Kenneth Egwuda, the IVF specialist and CEO of Gynaeville who helped performed the miracle, said that Davou underwent hormone replacement therapy to enable her uterus conceive. Through IVF, Davou’s fourth attempt and first in the hands of the Gynaeville staff, became successful.
With 12 years of experience in the field of assisted reproductive health, Egwuda had pioneered IVF in Plateau and Kano states. From the beginning, according to the doctor, the Davous knew they were in good hands and after proper evaluation, “we realised that the woman was in good health, aged but with no metabolic illnesses or other prominent ageing disease apart from hypertension.” The woman was in a blissful mood after the delivery as she told Daily Trust: “I am fine, baby is fine, the Lord has done it.”
The woman from Zawan in Jos South Local Government Area of Plateau State, had worked as an administrative staff with the Nigeria Television Authority (NTA) in Kano, Makurdi and eventually retired in 2012, two years after she was posted to the NTA Jos Network Centre. Before her delivery, she had been wary about talking to the press.
However, a day after her baby arrived, she became a changed woman and beamed with smiles, thanking God and became more accommodating. Her husband, 67-year-old Francis Davou, had also retired from the Nigerian Air Force in 2008 and reportedly said his joy was tenfold that of his wife.
“It is because I am a man and so I have to control my emotions, but my joy is more than hers,” he said. The Davous waited 38 long years to be called parents. Within those years, they had tried fertility treatments in other centres which failed; they had also used their resources to train children of relatives in the hope that someday, they will be blessed with their own offspring. “I trained four of my brother’s children and they are all grown and married now,” said Francis.
His eldest brother, Choji Davou, 78, also confirmed, according to Daily Trust that his younger brother had equally trained two of his children. He said: “We’re so happy that the Lord has answered our prayers and blesse them with their own child.” The IVF testimonies are however, not restricted to the low and the average in the society; celebrities, the high and the mighty have had cause to also smile via the assisted pregnancy.
One of the most remarkable of such stories was that of the celebrated singer and photographer, TY Bello. She was said to have waited for nine years that was characterised by tribulations before welcoming a set of twin boys in October 2014. She had to endure struggle with Endometriosis, IVF and ceaseless pressure from friends and family before she finally became a proud mother. She revealed going through IVF to conceive her boys, the journey Bello confirmed was a very intense one for her.
She said: “I had just been through the toughest nine years of trying to get pregnant, being confident that it would be a breeze since I had always known that I would make a great mother. It was quite humbling when it didn’t happen as I had envisioned it. It was grueling actually.”
There was also the charming story of Dr. Rachael Dickson, wife of the Bayelsa State Governor, Seriake Dickson, who gave birth to a set of quadruplets in the United States of America after reportedly undergoing fertility treatment at an IVF clinic.
More than 10 years after the Bayelsa State first couple married they had no child of their own, and when the bundle of joy arrived in the form of qua- druplets, it was said to be via IVF. The first IVF baby, however, was born in 1978 but this procedure was not conducted in Nigeria until 1989 after which Ibadan joined the league whose IVF was done in July 2015 and delivered in March, 2016. That great feat gave hope to couples who had been battling with infertility without success.
That became the first successful birth of a baby conceived from frozen egg of a 44-year-old woman, who had suffered infertility for eight years. The feat made her the first in the country and West Africa.
The baby, named Tiwatope, which is the 5001st in the world, were carried out by Nigerian fertility specialists at The Bridge Clinic, a Lagos-based fertility treatment centre, where the mother had her eggs frozen using the vitrification (flash-freezing) process.
Announcing the medical milestone, a fertility physician at The Bridge Clinic, Lagos, Dr Emmanuel Owie, said the birth of the baby on February 16, 2016, effectively puts Nigeria on the global map as regards the practice of oocyte (egg) freezing or cryopreservation, a new offering in the IVF space. He said prior to the birth of Tiwatope, the new practice seemed to be an exclusive preserve of the developed world of Europe and North America.
He said: “Tiwatope’s mother had her eggs frozen for two months, using the vitrification, also known as flash-freezing, process. This is the cutting edge technology in cryobiology, where the eggs or oocytes of a woman is dehydrated and the water content is replaced with ‘antifreeze’ solution (cryoprotectants) before freezing.
This will prevent the formation of ice crystals which could destroy the cell.” Owie had also noted: “We fertilised the eggs using a standard technique known as intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) to overcome the egg shell which normally gets hardened with freezing.
The fertilised egg was subsequently transferred into her womb, resulting in the pregnancy with Tiwa. She had her antenatal care in her family hospital and delivered the baby boy through Caesarian Section.
“At The Bridge Clinic, we celebrated Tiwa’s birth as it is a further demonstration of our coming of age in the practice of assisted reproductive technology. It is a show of the sum of our strengths — our people, our process and our infrastructure. It demonstrated our commitment to global best practices which ensured that our offerings are in tandem with what is obtainable in the developed world, both in variety and in quality.”
According to Wikipedia: “IVF is a process by which egg is fertilised by sperm outside the body: (in glass). The process involves monitoring and stimulating a woman’s ovulatory process, removing an ovum or ova (egg or eggs) from the woman’s ovaries and letting sperm fertilise them in a liquid in a laboratory. The techniques can be used in different types of situations. It is a procedure of assisted reproductive technology for treatment of infertility.”
It is commonly known as Assisted Reproductive Technology, and the process is by manually combining an egg and sperm in a laboratory dish, and then transferring the embryo to the uterus. Other forms of ART include Gamete Intra- Fallopian Transfer (GIFT) and Zygote Intra-Fallopian Transfer (ZIFT). Experts say that IVF is used to treat infertility in patients with blocked or damaged fallopian tubes, male factor infertility including decreased sperm count or sperm motility, women with ovulation disorders, premature ovarian failure, and uterine fibroids.
Also, women who have had their fallopian tubes removed and individuals with a genetic disorder and unexplained infertility. According to one fertility expert, “there are five basic steps involved in the IVF and embryo transfer process. Monitor and stimulate the development of healthy egg(s) in the ovaries. Collect the eggs and secure the sperm.
“Then, combine the eggs and sperm together in the laboratory and provide the appropriate environment for fertilisation and early embryo growth. In transferring embryos into the uterus, the following steps are taken: Fertility medications are prescribed to stimulate egg production.
Multiple eggs are desired because some eggs will not develop or fertilize after retrieval. Transvaginal ultrasound is used to examine the ovaries, and blood test samples are taken to check hormone levels. “Eggs are retrieved through a minor surgical procedure that uses ultrasound imaging to guide a hollow needle through the pelvic cavity to remove the eggs. Medication is provided to reduce and remove potential discomfort. The male is asked to produce a sample of sperm, which is prepared for combining with the eggs. “In a process called insemination, the sperm and eggs are mixed together and stored in a laboratory to encourage fertilization.
In some cases where there is a lower probability of fertilization, Intra Cytoplasmic Sperm Injection (ICSI) may be used. Through this procedure, a single sperm is injected directly into the egg in an attempt to achieve fertilization. The eggs are monitored to confirm that fertilization and cell division are taking place. Once this occurs, the fertilised eggs are considered embryos. “The embryos are usually transferred into the woman’s uterus three to five days following egg retrieval and fertilisation. A catheter or small tube is inserted into the uterus to transfer the embryos.
This procedure is painless for most women, although some may experience mild cramping. If the procedure is successful, implantation typically occurs around six to 10 days following egg retrieval,” he said. For those who went through the IVF success stories in Nigeria, both the husband and the wife usually struggles through disappointments, pains, and psychological traumas of being childless before their testimonies. Most men do that to dispel societal beliefs on infertility that totally blames the woman and frees the man. That perhaps may the reason why infertility experts said it is a couple thing.
They defined it as the inability to achieve pregnancy within one year duration of regular (evenly spaced 48 hours interval) ejaculatory vaginal sexual intercourse without contraception between a man and woman in the reproductive age group. Infertility, the experts said, is caused by 40 per cent a male problem, female 40 per cent, and the remaining cause of 20 per cent is unknown. However, one of the known obstacles to effective IVF success is what the medical experts referred to as Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS).
PCOS, they said, is one of the commonest causes of infertility. They said that patients with the disorder usually have multiple small cysts in their ovaries that occur when the regular changes of a normal menstrual cycle are disrupted, leading to enlargement of the ovary and production of excessive amount of androgen and estrogenic hormones.
The Managing Director of Nordica Fertility Centre in Lagos, Dr Abayomi Ajayi, emphasised that when he organised Failed IVF Cycle Open Forum. Ajayi used the occasion to highlight that many couples do not prepare for treatment beyond the first IVF, thereby getting disappointed if the cycle is unsuccessful. He stated that the probability of attaining higher successes occurs when a plan for multiple cycles is put in place rather than the one off treatment. He further explained that couples who have had a failed cycle should not give up, as there usually is a bright hope of another trial.
According to him, “the more couples understand how IVF works, the easier it would be for them to understand what to do when a cycle fails. The role of the fertility centres and experts is to lay the foundation for a successful pregnancy, but when the sperm and egg have been fused, what happens within the next two weeks remains a mystery. The implantation at that time is like a black box. That is when pregnancy is determined.” In implantation, he said, the embryo is placed like planting a seed and waiting for it to germinate. This is why the two weeks wait after IVF is observed.
“At this window of time, IVF could fail for several reasons and it is often difficult for couples to understand why.” Ajayi also said that embryo selection methods could contribute to a failed cycle, even as he added that embryologists select embryos for transfer based on cell stage, embryo grade and the rate of cell division and the surgical procedures themselves.
“The egg retrieval and the embryo transfer are very important to the success of an IVF cycle. Despite all the challenges, IVF remains extraordinarily successful. One of the reasons IVF often fail is because couples are unable to make the right decisions that IVF requires. They need to listen to their doctor and try to make right decisions. The work of a good IVF clinic remains to support couples in making right decisions,” he said.
RITUAL KILLINGS: New antics for yahoo boys
Ritual killings are fast becoming the fad in Nigeria. This, many have attributed to the erosion of the country’s value system, which incidentally seem to have given rise to money becoming the god worshiped by youths. In this report, ISIOMA MADIKE, looks at why young people do everything fetish, including human sacrifice to get rich quick nowadays
Nigeria, many believe, is in great danger as ritual killings are gradually but steadily overshadowing all other crimes in the country. The evil has actually assumed a frightening dimension with many of the country’s youths jumping into it without thinking of the consequences of their actions. To a lot of people, the Nigerian society is fast losing its value system.
Those with this line of thought have also argued that money has unwittingly become the god worshiped by the youth. For this reason, young people, they said would do everything fetish, including human sacrifice, to get rich quick nowadays. This obsessive lust for money, others concurred, makes many of them to resort to doing the absurd as a way to realising their devilish desires. Today, an average youth on the street does not seem to value hard work or follow the process of growth any longer. They seem to have also jettisoned the law of sowing and reaping as they wish to turn billionaires overnight.
This might be the reason why they recently invented stealing female underwear to do money rituals. In the last few years, the number of people who have been butchered or raped to death remains countless even as the incident appears to have risen in the last few weeks. Just recently, emesis caught up with two young men, Hyginus Mbachi and Gambo Bulus, who reportedly killed a young man for alleged ritual.
One of the suspects had tricked the boy away from his father on the pretext that he was going to help him gain admission in the Republic of Cameroon. But, Mbachi and Bulus, who confessed to the crime, said the victim whom they alleged was a member of the Young Vikings confraternity was actually not the target for their ritual purpose but was stabbed in error.
Before the killing, Mbachi, according to the Benue State Police Commissioner, Omololu Bishi, had defrauded the father of the boy of N208,150 being the alleged fee for the admission into a university in Cameroon. On May 6, the Niger State Police Command also apprehended three brothers for ritual killing in the Borgu Local Government Area of the state.
The suspects, Saminu Usman,25; Yusuf Usman, 22; and Muhammadu Usman, 35, all of Janruwa village in the Borgu LGA were reportedly arrested by a team of policemen attached to the New Bussa division after a complaint by the father of their victim, Yakubu Garba. It was learnt that the suspects abducted one Shehu Garba and whisked him away to an unknown location where they killed him for rituals. Northern City News reported that the men took their victim to a bush where they cut off one of his hands.
One of the suspects, Saminu, according to the report, alleged that his eldest brother, Mohammadu, instructed them to cut off their victim’s hand for ritual to enable them to be rich. He was quoted to have said: “It was actually not our intention to kill our victim for rituals. But after killing him, we cut off his hand, which we planned to use for ritual, before we were arrested by the police.
I don’t know what to say; but we have disappointed our parents and other family members. Imagine three brothers going to jail at the same time; we have ruined our lives.” In Edo State, a young man of 18 years of age, was also arrested by the police for allegedly killing his mother and slept with the corps for money ritual purposes.
That incident brought to the front burner the incessant cases of ritual killings in recent times and the need to address the immediate and remote causes of the scourge. In Ibadan, the Oyo State capital, a woman reportedly jumped from a twostorey building in a desperate move to escape from the now notorious ‘Yahoo Boys’ who allegedly wanted to use her for ritual. The state’s special security outfit, Operation Burst, arrested the two suspected internet fraudsters to the Ibadan zonal office of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), after the woman escaped and reported her nightmare.
The suspects, Sanusi Azeez Toba and Osho Olalekun, were arrested on April 3, at Kolapo Ishola, Akobo area of Ibadan after the woman escaped by jumping down the two-storey building where she and others were taken hostage. According to her, “We met at the club and we all went back to their apartment to sleep over. At some point, I noticed some funny movement and I saw them with a calabash (a native pot).
“That was when I knew they were ritualists with the intention to use me for rituals. So, I jumped off the two-storey building, and off the fence. I then reported the case to the ‘Operation Burst’. Police later found incriminating documents stored in the Laptops and phones recovered from the suspects. An herbalist, Owolabi Mesioye and his friend, identified only as Oloruntoyin, were equally caught in the act after they allegedly killed an unknown man for rituals in Ogun State. According to Naija News which reported the incident, Oloruntoyin purportedly lured the victim to his home near Mesioye’s residence at night.
He was said to have called the herbalist and allegedly hit his victim with a charm that made him unconscious. An eyewitness reportedly said: “The herbalist had been warned several times to desist from placing sacrifices at junctions in the community. He was summoned to a meeting by the community leaders but he did not honour the invitation, same with Oloruntoyin.”
A 62-year-old herbalist, Ganiyu Idowu, alleged that an Islamic cleric, Bamigbola Edun, aka Alfa, asked him to get a human heart and two hands, with which he would prepare a ritual that had a potency to produce N11 million. Idowu was one of the 19 suspects paraded by the Ogun State Commissioner of Police, Ahmed Iliyasu, at the command’s headquarters, Eleweran, Abeokuta. Paraded alongside Idowu and Edun was another 62-year-old motorcyclist, Mathew Odunewu, who was alleged to be an accomplice. The three of them, according to Iliyasu, conspired, kidnapped and attempted to kill one Ganiu, an apprentice to Idowu, for alleged money ritual, in the Oriyanrin area of Abeokuta.
He said: “On getting to the river bank, the three men grabbed the fourth person, who is the youngest among them, laid him on the ground and were about to slaughter him like a lamb when policemen swooped on them.” Iliyasu added that when the suspects were arrested, they had polythene bags with them.
“They confessed that they would have put Ganiu’s body parts inside the bags if they had succeeded in killing him.” In Asaba, Delta State, the activities of suspected ritualists and internet fraudsters (Yahoo plus boys) is also giving the residents of the capital city sleepless nights. The bad boys are said to be abducting and killing people, especially women before making away with their vital organs and panties for alleged money- making rituals. Just like in Asaba, these bad boys have also been terrorising the other cities across the state. Cases of attacks and disappearances of persons at Jesse, Sapele, Abraka, Oghara, Ughelli and Warri in recent weeks have become rampant.
Apart from the killing and harvesting of breasts and tongue of a First Class undergraduate of Delta State University (DELSU), Abraka, which sparked anger in the sleepy university town, suspected ritualists equally beheaded a widow at Oghara, the country home of former governor of the state, Chief James Ibori, in a similar manner.
Though the rate of ritual murders in Nigeria in the last few years had been a source of concern, in recent times, the increasing cases of female university and polytechnic undergraduates falling victim of ritual murderers have been frightening. This may be the reason why many now describe students’ lives in public higher institutions in the country as brutish and challenging. Outside the school campuses, the young undergraduates are also being preyed upon by opportunistic kidnappers looking for candidates to be killed for rituals. Punch had reported the headless body of a young lady which it said was found along the Amanwaozuzu-Ogwa Road in Imo State.
The victim was believed to be an undergraduate of a university in the South- East. The report said that other body parts were removed from the corpse, fuelling suspicion that she might have been killed for ritual purposes. Before the Imo incident, another student of Mass Communication at the Cross River State University of Technology had died in circumstances believed by her parents to be for rituals.
She was said to have gone to the home of an Alhaji to seek financial help with the knowledge of her mother. Also, an unidentified woman, who left her abode in Sango Otta, Ogun State, in search of spiritual cleansing, ended up being a victim of ritual killing in the hands of those who pretended to be clerics, according to reports. Aside that, the body of one-year-old boy was also discovered in a church with her heart ripped out from her body in Calabar. As if in competition, a suspected ritualist reportedly confessed that he connived with a Muslim cleric, to use his student for money rituals.
With the spate of killings for ritual purposes gradually assuming an alarming rate in Nigeria, many would have expected security agencies to checkmate the trend. But that has not been the case. Recall that in March 2014, a horrible ritual forest was discovered in Soka, Ibadan, the Oyo State capital, where human body parts, including skulls and skeletons dotted the whole forest. In a similar manner, another forest was also discovered around the same period in Ogun State where an underground cell suspected to be a ritualists’ den was uncovered at Iyana Egbado village in Ewekoro Local Government Area of the state.
More discoveries were made in different parts of the country in recent years. On a daily basis, there have been screaming media headlines and stories of people either being arrested with human parts for ritual purposes, or of missing persons. Not too long ago, deadly and notorious cult group, known as Badoo, which was responsible for a lot of killings for ritual, held swear at the Ikorodu area of Lagos State until the police was able to dislodge and degrade the group. For sure, the rising scourge of ritual killings in Nigeria is not a phenomenon in a vacuum. In fact, there are several reasons why the problem of ritual killings has persisted.
Greed and poverty, according to those who should know, are some of the fundamental causes. However, it is sad that some Nigerians are never satisfied with wealth. As such, they have unyielding desire to be extremely rich. This, some others said, is a driving force that leads to ritual killings. Apart from that, desperation for quick riches has also been fingered as a motivating factor in such inordinate act.
There is the factor of the high level of unemployment also. Many have said that the growing unemployment could motivate the youth who are anxious to begin to consider illicit and irrational ways of succeeding including money rituals. Joblessness, others said, could equally be a recipe for other crimes including armed robbery, thuggery and fraud. Yet, cultism cannot be overlooked as many believe it contributes to the moral decadence in the country. It is disheartening that cultism is now widespread not just in institutions of higher learning but also in the larger society.
These cult groups go to the extent of killing innocent people and sacrificing them for wealth, power and sometime protection from death. However, the founder and head of Evangelical Ministries (Wisdom Chapel), Lagos, Bishop Stephen Ogedengbe, has stressed the need for the three tiers of government to create more jobs for the teeming youths to dissuade them from indulging in ritual killings. According to the cleric, the difficulties in securing jobs have made some youths, who did not have the right values, to go into ritual killings, mass migration and other vices. He is equally of the opinion that the vices could be curbed if the leaders think more of the youth than self.
He said: “We can only continue to tell people that in the end, crime does not pay; engaging in ritual activities or other vices makes a person sell his or her soul to the devil. So, we must constantly tell youths that values of faith in God, values of integrity and honesty, hard work and labour supersede the short term gains of rituals and scamming.’’ Professor of Islamic Eschatology, Muslim Activist, and Advocate of Dialogue, Ishaq Akintola, appears to support the thinking of Ogedengbe when he said that “our leaders should provide good infrastructure and create jobs for the youth to take them away from negative acts such as ritual killings for money.
They are the future of this country; they should be equipped with employment or empowered. “Nigerians are faced with multiple of challenges, what is paramount is how to ensure that there is infrastructure in place that works for people. Power is very important, training is also important, especially functional education, which teaches people what to do and how to do it; what is important for people is to earn a living.
“Somehow, there is an indirect relationship between corruption and money rituals. Nigeria is a country where people steal public money and call it free money. Since the thieves did not work for it, they spend it anyhow such that, their neighbours or those who look up to them are moved to envy. And in the process of trying to emulate them by all means the youth take desperate steps including doing money rituals. “Add to this is the manner with which public servants who stole money are venerated in society which makes the young ones desperate to emulate them.” Meanwhile, the Police have said that stealing of pants by “Yahoo Boys” for money rituals cannot be investigated because there is no evidence.
The Force Public Relations Officer, Frank Mba, who was responding to questions on ritual practices and ‘get rich quick’ schemes, said this on a live television programme on NTA, ‘Good Morning Nigeria’. He said: “Stealing of underwear for whatsoever reason is a recent phenomenon. Before now, we had cases of ritual killings but we can’t investigate things that are not empirically verifiable except when there is convergence of the act like cases of murder or an attempt or related crimes.” The police spokesperson went on to advice youths against drug abuse, adding that substance abuse fuels crime.
“Drug and substance abuses are strong conscience suppressors that influence our youths into these wicked acts of fetish and ritual killings for get-rich-quick. While we’ll continue to fight the menace of drug abuse head-on, we want our youths to desist or be ready to bear the consequences “We don’t investigate divinations or morality except related acts that constitute a criminal offence. Apart from factors like unemployment, what we have on home videos, TV programmes and messages being sent out help in spreading these evils.” In his reaction, a Lagos-based lawyer, Emmanuel Nwaghodoh, said that most people who should know better unfortunately are the ones helping to fuel the menace by believing in arcane things and fetish practices.
While also blaming the malaise on the worsening economic condition across the country, Nwaghodoh urged security agencies to step up and live up to their responsibility of protecting lives and property. “From time, our politicians believe ritual killings or severed human parts and organs would help them win elections.
For me, they are vampires thirsty for human blood,” he added. Speaking on how to curb the malady, a security expert, Dr. Ona Ekhomu, stressed the need for people to always be vigilant and take cognizance of their environment. He advocated value reorientation and called for more jobs creation to help steer desperate youths away from turning into body part merchants, kidnappers and murderers. Ekhomu lamented the inability to prosecute those caught in the act, which he said, had continued to encourage others to remain in the business. He therefore called for stiffer penalty for anyone caught in the act of ritual killings, as, according to him, that will serve as a deterrent to others, especially the youth.
GOING BACK TO BARIGA AFTER 30 YEARS WAS EMOTIONALLY DRAINING
‘I want Germans to see us as educated people, not scammers, prostitutes’
Mrs. Mary Bamigbe Bruder, a Nigerian based in Berlin, Germany and president of Bruderhilfe (Brotherly Help) Social Development Initiative Foundation, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) based in Germany, with a mandate to transform lives and communities around Nigeria, is quietly traversing the nation bringing succour to the neglected and ‘wretched of the earth.’ ANDREW IRO OKUNGBOWA spoke with the mother of two, who is determined to rewrite the sordid narratives of Nigerians living in Germany and other parts of Europe, on her life’s trajectory
With about 30 years in Germany, where she has been exposed to the best that life has to offer, Mrs. Mary Bamigbe Bruder, is the most unlikely person to be seen with the underpriviledged, exposing herself and even those around her to the dangers and mudslinging that come with such a territory, but for her avowed passion to add value to peoples’ lives and her world. Raised in Ilaje, Bariga area of Lagos State, one of the backwaters and vices infested communities in the state, she rose from the ashes of deprivation to attend Gbagada Girls Secondary School and University of Lagos, Akoka, a neighbouring community, where she bagged a Bachelor degree in Political Science.
Shortly after her graduation, she decided she has had enough of her father’s land and departed for Berlin, Germany, in 1989, to start afresh. While at it, she went through all sorts, including abuse and physical torture, but she was not deterred as she stayed on course and today she has risen from the ashes to become a successful businesswoman and a philanthropist extraordinary.
She is actually a household name in Berlin and most parts of Germany and Europe as no one encounters her without having a good impression of her, this writer inconclusive. Bruder is actively involved with the Nigerian Organisation in Diaspora (NIDO) Germany and is currently the treasurer of the body, where she has made valuable contributions. Her humanity and devotion to the welfare of people that come in contact with her even when it is not convenient and safe to do so is inspiring.
Extending a helping hand is second nature to her
Extending a helping hand to people that come across her, is almost second to nature to her, she says as she opens a window to her world: ‘‘I have been in Germany now for about 30 years and I am into business, shipping, logistics and procurement. I am the managing director of PPSS International GmbH, a shipping, procurement and logistics company in Berlin, Germany.
‘‘My business has been very successful, all my years in Germany have been devoted to charity work,’’ she says, stressing that: ‘‘I was not actually ready to make it an official preoccupation by registering an NGO I created for that purpose because I was not emotionally ready to go into it full time. The road to formalising her charity work, she discloses started about two years ago when she took steps to put a structure and a name to it.
‘‘But I started in June 2017 as I then decided that I was ready emotionally, and financially to register it. It was then that I decided to register it in Nigeria.’’
Inspiration for setting up the NGO
‘‘What inspired me was my life story and that of my family as we all came out of charity. A family charity of some sort,’’ she says as she goes on to narrate her dramatic life story, which today she speaks openly about unashamedly in order to inspire children and youths that have become part of her world. Her parents, siblings and herself where pepped up in life by the singular act of devotion to family creed by her father’s elder brother who threw a life line to the father when he brought him to Lagos and started him off.
She picks up the narration: ‘‘He brought him to Lagos and empowered him to start a business. He also gave him a plot of land in Ilaje, Bariga. Not only giving him a plot of land but he helped him to design a three – bedroom flat. So from childhood, we lived in Ilaje, Bariga, a poor neighourhood.
‘‘Because of that singular act we were able to live well and get education even though my parents were uneducated, all my siblings are graduates. But then I didn’t quite appreciate what my uncle did for us but growing up I began to appreciate what he did and also questioned myself if I could be able to replicate such an act.’’
Having drank from the milk of kindness of her uncle, it wasn’t difficult for her to also give back as she tells you that: ‘‘All my life in Germany, I have always been of help to Nigerians and other nationals. My office is like a refuge for them, I love my country, I love to help people and I love to promote my country. ‘‘Anybody that is looking for accommodation, work, welfare or whatever it is, my office is opened to them. Even those that are in distress and at the point of committing suicide, I come to their aid and once they see me they open up to me and I counsel them.
‘‘Immediately, I take them home, clothe them, give them food and a place to stay. The females live with me in my apartment while the males live in my office. All of them are success stories today and most of them are German citizens now. ‘‘I tell them my story for them to know that I started from zero level just like most of them and getting to the place I am today is only by the grace of God.
‘‘I know that I have a divine calling or mandate to help people because when someone in need comes to me I don’t have peace of mind until I am able to render assistance to such a person. I don’t know how I am able to do that but that is just me because I will never have peace until I am able to solve your problem. ‘‘This is my kind of life and now I decided to take it further by formalising it. It is this that gave birth to the NGO that I am now running.
Suffered from bad relationship and abuse
Life for her, has not been all sunshine, as she confesses to have suffered all sorts of pains, including abuse and bad relationship: ‘‘I have also suffered bad relationship, abuse and so many negative things, but God helped me out of them. So I can talk about life and I believe that I have a lot of experiences to share with people.
Areas of influence
The basic focus of her NGO is in the areas of education, health, empowerment and water aid. She has traversed different communities within Nigeria, setting up outreaches in such places as Ilaje, Bariga, Badagry, Agege and Ajegunle in Mile 12 area of Lagos where she runs a community centre in a property owned by her and she plans to adopt the community as a model community.
Also, her imprints are in Ife, Osun State and Abeokuta, Ogun State, among others. Just recently she added Borno State to her unending list of beneficiaries when she donated over 100 wheelchairs to the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) camps through the state emergency agency in collaboration with the Nigerian embassy in Germany. She also has a volunteer group, which is made of youths under her watch in different communities. This crop of volunteers forms the vanguard for her outreaches to different communities in the country. Part of her commitment is to expose Nigerians to educational opportunities Germany. To this end, she has offered scholarship to two indigents Nigerian students who are studying in German universities, with plan being concluded for the third student to join the duo anytime soon.
I am a success story from Ilaje, Bariga
Speaking with her, you get a sense of unalloyed devotion to her community, Ilaje, Bariga, which she is helping to transform into a better and improved enclave. She sees your background as not being a hindrance to you becoming a success in life, using herself as a preachment to her community because by her admission, she is a success story from the deprived community ‘‘I am a success story from Ilaje, Bariga and I tell them that they don’t have any choice not to do well in life. Your background is not an excuse. I don’t your children to continue like this, let stop now and plan for our future generations.
‘‘We love this community, this is my community, my Ilaje, Bariga, I am so proud that I am a success story from this community and I want other youths and children to also be a success story from their communities. ‘‘We want to empower youths, we want to enlighten them, we want to discuss with them one on one, and we want them to see that better things are in stock for them. ‘‘Because I am coming from that background I can relate with them and talk authoritatively to them. They can understand and relate to my story because some of the people knew me in the area when I was growing up. ‘
‘We want to empower the women, organise them into smaller groups, offer them loans for their businesses. I am working with the office of the vice president (Yemi Osinbajo) on this. I am targeting the Tradermoni.
Visiting Ilaje, Bariga was emotional for me
Going back to her beloved Ilaje, Bariga, was not an easy decision for her as it took the intervention of her siblings and others to get her to engage with her people in the backwaters community that is infamous for its high rate of vices. Looking back, she confesses that it was the most emotionally unnerving moment for her: ‘‘In fact, since I started my NGO visiting Ilaje, Bariga, was the most emotionally troubling for me. Everybody knows me and I told them that I couldn’t come to this area all this while because of it notoriety and the fact that they were not organsied.’’
It is energy sapping
Coming this far, she says has been energy sapping as she never imagined that it was going to be this consuming: ‘‘But it sapped a lot of my energy, it is actually now that I know what NGO really is because before I thought it was child’s play. In fact, sometimes when I get back am so tired and even fall sick.
As a true humanist and philanthropist that she is, her NGO’s a c – tivities, which in the last two y e a r s that she started has run into millions of naira, are self-funded and sustained by her. ‘‘I am not funded by anybody, no media and all what not. My idea of an NGO is to see what you can do first before you call on others.
‘‘I want to work, I want to show that this is what I can do. So that when you give me money I will not put it in my pocket. I work with volunteers, youths, after I train them I bring them in. So it is not just me alone. ‘‘I don’t want red tape and because I am using my private funds I am able to make a lot of impact in the lives of the people and communities that we work with.
We are building a crop of responsible Nigerians ‘‘Educating them, changing people’s mentality; it is not all about giving. We want to breed Nigerians that will not only think about themselves but others too. Until people realise that people are really suffering in this country this may not happen. So, we want Nigerians that will grow up with a sense of responsibility and helping others.
You don’t have to be a millionaire to help others
“If you are rich and have criminals all around you will not have peace. But when everyone is catered for, then the society will be safe. That is the kind of NGO that we are creating. I want to show Nigerians that you don’t have to be a millionaire before you can render help, I just want people to see that one single individual can bring about change. I am not a millionaire, but I just want to do it so that people can see us and join us.’’
Making a model community out of Ajegunle As part of her long term plan, she has adopted Ajegunle community, where she presently owns a community centre. She discloses that she plans to attract a German organisation to install solar power in the centre and the entire community.
Besides, ‘‘I want a community carved out of the place, I am really working on the children now since they have confidence in us that we care for them. ‘‘I really want to build a model community there that the government and other organisations can emulate or replicate elsewhere. We have adopted the community because we want to transform it. We want to educate the children and empower the women.’’
When I go to a community and see people exhibiting selfish tendencies, just one family carting away everything meant for the people or the leader of the community insisting that the materials should be brought to him. That is very disappointing, I experienced that in Ilaje, Bariga and one other place where only one person wanted to take everything for himself.
Some of the community leaders have been cooperative while others are not, feeling threatened that we are coming to expose their communities and their shortfalls. This too is very disappointing because I expect them to come to us and embrace what we are doing because of its positive influence on their people and communities. But we would not allow such attitude and behaviour to discourage us because the people are really cooperative and most times they will even tell us that their leaders would not come and that we should just go ahead with our activities.
I want more Nigerians to access German education
I want to see more Nigerians access German education because nationals from other African countries are taking advantage of it and benefiting from it because they understand how the system works but Nigerians don’t.
I want to change the narrative of Nigerians in Germany
I want an organsied Nigerian community in Germany. I want to change the story of Nigerians in Germany, I want the Germans to see our next generation of Nigerians as people of great potential, educated and exposed and not scammers or prostitutes. I am collating all Nigerian experts and scholars in different fields in Germany who are well respected by the German government and working for the government. I want to create a link between them and Nigerian government because these are people that can use their influence and wealth of experience to assist Nigeria. I have discussed this with the Nigerian ambassador in Germany and the vice president too and they are both very excited about it. So, I am working assiduously to execute this project.
I know most of these people and they respect me because they know that I have passion for education and for Nigeria. But the problem that some of them are running away from is the protocol in accessing the Nigerian government and they don’t want that because here they have free access to the German government and are well respected by the government and consulted. I have discussed with most of them to let them know that their country, Nigeria, needs them. They listen to me when I discuss some of these issues with them and are willing to really buy into the project and be part of it.
REAL REASONS NIGERIANS COMMIT SUICIDE
51 Nigerians died by suicide in five months, media reports
Triggers/signs of suicide
– Talking or writing about death
– Sense of hopelessness and helplessness
– No sense of purpose in life
– Withdrawal from friends, family, community
– Reckless behaviour or more risky activities
– Dramatic mood changes
– Mood disorders, alcoholism, substance misuse
– Previous suicide attempt(s)
– A history of suicide in the family
– Breakup of a relationship or a death
– Academic failures
– History of trauma or abuse
– Chronic physical illness
– Exposure to the suicidal behaviour of others
– Limiting access to methods of suicide
– Treating mental disorders and substance misuse
– Proper media reporting of suicide
– Improving economic condition
– Contacts with providers (follow-up phone calls
from healthcare professionals)
– Effective mental health care
– Easy access to a variety of clinical interventions
– Connections to individuals, family, communal
and social institutions
– Consultation with Ifa
There is a surging trend of Nigerians, especially the youth, dying by suicide. The rate adolescents take their lives could be evidence that the problem needs more conversation. ISIOMA MADIKE in this report looks at a combination of individual, relationship, communal and societal factors that contribute to the risk of this malaise
When Saturday Telegraph did a story in November 2015, in which President Muhammadu Buhari, officially declared the country broke and insolvent, medical experts, especially psychiatrists, predicted that many Nigerians might likely commit suicide as a measure to escape the quagmire. Nigerians, according to these experts, were apprehensive that the revelation may lead to quantum suicide among the populace. A consultant psychiatrist and deputy secretary, Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), Lagos State branch, Dr. Peters Ogunnubi, told this reporter then that the frank assessment of the country’s economy is likely to lead to “anomic” suicide. According to him, the health sector had been in shambles with non-functional equipment and jaundiced personnel that are unmotivated. Ogunnubi had said: “Even when Nigeria was not broke, hospitals had being mere consulting rooms.
There was no accessibility, availability and affordability of quality medicare for the mass majority of the people. This was what gave rise to medical tourism that is being experienced in droves. India has suddenly become the destination for quality medicare, which unfortunately, the poor majority in Nigeria cannot access because of the huge financial implications.
“Now that the president has come out frankly to admit what most people already know, it would definitely lead to both active and passive suicide. Where someone is unable to pay for simple things like malaria treatment, what do you think will happen? By mere thinking on how to get the high cost of treatment in hospitals that do not even have what it takes to treat such trivial ailments would on its own lead to death. I mean deathinduced by a state of hopelessness. This is what is going to happen if urgent steps are not taking to fix the economy back to shape.”
Today, events around the country are proving Ogunnubi and his colleagues right as depression, which is a byproduct of the hardship many are going through at the moment, has somewhat become the order of the day. Although mental health awareness is slowly becoming a mainstay of contemporary media, historically, Nigerians saw depression as “Whiteman’s sickness”. What is even more disturbing is the fact that the country’s youth are the most hit. On May 19, Sunday Punch reported a heart-rending story of a 25-year-old Chidike Onyeka, who graduated from Madonna University, Okija, Anambra State. Onyeka was said to have returned to his parents who lived in the Aguda area of Lagos State after the compulsory one-year National Youth Service Corps programme.
Shortly after reuniting with his family members, Onyeka began showing signs of depression, according to the report. His mother, the report added, realised almost immediately her son was no longer his usual self. He had become withdrawn and was seen always staring at nothing in particular for minutes with a distant expression. This indicated that Onyeka was in a world of his own.
He started refusing all requests, especially from his siblings, whenever they offered to take him out. He would insist on being left alone. He became constantly unhappy and his actions suggested he was worried about his joblessness. When the dejection symptom persisted, Onyeka was taken to a hospital to see a general practitioner instead of a psychiatrist, who, most probably would have been able to deal with his case professionally.
But the young man died. His sudden death was a rude shock to his mother, especially because she saw her son in a pool of his blood in the kitchen with a knife which he used to rip his bowels open. The old woman had, as usual, woken up at midnight to see if the house doors were locked and no electrical appliances left on. What she saw made her to conclude that her son may have died by suicide. But Onyeka’s case was not an isolated one.
Temitope Saka, a 17-year-old girl, also died after drinking the now infamous Sniper, in the Igando area of Lagos State. She was said to have become pregnant and her grandma insisted she pack out of the house. Earlier, another 19-yearold girl, Uche Obiora, had done the same at her boyfriend’s house, which is a street away from Saka’s grandmother’s house. As if in competition, Chukwuemeka Akachi, a 400-level student of the Department of English and Literary Studies, at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, equally died by suicide a few days after Obiora took her life. It was gathered that Akachi took the action in the secluded uncompleted building located at Sullivan Road, Nsukka, where he allegedly slipped into coma after taking two bottles of insecticides.
Another 300 level medical student of the Niger Delta University, Uzakah Timi Ebiweni, was also reported to have killed himself in Bayelsa State. According to SaharaReporters, Ebiweni took a plunge into a river close to the university campus, Amassoma, located in the Southern Ijaw area council of the state after failing his examination. About 50 students, out of the 169 who sat for the Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS) examination, were not successful, the report added. Equally shocking was the death of another 300 level student of Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Kaduna State. The student, reports said, took her life in her hostel. She left behind a suicide note which seemed to suggest she led a troubled life.
Incidentally, suicide actions are not limited to students or the young alone. A senior lecturer with the Biological Sciences Department of the Federal University of Agriculture, Makurdi, died by suicide, after it seemed like he had issues with his marriage. Within the same period, a soldier in the Nigerian Army, a staff sergeant attached to 192 Battalion in Gwoza, also ended his life in circumstances that suggested suicide in Borno State.
Within 72 hours, according to reports, more than seven Nigerians, adults and adolescents alike had decided to end their journey on earth in a manner that is now given everyone concern. With an average of one death every 40 seconds, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), suicide is topping the chart as the number one killer. Although this index is global, the incidents in the past weeks have shown that many Nigerians have died by suicide than in previous times. Many of the deaths however, are kept away from the public arena.
Taboos and the stigma attached to the issue conspire to hush up incidence of suicides. Yet, it should worry everyone who cares that far too many of the country’s youth are taking their own lives in such a tragic manner. One of those concerned at present is the founder of a Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO), The Mind And Soul Helpers Initiative (MASHI) and Head, English Department, University of Lagos, Professor Hope Eghagha. He lamented that stigmatisation around mental health issue is indeed fueling the scourge. Once people know that one visited a psychiatrist for help, according Eghagha, they will think of madness, if it is in the office they look at the person in a strange way.
Eghagha told The Guardian that when people have a psychological breakdown there are all kinds of reason attributed to it. The most popular one in the country, according to him, is the spiritual attack. The Guardian quoted him to have said: “Sometimes, they say you have offended the ancestors or the village people, that you have com- mitted an act of taboo. You find some highly placed educated people still peddling such ignorance. We realised that one thing we need to do is to educate people that mental health is very important and mental health crisis can affect anybody without committing any offence and it does not need to be a spiritual attack,” he said.
The Ifa angle However, what the professor insinuated, was how Chief Omo-Oba Olorunwa Ayekonilogbon, a priest of Ifa deity, explained the issue in an interview with Saturday Telegraph. Ayekonilogbon thinks science may never have solution to the issue of suicide. To the Ifa priest, only one theory could suffice in this case. He said: “It is simple; people are being controlled. This is Africa where a lot of happenings cannot be explained by science.
There is African science which people use to manipulate the destinies of others. So, when issues like this are in focus, it can only be unlocked through the traditional means. Anything short of that is mere waste of time.” The Ifa priest explained that many, especially the youth, are dying in their numbers because of lack of knowledge.
“There is solution to all these. People need to come back home, get to us, so we can consult Ifa. It is the oracle that has the solution to this malady. Isn’t it clear to the doubting Thomases that science and orthodox medicine have failed? If those are the places the solutions are, why the surge in suicide? When people come to us, we consult Ifa for solutions; that’s the way. We should just stop deceiving ourselves.”
Also, Chief Yemi Elebuibon, another well-known Ifa priest, spoke in a manner that suggests that people could actually be programmed (hypnotized) to do what they were asked to do. Eedi, he explained, is a bad omen in Yoruba land. “The traditional belief behind suicide is that some people do not just die by the act, but for some mystical interventions. However, some people could find themselves in critical and unpleasant situations, and opt for suicide as the last resort instead of living to face the problem.
Whenever it happens, proper inquiry is set up, and an Ifa priest is mostly called upon to help solve the riddle. It could be diagnosed through a session of Ifa consultation. When a person consults Ifa, the past, present and future will be revealed,” he said. Elebuibon nevertheless agreed that it is possible for a person to harm himself or herself without any diabolical undertone. “We live in a world where we all have personal battles. We tend to overcome them each time they arise as a result of our mental strength but sometimes they conquer us. When this happens, a person may consider suicide as his/her last resort,” the priest told Saturday Telegraph. He further said that signs of hypnotism can range from change in attitude, manner of speaking and so on and only people close to the person can discover this.
“A person suspected or confirmed to be under hypnotism should seek help immediately as failure will wreak havoc and may eventually lead to awful death. Without proper spiritual care, sometimes, the repercussions of some actions can influence a person’s life negatively. Such a person will begin to act under the control of mystical forces,” Elebuibon added. The renowned traditionalist also said there is history of suicide in Ifa mythology and that hypnotism can only be prevented through constant consultation with Ifa for spiritual fortification.
Yet, a consultant psychiatrist, University College Hospital (UCH), Ibadan, Professor Oye Gureje, insists orthodox medicine has an answer to depression which often leads to suicide. He believes the best way to encourage and help those in that state is first by eliminating mental health stigma so that people could seek treatment and boost their quality of life. Gureje added that the challenge with depression is that people who are affected are not aware of their conditions, let alone getting treatment
He said: “It is also unfortunate that most symptoms will present themselves like malaria and before one will understand exactly what is happening, depression would have eaten deep. Symptoms of mental health include irritable mood, low concentration, low self-esteem, guilt, among others.”
Another child and adolescent consultant psychiatrist, also at the UCH, Ibadan, Professor Olayinka Omigbodun, said there is a universal intervention in preventing depression and suicide in children and adolescent to promote mental health and wellbeing and child adolescent mental health. She called for the review of mental health laws to provide proper care for affected persons in Nigeria. “We cannot talk about the proper treatment of mental health issues if we do not have a law to back it up and we also need to understand that mental health issues affect everyone,” she said, adding, “the burden of depression on adolescents affects their interpersonal relationships and could be linked to other problems including smoking, drug abuse, academic failure, physically inactive and secondary behavioural problems like truancy and stealing.”
Dr. Raphael Ogbolu, a consultant psychiatrist at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), Idi Araba, and coordinator, Suicide Research and Pre vention Initiative (SURPIN), looked at the issue differently when he spoke with The Guardian.
He said that there are peculiarities of those between the ages 13 and 35. Ogbolu described the period they live in as the Millennials and Generation Z. He said the Millennials (Generation Y) are considered to be those born between 1980 and 1994, most of who were raised by single parents, and are technologically wise. According to the psychiatrist, Generation Z (post-Millennials, iGeneration, Gen Tech, Digital Native) are those born between 1995 and 2010/2014. They are less traditional and are more likely to be single parents, and are more entrepreneurial, more into phones than television. He said that what these two generations have in common is arguably the advent of social media and the Millennials are likely to have reached adulthood around year 2000 about the time GSM came into Nigeria.
This meant, according to him, that their popular mode of communication was less likely to be face-to-face, and as such both generations more often lived in a virtual world where social media gained a lot of prominence. Another consultant psychiatrist at the Ladoke Akintola University of Technology Teaching Hospital (LAUTECH), Osogbo, Osun State, Dr. Suleiman Babatunde, has also said that depression and anxiety are the major symptoms of a regressing economy the world over and Nigeria, is not an exception. For Dr. Saheed Bello, family physi cian also at LAUTECH, the country’s very bad economic state is obvious.
He believes that the economic situation has greatly affected and would even affect the citizens the more in the coming months. “Many people cannot afford their bills. As it is now, government seemed not to be concerned. And the situation affects other sectors of the economy too. We now have many beggars on the streets and at the market level, goods are out of the reach of many with little money at their disposal to spend. All of these has summed up to increase mortality because people can no longer afford simple things like malaria drugs.”
The Director-General of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), Professor Moji Adeyeye, who was quoted by the Punch, said there was a need for parents and religious institutions to do more in discouraging youths from abusing drugs, especially controlled substances. She also called for the creation of more rehabilitation centres to cater for drug addicts. “We don’t have enough rehabilitation centres for our youths and people addicted to drugs. Right now, we have only 10 centres in the country. We need like 10 centres in each geo-graphical zone. We need to provide more rehabilitation centres.”
The Spokesperson for the National Orientation Agency, Paul Ogenyi, however, blamed the incessant suicide cases on the disintegration of societal values including an increase in mental cases. He said in the past, people remained positive even when faced with financial crisis but the new culture of making money through any means and the glorification of money over values had made people to see money as a life or death matter.
Ogenyi said, “Societal values have disintegrated and parents have failed. Also, institutions in charge of moulding the minds have also failed.” Clerics have also commented on the increasing rate of suicides in Nigeria. According to an Islamic scholar and lecturer at the Lagos State University, Ojo, Dr. Alayinde Yusuph, suicide is Haram; it is forbidden. “You shouldn’t kill others let alone yourself. “Among the prohibited things in the Holy Quran, suicide is one of them because before the advent of Islam, the Arabs used to kill their daughters to run away from hardship. But the Holy Quran frowned at it. It is called Wabil jannat. So, the Holy Quran forbids it totally.” Yusuph who aligned with Ogbolu, said because of the new media, adolescents of today are likely to have less social and interpersonal skills compared to the older generations. With this problem, he said, a lot of ‘make believe’ and fake personalities come into play. He said: “For that reason, we now have children who will become sad because they cannot show off like their mates, even if they are fake. This in turn can affect their self-worth.”
Also, the Senior Pastor, Transformation Chapel, Emmanuel Ohere, told Saturday Telegraph in a separate interview that as Christians, taking one’s own life is wrong and not biblical. “Unfortunately, the situation is made worse by a technological world where someone can create a photo-shopped image of a ‘beautiful’ person. What all this does is to diminish the self-esteem of a child who already lacks self-belief and confidence.
“Cyber bullying is another accompaniment of social media, which these young people have to now deal with. People who would not ordinarily be bold enough to abuse and bully others are now able to do so in the virtual world, and this has precipitated depression and suicidal thoughts among children who are less resilient,” Ohere said. The clerics observed that adolescents attempting suicide by overdose at increasing rates is further evidence that the pervasive public health problem needs more conversation, money and experts.
“The church, mosque and parents, should also be useful in this regard,” Yusuph added. MentalHealthNg, while confirming the reality of depression, which it acknowledges as a precursor to suicide, has advised people mounting pressure on singles to get married or couples who are childless, to desist from such attitude. It did not stop there but urged those asking fat people to slim down and slim people to eat so that they can get fat to also have a change of heart. Others are to stop body shaming people because, according to the organisation, they may not have any idea what others are passing through in life and that the best anyone could do is to have a nice thing to say to people as a way of encouraging them. It equally ad-vised ladies to be mindful of competitive life which, it said, does more harm than good.
Fashion it started will come and go just like phones are evolving every day. It added: “People should be contented with the little they have at present while Nigerians should cultivate the habit of sharing their problems by talking to someone, especially medical experts, instead of taking their lives.”
In 2017, WHO said 7,079,815 Nigerians suffered from depression, one of the most ignored and misunderstood forms of mental disorder in the country. The figure, according to the world health body, was 3.9 per cent of the country’s population, thereby making Nigeria the most depressed country in Africa. Despite having the largest number of mental cases in Africa, Nigeria, the report said, has one of the lowest numbers of psychiatrists in the world. By July 2018, Spectator Index, published a WHO study which ranked suicides per 100,000 cases. According to the report, Nigeria has 15 per cent per 100,000, ranking as the 5th highest rate of suicide in the world. And in 2019, World Health Statistics by WHO rated by country, placed Nigeria at 9.5 suicides per 100.
This tallied with the World Population Review, which stated that Nigeria, with a crude suicide rate of 9.5 per 100, 000 population ranks 10th in Africa and 67th in the world. Suicide, according to experts, is the act of intentionally causing one’s own death. Mental disorders, including depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, personality disorders, and substance abuse—including alcoholism and the use of benzodiazepines— are risk factors. Some suicides though are impulsive acts due to stress, such as from financial difficulties, troubles with relationships, or bullying. While other causes like terminal diseases can lead to resignation and then suicide, it is common knowledge that 90 per cent of people who commit suicide suffer from mental illness.
Those who have previously attempted suicide, experts said, are at a higher risk for future attempts. While effective suicide prevention efforts should include limiting access to methods of suicide—such as firearms, drugs, and poisons; treating mental disorders and substance misuse; proper media reporting of suicide as well as improving economic conditions. Media and police reports have said that over 51 cases of those who die by suicide was recorded in the last five months in Nigeria. Although many believed this to be an economical figure as many other incidents occur without being reported. Even at that, medical experts now rank suicide among the leading cause of death in the country presently.
OPEN DEFECATION: A WORSENING HEALTH CHALLENGE
The recent report that listed Nigeria among the top five open defecation countries in the world is not surprising but lamentable. The worrying aspect remains the disclosure that the country is set to overtake India in this inglorious health index, ISIOMA MADIKE, reports
The campaign “Clean Nigeria, Use the Toilet,” is the latest effort of President Muhammadu Buhari to end open defecation in the country by 2025. The president is said to be prepared to launch the campaign at a date yet to be announced. This follows the disturbing report of Nigeria being listed among the top five open defecation countries in the world.
The country, according to the reports, rose from its 5th position in 2003 to 2nd place in 2015 behind India. Also worrisome is the disclosure by the Minister of Water Resources, Suleiman Adamu that Nigeria is set to overtake India in this inglorious index. Adamu, according to reports, said Nigeria is set to become world’s leader in open defecation.
The minister, who spoke at the 3rd Founder’s Day ceremony of Edo University, Iyamho, recently, observed that the country was unable to attain the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) targets for water supply and sanitation because of poor investments, low capacity and other challenges not limited to rural areas.
The President had in November 2018 launched National Action Plan for Revitalising the Water Supply, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH), where he also declared a state of emergency on water and sanitation sector in Nigeria. An important aspect of the plan is for Nigeria to be open defecation free.
The National Plan of Action is a significant political milestone towards achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 6 to reach everyone, everywhere with clean water and decent sanitation by 2030. Adamu said Nigeria has developed a road map, 2016-2025, to end open defecation.
He added that out of the 774 local government areas, only 10 are open defecation free. Adamu said: “10 out of 774 local governments is very dismal but it is work in progress. But we have also made some progress as 20 to 21,000 communities in the country today are open defecation free.
The problem is we still have 47 million people practicing open defecation and Nigeria has been moving up the ladder since 2012 from being number four or five in the world to having the ranking of number two. “India is number one but India has been working to end open defecation, in the last four years they have taken over 500 million out of open defecation. And India plans to declare itself open defecation free by October 2019. Once that happens, Nigeria will become the number one country in the world that practices open defecation. You will all agree with me that this is an honour we do not want to have.
“So council approved a number of measures including the fact that Mr. President will launch the Clean Nigeria Campaign on a day to be decided. So, our campaign is ‘clean Nigeria, use the toilet.’ The president and cabinet members are to become ambassadors of clean Nigeria campaign by providing the needed leadership and commitment for successful implementation of the campaign.
“We also hope to create a clean Nigeria movement and to harmonize ministerial activities so that we have a seamless approach regarding sanitisation in the country. We are also requesting for annual budget of N10.6 billion to be approved, this is not money that will be taken out of budget alone, we will also have contributions from development partners, corporate world including leveraging on corporate social responsibility, grants and to mobilise Nollywood, youths, children and women.
“It will come with an executive order to give effect to the clean Nigeria campaign. All ministries are to establish specific budget lines and work plans to implementing their sector specific activities to end open defecation and improve sanitation in the country. The campaign will also involve state governments and households. We intend to use community-led sanitation and hinging more on behavioural change rather than doling out money.”
The World Bank’s recent statistics, according to reports, show that regions with high rates of open defecation experience catastrophic waste management problems. Unfortunately, the warnings by the World Health Organisation (WHO) that open defecation can lead to cholera, typhoid, trachoma, diarrhea, stomach upsets and poor overall health, have not been heeded, according to experts. These opinions have also said that the environment suffers as a result of open defecation because it introduces toxins and bacteria into the ecosystem in amounts that it cannot handle at a time.
This, they said, leads to build-up of filth. The load of microbes, they also said, can become so much that, in the end, they end up in aquatic systems thereby causing harm to aquatic life. But there are known solutions to tackle the menace. To overcome this problem, the government needs to invest more in WASH.
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has said that about N95 billion will be needed per year to eliminate open defecation in Nigeria. It also advised that the country could achieve economic gains as high as N359.1 billion ($US 1.026 billion) annually from the N455 billion it loses due to lack of sanitation.
Besides, the government’s Open Defecation-Free Roadmap, experts said, should be more than a plan to eliminate the nuisance by 2025, it should, according to them, also put into consideration the N234 billion needed to attain open defecation-free status in its annual budget.
Moreover, the 774 local governments should be involved in the campaign to end open defecation in the country. And bills should equally be initiated to promote sanitation and take urgent action to implement Open Defecation-Free Roadmap. Available statistics revealed that access to sanitation has been on the decline from 30 per cent in 2010 to 28 per cent in 2015 while open defecation has been on the increase in Nigeria.
The 2018 National Outcome Mapping Report has also shown that 47 million Nigerians defecate in the open, while the country loses N455 billion (US$1.3b) annually due to poor sanitation. Last year, the findings by the Brookings Institute, based on a projection by the World Poverty Clock, indicated that Nigeria had overtaken India as the country with the largest number of people living in extreme poverty, with an estimated 87 million Nigerians believed to be living on less than $1.90 a day. The link between poverty and poor sanitation is very thin, intertwined and tenuous.
In reality, most Lagos outskirts, are known to be dangerous slums. Across Nigerian urban communities, the story is not different. And beneath the relentlessly slummy surfaces of these communities lie a kind of moral discomfort. The drainage ditches are frequently blocked with faeces, which often overflows during the rainy season into houses and streets, such that most paths are wholly composed of human waste. Some have also described it as a shame to find human faeces litter public places such as railways, motor parks, filling stations, footpaths, highways and playing grounds across the country.
Incidentally, lack of safe water and toilet system, have contributed to this menace in recent time. This may be the reason why experts continue to harp on improving access to potable water and toilet facilities which, they believe, will largely reduce open defecation.
Curbing this nuisance, they also noted, will check morbidity, avoidable diseases and improve the quality of life. Sadly, efforts by government to provide public toilets and enforce sanitation habits have been vitiated by ignorance and inability to adapt to change by some Nigerians. At the Kosofe-Ketu community recently, a young man dashed out of his room with clenched teeth, pulled open his zippers, took a quick look to his right and left, retired to a small bush by the school building, and dropped off lumps of smelly faeces.
His action surprised no one, for it is a tradition of sort in this part of the mega city. In virtually every open space in and around the neighbourhood, heaps of faeces literally jostle for space with human beings. From the homes, they are wrapped up in newspapers and launched from windows, scattering into a spatter mess.
It piles the streets as though they are articles of ornament. Yet, no one seems to bother about it. “This is how we do it here. You can hardly find a toilet in most homes and where you find one, it is untidy; not good for any decent use. Most times, what you find is a makeshift toilet in which wooden plank platform are constructed with buckets under it.
The sight of such is quite disgusting. For all these, we consider it convenient and comfortable doing it in the open, and since it suits us, it should not be anybody’s headache,” said an elderly man, who declined to give his name. He added: “This practice is common in this community, especially in places where toilet facilities are a luxury. When nature calls, everyone responds differently.” The old man’s excitement, many believe, is simply a collective adaptation to extreme hardship. He, like many others in the Kosofe community, were born and bred in that ghetto.
Though, he and his likes seem to have a fascination for defecating in public places and in bushes, they are not alone in this act and Kosofe is definitely not an isolated case. It is a common practice in the city of Lagos. But, such behaviour, according to some, clearly portrays the level of helplessness and frustration in most Nigerian communities. Just like Kosofe, the Island end of the mega city also presents an interesting twist. The bridges that connect it to the mainland are looping ribbon of concretes. Most of them were built in the 1970s.
Parts of a vast network of the bridges, cloverleaves, and expressways intertwined to them were intended to transform the districts and islands into an efficient modern metropolis. As the bridges snake over sunken piers just above the waters of Lagos Lagoon, they passes a floating slum: thousands of wooden houses, perched on stilts a few feet above their own bobbing refuse, with rust-coloured iron roofs wreathed in the haze from thousands of cooking fires. Fishermen and market women paddle dugout canoes on water as black and viscous as an oil slick.
The bridges then passes the sawmill district, where rain-forest logs sent across from the far shore, 30 miles to the east form a floating mass by the piers. Smouldering hills of sawdust landfill send white smoke across the bridges, which mix with diesel exhaust from the traffic. Beyond the sawmills, the old waterfront markets, the fishermen’s shanties, the blackened façades of high-rise housing projects, and the half-abandoned skyscrapers of downtown Lagos Island loom under a low, dirty sky. Around the city, faeces dumps steam with the combustion of natural gases, and auto yards glow with fires from fuel spills. All of these parts of the city seem to be burning and stinking.
For those, who are working on the Island or just visiting for the first time, the aquatic scenery of the lagoon ought to present an uncommon beauty to behold. But, it is not so for Christopher Awolo. His experience, according to him, is everything but pleasing. Driving through the Third Mainland Bridge en route for Obalende- CMS on Tuesday, Awolo saw several buttocks spewing shit into the lagoon; “it was quite disgusting,” he said, adding, “it’s awful seeing Lagosians defecate in the open as if they don’t have toilets in their homes.”
In a city with a population of over 21 million, the act could only be curbed by providing more public toilets for Lagosians, some have said. “There are adequate spaces in Lagos for people to have everything in their homes. No office or residential building should be without a good toilet.
Nigerian governments should provide more public modern toilets with the taxpayers’ money. In some countries, a good toilet is located for every five minutes’ walk. This is also possible in Lagos,” said Williams Appiah, a Ghanaian Urban and Town planning expert.
But Lagos is not alone in this disgusting act. In Ibadan, a public refuse dump site close to Yidi Agodi is also said to be packed always as early as 5am on a daily basis by individuals, who have found the area most convenient to defecate. This is in total disregard to a bold notice threatening ‘open defecators’ with arrest and huge fines.
What makes the site unique, according to those who use the place, is its closeness to a stream that empties into a major river. Flies around the area easily perched on uncovered foods; they fortify such meals with potentially harmful ingredients. This shameful act is replicated at major refuse dump sites across the city. In the other parts of the sprawling city, many, living in houses without identifiable toilets, are said to be compelled to defecate at open spaces such as dump sites and on the bank of slowly flowing streams and rivers.
This is partly because owners of such houses have come to believe that toilets would be an additional burden since money would be needed to keep it clean and usable. There are others in that neighbourhood, who also believe, though wrongly, that faecal material should incinerate or be allowed to decompose on such sites. Virtually all residents of the Federal Capital Territory suburbs suffer similar fate.
This, according to those who live there, has become a striking irony of Abuja. Behind the allure of expansive roads and rising buildings that make the Nigerian capital Africa’s most expensive and one of the world’s fastest growing cities, several poor communities in the suburb live without toilets.
“It’s bad; very terrible,” Ms. Augusta Nmakwe, one of the residents in Mararaba, said. Mararaba, a slump community of over 100,000 people is one of Abuja’s outskirt towns where residents struggle to find a space to build homes, much less toilets. For those without a toilet, the routine is simple: convert everything, from old sewage pipes to polythene bags, to one.
More than 60 per cent of the population living in other suburbs within the FCT is equally affected by shortage of toilets, making them to live with a very serious health challenge. At present, deaths from diseases such as cholera, dysentery, diarrhea, typhoid, as well as malaria, according to reports, are very rife within these communities. Sadly, women and children are the worst hit. Poor sanitary condition resulting from absence of proper human waste management facilities has haunted residents of many other communities around the country.
The low-cost settlement, a magnet for thousands of poor Nigerians and low-income earners, has all the compliments of a typical ghetto with most houses lacking toilets, water, electricity and other basic social amenities that make life worth living. It is, indeed, obvious that sanitation is a major challenge in the country. The evidence is everywhere.
Nigeria appears to be one huge field, where people defecate, without shame, and without putting into consideration the impact of their action on the health of others. Travellers are not left out of this “madness.” For anyone, who has travelled from Lagos to the East by road, knows that there are few rest areas with toilet facilities along the route. At stops in Ore or Benin City, pressed passengers hurry off into the bushes, gingerly skating around others’ faeces, in order to relieve themselves. Toileting in most villages are equally an awful experience.
In many rural communities, people still build houses without provision for toilets, or as the case may be, latrines where human waste can be emptied without others coming in contact with it. In many rural communities, people defecate in the bushes and other isolated places when they are pressed. They consider this a safer option to the city’s ‘Shot Put’ style where shameless people defecate in polythene bags or old newspapers and fling on the roadside and gutters. Yet, there are other villages where the act of defecating in the open has become almost a ritual and routine that some people indulge in at any time of the day.
At times, they do it, religiously as if it is a spiritual exercise. A report from a workshop in Jos that preceded the Water Supply and Sanitation Sector Reform Programme (WSSSRP) funded by the European Union in Nigeria in 2002, pointed to traditional belief also.
At that meeting, a representative of one the LGAs in Plateau State stated that his community believes it is a taboo to excrete on another person’s waste. This in effect, supposedly does away with the use of toilets. Each morning, the report said, one would watch as scores of people line up along the rail line doing their own thing.
The story is not significantly different in the nation’s tertiary institutions as some campus communities also spread intense odour as many students, in the absence of clean toilets in the hostels, use any available space as convenience. Experts have consistently warned that when large numbers of people are defecating outdoors, it is extremely difficult to avoid ingesting human waste, either because it enters the food or water supplies or because it has to be spread by flies and dust. Just recently, UNICEF reported that about 34 million people in the country use the open fields, forests and bushes as well as bodies of water as convenience.
But the cost of these unhealthy living conditions – of indiscriminately polluting the environment – is expensive. According to the joint UNICEF and the World Health Organisation report, lack of toilets remains one of the leading causes of illness and death among children. The report said that diarrhea, a disease often associated with poor sanitary condition, and respiratory infections resulting from poor hygiene, kills about 400,000 children, under the age of five, annually. “These are largely preventable with improvements in water, sanitation and hygiene,” said Geoffrey Njoku, UNICEF Communication Specialist (Media and External Rela-tions) in Nigeria.
This is why the revelation of Adamu that Nigeria is set to overtake India in open defecation index is worrying. The minister’s statement is evident that the country had not made any appreciable progress in this regard. Indeed, the figure is suggestive that more Nigerians now use the outdoors to ease themselves. According to an official of UNICEF, Dr. Suomi Sakai, the unwholesome practice leads to the depositing of about 1.7 million tonnes of faeces into the environment annually. This statistics from West Africa most populous country paints a general picture for the region with respect to this problem.
However, lack of sufficient infrastructure has been identified as a contributory factor to the problem with the failure of governments to effectively address these in rural and urban settlements. Add to this, is the behavioural attitudes across communities, which play a major role in promoting this menace. Concepts of hygiene, cleanliness, purity, and beliefs about sanitation and disease are also deeply ingrained through religious and cultural beliefs. The UNICEF report was amplified by Dr. Michael Ojo, onetime Country Representative of Water- Aid to Nigeria, who brought the shame to almost every home.
He said that every seven in 10 women in the country have no access to a safe toilet, and more than 50 million Nigerian women and girls lacked safe and adequate sanitation, while 17 million do not have access to toilets at all. “Every year, over 85,000 mothers in Nigeria lose a child to diarrhea diseases caused by a lack of adequate sanitation and clean water,” said Ojo.
“Women and girls living in Nigeria without toilet facilities spend 3.1 billion hours each year finding a place to go to toilet in the open,” he added. As a result, former Commissioner for the Environment and Secretary to Lagos State government, Tunji Bello, has suggested that governments at all levels in the country, should, as a matter of necessity, increase its investments in the area of provision of sanitation facilities, new policies and enlightenment campaigns to tackle the cultural and religious beliefs that continue to be a setback in achieving better sanitation.
The failure to do this, he said, would see a Nigeria that is more disease ridden in the future and consequently even more unproductive socio-economically. In like manner, Abimbola Fashola, wife of former Lagos State governor, also said that the local governments, in particular, must ensure that toilets are built in the markets, village squares and open spaces that serve as recreation centres.
For Mrs. Sherifat Aregbesola, the government should deploy massive and sustained public enlightenment campaigns in Pidgin English and indigenous languages in both print and electronic media as well as other indigenous forms of communication in remote rural areas.
They all agreed however, that the authorities should equally enact laws to checkmate open defecation practice, and ensure its diligent enforcement. Such a law, according to them, would go a long way to halt the shameful and unhealthy practice. Above all, members of the public, they said, should imbibe attitudinal changes that would help make open defecation a thing of the past.
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