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Insurance: Apathy, defiance compounding Nigerians’ tragic woes

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Insurance: Apathy, defiance compounding Nigerians’ tragic woes

Insurers feed fat on ignorance of the insured

 

Failure or loss of interest by most Nigerians to embrace insurance as part of mechanism to cover their property has culminated in victims of tragedies losing out entirely from being compensated through claims payment or outright restoration of the lost property, reports SUNDAY OJEME

 

Unlike in the past, Nigerians from all walks of life are recently being confronted with all forms of tragic experience.
From as little as loss of properties through petty stealing, the country is no longer immune to certain catastrophes including natural disasters, suicide bombings as well as highly organised banditry and insurgency which used to be strange occurrences.

While the other side of the world is battling to curtail or contain the situation through constant initiatives, the government of Nigeria and the citizens appear to have remained aloof to the situation or simply driving in reverse while accepting things as fate that had befallen the country.

From major and minor road accidents, fire disasters, to flooding, victims, especially those who die in the process, are easily forgotten, while those who survive lose everything but start from the scratch, as if nothing had happened.

Only recently, the country woke up to a major tragedy with the collapse of a three-storey building in the heart of Lagos State, leading to the death of school children.

The tragic experience highlighted another posture of Nigerian government’s lackadaisical attitude to the safety of citizens and proper compensation for victims of such avoidable misfortunes.

Barely 48 hours after the tragic experience, another building collapsed in Oyo State, trapping the occupants just as another being demolished in Lagos caved in.

The recent incidents are merely additions to other tragic experiences which had occurred in the past where the victims and their families are always left on their own without appropriate compensation, which insurance should have taken care of.

Before now, recall that an accident involving about 54 vehicles had occurred on one of the bridges in Lagos, where it was discovered that only seven of those vehicles were properly insured, thereby, making it impossible for the other motorists to be compensated. This is besides the ones that happen almost on a daily basis.

According to a research by one of the lecturers in the Department of Building, University of Lagos, Dr. Abimbola Windapo, there were over 112 incidents of building collapse in Lagos alone between December 1978 and April 2008.

Mrs. Windapo also revealed an upward trend in reported cases of building collapse in Nigeria in 1985, 1995, 1999, 2005 and 2010.

However, she said the geographical spread suggested a high prevalence in the southern part of Nigeria with 81.6 per cent of reported case in Lagos only, 8.8 per cent in Abuja, 6.5 per cent in South-South, 5.5 per cent in the South-East and 4.4 per cent in both the North-West and North Central states.

Another survey showed that South-West zone of the country had the highest record of building collapses in the last eight years, with Lagos accounting for about 134 deaths and 159 injuries.

There is an average of five deaths recorded yearly in Nigeria as a result of building collapse.

A survey of building collapse in 2015 showed that an average of 27 buildings caved in 14 months. Out of these, 175 deaths occurred while 427 others were injured. In all of these calamities, no one family of the dead received any form of claims as the buildings were never insured.

Although figures had been churned out in the past to prove how backward the country is as far as patronising insurance is, the recent ratio, as represented through the unfortunate carnage, is a practical example of what Nigerians lose by not insuring their lives and assets.

The time to face reality is now, unlike some years back when stories about wildfire in Australia, flooding and mine collapse in China, and suicide bombings in some parts of Middle East were alien to us.

More than anything now, the loss of lives and property amid the prevailing catastrophe coupled with growing unemployment and lacklustre government security apparatus now give a clearer picture that the days are no longer easy and the need to take insurance more seriously has become urgent.

Although no one is immune from disasters, the ordinary man,   however, appears to be exposed more to all. While the rich keep their wards in highly sophisticated and secured environment, the poor are exposed to tragedies on a daily basis.

In one of the most celebrated building collapse cases in Lagos that appeared to have been swept under the carpet like others in the past, several artisans reportedly died as a result of the collapse of a five-storey building under construction on Kushenla Road, Ikate-Elegushi, Lekki.

Ordinarily, and under the compulsory insurance law, such buildings are supposed to be insured to cover the workers.

 

All the government did, as usual, was to commiserate with the families of the victims, followed with the usual state government no longer tolerating the action of unscrupulous owners and builders who challenge its supervisory control, thereby “endangering the lives of Lagosians”.

Till date, there has not been any report of compensation either from the state or the developer for the families of the victims. It would have been a different ball game if the building was properly insured with premium paid.

 

Whereas there is a law stipulating what victims of disasters should earn, according to provisions under the Compulsory Insurance policies, it is what the government, employers or those in charge of the situation decide should be handed to the victims as compensation, and which is usually far below what the law stipulates.

Over time, the ordinary citizen has remained the biggest loser in this regard as the law under the Insurance Act 2003, which is supposed to protect them, has been tactically undermined by government and become meaningless to Nigerians.

Beyond collapsing buildings, employees are losing their lives on duty without being under any group life insurance cover, farmers are losing their crops to natural disasters such as flooding and pest without being compensated while houses, vehicles and other form of assets are either being stolen or consumed in inferno without the owners getting them replaced as insurance would have done for them.

Although flooding, for instance, has been around for years, the dimension it has taken in the last three years calls for concern. These days, private and public buildings as well as farmlands are easily submerged with properties worth millions of naira or even more lost.

Last year, farmers in some parts of the country lost major part of their crops to flooding, only for the President, Muhammadu Buhari, to make a promise of direct compensation to them since they failed to insure their farmlands.

The promise was, however, different from that of the Managing Director/Chief Executive, NAIC, Mrs. Folashade Joseph, who assured victims that NAIC would pay appropriate compensation to insured farmers, whose agricultural farmlands were ravaged across the country.

 

She said that the corporation was mindful of its corporate responsibility to provide relief and plough farmers back to prosperity through the prompt payment of appropriate compensations.

 

While encouraging farmers without any form of insurance for their farmlands to do so for future benefits, she said apart from insuring the risk of loss of crops from flood, NAIC also provides insurance against crop losses arising from fire, lightening, drought and pests.

 

According to her, the risks of death of, or injury to livestock caused by accident, disease, fire, lightening, storm or flood are also insured by the corporation.

She added: “To other farmers who might have suffered from losses arising from the floods but did not have NAIC cover, the corporation wishes to equally sympathise and encourage them to, in future, take advantage of the agricultural insurance solutions of the corporation, in accordance with the policies of government to offer protection to farmers who have answered the patriotic call to go back to agriculture.”

Whereas Compulsory Insurances have made it possible for huge losses to be compensated through claims, it is, however, not taken seriously by government, individuals and institutions.

According to details of the act, six different insurance policies should be obtained and retained in Nigeria, not just to boost the industry’s gross premium but to give Nigerians hope in the event of suffering losses and a better standard of living.

The Act covers Statutory Group Life Insurance as stipulated in Section 9(3) of the reviewed Pension Reform Act 2014; Employees’ Compensation as stipulated in Section 33 of the Employees’ Compensation Act 2010; Occupiers’ Liability Insurance as required by Section 65 of the Insurance Act; Motor Third Party Insurance as stipulated in Section 68 of the Insurance Act 2003; Builder’s Liability Insurance as stipulated in Section 64 of the Insurance Act, and Health Care Professional Indemnity Insurance as required by Section 45 of the National Health Insurance Act 1999.

According to the details, the Group Life policy, for instance, simply entails that in addition to the statutory pension contributions that employers and employees must remit under the Pension Reform Act, it also requires all employers to make group life insurance premium payments in favour of the employee for a minimum of three times his annual total emolument.

 

Under the Employee’s Compensation Contribution, every employer is required, within the first two years of the commencement of the Employee’s Compensation Act, to make a minimum monthly contribution of one per cent of the employee’s monthly payroll to the Compensation Fund. The fund is created to pay adequate compensation to employees or their dependents for any injury, disease or disability out of or in the course of employment.

The Occupier’s Liability insurance requires all public buildings to be insured against various hazards among which are building collapse, fire, earthquake, storm and flood.

Public buildings in this case refers to any tenement house, hostel, buildings occupied by a tenant, lodger or any building used for the purpose of educational, medical or recreational services or for the transaction of any business.

Also, the Builder’s Liability insurance makes it mandatory that builders of real property that has more than two floors must compulsorily register and insure such a building against all construction risks resulting from the builder’s negligence or the negligence of the builder’s servants, agents or consultants, which negligence may result in bodily injury or loss of life or damage to the property.

Worried by the Nigerians’ lack of interest in these laws, the National Insurance Commission (NAICOM), on several occasions, had attempted to drum the benefits of the Acts into both the Federal Government that created the laws and the citizens to no avail.

A bold step was taken in 2011 when the commission fixed the first quarter of that year as cut-off date from when all compulsory insurances would be fully enforced and penalties applied on defaulters.

The cut-off date has long come and gone, but things still remain as they have always been with more catastrophes occurring everyday with nobody being compensated.

To further ensure Nigerians apply themselves to the benefits of the cover, NAICOM came up with the idea of a programme tagged: Market and Development Restructuring Initiative (MDRI), aimed at creating an engineered approach towards the development of insurance in the country. The focus was to ensure the full implementation of the Compulsory Insurance Act.

However, unfolding developments over the years still point to the fact that the programme remains a hard sell due to gross apathy facing the insurance sector in the country.

In the course of investigation, New Telegraph gathered that only two states out of 36 across the country actually took the initiative to key into the building insurance with Lagos, incidentally, being among the two. The other is Imo.

Speaking on the failure to drive building insurance properly, a developer, Mr. Deola Sowunmi, said the issue of insurance of public building hardly bothered tenants due to the desperation involved at the stage of searching for accommodation.

He argued that most of the policies in compulsory insurances were mere paper work or laws that can hardly be implemented because of peculiar Nigerian environment.

“The insurance of public buildings is not new. It is meant to protect the occupier of the property, but tell me, if you desperately need an accommodation and by stroke of luck you find one with  good terms, would you start bothering to find out if your landlord insured the building or not. If you do not move in, another tenant will take it.

“Government too is not helping matters; it has failed to provide facilities for people and under the same failure, it is creating more burdens for those who make such facilities available. If I need an office, and I know government has made one available for me, then I have the option of finding out if a landlord had insured his own property before I move in assuming I prefer the one he is offering to that of government,” Sowunmi said.

He further established that insurance would remain a difficult commodity to sell in the country because of the prevailing economic environment, adding that those in charge of the sector should do more to create the needed awareness.

“One of the major problems with insurance in the country is lack of adequate awareness. This is besides lack of enough disposable income. Those in the sector have been trying to create awareness but I believe they still have to do more. May be they should design new strategies if the old ways are failing,” he added.

A source at NAICOM told New Telegraph that in Imo State, government achieved almost 100 per cent success in implementing the building insurance policy.

“At a point in the state, anybody that operated a private school or hospital and attempted to renew his licence was required to present insurance cover on such premises. In the same vein, any business person, who had more than three people working for him renewing any document, was also expected to present his Group Life document for workers,” the source said.

Although Lagos had attempted to do same, it has never been as effective as developers still go about building houses without the necessary insurance cover.

The source added: “Although it is already law, we also want the states to incorporate it into theirs. You know so many policies meant to benefit the poor are sometime politicised. That is part of the problem we are facing now. We know some of the state governors are interested but they don’t want to be seen as putting more burdens on their subjects, so they overlook it.

“Another thing people need to understand is that if you are insuring a public building, it is in the interest of the third party, who is the tenant. So the policy is not covering the building but the tenant. The benefits in compulsory insurance are not directly for the owner of the property but the occupier. It is just to ensure that if any occupier dies or suffers injury, the law will ensure the family is adequately compensated. So the compensation does not go to the owner of the property.

“What most people don’t know is that Compulsory Insurance is meant to protect the vulnerable. If you are a tenant in a public building, the law is meant to protect you and your property in the event of loss, but here in Nigeria, nobody cares. Either out of ignorance or sentiments, you see those whom the law is supposed to protect would be the ones sympathising with the landlords or owners of such property, who failed to cover the risks. We have a long way to go in this country.

“The truth is that if the tenant takes such a landlord to court, he (the tenant) would recover all that he had lost. That is the reason behind compulsory insurance. At least, it will teach the landlords and others a lesson. A wise landlord should be able to transfer such risks to an insurer, but here everybody feels insurance is not their business.

On the benefit of the Third Party vehicle policy, he equally lamented the losses suffered by people due to ignorance.

According to him, imagine if there is an accident and the driver is taken before a judge whose relative was initially killed by a hit and run driver, and out of anger he awards N100 million against the person, how would he pay that? This is what N5,000 would have taken care of. But there is a law that is supposed to protect the person but he allows himself to be cheated.

While this is common knowledge to over 80 per cent of motorists, the benefit does not, however, end there as the same policy is capable of footing hospital bills in the event of the accident victim being hospitalised and in most cases take care of whatever he has been deprived of during the period he is incapacitated.

Simply put, the policy, which cost just N5,000 provides coverage against physical damage that is incurred to another vehicle or property, injuries or even death to your own passengers or the passengers of the third party, and for medical and legal cost, up to the tune of N2 million for claims that are filed against the policyholder in favour of the third party.

“Another example is the Group Life. Imagine when some workers die in active service, their employers decide what to give the families as compensation; whereas, the law makes it clear that such an employee is entitled to three times his annual emolument. If he was earning N1.5 million annually, he is supposed to be paid a minimum of N4.5 million, which is three times his total emolument. But here, a lot of people don’t know this. They accept whatever the employer brings, may be N500,000, an probably offers to buy the coffin.”

On incidents of collapsed buildings in Lagos, New Telegraph’s attempt to get reactions on the status of building insurance was futile as a source at the Lagos State Building Control Agency (LSBCA) said she won’t be able to give details of insurance claims paid to victims, if any, as she was attending a meeting.

 

In the light of the devastating experience, an insurance operator also gave reasons why the compulsory insurance act was not meeting its target despite the benefits attached.

 

According to the Managing Director of Mutual Benefits Assurance, Mr. Olusegun Omosehin, there is need for operators in the industry to collaborate more than ever.

 

He is of the view that NAICOM still has a lot to do in order to ensure reasonable compliance. To him, collaboration among all practitioners is needed to enable the commission drive the compulsory insurance project successfully.

He said: “I would like to call for the cooperation of the National Council of Registered Insurance Brokers (NCRIB) in the ongoing efforts of NAICOM to sensitise the industry and harness the opportunities inherent in the various legislations and enactments, particularly as they relate to compulsory insurance of buildings.”

 

Another industry operator, who spoke to New Telegraph on the condition of anonymity, however, put part of the blame on the regulator, saying it had laid emphasis more on boosting the sector’s gross premium than the benefits to the public.

 

He said: “Look at the MDRI, which was supposed to drive compulsory insurance, for instance. If you study it closely, you find out that the emphasis is more on boosting the gross premium income.

 

“The question is how the money would be realised without the public being carried along. The exclusion of the insuring public made it look like a selfish enterprise. Although the project is tied around compulsory insurance, the louder part of it should have been the benefits to the public than pursuing N1 trillion.

 

“Awareness still remains a major problem. Until this is taken care of, it will be difficult to make any reasonable impact. More important too, is that NAICOM should also be given the power to bit and not just to bark. If they have the power to prosecute, then the sky would be the limit.”

 

Speaking differently, however, a risk analyst, and consultant to the commission, Mr. Yemi Soladoye, said as much as enlightenment was necessary, insurance of public buildings and those under construction was not new.

 

He said: “The fire service, Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC), the Council of Registered Builders of Nigeria and the police are some of the law enforcement agencies that have one statutory role or the other to play in respect of the compulsory insurance products.

 

“Building insurance, for instance, would help curtail the damaging and painful effects of several cases of building collapse, which has recently been recurring in the country. I believe a key essence of compulsory insurance is to instil responsibility into all stakeholders that are connected with putting up public buildings, including town planning authorities, architects, surveyors and landlords.

 

“The biggest challenge to full realisation is apathy. Over time, NAICOM had embarked on rigorous awareness and enlightenment campaign on the policies as it hopes to get more voluntary participation.

 

Part of what has, however, dented insurance in the country, apart from some operators’ failure to pay mature claims promptly, is that many policyholders, who are completely oblivious of their rights to their entitlements and the inherent benefits of policies, end up bearing the burdens of the fallouts of incidences, while the insurance companies continue to make huge profits over their ignorance.

 

Others, who know better, are simply lethargic about pursuing their claims because of the rigours and bottlenecks involved in doing so. This last scenario has also emboldened dubious insurance operators to rate-cut in order to attract more clients.

 

Put bitterly, most Nigerians have lost out unnecessarily under circumstances where they should have actually earned enormous benefits. Over time, businesses, which ordinarily should be restored in the event of catastrophe, have gone into oblivion due to the owners’ ignorance about the workings of insurance.

While most people keep blaming economic downturn on some investors’ inability to insure their assets, recent revelations have actually shown that the best time to insure is when things are tough.

 

The understanding here is such that it will be easier for an investor, who is a victim of disaster, to be restored to his former position by an insurance company than finding such help elsewhere under the same tough economic environment.

 

 

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Insight

Old, sick and dying LUTH pensioners demand gratuities 10 years after

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Old, sick and dying LUTH pensioners demand gratuities 10 years after

Pensioners of the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH) are old men and women, who retired about 10 years ago. They have been waiting for the balance of their gratuities totalling over N1 million each. During the 10-year wait, many have fallen sick, many have died while others are dying. Those alive say they want their money before death comes. JULIANA FRANCIS captures their story

 

Traders, workers hurrying to their offices and motorists at the Ojuelegba area of Lagos State, took some minutes to stand and watch in sympathy as old men and women gathered under the bridge, chanting soulful solidarity songs. The time was 10a.m. and the year was 2018.

These old folks are retired workers of the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), Idi-Araba. They were armed with placards, claiming they were short-changed in the payment of their gratuities 10 years ago.

Among all the old and frail looking pensioners, it was Mr. Bamgbeelu Adetayo that caught the attention of everyone. While others stood, armed with their placards, Adetayo sat on a slab with his. He sat, not because he wanted to, but because his fragile legs couldn’t bear his weight for too long.

When he tried to get up everyone rushed to help him so that he wouldn’t trip over.

Adetayo is 65-year-old and a stroke patient. The fact that he was at the scene, indicated just how desperate he wanted his money. He said he had to come because he needed government to act fast so that he could have some money to buy his medicine.

The old man said he had to nag and beg his son to take him from their Ogijo, Ikorodu residence to Ojuelegba, the venue of the protest.

It was quite challenging especially since he and his son had to reach the venue in public transport. His tired and frustrated son left him at the venue, promising to return anytime Adetayo called him, to take him back home.

Adetayo said: “I left home as early as 6a.m. I got to Ojuelegba about 10.30a.m. I worked at LUTH Security Department. I worked there for 20 years. After all my efforts during my active years, they planned and took our money. We were duped!”

Adetayo said that for years now, he and his wife had been living on the groceries she sells, right inside their apartment. This was even as he revealed that his monthly pension was N15,000. He wished that the balance of his gratuity would be paid because of his failing health.

He said: “My medicine is very important. Right now, many of us don’t have money, thus we now have to resort to shouting, so that government will hear us.”

As Adetayo’s feeble voice narrated his ordeal, song of, “All we’re saying give us our rights,” rend the air.

These pensioners said that the protest was to alert the Office of the Accountant-General of the Federation and President Muhammadu Buhari of their plight and hope something would be done swiftly.

Before they agreed to meet under the bridge for the protest, they had paid many visits to different media houses. Indeed, they had been to the New Telegraph Ikeja office more than 10 times, demanding that their story be heard and justice be done. They came, armed with several documents. Each time they come, they come with additional story of pains, despair, frustration and tears.

Since the beginning of 2018, the pensioners had renewed their agitation to get balance of their money from the Federal Government. These pensioners are former drivers, kitchen workers, cleaners, security guards, nurses and matrons.

Ten years ago, they were supposed to be paid their full gratuities and expected their cheques. But when it was time to pay, they discovered that the money the Federal Government was supposed to pay, which was already spelt out on the ‘Retiree Severance Pay Slip’ was cancelled by an unknown person, with a pen.

The bankers, who came to pay them, handed them already filled out bank tellers. When they checked the tellers, they realised that their gratuities had been slashed. They were nonplussed and outraged.

Mrs Omotayo Oserinde, 63, spokesperson for the aggrieved pensioners, said: “We protested that we wanted our full money. We carried the protest to LUTH, where the Director of Administration back then, Ayo Olagunju, urged us to collect the money. He promised that he would do everything within his power to ensure that the balance of our money was paid. It has been 10 years already since the first half of the money was paid, yet we’re still waiting to be called upon to collect our balance.”

Oserinde, who said that they were over 500 affected retired staff, disclosed that so many had died while waiting for this money.

She added: “We live in poverty and we are losing hope, waiting for our money.”

Oserinde, who appears to be suffering from waist pains and could barely stand upright, added: “We want the Accountant General of the Federation to be aware of what is going on with the payment of the balance of our money.”

She said her story was similar to those of her colleagues, noting that she is a widow and had to bring up five children alone.

Asked why protesting now after 10 years, Comrade Agu Virgilus, 63, responded: “We’re complaining now after 10 years because it has become too late for some of our colleagues and we don’t want it to become too late for us. Just take a look at us, we started work at a very young age, we are now abandoned at our old age. They refused to pay us. Many of our members are dead! Many are in the hospitals.

“We’re asking President Muhammadu Buhari to urge the right people to look into our matter. We believe he can do something. He is the one that had been saying there shouldn’t be corruption. Buhari should come to our aid. What happened to us is corruption. We have nobody to fight for us. We believe that Buhari can question the Accountant General of the Federation and the pay masters who paid us half gratuity.”

Oserinde and Mrs. Florence Ikuregbe, 61, said that they were both employed by LUTH in 1975. They were asked to retire in 2007. Later, they were both recalled to resume work until 2008 which was their final retirement year.

Some officials were sent from Abuja, from the office of the Accountant General to pay their gratuities. The workers were allegedly taken to a place around Bode Thomas called Union Bank Sports Ground, an open field, where they were paid.

Ikuregbe said: “We were not allowed to use any other bank except Union Bank. The field where we were paid also belongs to Union Bank. We were also asked to use the bank because it was close to our work place at Idi-Araba.”

The old men and women alleged that their money was manipulated and that they were short-changed by officials that came to pay them their gratuity.

Ikuregbe recollected: “These officials, right before our eyes, changed the figure in the document that the Federal Government gave to us and put another figure. They filled out tellers and gave to each of us. We complained and even embarked on a protest immediately, but we were told to exercise patience, that the balance would be paid.

“We protested that we wouldn’t collect the money until it was completed. In fact, we went back to LUTH, where our Director, Ayo Olagunju, spoke to us. He was the person that urged us to collect the money, promising that our balance would be paid.

“It has been 10 years since the first half of the money was paid. Every time we complain, we would be asked to exercise patience.”

Oserinde shared how she managed to survive through the hard times. According to her, since retirement, life has not been too rosy for her. 

She said: “I’m a mother of five children. My husband is late. The only way I survived is through catering business.”

Recalling her duties at LUTH before she was retired, Oserinde, who worked in the Kitchen Department, explained: “I used to resume at 7a.m. and close at 3p.m., depending on the shift. I cooked as well as baked. I also catered for VIP patients.”

Ikuregbe, on the other hand, worked in the Cleaning Department, but tackled more than her own job.

She said: “I worked as a cleaner at LUTH. I used to resume by 7a.m. Aside from my cleaning work, I also do some other jobs at the hospital. Sometimes, I do the work of a nurse; I clean the floors, windows, toilets, and vomits of patients. I also run emergency errands even though I didn’t work in the Emergency Department.

“I worked at LUTH for 18 years. I assisted doctors and nurses in getting blood and oxygen for patients that needed them. In fact, sometimes I used to be sent to the mortuary to inform the attendants if someone dies, so that they could come to collect the body.”

Ikuregbe recalled that during most night duties, she and other cleaners were only allowed 30 minutes break. She said that there was a day she was sent to the mortuary to get attendants to come and pick up a body but she experienced a supernatural occurrence.

She said: “In fact, there was a time a Sister sent me to the mortuary to get the attendants; someone had passed away. I didn’t know I was not supposed to shout in the mortuary. When I got there, I didn’t see anybody. I did afternoon duty that day. The time was already 8p.m. I was instructed to tell the attendants at the mortuary to come and carry the corpse of the person that just died.

“The Sister said that she didn’t want workers that were coming to take over night duty to meet the corpse in the ward. As I got to the mortuary, I didn’t see anyone, so I started shouting, ‘Good evening.’ Suddenly, I felt my head swell; I turned and ran. I didn’t even wait for the attendants again. I told Sister my experience. I was in shock. I was admitted at the hospital. Even my husband came to visit me at the hospital that night. I really suffered! I was attacked by a spirit in the mortuary, due to my shouting.

“When I spoke about the incident to people, they said it was a dead person who answered my greeting. True, I didn’t hear anyone responding, but I felt my head swelling. When I said we suffered working at LUTH, I meant we really suffered. I need the government to give me that money because I really suffered for it. There was a time I was pregnant, a patient was having chronic ulcer and vomited clotted blood on me.

“I used to work in Emergency Unit and the Accident Department. I worked in those departments for 18 years before I told the woman in charge that I would like to change wards. Any time I wanted to leave the department, the top staff would stop me, saying that I was hard working. In the night, we would work without sleeping. We stay inside the ward until day break. My children would be sleeping at home, while I would be at work.

“After that payment, Union Bank got another manager, Mrs. Kofoworola. We heard that she discovered our money in an account and made enquiries. She was told that the money belonged to pensioners, and that it should be cleared. We thought we would be paid, but rather, we got information that the money was moved to another bank. I don’t know what they have done with our money.

“Those people that came from Abuja used pen to cancel the amount written on our documents and then wrote what they later paid us. Since that time, we have been waiting. We have been waiting for 10 years now and we’re yet to be paid our balance. They keep asking us to be patient.”

The pensioners claimed that as much as N1 million was removed from each of their money.

“My money was N2,350,000, but they paid me N1,502,95. We want the Accountant General to know what those people did. We want our balance. We are not the only one affected. Some of our members are dead. All we want is for our money to be paid,” Ikuregbe said.

Oserinde disclosed that on the day of the protest, when they had to gather under the Ojuelegba Bridge, she had to borrow money in order to be able to get to the venue.

The pensioners, who said that they had tried several avenues to make sure their plight was heard and their money paid, added that part of their efforts were visits to the Ministry of Justice, Citizens’ Rights, with office located at Alausa, Ikeja Secretariat. The move was, however, unfruitful.

Virgilus said: “We were retired from LUTH by the Federal Government. It was called downsizing. It was during the administration of the former President Olusegun Obasanjo. We were given letters in August 2007. We were also given another letter individually, asking us to go and claim our rights at Bode Thomas area. The letter was given to us with a certain amount written on it, but it was at Bode Thomas that the pay master used a pen to cancel and deduct money from each of us.

“This happened in 2007, at Union Bank Sports ground. We complained immediately; we even refused to collect the money. It was our Director of Administration, Mr. Ayo Olagunju, who implored us to speak to our members to return to Union Bank Sport’s Ground to collect the half money. He said that we should make photocopies of the amount paid to us, that he would fight for us to collect our balance.

“We did as he asked us. We did the photocopies and gave him, but he did nothing! When we took the matter to Alausa Citizens’ Rights last year, Union Bank was invited, their lawyer came and we all met in the conference room. The lawyers asked why we were just complaining now after almost 10 years. We told them that we had been complaining for years.”

Virgilus said that the LUTH management was also invited twice, but didn’t honour the invitation.

He added: “Where is our remaining money? Who is with it? Many of our members are dead, many are in the hospital. Look at my hair, all grey. We’re asking President Muhammadu Buhari to do something and help us. If our money goes because we have nobody to fight for us, it would be corruption. We believe Buhari can help us to question the Accountant General of the Federation and those that cancelled our money and paid us what they deemed fit.”

Spitting fire, another victim, Mrs. Inemona, said: “They called us to Bode Thomas, at Union Bank ground. Rather than give us cheque, they gave us bank tellers. The tellers were already filled out by unknown persons. They refused to allow us to use any other bank. We have been protesting this for years; we used to gather in front of LUTH, but they chased us away. We were ordered to carry our protest elsewhere. They threatened us with police.

“Many of our members have died. We’re old and getting older every day. Let them pay us our money. We are hungry, sick and have no money. We have nobody except God. Some of our members have fallen sick, but have no money to buy drugs and go to hospitals. Many of us are alive today because of the grace of God. Perhaps those who diverted our money are waiting for every one of us to die, but God will help us.”

Mr. Ros Fatomisin, 65, said: “We believe that the pay masters connived with Union Bank to short pay us.”

One of the documents the petitioners gave to our reporter is from the office of Femi Gbajabiamila, back then Majority Leader, House of Representatives, dated March 23, 2018, addressed to the Chief Medical Director, LUTH. It was also signed by Gbajabiamila.

The letter entitled: “Re: Petition Against LUTH management,” stated: “Following a careful study of the attached documents, I have decided to write you on behalf of all the individuals involved in this matter, with the hope that your office will promptly resolve the issue they have petitioned me about. Attached are the supporting documents for your attention. As I look forward to a swift but positive response from your office and the management of LUTH on this matter, please accept the assurance of my esteemed regards.”

Although Ayo Olaguju had since retired and had left the country, our reporter was able to get him on the phone.

Reacting to the allegations, he said: “It’s a very crazy allegation and I don’t know what exactly they are talking about. I also want you to verify your facts. I don’t know because I left that office four years ago. So I don’t have anything to do with that. I don’t know the exact thing they are talking about, but whatever they are talking about, they should be able to have the interest of justice and fair play because at the University of Lagos, were I also trained as a journalist, where I had my journalism degree, if we are doing investigation, everything must be true.

“As I’m speaking right now, I’m outside the country. Whatever claim the people are making, please I’m not an accountant. I don’t have anybody’s money, and it is not in my character. I will never take anything that does not belonged to me. I don’t know what this is all about.  I left the system four years ago, so I really don’t know where this is coming from. I did not work in Accounts Department. So, whatever allegation they are trying to claim, let them come and prove it!”

Attempts made to get LUTH management to shed more light on the incident proved abortive. Our reporter went to LUTH to speak with the Public Relations Officer (PRO), Kelechi Otuneme, he said he needed to speak with his boss and then get back to our reporter. Over a month later, he didn’t get back to our reporter. Our reporter sent him a reminder, but mum remains the word. As at the time of filing in this report, he was yet to do so.

Our reporter reached the Chairman, Medical Advisory Committee, LUTH, Dr. Femi Fasanmade, through a phone call.

He said: “I don’t know any pensioner, I don’t know which year. That person said 10 years ago, so whoever it is, let the person write and then we can go and check to see whether that is correct, so whether it is true or not, I don’t know. I am not aware of such an incident. What they need to do is to write. I will not say more than that until I see what they are talking about in writing. I don’t know anything about this. I’m not the director and I’m not the pensioner how will I know?”

Fasanmade said that instead of the pensioners to go to the media, they should have come to LUTH for the matter to be crosschecked.

He added: “Anybody that is making allegation should call the appropriate authority. It is the minister or government paying them; they should write to the Chief Medical Director (CMD), who is in charge. I’m not in charge of all this.”

Our investigation, however, showed that the pensioners had already contacted LUTH on the matter. Our reporter also went to the office of Citizens’ Rights, Ministry of Justice, at Alausa, Ikeja, to find out the outcome of their mediation in the matter. She was told that the PRO had gone home. Our reporter was further advised to leave a copy of the petition of the pensioners’ she came with, leave her name, phone number and media house, that the PRO would get across to her with the facts of the matter. Three weeks after her visit, the PRO didn’t call her.

Our reporter also reached out to the office of the Accountant General of the Federation (AGF). The Deputy Director, Information and Press Unit of AGF, Mr. Oise Johnson, urged the affected pensioners to come down to the AGF Office with proof of being short paid before making “unsubstantiated claims”.

He added: “The Office of Accountant General is not in heaven, it’s accessible. Whoever believes he or she has been short paid in his or her pension payment should come forward with provable evidence.”

Johnson said a pensioner, who spent 20 years in service, would be naive to expect to get equivalent pension with another pensioner who spent 35 years in service.

He added: “Like I said, our doors and records are open to any pensioner with complaint. Let them come here rather than resorting to unsubstantiated claims.”

The reporter urged the pensioners to petition the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) over the matter. The petitioners did so in a petition dated November 13, 2018.

In August 2019, the pensioners alerted our reporter that the EFCC Investigating Officer, in charge of their case was forcing them to retract their statement.

Oserinde said: “We submitted the letter in Abuja, but we were asked to come to the Lagos office. The EFCC man handling our case here in Lagos insisted that we should do a letter of undertaking, saying that we didn’t want to continue with the case. We don’t know why.”

Our reporter contacted the EFCC spokesman, Wilson Uwujaren, to find out why the pensioners were asked to write undertaking that they no longer wanted to continue with the case. He asked that time should be given to him to make some findings.

After some weeks, he said: “The case has been fully investigated and a report is already before our legal and prosecution department for advice.”

Our reporter also contacted Union Bank in 2018 about the matter and was asked to send the questions to an email, which the bank gave to our reporter. Our reporter sent the questions, but after months there was no response. Our reporter made further calls, but till filing in this report, there was no reply.

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Border closure: Rice importers’ loss, farmers, millers’ gain

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Border closure: Rice importers’ loss, farmers, millers’ gain

The current high cost of rice in the country has been traced to insufficient mill and supply deficit estimated at 4.79 million tonnes, reports BAYO AKOMOLAFE

 

 

I

nadequate mills and insufficient local production estimated at 4.79 million tonnes in the country have affected the price of rice in the market.

 

The country needs some 8.30 million tonnes of the grains to meet consumer demand.

 

Currently, a bag of the local grains is sold between N19,000 and N23,500 per 50 kilogrammes bag instead of the projected N6,000  envisaged by the former Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh.

 

Statistics revealed that the country depend on imports to support local consumption.

 

For instance, in 2012, the country’s ports took delivery of 2.8 million tonnes; 2013, 2.8 million tonnes and 3.5 million tonnes in 2014.

 

According to the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), the country spent about $2.41 billion on rice importation apart from those smuggled from the neighbouring countries between January, 2012 and May, 2015.

 

Government was forced to ban the grains importation from the land border in 2015.

 

However, despite the restriction in the last four years, findings revealed that the country had imported seven million tonnes of the grains from Thailand, Pakistan, India, United States and Vietnam owing to inadequate equipment, mills and high cost of producing the local grains.

 

Statistics from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) shows that the country imported 2.34 million tonnes in 2015; 2.3 million tonnes in 2016; while in 2017 it took delivery of 2.4 million tonnes and 2.2 million tonnes in 2018.

 

Issues

 

Regardless of the import restriction of the grains by the Federal Government, Nigerian markets are still filled with the grains.

Collectively, the local rice farmers are only able to   produce about four million tonnes per year.

 

Finding by New Telegraph revealed that the country needs additional 34.38 per cent or 2.51 million tonnes of the grains to meet domestic consumption estimated at 8.30 million tonnes.

 

It was further revealed that the country depends on 21 large integrated rice mills with a total processing capacity of 1.22 million tonnes yearly.

 

The mills are located in Kano, Enugu, Ebonyi, Kebbi, Anambra, Edo, Nasarawa, Benue, Kwara, Jigawa, Niger and Kogi states.

 

Ban

 

Trouble started in 2015 when the Federal Government imposed a ban on the commodity at the land border.

 

The ban sparked up massive smuggling of the grains to the country through the land borders of Seme, Idiroko, Calabar, Jibya and some creeks in Lagos and Calabar.

 

Levy on imported parboiled rice was raised from 40 per cent to 100 per cent in addition to the 10 per cent statutory duty at the port.

 

However, the levy died on arrival when  Benin Republic reduced its rice import duty from 35 per cent to 7 per cent to attract Nigerian rice merchants to patronise Cotonou Port, while Cameroon importers enjoy zero import duty per cent.

 

Sabotage

 

Findings by New Telegraph revealed that some rice merchants were forced to relocate to Benin where they enjoy low import tariff to ship the grains from Thailand and other major importers of the grains.

 

It was learnt that the Republic of Benin does not consume parboiled rice; 90 per cent of the imports are for Nigerian markets. Large volumes of the imports are shipped from Thailand, Pakistan, India, United States and Vietnam to Benin for transhipment to Nigeria.

 

For instance, parboiled rice from Thailand is sold at $421 (N151,568) per tonne or $21.05 (N7,578) per  50 kilogrammes at  a landing price as at October, 2019, as revealed by the Thai Rice Exporters Association (TREA).

 

It was learnt that the Beninioise Government had already licensed some Nigerian companies and several other rice merchants who are importing parboiled rice through Cotonou and Bollore port’s terminals.

 

It was also learnt that some Nigerian firms were given a mandate by the Benin authorities to import between 290 and 300,000 tonnes of parboiled and white rice each at 7 per cent tariff per annum.

 

Other small scale traders where licensed to imports 10,000 tonnes each.

 

In January, 2015, Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) record revealed that some rice valued at N938.2 billion was seized from smugglers despite the grains restriction from the borders.

 

For instance, between January and August, 2015, N330.5 billion worth of the grains was intercepted by the service.  Also, NCS added that some rice valued at N597.7 billion was impounded from the various land borders in 2016.

 

Border closure

 

However, with the recent border closure since August, 2019, smugglers have been finding it difficult to move large grains out of the two Benin ports.

 

The Customs Comptroller General, Col. Hameed Ali (rtd), said that since the commencement of the border closure only 21,071 bags of 50 kilogrammes of parboiled foreign rice were seized, while 317 suspected smugglers were arrested.

 

The Managing Director of Sceptre Consult, Mr. Jayeola Ayodele, while commending the government decision to ban the grains, said the Federal Government should have subsidised the price of the grains and supported local farmers so that consumers would not feel the impact of the ban.

Ayodele said that the insufficient of the grains was responsible for the high price of rice and other consumable goods in the market which could be averted if government had financial backing to consumers just like the fuel subsidy.

 

He added: “The Federal Government should have asked famers to sell the products at N5,000 for 50 kilogrammes bag and pay the farmers the balance of their cost of production before the ban was slammed. They can still do it if they have the interest of the masses in mind.”

The MD said that Kebbi and Ebonyi states, as well as multi

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Nigeria grapples with insufficient mills, 4.79m tonnes rice deficit

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Nigeria grapples with insufficient mills, 4.79m tonnes rice deficit

national companies who were into rice production and other individuals should be supported in order to lower the price of the grains.

He added that if rice was affordable in the market, prices of other food items would fall naturally.

Also, a stakeholder in rice production, the Managing Director of AgroNigeria, Richard Mbaram, said that the Federal Government’s determination to  end importation  of the  grains would be a mirage if it failed to address the issues of massive smuggling of rice into the country.

According to him, achieving self-sufficiency in the next couple of years is merely a pipe dream.

Local production

However, despite the ban, some of the traders at the Abakaliki rice mills in Ebonyi State have continued to celebrate the prohibition on importation of foreign rice. They said that the ban had led to high sales of Abakaliki rice.

A rice miller, Mr. Timothy Ude, said:  “We are happy that the Federal Government closed Nigerian borders.”

Ude said before the closure, his sales for a day used to be very poor, noting that at the end of the month it was difficult to pay his landlord and meet up with other needs.

He explained that people who used to neglect local rice had fallen back on it.

 

 

Ude explained that the decision of the Federal Government would help to promote homemade products in the country.

On her part, Mrs. Precious Idam said her sales skyrocketed.

She said that before the border closure, new rice was selling for about N5,300 but now new rice sells for between 6,000 and N7,000.

By this time of the year, according to her, the price of new rice is not supposed to be this high.

In order to promote the local grains, the Ebonyi State government has confiscated 663 bags of rice allegedly smuggled into the state.

The Commissioner for Internal Security and Border Peace, Stanley Emegha, said that the smugglers operating along Ndibe, Unwana and Akpoha beaches in Afikpo North Local Government Area of the state, had a small warehouse where they store the contraband.

The commissioner said the crack team of his office operating on a tip-off swung into action and confiscated the bags of rice, including other products.

 

He added that one of the perpetrators was arrested.

Emegha regretted that such illegal business was discovered to have been going on for a long time along those beaches unnoticed, adding that his office was poised to stop such sabotage across the state.

He recalled that government had earlier banned the importation and sales of foreign rice, raw or cooked, noting that such activities contravene the law as well as sabotage local rice farmers in the state.

 

The commissioner emphasised that Ebonyi State had enough local supply of the grains for both internal consumption and export to other places.

Emegha added that the era of dumping foreign rice products in the state was over.

 

He said: “Specifically last Friday, a tip came to us that some smugglers were bringing contraband rice into the state through the Ndibe, Unwana and Akpoha beaches.

 

“It is not only rice they smuggle; they also smuggle Cocoa among others. We were able to confiscate 663 bags and arrested one of them. There were still two boats that were roving our waterway trying to offload. But we are still on them to make sure that they stop such illicit business.”

Because of the government efforts, it was learnt that Ebonyi State has gained prominence as the state with the highest concentration of rice mills in West Africa.

The industry is a business enterprise owned by private individuals, where farmers process and market rice to buyers who come from all over the country and beyond.

Demand

The demand for Abakaliki rice has continued to increase because of its more than 400 mills. This has led to the increase in the price of the commodity.

People from neighbouring Benue, Kogi, Enugu, Cross River, Abia and other states come to Ebonyi State and place order to buy the commodity in different quantities for sales and consumption.

Also, buyers from Lagos, Abuja and other places often place order for the commodity because of its special taste which distinguishes it from other rice species.

The Abakaliki rice has Maths species which looks like foreign rice.

It also has CP species, R8 species and other species. All the species have their uniqueness but high class people usually go for the Maths species because of its beautiful nature while middle class go for R8 and CP because of its unique taste.

Former Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture and Natural Development, Chief Steve Orogwu, gave reasons why people outside the state rush the commodity.

He said: “Ebonyi rice has unique taste that is satisfying. Ebonyi rice is very nutritious, it contains carbohydrate, it contains protein, even some vitamins. Besides, the brand is very nutritious, and is even extracted and packaged for further industrial use.”

For the reason that its high demand and ban on foreign rice in the state, the price of Abakaliki rice has continued to increase. The commodity is sold at the mills, markets and shops in the state.

In the mill, a bushel is presently sold for between N6,000 and N7,500 depending on the quality. A 25kg bag of the community is sold for between N8,000 and N12,000,  depending on the quality while its 50kg bag is sold for between N18,000 and N22,000 depending on the quality.

Following its high demand, people of the state, including government officials, have taken to rice farming, production and processing.

The state Commissioner for Agriculture, Chief Ogodoali Nome, who is among those producing the community in large quantity, said he was planning to industrialise the business.

Nome, who is the managing director of Ogoani Farms, producing rice, fishery and poultry, said that Ogoani Farms produces rice from the farm for processing.

He said: “We have not gone into industrialisation; people think that it is only when you mill rice and package that you are into industrialisation.

“The next level of industrialisation is when you produce rice, process rice to finish production. When you go industrialisation, you start using the chaffs rice; the threshes of the rice into another material; you can use it to produce rice, you can use it to produce wine, energy, gas.”

Also, the management of Confluence Rice said they had embarked on massive production of grains locally.

The company assured Nigerians of higher quality, nutritious and affordable to all Nigerians irrespective of their class.

Its Managing Director, Mr. Olusegun Olonade, said in Lagos that the processes employed by the company in the growth, cultivation and refining of the final product were the best standards available anywhere in the world.

He said: “Although, our paddy rice is locally grown, the finished product is of very high quality and higher nutrition value than imported rice. Consumers will find our product quite enjoyable, smooth and excellent in taste as we hit the market.”

Olonade explained that the recent ban on importation of rice by the Federal Government had resulted in widespread increase in prices of rice, leaving the masses, who represent the highest consumers of rice, frustrated.

Patronage

The MD added that the company had received a lot of patronage since the commencement of its production.

Presently, Olonade said that there was a high demand from the company’s distributors.

He said: “Sincerely, the government policy has completely put a stop to illegal rice importation and for the first time in the history of Nigeria we have not witnessed such things.

“With the border closure, we are now feeding ourselves from complete local production. Our company is the second largest rice mill in Nigeria, under the auspices of Agri Integrated Services Africa Limited, in partnership with the Kogi State government.”

Olonade added that as a company the management had promised to make the rice available to every Nigerian. According to him, it is the only staple food for Nigerians and at affordable price.

He also commended the Governor of Kogi State, Yahaya Bello, for his great initiative and investment in agriculture, thereby providing jobs and food for the people of the state and Nigeria at large.

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Uncovering mafia behind stolen prepaid meters (II)

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Uncovering mafia behind stolen prepaid meters (II)

Desperation to own prepaid meters has led to a surge in theft of prepaid meters.  In this concluding part, JULIANA FRANCIS unravels those involved the crime

 

 

Further months of investigations showed that there are other markets for such meters in Lagos State. Our reporter visited some of these markets just to establish the fact that meters are being sold there.

Our reporter visited the Owode-Onirin Market, Ikorodu. Our reporter asked one of the traders where to get prepaid meters. The trader gave our reporter a suspicious look and asked twice what the reporter wanted. The reporter told him that DISCO officials were killing him with estimated billing, that he needed a fairly used prepaid meter. He relaxed his suspicious stance and took our reporter to a shop at Area 11. The owner of the shop said that the only meter he had, was sold a day before the arrival of our reporter. He promised to take our reporter to another dealer. One of the dealers said that he had stopped selling prepaid meters.

He said: “I have stopped selling prepaid meters. I used to sell it before, but police used to raid here. But some of my colleagues in the market are still selling. Sometimes we buy the prepaid meters from DISCO officials. We also buy at Alaba Market. We, however, have stopped going to Alaba Market. We have a customer that used to bring the meters to us at Owode-Onirin.”

The first trader volunteered to take the journalist to Area 15 in the market at Owode-Onirin. The shop owner came out from his shop to ask his colleague what the journalist wanted. Immediately the first trader told him, he asked them to leave. He angrily screamed that he didn’t have money to bribe policemen anymore; stressing that he no longer sell such meters.

The first trader then urged the reporter to come back in two days’ time; that he would have ordered for a meter from Alaba International Market.

Our reporter learnt at Owode-Onirin Market that Alaba International Market was the depot where stolen meters are sold.

Our reporter also learnt that another depot is ‘The Arena Shopping Complex,’ Oshodi. Our reporter visited there on December 13. When our reporter entered the market, a security officer directed him to Electrical and Electronic Lines.

Our reporter told the first trader sighted that he wanted to buy fairly used prepaid meter. He was directed to Chubby Electrical shop. Our reporter claimed that he was told at Alaba International Market to go to Arena, that he would get the meter there. That Alaba Market had exhausted theirs. Chubby, however, said it was not available.

Our reporter also heard that stolen meters could be bought at Oluwole, Lagos Island. When our reporter got to the market and started walking about, appearing to be searching for someone, a guy approached, asking what he wanted. The reporter told him that he wanted to buy prepaid meter.

He responded sadly: “Ha! We no longer sell meters here because of police. They used to raid us every time and collect money from us. It has become a bad business for us.”

Our investigation showed that while the market for stolen prepaid is still on, dealers are careful because of police raid, harassments and extortions. Our investigation has touched much on victims of stolen prepaid meters, but what about the buyers?

A resident of Lagos, Mr. Rufus Wole, said that his neighbours had had cause to buy stolen meters twice and that till date the meters were still working perfectly and undetected by DISCO officials. Wole lives at the Yaba area of Lagos State.

He said: “I didn’t know that people can buy and be able to use stolen meters. It was an incident that happened in my compound that made me to know that there is a heavy racket of black market buying and selling of prepaid meters and DISCO officials are actively involved.

“We’re four tenants living in our compound, three of us have prepaid meters, and one didn’t. The man soon started complaining of the estimated billings DISCO officials were bringing. He complained to the landlord and we went to DISCO’s office to apply. Two years down the line, he was yet to get the meter and the estimated bills continued to come, and kept increasing. He came one day and said that someone wanted to sell a prepaid meter to him. We were surprised. In fact, we didn’t know that anyone could sell a used meter. We have been told several times that prepaid meters were not transferable and wouldn’t be able to work with another customer.

“The guy bought the meter and has been using it. A DISCO official came to code the meter and it is working perfectly. Another incident happened in our compound. Our neighbour’s prepaid meter got burnt due to high voltage. She called someone to carry out illegal connection for her. DISCO officials found out; they didn’t disconnect her, rather, they just kept coming to extort her. She got tired of it and went to buy fairly used prepaid meter. She also got a DISCO official to code it for her. She’s still using it till date. The two meters were bought at Iwaya, close to Makoko, a slum community.”

An IKEDC official said: “Of course it’s possible to steal a meter and give it to another person to use. First, remember that the meter was programmed by a human being, thus it can be reprogrammed. Most importantly, it can only be achieved using information provided by a DISCO official.

“Also, remember that we have Nigerians who are computer and programme wizards. They can get into the system or database.”

Speaking on the five stolen prepaid meters at Adebola Streets, a DISCO 2 boy, who didn’t want his name mentioned, said: “It’s only DISCO officials that can remove those prepaid meters and prepare another card. They will check the name in their system before embarking on the reconnection. They target the latest meters to steal.

“Ordinarily, the meters shouldn’t work because they have sensors, only DISCO officials can make it to work. It is supposed to have a code. In fact, with the code in the meters, they should be useless to other users. Prepaid meters in black market go for N95,000. I was told by a DISCO official that two among the five stolen meters at Adebola Street were already reading, meaning that people are using them. The official said that as long as the stolen meters were being recharged, that they had no issue with them. The stolen meters can be used by residents living within the jurisdictions of IKEDC.”

According to him, these new meters are the most targeted.

He added: “The main meter is mounted outside, while the CIU box is with the customer. Thieves target the meter mounted outside because they can recharge those meters with any other CIU. The CIU is not really important. In fact, if a customer’s CIU is bad, the person can go and buy another one from DISCO.

“The CIU box can be used for more than 50 meters as long as you know the serial numbers of the meters, which is like the engine house.  You can use the serial numbers on the meters to buy the recharged card. Once you get to where they sell card, you can use someone’s CIU to load the meters. Let’s say for example your CIU has a fault, you can write your serial numbers and go out to buy a card. After buying the card, you can go to any DISCO office and they will use their system to load it. As long as a customer is under IKEDC, the meters, stolen from Adebola Street, can be used at communities under IKEDC jurisdiction.”

Our investigation also showed that many DISCO officials, either didn’t know that code of prepaid meters are now being broken or they are simply living in denial.

An official of Ibadan Electricity Distribution Company (IBEDC) stated that IBEDC had never received any official complaint of stolen or missing prepaid meters.

He added: “Yes, stolen prepaid meters can be utilised by another person, if the private code for loading credit is not guarded by the owner. No way of tracing it if the code is assessed by any thief.”

Head of Corporate Communications of IKEDC, Mr. Felix Ofulue, spoke on how cases of stolen meters are handled.

He said: “First, the customer is required to make a formal complaint after which the Ikeja Electric sends its officials to investigate by visiting the location to validate the customer’s claim. If the claim is valid and there is a meter available for replacement, it will be replaced. However, the customer bears the cost of replacement in line with appropriate Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) regulations guiding the loss/damage to a meter asset.

“Replacement of such meter, if available, takes up to two weeks from the date of complaint validation by IE. If replacement meters are not available, the customer will be connected directly and placed on estimated billing in line with the estimated billing methodology approved by NERC.”

Asked if stolen meters could be tracked and recovered, Ofolue said: “It is not possible to directly track a stolen meter but it can be detected during routine physical checks or whistle-blow from concerned customers.

“A stolen meter can be used by another person but not legitimately; if there is an internal connivance from an official, if the meter was stolen with the smartcard, if it is a non-smart, Standard Transfer Specification meter (the type that can be recharged online without recourse to the meter card, this particular meter does not require the smartcard to vend and are actually less than 30 per cent available on IE’s network). It also does not possess anti-tampering triggers to prevent usage when such meters are relocated. All of these categories of meter available in the system were installed before the privatisation of the power sector.

“There are people who already have the card readers of these smart card meters and can subject it to manipulation.”

Ofolue denounced customers’ insistence that DISCO officials are behind meter theft.

He said: “It is a very rare case for an existing staff to be involved. However, where such a situation occurs, we will immediately retrieve the meters and return to original location if not already replaced, while the staff will face disciplinary actions in line with our internal procedures.”

The EKEDC Public Relations Officer (PRO), Mr. Godwin Idemudia, also denied that meters are being stolen.

He said: “I have never heard of our meters being stolen. If they steal our meters, how are they going to use them? The meters are programmed, except there is an internal connivance and if we find out, that staff will be fired. All our prepaid meters are programmed into our data central system and if it is moved to another place, it wouldn’t be able to work. Again, except it is brought back into our system, through our IT and when that is done, it would be detected and whoever is responsible would be fired!”

The Kano Electricity Company (KEDCO) disclosed that it lost N180 million to vandalism, theft of its meters and tampering of the prepaid meter works. This is even as the company said it was spending N4 billion monthly to purchased energy but only generated between N1.8 and N1.9 billion revenue, making it to operate at high loss.

The Managing Director and Chief Executive of the company, Mr. Jamil Isiyaku Gwamna, said that it was  not only the meters which were been stolen on a daily basis, and tampered with, but that the company was seriously losing millions of naira to energy theft.

In Benin, Edo State, the assistant spokesman for Benin Electricity Distribution Company (BEDC), Mr. Ibe Odoh, revealed that the company also had been experiencing cases of prepaid meter theft.

He added: “We don’t know why people are stealing our prepaid meters. It is affecting power supply. Each of those prepaid meters cost us good money. But I can tell you categorically that those that stole them can’t make use of them, except there is sabotage. That is someone from within.”

In Jos, Plateau State, the PRO of Jos Electricity Distribution Plc (JED), Saratu Aliyu Dauda, said: “There are cases of stolen prepaid meters across our franchise states of Bauchi, Benue, Plateau and Gombe states, but mechanisms have been put in place with the view to stemming the tide. A few of the prepaid meters were stolen upon JED PLC’s commencement of the metering exercise. The costs of producing each of these meters are in the region of N100,000 and so for each meter that is stolen, you should know that the company is losing a lot of money.”

Findings at the Abuja Electricity Distribution Company, Apo office, show that there have been reported cases of stolen prepaid meters, but the number is yet to be ascertained.

The PRO of Enugu Electricity Distribution Company (EEDC), Mr. Emeka Eze, laughied off the suggestion that prepaid meter could be stolen.

He said that nobody would steal a prepaid meter because it would be useless to the person.

According to him, DISCOs configured and customised meters for customers and there is a process of doing that in the office before going for installation.

He said: “You can’t steal a meter from Building A and take it to Building B to use; it is not possible. It is not possible to break the code or short-circuit the process because EEDC has upgraded its system such that all meters are customised.”

An official with Ondo State DISCO admitted that meters are being stolen.

He said: “When we got information of any meter being stolen, we usually block the meter from our side, in case the thief wants to use it. We sort of place a red alert on it. Once it is being used, we would know. The truth is that stealing it doesn’t make sense because the person wouldn’t be able to make use of it.”

The Commissioner, Consumer Affair, NERC, Dr. Moses Arigu, said estimated billings, after meters are stolen, would soon become a past issue.

He said: “On stealing of meters, the customers should try to protect meters on their premises. Meters are inside private properties. On estimated billings, NERC came out with a strategy to address this by coming out with the Meter Asset Provider (MAP) regulations in March 2018 for private investors to come in, to meter customers.

“The procurement process is currently on between all parties. The dateline to end the process is October 2018. We expect meter roll-out by the end of the year or early next year. Also, an order from NERC to recap estimated billing for any unmetered customer is being worked on by NERC. The order is to discourage DISCOs from keeping customers unmetered. Basically, they will be the ones to be chasing investors to meter the customers quick. They will want customers to be metered quick because they are losing money as the capping amount is far less than if customer is metered.”

The Executive Secretary, Meter Manufacturers Association, Mr. Muideen Ibrahim, said if it was possible to steal meter and someone used such meter, it meant there was connivance with those working with DISCOs.

He said: “I mean those working in the control room. It is customised; there is no way Mr. A can use meter meant for Mr. B. But if it happens, it means those in charge of keeping the sensitive code, gave it out. If peradventure it happens, then there is connivance issue.

“Without adequate information, nobody can use stolen meters. What you don’t have, you can’t give. But from the manufacturers’ point of view, there are no way two units of meters are the same. They have different codes. And even if they are of the same batch, they are coded in different ways and each meter has units and serial numbers, so there is no way it will work. But the moment the meters get to the DISCOs, they will key in their inputs in terms of reference numbers. If there is an issue of a meter being used elsewhere, I have never heard of it. And if it is happening, then there is a third party involvement.”

According to him, people, whose meters are stolen, need to go and lodge a formal complaint at the police station and get police report.

He added: “The stolen meters must be mounted in order to be used and it must reflect in the DISCO’s control room. Once the meter is blocked, it becomes useless. I believe the thieves just tested the ground, and are selling dummies to people, because a lot of people are yearning for prepaid meters. Once people are yearning for something, there would be a rush.

“The point, however, is that there is no way they wouldn’t be caught. They would have to take the meters to the DISCOs for installations. The DISCO 2 guys can’t work without the insider. If there is a DISCO 2 boy, it means there is a DISCO 1. Also, DISCO 2 and DISCO 1 can’t function without those in the control room or server room.

“I suggest that anyone, whose meter is stolen, should quickly go and report at the nearest police station and DISCO, so that it can be blocked, so as to make the trend unattractive. Also, people should be careful with their smartcards. It’s like an ATM card, if someone gets your PIN, he can hack into your account and take your money.”

Our findings revealed that the best ways to shut down the cartel and stop customers’ meters from being stolen is for MAP to be effectively and quickly executed. Another way is for the bill by the House of Representatives Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila, seeking to criminalise estimated billing to come to pass.

When the proposed law is accepted by the Senate and approved by the President, it will become criminal for DISCOs to issue estimated bills. Issuance of such bills will attract either a one-year jail term or a fine of N1 million or both. The proposed law would also compel DISCOs to provide prepaid meter to an applicant within 30 days, while barring the DISCOs from disconnecting the consumer after the 30-day period within which meter should be installed.

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Uncovering mafia behind stolen prepaid meters (1)

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Uncovering mafia behind stolen prepaid meters (1)

Many Nigerians are desperate to own prepaid meters to avoid estimated billings from Electricity Distribution Companies (DISCOs), believed to be exploitative. This desperation has led to increasing cases of prepaid meters being stolen, though it is said that meters are not transferable.  In this investigation, JULIANA FRANCIS seeks to unravel those profiting from the crime

 

 

Adebola Street is located in the heart of Egbeda in Alimosho Local Government Area of Lagos State. The street is the shortest along the Baba-Oba area of Car Wash axis. The highest crimes that have occurred there are shops and apartments’ burgling and theft of vehicle batteries.

The sleepy community came awake in March 2018, after some residents woke up to discover that power supply to their buildings had been cut off.

They were still wondering if Ikeja Electricity Distribution Company (IKEDC) officials came midnight to disconnect power, when someone suddenly noticed that prepaid meters to the affected buildings had vanished.

When they took count, five meters were gone.

One of those affected is Mr. Oladiya Aruna of House 20, Adebola Street. Aruna runs an estate agency in the community.

He said: “We came to the office and discovered that our meter was gone. We heard that other meters were also stolen. The most shocking thing was that some of the meters were placed high on electric poles. There was no way an amateur could have climbed those poles and removed those meters. The theft was done by a professional. We also discovered that all the meters stolen were those placed outside. We reported to Ikeja Electricity (IKEDC). The officials came and collected information about our meters and then left. Since then, we have not heard from them. They said we should go and accept estimated billing.”

Another victim, Mr. Joshua Akimokwu, said that he had been to IKEDC’s office at Ponle bus stop four times for a new meter since the theft, but all his efforts had been futile.

The landlady of House 13, Adebola Street, Mrs. Simisola Bankole, said that two meters were stolen from her compound.

She said: “We went to IKEDC office because we wanted new meters, but they said it wasn’t their business, that we should have secured our meters.”

Mr. Isa Alimi, who has a shop at No. 1, Adebola Street, disclosed that two meters were stolen from his end of the street.

He said: “When it happened, I quickly alerted IKEDC officials. They asked me if we didn’t have security in our community. I replied that we did. But were the guards supposed to watch over our meters? The officials said a replacement was being processed, but that for now; meters were unavailable. They said I should go for estimated billing system, I said no. I decided to go to their Customer Care Centre. When I got there, they directed me to one Mr. Bello; he’s in charge of prepaid meters. He told me that at Abule-Odu area, six prepaid meters were stolen. He said that those stealing them wouldn’t be able to make use of them. I didn’t believe that. Why would they be stealing them if they couldn’t make use of them? Someone came here to borrow my Customer Interface Unit (CIU) to load her meter and it worked. I refused estimated billings. I’m now temporarily sharing with a neighbour, while I try to see how to get another prepaid meter. I want prepaid meter at any cost. With it, I know how to manage my money and the electricity I consume.”

A resident of Lawani Street at Egbe-Idimu in Alimosho Local Government Area of Lagos, Emeka, accused IKEDC workers of being responsible for his compound’s missing meter.

Emeka explained that the landlord had warned all tenants to keep mum on the issue, fearful that IKEDC officials would punish them by plunging the community into perennial darkness if they made too much noise about the stolen meter.

He said: “We’re very sure that DISCO workers were responsible for the theft. The meter was installed high up on the electric pole. The box housing the meter was locked and the key is with the officials, so who opened the box and stole the meter?”

There is, however, a funny twist to the theft of the meter at Lawani Street. Unlike those taken at Adebola Street, where the victims were immediately plunged into darkness after the thieves removed the meters, at Lawani Street, the thief removed the meter and reconnected the wire directly to the cable on the pole.

Asked how consumers got to know the meter was stolen, Emeka replied: “We have people in the area, who have knowledge of the prepaid meter boxes; they were the people that alerted us that our meter had been stolen.”

Mr. Tajudeen Adebanjo, also a victim of stolen meter, residing at Ilasamaja area of Lagos State, recounted that he and other tenants woke up and found out that five prepaid meters had vanished.

Four of the meters were later found. He and other residents suspected a man in the community, popularly called Foley, who has experience with electricity.

While Foley admitted removing Adebanjo’s meter to fix it, because Adebanjo had earlier complained that it was faulty, he denied removing other four. Residents didn’t buy his denial story and threatened to hand him over to the police. A day after Foley was threatened, three among the stolen meter surfaced.

Adebanjo said: “Five meters went missing. I went to Foley and he admitted taking mine, but denied taking others. I asked him why he didn’t tell me before removing mine. He reconnected me directly to the pole after removing my meter. I didn’t know my meter was gone until neighbours complained that they didn’t have light and that their meters had been stolen. I was the only person that had light, but I still decided to check my meter and then low and behold, mine was gone too. We wanted to go to the police, but decided to go to our supplier, Eko Electricity Distribution Company (EKEDC) to lodge a complaint.

“The meters surfaced after residents threatened to hand Foley over to police. The smart cards of three of my neighbours’ matched the three recovered meters. It was clear the meters were part of those stolen.”

But Adebanjo’s meter could not be repaired.

One of the guards in the community later told residents that while on duty about 2a.m., he saw a man with a black polythene bag. He ordered the guy to stop, but the latter took off. The guard pursued and at a point, the runner dropped the bag and fled. When the guard opened the bag, he saw three meters. The three meters were returned to the three tenants, leaving Adebanjo and another tenant without meters. EKEDC placed both of them on estimated billing.

Expressing his frustration over estimated billing system, Adebanjo said: “Our vending was usually between N2,000 and N2,500 every month, but on the first month of being placed on estimated billing, EKEDC brought N3,000, we complained; they promised to work on it. The second month, they brought N5,000, we screamed. The third month, they came with N15,000. We couldn’t take it anymore.”

The two men requested for prepaid meters but were told to exercise patience. But the crazy bills kept coming and each time the money keeps increasing. This was even as no electrical equipment was added to their household. When they finally got their meters, it was through the intervention of an influential personality.

He added: “This took a year. Everything started last January and we got the meter this January. It was not easy and we spent a lot of money.”

Our investigation showed that not everyone is ready to wait almost a year or more, like Adebanjo and his neighbour, for prepaid meters, reason desperate customers patronise sellers of stolen meters, accelerating the boom of the market.

According to experts, a prepaid meter is a special type of energy meter that can be installed in homes and offices. Many people have often described prepaid meters as ‘pay as you go’ tariff or you pay as you use.

The idea basically is that consumers use only what they had already paid for. Although Nigerians earlier thought it would be expensive to maintain, today, many prefer it to estimated billings.

Estimated billing gives DISCOs the power to determine the electricity bill to be paid by consumers in the event that such a consumer does not have a prepaid meter.

One of the advantages of the prepaid meters cited by experts is that cases of meter theft would be reduced “this is because every prepayment meter has a unique identification number that can be tracked electronically. Therefore, consumers can be sure of meters’ security.”

 

 

 

This belief, with the ongoing challenges of prepaid meters being stolen, has been invalidated.

Initially, DISCOs told Nigerians that the beauty of the prepaid meter was that it has a code, and that it couldn’t be used by anyone, except the buyer/owner, whose name is already registered on the meter.

Today, however, the same customised meters are now being stolen and resold at cutthroat prices. The prices almost triple those bought from official quarters.

One question begs for answer: Who can break the code of a meter to ensure that another consumer takes possession and starts using it?

Determined to get further answers to the missing meters, our reporter, on July 17, 2018, paid a visit to the IKEDC branch office at Ponle bus stop. Pretending to be a resident of House 13, Adebola Street, she reported a case of stolen prepaid meter at her compound and other buildings.

She was given complaint number 81 and asked to go home and get serial numbers of the stolen meters. This was even as she explained that the complaints of the stolen meters had earlier been lodged.

On July 24, our reporter returned to the same office with serial numbers of three of the stolen prepaid meters. The complaint number this time was 52. She was attended to by one of their customer care officers identified as Lekan.

Lekan said: “We have launched a search for the stolen meters. Right now, from what my computer is telling me, the meters are not being used yet.”

Our reporter asked him why anyone would steal meters and wouldn’t use it, Lekan, said: “I don’t know. But your complaint had been noted and we shall alert you if we find the meters. Meanwhile, what have you people being using since the incident?”

The reporter explained that she and other neighbours were sharing a neighbour’s meter. She asked Lekan how to go about getting a new meter.

Lekan gave her a cold look and snapped: “Madam, maybe you’re not hearing me well; we don’t have any prepaid meter on ground to give anybody! We’re out of prepaid meters. Go to our office at Abule-Odu, they’ll tell you how to go about getting estimated billing.”

When our reporter got to Abule-Odu, she was asked to look for Mr. Seyi, the marketing officer in charge of Adebola Street, to explain how to embark on estimated billing. Thus, the journalist is backed into going for the much detested estimated billing, which DISCOs prefer, but consumers loathe.

Every time a meter is stolen, consumers are forced to accept estimated billing, which is highly profitable to DISCOs.

A retired DISCO official, Mr. Ajele, disclosed that behind every stolen meter in any community are usually men in the communities, who have knowledge of electricity. According to him, those men are called, “DISCO 2 boys.”

He said: “Nigeria is full of crooked people and due to constant power failure nearly everyone now knows things about DISCOs and electricity. The situation is compounded by those we call ‘DISCO 2 boys’ who are often allowed to work with DISCO officials.”

Asked the meaning of DISCO 2 boys, he explained: “They are illegal boys. They are not DISCO officials, but work with DISCOs. They are in every community. They are often called upon to do the work of DISCO officials by members of the community. Many of them had heard about DISCOs and knew how DISCO officials operate. They know and have experiences. They know all the secrets of DISCO officials and electricity trade. Such guys, because they are unofficial, can do anything illegal. It doesn’t necessarily have to be DISCO officials that are stealing and decoding the meters for new owners to use.

“Also, these DISCO 2 boys are loose with information. Members of the public, armed with vital information, can do anything, including stealing and decoding meters.”

Several attempts by our reporter to locate markets for stolen prepaid meters were futile. Our reporter, posing as someone, who desperately wanted a prepaid meter at all cost, spoke with some DISCO 2 boys, but they all denied knowing such markets. This hunt ran into months.

Just when the reporter was about to give up, a DISCO 2 boy, who used to live at the Bariga area of Lagos and used to buy electrical parts at the Alaba International Market, promised to make some calls. Some weeks later, he called to say that he had found a market where they sell stolen meters.

In the presence of the reporter, he called a dealer and discussed with him. The dealer, who sounded happy, asked him to come, that he had fairly used meters.

On November 24, the reporter, posing as the DISCO 2 boy’s friend, went to the Industrial Section of the Alaba International Market, F-Line, to try to purchase the meter. The Industrial Section of the market is where anything electrical is sold. Indeed, our reporter discovered that even stolen transformers are sold there.

While there, our reporter noticed furtive movements and glances, from seedy looking characters armed with black nylons. The nylons are usually filled with cables or electrical wires. Once these men walk past a shop, they only needed to glance into the shop and quickly look away, and then the owner will step out.

Without words being exchanged, everything is done with the utmost economic of action. The man holding the bag quickly opens it for the shop owner to check. A heated, undertone chat ensures. Thereafter, the shop owner goes into his shop, returns to collect the bag and hands money over to the shady character. Business concluded.

When our reporter and the DISCO 2 boy got there, the dealer took one glance at our reporter and his countenance became hostile. When the DISCO 2 boy asked for the meter, the dealer told him that he didn’t know what the heck the DISCO 2 boy was talking about. It soon generated into a heated argument, with the DISCO 2 boy insisting that the dealer asked him to come for a fairly used meter, while the dealer told him that he was out of his mind, that nobody sells fairly used prepaid meters. According to him, it is only DISCOs that sell prepaid meters.

The reporter and DISCO 2 boy left the shop. The DISCO 2 boy told our reporter the dealer must have changed his mind after seeing the reporter, a total stranger.

The reporter decided to hire a fixer and told him what to look out for. A month later of patrolling the market, the fixer called to say that he had found the market where stolen meters are sold.

The operation is very simple; the supplier gets the meters from different parts of the country, from agents, who are sometimes DISCO officials and brings them back to the market. He sells directly to dealers at N7,000. The dealers use chemical to clean it up, and then invite their DISCO official partners, to code it. The coding is N40,000. The coding is to enable the meter to function for the new owner and to also make it rechargeable.

The dealers, after cleaning and coding them, place the meters in cartons specially prepared for that purpose, waiting for buyers. They are then sold to desperate customers for between N80,000 and N95,000.

It is, however, a fast business and most time, people who want to buy directly from the supplier have to wait in line. Our fixer, working with our reporter, bought one of the stolen prepaid meters and paid for coding.

It, however, turned out to be a meter from outside Lagos State. According to the dealers, meters brought from outside Lagos, for a Lagos citizen, cannot be recharged. The fixer got another one and the DISCO official, who was supposed to code it for the dealer, didn’t come. He said that everyone was keeping a low profile because of a change in the contractor/supplier of prepaid meters for DISCOs in Lagos State. The fixer was asked to exercise patience, that his meter would be brought, coded and mounted. But that is another story.

The fixer said: “It’s a syndicate and they have DISCO officials as insiders working with them. The DISCO officials’ role is to code the meters for the dealers. The supplier said that he used to buy the meters as scrap and sell to the dealers at F-Line, Industrial Section of the Alaba International Market. The coding makes the meter to work at a new destination or district.

“A meter stolen from either Ikeja Electricity or Eko Electricity can be coded to work at both jurisdictions.

“I was made to understand that before the change of prepaid meters in Lagos and the coming of a new contractor in Lagos State, meters from out of Lagos State could be coded to work in Lagos. The supplier said that he has agents in different states, who supply him with prepaid meters. Whenever they have such meters, they put a call across to him to come. The dealers have a way of testing the meters to know if they would work before buying them from the supplier. The supplier also said that he has people that used to sell to him at Owode Market.”

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Deformed at birth, raped by pastor, abandoned by society

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Deformed at birth, raped by pastor, abandoned by society

…the moving story of Kemi Osaigbakhome

 

 

Born deformed, rejected at birth by her father, irritated by her community and frustrated by life. That is the moving story of Uhunoma Kemi Osaigbakhome. If she could determine her life right from her mother’s womb, she would definitely have opted for a better and decent life. Despite the fact that her crippled condition threw lemon at her, she still holds her head high and makes lemonade out of it, writes OLUWATOSIN OMONIYI

 

Life has been turbulence for 36-year-old Uhunoma Kemi Osaigbakhome right from birth. In fact, it has been hellish of a living for her. Born with physical deformity, rejected by her father, community and friends, she is still holding onto fate that life can only get better. The fathers of her three children did not help either. They, too, abandoned her to fate. Interestingly, she refuses to be deterred by the many challenges life keeps throwing at her. She is a good example of the motivational talk of making lemonade out of the lemon life is offering her.

Forced to leave her village, Otese, after Okada town in Edo State in December 2011, she came to Lagos in search of the proverbial greener pastures, hoping she would be accepted in the cosmopolitan state. But she in reality got more than she bargained for.

She slept in many public parks with her baby, she was beaten, accused of stealing the baby and had to bring out her breast as proof that she was the mother of the child. She was also rejected by most of the churches she went to for shelter and help, driven away from the vicinity of many houses she wanted to pass the night. She roamed Lagos streets until fate finally settled her in the Ikotun, Egbe area of Lagos where she stayed in a shanty for years before she moved into a decent apartment (one room apartment) last year. Raising three children without the support of their fathers was tasking for a woman who was never sure of where her next meal will come from and she insisted begging was not an option.

“I kept encouraging myself that it can only and will surely get better. I kept assuring myself that I will survive it; if I have managed to get this far in life, I will surely laugh last,” she assured herself.

Looking back at where she was coming from and where she is at the moment, she said she could beat her chest and say: “I came, saw and conquered.” Although she has not, there have been remarkable achievements in her life compared to what it was back in her village in 2011. A few years back, her life was synonymous with abject poverty and total rejection by the society she found herself, when she was lost, wallowed in confusion and unsure of what awaited her at different bus stops. More importantly, she is now related with, as a human being. Osaigbakhome, through thick and thin has empowered herself. She produces perfumed liquid soap in different sizes, disinfectants, and air freshener. She now has customers who patronise her and now use proceeds from her products to feed her children.

Osaigbakhome’s travails started from birth when she was born with physical deformity. Everyone, including the medical doctors, avoided her and her mother like plagues. The father asked the medical personnel present at her birth to kill her right from infant, but her mother refused. “My father rejected me immediately like a plague. He said there is no such being in his lineage, even in the village, no such child like this. He met with doctors to give me an injection that will kill me so that my mother will not bring me back home.  The doctors already accepted but they also needed my mother’s consent before the ‘euthanasia’ is carried out. Right there, my mother cried and refused to have me killed. She told the doctors and my father that even though I’m like this, she would take good care of me and named me Uhunoma, meaning person with good luck/aura.

“She named me so, because while carrying me in her womb, she had an accident but did not die. She believed she survived that accident because of me. My mother cried her eyes out,” she explained.

Osaigbakhome, the third of nine children, explained further that while her mother was crying profusely, a doctor (a foreigner) passed by, pitied her and promised to do something to separate her hands and legs that were glued to her chest, but only if they could raise money for the surgery.

“Immediately, my mother vowed to borrow money for the surgery, while my father and his family members turned their backs on me and my mother. The operation did little wonders, my legs and hands were in Plaster of Paris (POP) for a long time during my childhood. Even now, my two hands are not really functional. One is barely functioning while the other is totally condemned and my two legs as you can see are not functioning well, I stand on my toes,” she said.

Actually, Osaigbakhome cannot stand straight on her legs because her legs and toes are bent, making her to swerve left and right when she walks, while her left hand dangles, the right barely manages to hold an object. Yet, she radiates life. However, till she completed her primary school education, she wandered all round her village, helping out in one menial job or the other, also frying garri for people who in turn would sell – a job she said she would beg to do and get poorly paid for. But the good thing for her was that, she was able to feed herself, since her father would not allow family members relate with her or allow her near the house. While wandering about in the village, she met the father of her first child who promised her paradise on earth. “He promised to help me and consoled me with soothing words that he would take care of me, not minding   my condition. Unfortunately, that was the beginning of my suffering. As soon as I informed him I was pregnant, he disappeared. Since then till date, I have not set my eyes on him. I carried and nurtured the pregnancy alone till I gave birth to a boy. It was only my mother who supported me but her powers were also limited because of my eight other siblings. I sought help all round but no one came to my rescue.  But a strange voice was telling me to commit suicide, saying that there is peace in death after all. But the pastor of my church encouraged me to be steadfast in faith but he didn’t know the extent to which I was bearing the pains and the accompanying stigmatisation. Even the government of my state then, could not help, as government’s officials referred me to the Office of the Physically-Challenged where I took several letters of application but nothing also came out of it,” she added.

Osaigbakhome eventually took the bull by the horns by deciding to come to Lagos. According to her, she had divine direction to leave but there was no money to fulfil that prophecy. She said she approached a woman in the village and asked her to be giving her bags of sachet water so that she could hawk to be able to raise money. Three months after she hawked in the traffic within the town, she was able to raise N4,100 for her transportation fare.  Quietly, she said she dressed her four-year-old son and left the village for Lagos. When she arrived in Lagos, it was not as rosy as she thought. It was actually the proverbial ‘from frying pan to fire’. What she experienced was actually far from what she bargained for. “I didn’t know anywhere in Lagos or where I was going but the bus dropped me at Ojota Bus Stop where I spent a few days at different parks with my son. From there, to Oshodi and later went to Yaba,” she said.

While roaming the length and breadth of Lagos, she was accused on several occasions of child theft, threatened to be stoned and in some instances, she was thoroughly beaten. But she kept bailing herself out with her breast which she had used to feed the child. Her ability to breastfeed her child whenever she was accused of child theft saved her from being lynched. Besides, her being referred to as ‘Mummy’ by the child whenever she was accused of child theft convinced her accusers that she was truly the mother of the child. She recalled an occasion where she and her child spoke in their dialect and the child was able to answer questions asked by the mob, which convinced them of the true relationship between her and the child. Eventually at Yaba axis of Lagos, she met a man (a vulcanizer) who took pity on her and directed her to Oshodi where she would receive help.  “The man stopped a bus for me, threw me first inside the bus and threw my child at me inside and paid my fare, also dashed me N500. He instructed the driver to drop me at Oshodi. At Oshodi, there was nowhere in particular as well, I just roamed the whole market with my child till late evening when I wanted to squat in front of a shop but some touts came to chase me away from that spot. Again, from Oshodi Bus Stop, we trekked to Charity Bus Stop where we wanted to pass the night inside the flower bed, again some people chased us, and called me a thief.

“It took me a while to convince them that I am truly the mother of the child. I cried that if they have to kill me, they should go ahead but first, they must promise me to help look after my child and inform him of what happened to his mother when he grows old enough to know,” she said amidst sob.

It was at that point she said the crowd took pity on her and gave her a small space to spend the night till the following day when they would be taken to a place she would get help. In the morning, one of her accusers took her to the Synagogue Church and gave her money. But the security agents didn’t allow her to go near the church.

“They told me that Synagogue is not meant for someone of my type. I begged them, cried, used my child to blackmail their emotions but they did not bulge, rather, they mocked me and asked if it was TB Joshua who impregnated me. They chased me out and again, I started roaming the streets.” After three days of roaming the streets, a woman took pity on her, lodged her in a hotel, and took her inside the Synagogue Church. “Inside the church, the elders of the church called ‘Wise Men’ prevented me from meeting the man of God because I had no shoes on. I told them that my condition would not let me put on shoes except a flip-flop; they said it is forbidden for the Man of God to see a person without shoes. Again, they chased me out of the church,” she narrated. She continued looking for help until a Good Samaritan gave her N2,000 which she used to pay for her accommodation for 10 days, at the rate of N100 per day. She took N500 out of the remaining N1000 to start hawking sachet water, even at that, people were reluctant to patronise her. At times, she said the market touts would come to chase her out of the market, saying the market was not meant for people of her nature.  “Still, I refused to resort to begging, it is just not the best option for me as a person and I am not condemning those doing it, but I believe there are many honourable things out there for physically-challenged people to do than begging.” She found herself at a church on Aliu Bolorunpelu Street in Ikotun where she began to worship and help to keep the church clean, yet, she claimed the church told her that nothing could be done to help her, rather they gave her a letter to the SOS Charity Home in Isolo and with a stern warning that she should not disclose her identity, her state of origin and real name. She said the warning made her to add ‘Kemi’ to her name. But at the SOS Charity Home, she was questioned and even confronted with the fact that she was from Edo but she denied based on the warning of the church. The SOS official asked her if she knew the content of the letter, the church gave her, she said she didn’t.

“At that point, the man told me that the church asked them to take the child from me for proper care. I broke down in tears, felt betrayed because that was not what the church told me.

“They assured me that the SOS would give me accommodation and take care of me and my child,” she said.

She continued that the SOS officer told her to go back to the church to get two lawyers and four policemen to sign the letter before they could take the child from her because the contents of the letter negate what she was asking for.

“They told me that they cater for children they pick on the streets or gutters but since I was claiming that I was the mother of the child, then there must be legal backing to it. I was devastated that a church of God could be that deceptive to me. I left the SOS Charity Home with my child but never returned to that church again,” she said.

Meanwhile, while seeking help in one of the churches, a pastor promised to help her get Lagos State government’s support, which they normally give to physically-challenged persons which she felt would be far better. Unbeknownst to her, the pastor had an ulterior motive. She said he got her the financial help to the tune of N100,000 but refused to deliver the money to her “Instead, he took carnal advantage of me and only gave me N3,000 out of the money. He gave me money in instalments amounting to N8,000,” she said. Osaigbakhome, however, found another church, which accommodated her.

There, she was also sweeping and cleaning the church. Whenever it rained and there was flood in the church, she would ask her baby to climb her back while she would stand till the flood subsided. At the church, the members were really generous to her and her child. She was also allowed to benefit from the church’s economic empowerment programme.  Along the line in the church, luck smiled on her, she met a man identified simply as Sanya, who also promised her heaven on earth. “And truly, he was really good to me and my child, he took good care of us, gave us food and money. I was really happy for once in my life,” she said. Before long, Osaigbakhome was pregnant and Sanya took her to his family.

“Immediately, they saw me, they drove me out calling me a ‘cripple.’ They told my husband that if he could not talk to a woman, he should indicate so that they would help him do so, but the least they expected of him was to bring home a cripple,” she said. 

But the man stood by her, turned his back on his family and even lived with her in a rusty shanty. She described it as pure love at work then. When she was delivered of her baby, she said her church members went to her in-law’s family house at 14, Afinaka Street, to plead for her. “My in-law threatened that if my husband made the mistake of bringing me to the family house, they would sell it and share the money among themselves.

They just couldn’t stand my nature,” she said. Gradually, her in-law’s rejection took a toll on her husband and he too stayed away. “Again, I became devastated because I thought I saw a brother and father in my husband.” She became more frustrated when her first son, Great, ran away. For days, she looked for him. When Great was found, she said the boy lied that she (mother) wanted to pour hot water on him and had to run away. But when New Telegraph spoke to 12-year-old Great, he said that the suffering was too much and he couldn’t bear to see his mum in constant pains, so he thought if he ran away, luck might smile on him and then, he would come back to take good care of her.

“But I have now promised not to leave her side again, together, we will take care of my siblings,” he said. Perhaps her rejection, coupled with the harassment from her landlady made Osaigbakhome to discover herself. She probably challenged God that she could actually be useful to herself and her environment. With the little money she got from people, she started the liquid soap making business and enjoyed a large patronage, and some customers even forgo their balance as a way of encouraging her. She then decided to rent a room. It was a hellish experience. Her church refused to help on the excuse that the Nigerian economy was not friendly. 

“They told me to be asking individuals for help inside the church but I refused, instead, I went out to my customers, asking them for loan and I promised to pay back by supplying them my products to cover the loans they gave me.” According to her, no landlord or landlady agreed to give her accommodation on the excuse that she is physically-challenged.  The one that agreed insisted on, “two years rent just to discourage me, but my God rose to the challenge, I was able to pay N260,000 for two years with legal and agent agreement   fees. It is the next rent that I am hoping God would provide for me,” she said. From there, she was able to rent a room. Seeing that life had smiled on Osaigbakhome, her husband returned and impregnated her. However, when the pregnancy was in its second month, the man fled and left no contact. “There was no means of reaching him and his people were also not responsive,” she added. Even at that, Osaigbakhome doesn’t know if getting a decent apartment was a blessing or a curse as she is no longer able to display her products for people to see and buy with ease. She said her landlady had barred her from displaying her products in front of the house.

MOTHER

Meanwhile, Osaigbakhome’s mother, Lucy, told New Telegraph that she believed her 36-year-old daughter got deformed because of the accident she had while she was pregnant. She said: “I almost died as a result of the accident but it was God that miraculously delivered and kept me alive with the baby. She was deformed right from birth. I felt so bad and terrible when I saw her condition. I cried for weeks over her but I was consoled by the doctors, nurses and family members to accept her condition as it was not of my make but God who brought her to me understands why she is that way.”

At the General Hospital on Sapele Road, Benin City, where she was delivered of Uhunoma, she said the medical personnel told her that the condition was not as a result of her accident but natural causes and that there was nothing anyone could do about it.   “My husband, (her father) completely rejected the baby and abandoned us to our fate.

I was left alone to cater for her with help from my family members. We are farmers and petty traders and live on whatever we are able to gather from our farm and trading,” she said. But as she grows up, Mrs. Osaigbakhome’s explained that Uhunoma noticed the difference between herself and other children of her age and people around her and this made her to keep to herself. She said her daughter kept questioning her about her condition (deformity).

“I did my best to explain things to her and the circumstances surrounding her birth,” the mother said.  With time, she said her daughter accepted her condition and tried to make the best out of her life but years later, she ran away from home and didn’t know where she was until some years ago, according to her.  Mrs. Osaigbakhome expressed gratitude that she has, however, reunited with her daughter and restored their relationship and they are now in good talking terms. According to her mother, it is unfortunately for her, that the men, who impregnated her, disappeared into thin air and left her alone in the world to look after her children and herself. She therefore appealed to Nigerians and government to assist her daughter.

“I am appealing to the government and public-spirited persons to come to her aid in order for her to be able to look after her children and herself. She is interested in trading but need money to start off. I will be happy if anyone could kindly help to fund her business and help put smiles on her face and her children, including me,” she pleaded.

IN-LAW

New Telegraph spoke with Mr. Adeyemi Adegbaye, who said he was Sanya’s uncle.

He said: “I relate well with her, called to congratulate her when she delivered her last baby.”

Adegbaye added that he did not know Sanya’s whereabouts since he left Osaigbakhome, promising that he would call a family meeting to discuss how she (Osaigbakhome) could be assisted.

“I am going to call for meeting with Sanya’s mother and other members of the family to see what could be done about Osaigbakhome’s situation,” he promised.

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Kambari: Left by modernism, held by mores

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Kambari: Left by modernism, held by mores

In this report, DANIEL ATORI writes about some of the hard-to-reach communities in Niger North Senatorial District, where women are forbidden to eat eggs

 

 

Eggs, according to nutritionists, are a useful source of Vitamin D which helps to protect bones, prevent osteoporosis and rickets. What sets the Kambari people apart from many other parts of the North is that the people are pagans. They worship a god called Magiro, while belief in curses, witchcraft and magic is rife among the people.

The locals explained that in the past, missionaries from all walks of life had made spirited efforts to change their belief, were not successful. They maintained that it is a religion handed over to them by their forebears and have guarded it jealously ever since. However, due to the non-existent of health care facilities, they have witchdoctors who handle all the health-related issues while they also communicate with ancestral spirits for blessings, good harvests and other aspects of daily life. Even, their pregnant wives are delivered of babies through traditional method.

They claimed, they have never been to hospital all their lives, according to one of them, Bagudu Mamman. He said: “I don’t know how to take drugs. Even my two wives and my children are all strong and healthy.” But in the midst of all these, something one cannot remove from the people of this area is their kindness. They find joy in helping one another and live in peace. In their world, there is no rancour.

The residents told our correspondent that they have no need for education, primary health care, access to good roads and other social amenities. They prefer to use herbs in treating all their health issues. The only time they mix with outsiders is when they are in the market to sell their farm produce.

Nutritionists disclose that eggs are rich in several nutrients that promote heart health such as betaine and choline. A recent study of nearly half a million people in China suggests that eating one egg a day may reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke. When our correspondent visited some villages in one of Nigeria’s remotest communities, where there is one of the oldest and preserved tribes in the world,the Kambari, he was surprised at the revelations he got about the sacredness of eggs to women.

With the deplorable state of all federal roads in Niger State and the fear of falling into the hands of bandits who are believed to be terrorising the hinterlands in parts of the state, it took our correspondent over 10 hours to travel from Minna, the state capital, to get to Magama. He proceeded to Rijau the next day. However, getting to Rijau and Magama local government areas which are predominantly occupied by the Kambari, was nearly a mirage.

It was not clear whether people actually live in these areas with various rocky and mountaineering views stretched from left to right. When our correspondent met with leaders of some of the communities, he was marvelled at the revelations he got as the people confirmed that, any female who eats egg will be excommunicated and banished from their homes.

Investigations have it that social gatherings like weddings and market days draw huge crowds and they also have many traditional festivals. Stealing, according to findings, is highly prohibited, but drunkenness and storytelling are inclusively part of them. On getting to the house of the village head, New Telegraph was informed that they just lost an il-lustrious son and everyone, particularly women and strangers, were prohibited to move around the area until after seven pigs, seven dogs, seven sheep and a cow were killed to appease and pacify the deity.

At this stage fear gripped our correspondent who was however assured of his safety by his guide. When it was 6p.m., the town-crier announced to various communities informing them of the successful slaughtering of the animals and for the kick-off of burial rites (party) which, according to them, starts at 8p.m.

At this stage, women and youths were seen coming out in colourful costumes, especially with ornamental beads and earrings. One of the eldest women accompanied by three ladies far younger than her came forward, greeted the head of village and sat down. Immediately, the village head, Tanimu Wakaso, offered a keg of drink and said “in our tradition, we don’t forbid anything. Only women are forbidden to eat eggs.”

Curiously, our correspondent asked why and what are the adverse effects. “It has been a tradition passed down from our forefathers. But I was told that, in those days, when women ate eggs, they fart about thereby disrespecting the men folks. And another version says eggs can only be eaten by women who have stopped having their menstruation. “I have witnessed the banishment of women who ate eggs. My first wife violated the laid down rules from our forefathers and she was driven away. I don’t know where she is because, it’s over 20 years now that I saw her,” he responded. One of the elderly women, Aisha Maikanti, said not eating egg was not a problem for the elderly but for the younger ones.

“Those of us who no longer have our monthly circle are free to eat,” she added. When asked if she had eaten egg, Aisha said; “Since I was born and till date I have not tasted egg. I am old enough to eat now because I’m due but because we don’t want any form of violation I decided not to eat it. And I am sure none of these women, including my mates, has eaten eggs even though we are of age.”

Head of one of the villages, Bawa Daudu, further hinted that animals such as dogs, pigs and cattle were slaughtered when a prominent and elderly person dies. “My father was our ruler. These animals were slaughtered to perform the ritual rights. And when I pass on, the same thing will be done for me and that is how the tradition is sustained.

“We are not Muslims or Christians, we worship our own deities that have been protecting and sustaining us. Even when our sons in the cities and other places come back home, we remind them of our culture and while they are around, and they violate any of the laws they are made to make certain sacrifices,” he said.

When our correspondent went to these communities, it was learnt that most Kambari people have negative attitudes to modern ways. The elite class among them feel that the traditional authorities have not approached this well and the authorities blame the elite for failing to cooperate with them.

Even though government has tried by gifts and laws to get the Kambari to conform to the national culture, it has always been misunderstood and suspected because the authorities did not take the Kambari culture and world view into account. According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), there are over 2,000 hard-to-reach communities in Niger State that lack basic facilities and social amenities.

These communities are completely cut off from the society and can be said to be ‘living in the dark ages’. But this is the home of the Kambari people of Niger State, a tribe forgotten by infrastructural development where donkeys provide the only means of transport for a largely agrarian and nomadic people. To the outside world, these are a forgotten people but to the CONTINUED FROM PAGE 28 unclad people inhabiting Birni Amina, their reclusive nature gives them peace and happiness.

The community holds tenaciously to its culture and tradition to an extent that the people insist that nothing would change their way of life. The straw roof and round mud houses in which the people currently live have been their homes for decades, since they started living in the area.

While the rest of the country broils in the heat that sometimes characterises the desert region of the northern states, their homes provide a cool interior that is unrivalled. For visitors who are not accustomed to the way of life of the Kambari people, the sight of young girls and women and men alike, walking around half naked would be quite awkward; not for people of these remote communities. When our correspondent visited Birnin Amina, what makes these people so different became immediately obvious. What constitutes societal mores and laws are different in these communities.

Investigations have it that, it is entirely normal for a 60-year-old man to marry an 18-year-old girl. But that is not the strangest. In these communities, cousins marry one another while they never marry outsiders due to the fact that many of their neighbours don’t even understand their culture. In Birnin Amina and Acer communities, rape cases are rare because rape is “punished by the gods” with death.

“It is unacceptable and unforgivable and our people are conscious of this,” the Mai Angwan of one of the communities, Gandi Kamuna, said. According to Mai Angwan, men and women mix freely unclad because their nudity does not elicit any sexual emotion.

“Moving around naked or halfnaked is our culture and we don’t care what people say about us. We are comfortable that way because we find it normal. “What attracts men is not nudity. Our men are attracted by how women plait their hair, good manners and the tattoos the young ladies have,” he said.

When the Kambari people go to the market to sell their farm produce, the women cover the bottom half of their bodies with wrappers while the men do the same. In Kambari and Acer, marriage is celebrated by slaughtering goats and cows for food while the parents of the bride cook food for the groom.

Once the food is eaten, the marriage is contracted. The Mai Angwan, a 70-yearold man, said since the Kambari people know nothing about what others may term civilised, fashion and beautiful clothes hold no appeal for them. He said: “Western civilisation is another man’s culture.

Why must we embrace it, leaving our own that was handed over to us by our forefathers?” The people of Kofar Kifi in Genu ward, Rijau Local Government Area, feel abandoned and forgotten. One of them, Bawa Daudu, said “we are not even sure if we have a government, if the government was there, they would have addressed our problems”.

Daudu said he lost four children due to lack of a health facility in the community. “If there was a health centre, my children would have got treatment but I could not take them to Aringida where the nearest primary healthcare centre is, which is about 40 minutes on motorcycle. I could not save my children, if government had provided us with these health centres, my children would still be with me. I feel pained about their death.” Alhaji Umaru Sule, an elder in the community, said “some people are not aware that this community exists because of its long distance from the nearest town called Awuru”.

Sule said that the villagers drink from a stream but during the dry season, they have to dig the stream to get water. “We have no hospital, no school, no light, no drinking water, no borehole or well. We all drink from the stream and during dry season, we dig to find water when the water dries up,” he added. Sule (43), who is diabetic, is the leader of the community, which has over 1,000 people. He said the people only had access to drugs and medical services when the UNICEF Outreach Team visited.

“Our children usually come down with ailments like malaria, hepatitis, measles and chicken pox but we only get medical aid when these people come here. It is not everybody that can afford to walk 15 kilometres to Awuru to access the health centre there,” the leader added. It was learnt that the majority of the people of these communities could not speak, read or write either Hausa, a language widely spoken in northern Nigeria, or speak rudimentary English. Their language and means of communication is Kambari.

Our correspondent could only speak with the locals through an interpreter (a guide), which is necessary for one to conduct any form of business in the communities that require contact with the residents. In Rijau Local Government Area, Birnin Amina and Acer produce 70 per cent of the crops consumed by the entire people.

The most popular crops produced are corn, millet, peanuts, beans, and rice. Nearly all of the locals keep chickens and goats for meat while the richer ones have cattle. A resident of Rijau Local Government Area, Sulaiman Mohammed Kadukku, said there is no evidence of government presence in Birnin Amina and Acer at all. But the people are not worried.According to him, since the inception of Niger State, government has shown no interest in the communities, and has never treated them as citizens of the state.

He said: “We, in these two communities of the Kambari tribe, have lived here for over 50 years without knowing whether government exists or not and honestly, we are not perturbed because we have all it takes to care for ourselves. “Government only remembers us during political campaigns to seek votes and once the election is over, they abandon us until the next rounds of election.” Kadukku also said that the Kambari people are the food producers of the local government and that without them, the people of the surrounding areas would die of hunger. According to him, that is why they remain in the bush for the benefit of farming and maintaining their culture and tradition as they got it from their forefathers.

Kadukku said efforts of some religious groups to convince them to change their way of life proved abortive as they cannot compromise their belief. He said: “We cannot read and write and are not ready to be modernised. We don’t care about what government and other people will do for us. Our tradition, to us, is the best thing that ever happened to us and we cannot avoid or deviate from it, no matter what.” When asked whether they are conscious of their nakedness, he said it is part of their tradition. “It was part of the things handed over to us by our forebears and would not likely change easily. “Missionaries and other organisations have been trying their best to reform us but could not succeed.

We still stick to our belief,” he said proudly. Apart from Birnin Amina and Acer communities, there are other places in Rijau that practise paganism like Aulo, Gulubaidu, Dugge, Agwanda, Buni and Arigida. Many nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) that have tried to make contact with them and change their beliefs have met with the same disappointments.

The Kambari are aware that the way of life outside their communities is much different but they seem to be comfortable in retaining their ancient way of life. Our correspondent learnt that another tradition that they value and cherish is the festival of their gods, which is celebrated once in a year. Sacrifices are offered to the gods to celebrate the bumper harvest of their crops. Findings have it that early marriage is a common tradition for the Kambari as parents believe that marrying off their children at a young age is the best gift they could give them.

In Birnin Amina and Acer, young men who have saved up through their harvests use the money to get married. Almost every parent regularly has one or two early marriage proposals for their female children whose ages range from six to 17 years. Kambari men traditionally marry up to four wives and always ensure that their wives are well taken care of equally. The Mai Angwa (Kamuna), who is also known as Babangida among the locals, confirmed that government has made no attempt to provide any infrastructure in his community in the last 60 years.

He said: “We don’t need the government to live a wonderful life here. After all, we have been managing ourselves well for over 60 years. Currently, we are about 500 men and women along with about 150 children. “We don’t actually need the government because we have all it takes to take care of ourselves and that is why we don’t bother them for anything unlike people living in the city. “We are on our own. We believe strongly in our customs and tradition and we don’t need any religion or government to come here and change us. Since the god of our land, Migaro, is protecting us and taking care of all us, we lack nothing.

“The borehole water we drink today is our personal effort. We even have a generator to charge our mobile phones. We have a rice mill and one of our people even has about 300 cows. So, you see, we lack nothing.” Kamuna explained that his people dress half-naked as part of their culture and that nobody has a right to force them to change, since Christians and Muslims cannot be forced to change their religions. “Some groups have tried to convert my people by bringing gifts. Which of course was a ploy to encourage the Kambari people to conform to how the rest of the country lives; but such overtures have created a suspicion among the people because they never tried to understand the Kambari culture. “Most parents are against sending their children to school, feeling that it is a waste of time when the children could be doing farm work,” he said.

Kamuna described the Kambari people as very friendly to strangers in their midst. The only thing they do not take kindly to from strangers is when such people deride their culture. He said: “Social gatherings like weddings and markets draw huge crowds while social vices like drunkenness, sexual immorality and stealing are very rare in our communities. In fact, these things are taboos.”

A former Chairman of Rijau Local Government Area, Bello Bako, said there is nothing anyone can do to stop the way of life of the Kambari people. He said: “It is their way of life and they must be accommodated. So many missionaries have tried their best to convert them to embrace Christianity, but they refused to be converted. They are holding their customs and traditions firmly and are surviving with it.

“They are rich farmers and the communities are very peaceful. Even though they don’t depend on government for anything, they obey the law of the land.” Asked whether he was aware that the people of Acer provided borehole water for themselves without government assistance, Bako said, “I am aware that they contributed money for the borehole water and that’s why I said they live in a world of their own, helping each other.” The Niger State Executive Secretary, Culture and Tourism, Mr. Emmanuel Sunturi, said the culture of the Kambari people must be respected, provided they do not go against the law. He said: “I really wish most tribes and communities can preserve their cultures like the Kambari. There is nothing bad about people adhering to their culture and tradition, provided it does not breach the peace of the state.”

Sunturi advised people to learn how to live with their culture and tradition and do what is expected of them without fear, for peace to reign. He added that but for the insecurity challenges in parts of the state, “government intend to organise a cultural display where various tribes, including the Kambari, would participate and exhibit their rich culture.

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Budget: Doing little to lift education (2)

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Budget: Doing little to lift education (2)

In this concluding part on poor budgetary allocation to education by KAYODE OLANREWAJU, experts suggest ways to revamp the sector and make Nigeria take a pride of place in the comity of nations 

 

 

Education sector suffered a similar fate in Imo State in the budget estimate of N276,818,017,812 for the 2019 fiscal year by the administration of the then Governor Rochas Okorocha, which failed to specify a particular estimate of the budget as allocation to the sector.

In the financial estimate tagged: “Budget of Consolidation and Economic Stability,” the capital estimate has N214,641,699,585, representing 77.54 per cent and N62,176,372,227 for recurrent expenditure, which represented 22.46 per cent of the total budget.

For the 2019 Appropriation Bill, Delta State government, as approved by the state House of Assembly, posted N390.3 billion for the fiscal year.

The budget which, like its Imo State counterpart, failed to specify particular allocation for the education sector, indicated that the budget was for the various Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs).

But of the total budget, the state allocated N209 billion for capital expenditure and N157 billion for recurrent expenditure.

Unlike its many contemporaries, Jigawa State in its 2019 Appropriation Bill, tagged: “Budget for Sustained Economic Growth and Social Transformation,” set aside N36.9 billion, representing over 26 per cent of the budget for the education sector with N15.8 billion for recurrent and capital expenditure.

In the total budget outlay of N157.5 billion, which according to Governor Muhammad Badaru, was about 14 per cent more than the amount appropriated in 2018, the sum of N8.0 billion was allotted for agricultural sector; N22.8 billion almost one third of total capital expenditure was earmarked for road transport development.

Meanwhile, the health sector‎ also takes 13 per cent of the total budget with N10.6 billion for recurrent and N9.4 billion for capital investments.

In the 2019 budget estimate of N230,989,412,735 as appropriated by Adamawa State, the state was silent about the allocation to the education sector.

The then Governor Bindo Jibrilla, in the budget analysis, noted that the Appropriation Bill, christened: “Budget of Next Level,” has a capital expenditure of 127,494,176,800, representing 55 per cent, and a recurrent expenditure of N103,495,235,575, representing 45 per cent of the total budget estimate.

Similarly, the 2019 budget outlay, which stood at over N91 billion, Yobe State earmarked N49,968,967,000 or 54.5 per cent to cater for recurrent expenditure, while N41,678,630,600 (45.5 per cent) covered capital expenditure.

“In this budget, we intend to consolidate on the gains recorded so far by completing all the major legacy projects being executed by our administration before handing over to the in-coming administration in the state,” then Governor Ibrahim Gaidam said.

Tagged: “Budget of Consolidation,” the state under social sector with N36,807,418,50; has a recurrent expenditure of N22,062,349,500; and capital expenditure of N14,745,069,000.

Under this sector, which education falls, the sector (education) got a total budget size of N22,497,645,000.

According to the state government, the sector will continue to play its vital role for the attainment of skilful manpower needs of the state.

“This allocation is devoted to cover expenditure of the state Ministry of Education, State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB); Teaching Service Commission, and Science and Technical Schools Boards, the state university, all other tertiary institutions as well as other departments and agencies under this sector. We will continue to take steps to revitalise education for the future progress and development of the state,” the budget stated.

In Gombe State, with a total budget outlay of N122.49 billion for 2019 fiscal year, education received N32,630,000 compared to N30,700,000 the sector got in 2018.

Of the 2019 budget size of N157.449 billion signed by Kaduna State Governor, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai into law for the fiscal year, education had a capital budget of N25.4 billion.

Tagged: “The Budget of Jobs, Social Justice, and Prosperity,” the financial estimate accorded priority attention to allocation to capital projects, especially in the areas of Education, Health, Infrastructure (water, roads and transport), Agriculture and Rural Development, the sectors with the biggest capital allocations.

In the meantime, the Bauchi State government budgeted N196.72 billion for 2019 fiscal year, tagged by then Governor Mohammed Abubakar as “Budget of Continuity.”

In the budget, N79.19 billion, representing 40 per cent, was for recurrent expenditure, while N117.52 billion, representing 60 per cent, was for capital expenditure.

In the 2019 budget Health, Education, Agriculture, Water Supply, Youth and Women Empowerment and Infrastructure Development sectors were given priorities.

And, of the total budget, the education sector had the highest allocation of N41,472,337,266, representing 21.8 per cent of the total budget.

For Kebbi State, Governor Atiku Bagudu signed N151 billion as state budget for the 2019 fiscal year.

The governor said the budget would consolidate the gains achieved in 2018, even as the state set aside N104 billion, representing 70 per cent, as capital expenditure, and N47 billion, representing 30 percent, for recurrent expenditure.

However, the governor failed to provide sectoral breakdown of the budget, but said that priority would be accorded internal revenue generation, education, industrial development, agriculture, health and provision of infrastructure.

In the same vein, Katsina State government, for 2019 fiscal year, posted N202.4 billion Appropriation Bill.

In the budget, N57.6 billion, representing 28.48 per cent, was set aside for recurrent expenditure, and N144.7 billion, representing 71.52 per cent, as capital expenditure.

Tagged: “Budget of Stabilisation,” the highlights of the budget estimate indicated that government has continued to give priority attention to sectors such as education, health, agriculture and infrastructural development.

In the breakdown of the budget by Governor Bello Masari, regional development was allocated N57,212,724,805 (39 per cent), followed by the social sector with N41,754,810,840 or 28 per cent and economic sector with N34,353,449,640 (23 per cent).

“The Restoration Plan of the Governor Masari’s administration, which comprises programmes, projects and policies to be implemented under education, health, water resources, agriculture, environment, works, housing and transport sectors of the state government, which have been allocated N108,046,934,855, representing 73 per cent of the 2019 budget,” the governor said.

On its own, Nasarawa State House of Assembly passed the 2019 Appropriation Bill of N90.17 billion for the state.

Of the financial estimates tagged: “Budget of Transition,” N51.1 billion, representing 57 per cent, was set aside for recurrent expenditure, while no specific allocation was made for the education sector in the Appropriation Bill.

Appraising the budgetary trend to the sector, the National President of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Prof. Biodun Ogunyemi, described the challenge of budgetary allocation by Federal Government, as worrisome, saying the state governments neither fared better in their commitment to address the nation’s education needs.

Ogunyemi, who pointed out that there had been steady increase in the number of schools, colleges, polytechnics and universities; with increased number of attendees/students and products, however, lamented that despite the level of expansion, educational provisions had not been matched with the expected level of input and support to make the desired impact.

He blamed the yawning gap between quality and quantity on lack of political will or the adoption of a wrong paradigm for development by the ruling class, as well as for failing to synchronise provision of education with the developmental aspirations of the country, like it is done in developed climes.

He said: “The country lost its compass the moment Nigerian rulers began to pay lip service to education funding.”

The ASUU president recalled that the union started sounding the alarm bell way back in the late 1970s, when budgetary allocation by the Federal and State Governments began to dwindle.

In all its negotiations with the Federal Government since 1982, ASUU, Ogunyemi noted, had consistently drawn government’s attention to the criminal neglect of public education.

According to him, rather than heeding the union’s warning and embracing ASUU’s suggested path to revamping the sector, government has continued to rely on the anti-people policies of commercialisation and privatisation sold to them by the Briton Wood institutions –IMF and World Bank.

He added that these policies had ironically continued to take access to qualitative education beyond the reach of poor Nigerians.

ASUU, according to him, which also bemoaned state governments’ attitude to address education needs, when it comes to the deliverables of quality education, wondered that over 17 states of the federation had refused to access UBEC funds running to over N16.2 billion allocated to them in 2017, by failing to provide the conditional matching grants, which would have enhanced the basic education sub-sector.

“This is very disheartening because it is happening at a time Nigerian public primary and secondary schools are in dire need of benches, tables, roofs, windows, doors, school walls, and other basic ingredients of quality education,” Ogunyemi noted.

The union leader also recalled that the Minister of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu, once raised the hope of declaring a state of emergency on education during a Ministerial Retreat in November 2017, which would have taken effect in April, last year, “but to our disappointment nothing serious is happening in the sector”.

On their part, the university senior workers, under their umbrella union, the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU), expressed dissatisfaction with education sector budget allocation, saying 2019 was a great disappointment following the proposed N462.24 billion, representing 5.71 per cent of the total national budget to the sector, which stakeholders condemned as it is lower than seven per cent allocated to the sector last year.

The National President of SSANU, Sam Egwuoke, who regretted that the nation’s education had nosedived dangerously, with the primary school system worst hit, said provision of funds for capital projects should be reinvigorated by government.

SSANU, which recently suspended a five-day warning strike and threatened to embark on indefinite nationwide strike, said the NEEDS Assessment projects should also be revisited, while the minister should speed the renegotiate of the 2009 agreement with university workers’ unions.

Reacting to education sector allocation, the association’s Public Relations Officer, Mr. Abdulsobur Abdulsalam, expressed dismay that government had continued to demonstrate a clear lack of direction and insincerity to move the sector forward.

To him, the budgetary allocation for education over the years has shown no clear political will and seriousness on the part of the government at all levels to cause any meaningful change in the system.

“As far as the union is concerned, things only got worse in 2018, and the hope is slim in this current year,” Abdulsalam noted.

A University of Ibadan (UI) lecturer, Prof. Demola Dasylva, said the time had come for the Federal Government to redeem its image and find a lasting solution to the issue of inadequate funding of the nation’s tertiary education, the university in particular.

While insisting that Nigeria could not build something on nothing, he noted that government should be seen to be responsible and responsive, and should stop playing politics with Nigeria’s university education, as well as get serious with the university system.

To the National Coordinator, Education Rights Campaign (ERC), Mr. Taiwo Hassan Soweto, who expressed dissatisfaction over the sliding fortune of the education sector, pointed out that the budgetary provision to education had in the last few years nose-dived precariously.

Soweto noted that the first term of President Muhammadu Buhari and the All Progressives Congress (APC) had been a huge disappointment, especially in the area of public education funding.

Due to the poor budgeting to the sector, he said that the salary and welfare of academic and non-academic workers had continued to be poor, thus leading to brain drain in the sector.

He said: “At the moment, we have an acute shortage of teaching staff, laboratory technologists, among other necessary facilities and equipment in the tertiary sub-sector. Similar situation is confronting the students in the last four years. Fees were regularly hiked with hundreds and in some extreme cases thousands of students from working class and poor background are being forced to drop-out.”

Soweto further argued that despite protests that rocked many tertiary institutions in last four years over issues of school fees hike, the President Buhari administration had never thought it wise to increase budgetary allocation to education.

The previous argument, he pointed out, was that the country was in recession, but despite the fact that Nigeria had since come out of the recession, the situation of underfunding had persisted.

In view of this, Soweto regretted that the quality of teaching and research remained low and the conditions of living of students and learning facilities in the public universities, polytechnics and colleges of education were alarming.

According to him, except TETFund-enabled projects, no real improvement has come the way of teaching and learning infrastructure in the tertiary institutions in the last four years.

On the way forward, he sought better funding of public education and democratic management of schools, saying there was no doubt that Nigeria had the resources to provide free and quality public education at all levels.

In his views, the Executive Secretary of National Board for Technical Education (NBTE), Dr. Masa’udu Kazaure, also lamented inadequate funding of the sector, saying some activities in the polytechnic sector had to be stopped as a result of poor funding.

For instance, he said the Board had to stop the Quality Assurance exercise in some polytechnics because they were unable to pay salary of their workers.

“We have to stop because some polytechnics cannot fund the exercise, because how could a polytechnic that cannot pay salary fund quality assurance exercise. It is very bad,” Kazaure recalled.

Since the government alone could not fund education substantially, he said private sector participation and involvement in the sector should be encouraged, as it is presently the situation.

“Generally, there are other funding sources such as TETFund, UBEC, World Bank, International Development partners, and when these are combined with the Federal Government allocation to the sector, it will be far above the 26 per cent we are talking about,” he added.

The Dean of School of Transport, Lagos State University (LASU), Prof. Samuel Odewumi,

who bemoaned the state of education funding in the country, wondered that education was not listed in President Buhari administration’s topmost agenda.

According to him, education in the last four years has been on life support system, as it is merely on autopilot gliding without any noticeable thrust.

He described TETFund and UBEC as the main engines of infrastructural development in the sector. The agency, according to him, has been the saving grace for tertiary institutions in terms of physical infrastructure and human capacity enhancement, and as the sole fund source for training, conference and research.

According to the Federal Ministry of Education, funding of education in the country is below UNESCO recommended benchmark at all levels.

While UNESCO’s benchmark for funding of education is 26 per cent of the national budget and six per cent of the gross domestic products (GDP), Nigeria has been allocating less 10 per cent of the national budget to education funding.

The Permanent Secretary in the ministry, Mr. Sunny Echono, at the opening ceremony of the 78th plenary meeting of the Joint Consultative Committee on Education, held at the Justice Idris Legbo Kutigi International Conference Centre, Minna, Niger State, recalled that in the 2017 Appropriation Bill, N448.01 billion, representing 6.0 per cent of the N7.30 trillion budget, was allocated to education.

The theme of the conference was “Funding of Education for the Achievement of Education, 2030 Agenda.”

He said: “This situation is not so different in the states where in 2017, 33 states of the federation allocated 7.3 per cent of their combined total budget estimates to education compared to 2016, when N653.53 billion (10.70 per cent) of N6.1 trillion was allocated to the sector.

“With the current population of about 171 million, 45 per cent of which are below 15 years, there is huge demand for learning opportunities translating into increased enrolment which has created challenges in ensuring quality education since resources are spread more thinly.”

Echono, however, noted that the burden of education had become overwhelming, thereby resulting in more than 100 pupils to one teacher as against the UNESCO benchmark of 35 students per teacher culminating in students learning under trees for lack of classrooms.

The Executive Director, African Centre for Leadership, Strategy & Development (Centre LSD), Dr. Otive Igbuzor had in one of his articles, entitled: “Nigeria Budget 2017: What Are The Issues?” traced Federal Government’s budget to education in the last few years.

He said the allocation to education in the 2017 budget was N540 billion, an increase from N369 billion in 2016; N492 billion in 2015; N493 billion in 2014; N426.53 in 2013 and N400.1 billion in 2012.

Igbuzor, therefore, hinted that the budgetary process could be improved by addressing the process, content and implementation issues in the system.

He, however, wondered why a government that remembers to budget for cups, spoons and plates annually could not allocate seven per cent to education in 2018 budget and expect things to turn around.

 

 

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Budget: Doing little to lift education (1)

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Budget: Doing little to lift education  (1)

Poor budgetary allocations to education by Federal and state governments, over the years, has constituted a major handicap, slowing down the development of the sector. KAYODE OLANREWAJU examines the sectoral budget profile

 

Budgetary allocations to the nation’s education sector in the last few decades has been a story of woes and failed expectations.

This is as the sector has never had its fair share in the yearly fiscal allocations, following the lip service being paid to the critical sector by successive administrations at all levels of governance, resulting in under-performance of the critical sector.

In 1999, when the country transited to democratic rule, the general belief and expectations were that education sector, which had suffered colossal loss due to age-long neglect, would receive sufficient and adequate attention from government to address the palpable rot in the system.

But, 20 years after, Nigeria’s education has continued to wobble as it has failed to meet the expectations of Nigerians, largely due to paucity of funds at all strata of its development towards providing essential facilities that would address the teaching-learning needs of the students.

Poor budgetary allocations to the sector by the Federal and state governments have remained the clog, stagnating the development of the education sector in terms of quality and quantity that supposed to be the driver of national transformation and economic emancipation.

Given the acute underfunding by government, less than 15 per cent of the nation’s fiscal budget has been voted for the sector in the last 20 years.

It is the same story of woe, failure and disappointment from primary school level to higher institution level, which have continually been hamstrung with myriad of challenges.

Apart from inadequate funding allocation, other challenges encumbering the development of education, according to stakeholders, range from policy summersault; low teachers’ morale; incessant strikes, especially by various workers’ unions in higher institutions; high tuition fees; the brain drain syndrome; poor facilities, inadequate qualified teachers to shortage of classroom facilities; ineffective curriculum; and mass failure in the school system, especially in the Senior School Certificate Examination (SSCE) conducted by the West African Examinations Council (WAEC) and the National Examination Council (NECO).

Thus, part of the indices of poor budgetary allocation to the sector, which the government must address with dispatch, include the rising figure of out-of-school children, which report says Nigeria has over 13.2 million children; low school enrolment; limited admission spaces in the university system, which could only provide admission for less than 500,000 candidates out of over 1.8 million candidates who sit for the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME) yearly.   

In fact, the nation’s 174 universities, 120 polytechnics and 82 colleges of education (federal, state and private) are grossly insufficient to meet the educational needs of the over 180 million Nigerians population.

Apart from being inadequate, most of the institutions, especially the government-owned, are facing acute underfunding, lack of expansion and poor infrastructure to either deliver their mandates or provide access for the teeming youths.

Worried by this development, key stakeholders in the education project regretted that government’s continued evasiveness at all levels to initiate deliberate policies that would appropriate necessary funds to the sector over the years, would remain a major impediment to the growth of the sector expected to serve as a barometer for socio-economic, industrial growth and technological development of the nation.

To them, if government fails to review this, the quest for the provision of qualitative education will continue to elude the country, thereby slows down its development.

Worried by the challenges of the sector, university workers, under the aegis of the Non-Academic Staff Union of Universities and Educational Institutions (NASU) and the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU) recently embarked on a five-day warning strike, with the threat to call their members out for an indefinite nationwide job boycott if the Federal Government failed to address the unions’ demands.

The fresh face-off with the Federal Government, the unions noted, was due to lack of firm commitment on the part of government to resolve all contending issues with the university workers’ unions, which is mainly hinged on non-implementation of agreements reached with the unions in 2009, among others contending agreements. This came after the expiration of the 14-day ultimatum earlier given to the Federal Government to address their demands.

However, despite about N5 trillion said to have been spent between 1999 and 2018 to improve the sector through reconstruction of dilapidated school structures, provision and training of quality teachers, as well as provision of adequate facilities, the performance of the nation’s education sector is still at its lowest ebb and far from meeting the aspirations of the country in all facets of development.

Despite the huge amount to the sector, the Minister of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu, in his damning appraisal of the sector during his valedictory at the twilight of his first term in office, said Nigeria would need N2 trillion annually to fix the education sector.

The fund, according to him, will be appropriated to address the enormous challenges and rising education demands.

In line with the position of the minister, a critical overview of the education budget index by the Federal and state government in the last few years would not only invoke pity, but would also raise concern as to why government at all levels, despite the country’s enormous resources, find it difficult to fund the sector, regarded as the fulcrum of national development.

The level of education budget at national and state levels, when put on a scale of national preference, in totality, falls below the much touted 20 to 26 per cent recommendation of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) of the nation’s fiscal budget to education, as the case may be.

Adamu, who had admitted that Nigeria was yet to meet its responsibility to the sector, however, wondered that the present allocation falls below the 15 to 20 per cent minimum percentage recommended for developing countries by the international organisation, to enable the countries to meet their education needs.

According to education pundits, this poor funding would continue to undermine the growth of the system, and deliberate remedy should be articulated to stimulate the development of the sector.For instance, the national budget to the education sector in 2019 fiscal year is about 7.05 per cent of the total budget, which translates to N620.5 billion, and the budget still records a marginal increase over the total of N605.8 billion budgeted for the education sector in 2018.

The fact that no state, except one or two, met the UNESCO’s recommendation of 26 per cent of total budget in their 2019 budget allocations to the sector, still gives doubt to whether the country is actually ready to reposition the sector.

Following Federal Government’s failure to meet the stipulation, states have also refused to show any deliberate commitment to fund education as expected.

However, the Pro-Chancellor and Chairman of Council of the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Dr. Yemi Ogunbiyi, in his Dinner Speech on the eve of the 2019 convocation of the Nigerian Academy of Letters (NAL) at the University of Lagos, on “The Challenges of University Education in Nigeria,” torch-lighted the crises in the education sector, essentially as it affected higher education sub-sector.

This was as he insisted that the most fundamental of the problems confronting higher education is that of inadequacy of funding.

Thus, the Council chair, whose paper was entitled; “How to Reposition our Universities: The Modest Example of the Obafemi Awolowo University,” traced the sad story of higher education today in the country to scarce financial support, inadequate infrastructural facilities, acute shortage of skilled teaching facility, a bloated administrative arm of the system, lack of research interests, lack of motivation to compete and collaborate internationally, and an almost zero industry collaboration, among others.

“This major challenge, that is, lack of adequate funding, led to the decay we now face today.

“Some key stakeholders in the sector, seemingly oblivious of these challenges, appear stuck in the mindset of the past and insist that state funding of universities is the only viable way forward for our universities to survive and thrive.”

Ogunbiyi also explained that without question, adequate funding is key to university education. He noted that without adequate funding, higher education, anywhere, is doomed.

He, therefore, asked whether the state could afford to continue to fund higher education, even if all the leakages in the system were plugged, as ASUU espoused, but which is unrealistic. The academic pointed out that no government in the country, now or in the future, could adequately fund higher education for a number of reasons.

According to him, the laudable efforts of intervention funding institutions as the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund) cannot fully reverse the current deterioration in the system.

He also argued that if the country were to emulate the example of Ghana, which has consistently, during the last two decades or so, allocated about 15 per cent of its annual budget to education, Nigeria would still not be there.

The Vice-President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, in his address at the last convocation of the University of Ibadan, insisted that sole government funding for universities as canvassed by ASUU was an invitation to repeated failures.

Meanwhile, Dr. Wale Babalakin, SAN, the Chairman of the Implementation Committee of the Federal Government and the Unions, once said that given the Federal Government capital projects based on the budget outlay, the ASUU’s demand of N2 trillion for universities is unrealistic in its extremes.

Ogunbiyi bemoaned what he described as paltry, N620 billion, representing 7 per cent of the 2019 budget allocated to education. “Without impinging on the broad framework of our educational objectives, we must be prepared to take the bold steps of making cuts where necessary, of eliminating wastes, creating shared services, utilising assets more efficiently and renewing the relationship between administrative and academic functions,” he said.

Expectedly, in 2019, the administration of Governor Godwin Obaseki of Edo State budgeted N26.8 billon for education, which represented 15.3 per cent of the total N175.7 billion budget for the state for the year under review.

In the allocation of the financial plan, tagged “Budget of Socio-Economic Inclusion,” education assumed priority before health, industrialisation, pension and security, with a capital expenditure of N95.8 billion and recurrent expenditure of estimated N79.9 billion.

The governor said the budget size would cater for the “needs of basic education, which will get N6.4 billion for the fiscal year.

“This will deepen the reforms in the sub-sector, provide quality and reliable basic education and prepare our children for the future.”

Also, in Ondo State, the Governor Rotimi Akeredolu-led administration voted N35,106,365,039.72 for eduction in 2019, which still falls short of the expected appropriation.

Though, the percentage was not given, the allocation, according to him, was for the four state-owned tertiary institutions, the Teaching Service Commission, Ministry of Education and the Board of Adult and Technical Education.

The breakdown of the year’s appropriation indicated that the Teaching Service Commission received N200 million; Ondo State Scholarship Board (N301,156,599.42); Board of Adult, Technical and Vocational (N713,417,085.16); Ondo State University of Medical Sciences Teaching Hospital (N1,600,000,000); the Zonal Teaching Service Commission (N5,200,000) each making a total of N36.1 million; Ministry of Education, Science and Technology (N3,208,991,934.51); Ondo State Education Endowment Fund Office (N1,200,000); State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB) headquarters (N6,196,856,133.59); State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB) Zonal Office (N28,000,000).

In the 2019 budget, christened “Budget of Restoration,” Ekiti State, the Foundation of Knowledge, allocated N6,688,966,307.71 to education.

In his analysis of the budget, Governor Kayode Fayemi said government would collaborate with international donor agencies in the education sector, even as he declared his administration’s commitment to education sector.

Also, in Osun State, where Governor Gboyega Oyetola presented N152.756 billion budget for 2019, education did not fare better as the sector was only allotted N10,447,801,800, representing 11 per cent of the total budget outlay.

Speaking at the presentation of the budget on the floor of the state House of Assembly in Osogbo, Oyetola said focused attention would also be given to technical and vocational education as part of his administration’s deliberate effort at inculcating relevant skills in the youth to prepare them as job creators, rather than job seekers.

He said: “We shall review the school curriculum to achieve value re-orientation and to create a sense of worth in our youths. Consequently, History will be re-introduced in our secondary schools, while Civic Education will be expanded to incorporate the Omoluabi ethos.”

It is the same story of woe in Kwara State, where the government allocated N28.259 billion of the total budget outlay of N157.8 billion to the education sector this year.

Meanwhile, the Benue State government, in its 2019 fiscal year, voted N52.9 billon for education sector, out of the total N196,502,626,436 budgeted for all sectors in the year.

Of the total budget size of N135.428 for 2019, the then Governor of Zamfara State, Abdul’azeez Yari Abubakar, budgeted N11.2 billion to education, representing 32 per cent of the total budget.

“The approved budget size is N135.428 billion, with the Capital Expenditure of N72.610 billion and Recurrent Expenditure of N63.818 billion, with focus on road construction and reconstruction, provision of electricity and water supply, educational transformation projects, especially completion of the state university,” he said.

In Borno State, the education sector received the highest sectorial allocation of the 2019 budget of state.

Of the total budget of N125 billion, allocation to education stands at N22.4 billion, with the state Ministry of Education getting N9,297,538,000; SUBEB (N2,227,300,000); Ministry of Higher Education (N8,958,541,000); N2.4 billion to the Mega School Management Agency to manage the over 44 mega schools across the state, while the Teachers Service Board (TSB) got N4,942,234,000.

On its part, the Plateau State government in the year under review budgeted N10 billion to education sector out of budget estimates of N148.7 billion for the 2019 fiscal year.

The governor said his administration was committed to raising the standard of education in the state. “This administration is fully committed to raising the standard of education in the state and therefore we allocated N10,414,336,930 to sector, representing 15.94 per cent of the total state budget,” he added.

Investigations by New Telegraph revealed that some of the major projects outlined in the 2019 budget in the sector, include building and renovation of 15 secondary schools at five per senatorial district; renovation of Government Technical College, Bukuru and building and renovation of Science Secondary Schools at Kuru, Mangun and Shendam.

Other major areas, according to the state government, are the equipping of constructed and renovated schools and construction of Lalong Legacy Projects for primary and secondary schools.

As part of the sectoral budget, N1.7 billion, according to the state, will be set aside to pay the state’s counterpart fund to access funds of the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) Matching Grant for the construction, renovation and equipping of primary and junior secondary schools across the state.

In the case of Niger State, of the 2019 total budget of N159,529,728,377, the government-led by Governor Sani Bello voted N4.260 billion for education.

The amount was shared by the Ministry for Basic Education and Ministry of Tertiary Education, Science & Technology, under the state’s education sector.

In the allocation, N2.74 billion was allotted to Ministry of Basic Education and N1.52 billion for Ministry of Tertiary Education, Science and Technology.

Meanwhile, the state’s allocation to education in the 2018 budget stood at N4.5 billion, which is N240 million higher than this year’s budget.

For Ogun State, N88.579 billion was budgeted for education, representing 22 per cent of the total N400 billion budget passed by the state House of Assembly.

The former governor, Ibikunle Amosun, had initially presented N402.63 billion budget before the House but the lawmakers, after working on the Appropriation Bill, reduced it by N2.632 billion and passed a total of N400 billion to cater for the five cardinal programmes of the administration.

However, the situation was different in Sokoto State, where for the consecutive four years education sector got the highest allocation.

For 2019, the Governor Aminu Tambuwal-led administration voted N47.4 billion, representing 27.9 per cent of the total budget estimates, and one of the highest percentages in the country.

Tambuwal presented the state 2019 budget estimates of N169.652 billion to the state House of Assembly for consideration, stressing the need to consolidate on all the administration’s achievements.

He said the 2019 budget tagged: “Budget of Consolidation for Sustainable Growth and Development,” would focus on completion of projects started in 2018 and execution of new ones.

The governor explained that the policy thrust of the budget was to ensure sustainable economic development through substantial investment in critical sectors.

Kogi State government, in 2019, budgeted N5,470,465,367 to the state Ministry of Education, Science and Technology of the total N146,736,042,510 budget outlay approved by the state House of Assembly and signed into law by Governor Yahaya Bello.

Oyo State, on its part, Governor Seyi Makinde said, would devote 10 per cent of this year’s budget to education sector.

The governor, while speaking in Ibadan on Monday, August 26 at the opening of the 34th Conference of the Association of Vice-Chancellors of Nigerian Universities (AVCNU), however, pledged the readiness of his administration to increase the annual budget to the sector yearly to meet the UNESCO standard.

The state, under the immediate past governor, Abiola Ajimobi, had in the state’s Appropriation Bill for 2019, passed N285 billion.

The appropriation bill christened: “Budget of Sustainability,” had N163.47 billion (57.36 per cent) as capital expenditure and N121.53 billion (42.64 per cent) as recurrent expenditure.

Worried by the poor budgetary allocation to education, Makinde has promised to increase the state’s budget, which is currently 10 per cent to 12 per cent from 2020.

Like its other contemporaries, Ebonyi State’s allocation to education sector in its 2019 Appropriation Bill also fell below the UNESCO orchestrated recommendation.

Of the total annual budget of N188.4 billion for this year, the Governor Dave Umahi-led administration voted 12 per cent of the budget outlay to the education sector.

The governor said the fiscal year would witness mass renovation of schools and other educational enhancement programmes.

In its “Budget of Final Completion” for 2019, the administration of Governor Seriake Dickson signed N299 billion into law as appropriation bill, out of which N23 billion was earmarked for the education sector.

The governor had initially sent N275 billion to the state House of Assembly for approval and passage for the 2019 fiscal year

In the budget, Ministry of Works and Infrastructure got the highest allocation of N31 billion, and followed by Education with over N23 billion, while Health received N6 billion of the total budget; Power Ministry was allocated N4 billion; and Ministry of Information had N2 billion; Science and Technology got N1.5 billion; as Trade, Industry and Investment was allotted N4 billion.

Also, Akwa Ibom State, in its 2019 budget, christened “Budget of Industrialisation for Poverty Alleviation,” intended to actualise the industrialisation and job creation agenda of his administration, Governor Udom Emmanuel signed N672 billion into law for implementation.

In the appropriation bill, the state’s education sector got about N15 billion, coming third after roads, works and transport which was allocated N157.31 billion, the biggest sum in the budget, and housing and urban renewal with N53.6 billion, while N13 billion was voted for agriculture and N10 billion for law and justice.

Akwa Ibom State is one of Nigeria’s richest states, with the chunk of its budget funded largely from oil derivation fund.

The state Commissioner for Education, Prof. Victor Inoka, said the governor had granted approval for the upgrading of the state College of Education to degree-awarding institution.

In the approved budget for the Ministry of Education, N452,450,510 would go for personnel cost; N141,150,000 as overhead cost; N593,600,510 for recurrent and N13,739,887,000 as capital expenditure.

The story of poor budgetary allocation to education is also the same in Cross River State, where Governor Ben Ayade, in his administration’s “Quabalistic Densification” presented an estimated N1.043 trillion for 2019 fiscal year.

In the budget categorised under social services, economic, regional development, general administration and total outflow, education got N116.365 billion.

Meanwhile, the Lagos State 2019 education budget is still below UNESCO recommendation.

After months of waiting, Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu, on June 3, approved N873,532,460,725 appropriation bill for Lagos State.

The 2019 budget is N287.68 billion lesser than that of 2018, which stood at N 1.04 trillion.

The budget has a capital expenditure of N479 billion and a recurrent expenditure of N393 billion.

Although the content of the budget was yet to be released, emerging facts further indicated that the state is yet to increase its budget to education.

In 2016, the state government budgeted N113.3 billion for education sector, representing 17.11 per cent of the state’s budget of N662.588 billion. The amount is about one-third of the N369 billion budgeted by the Federal Government for the entire country.

In 2017, out of the budget proposal of N813 billion, the state government earmarked N92.4 billion, representing 11.37 per cent of the budget, for education.

Last year, the state allotted N126.302 billion, which represented 12.07 per cent of the N1.046 trillion budgeted by the state government for 2018 fiscal year.

Meanwhile, in the N480 billion presented as 2019 Appropriation Bill for Rivers State by Governor Nyesom Wike, and as approved by the state House of Assembly, the Ministry of Education was allocated the sum of N40 billion.

Christened: “Budget of Sustainable Growth and Development,” the governor said the allocation was to enable his administration to consolidate the ongoing efforts towards improving access to quality education in the state.

Specifically, the ministry is expected to spend part of its capital allocation to fund the completion of the reconstruction of some schools, while provisions were also made for the training and retraining of secondary school teachers across the state to enable government to achieve improved outcomes in secondary school education.

The priorities of the 2019 Appropriation Bill, according to Wike, is for human capital development and infrastructural provision, as the state would prioritise and invest in human capital development, as well as guarantee robust access to basic social services such as education, healthcare, social, housing, water and sanitation.

For Abia State, where the state House of Assembly approved N140.207billion as 2019 budget, it is the same story of woes for education funding.

Tagged: “Budget of Consolidation,” Governor Okezie Ikpeazu’s budget has a capital expenditure outlay of N71.7 billion, representing 51.4 per cent, and recurrent expenditure of N67.8 billion, representing 48.6 per cent.

In the budget, education sector which is placed under social sector, got N16,928,400,000, which represents less than 15 per cent of the total budget for the year.

Though the governor stressed that his administration, since inception had continued to demonstrate undisputable commitment towards providing qualitative education and that the government policies and programmes in 2019 would continue to actively and strategically align with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), it is questionable how the government would achieve this with the poor allocation to the sector.

“The value of education is immeasurable. Therefore, this administration will sustain the ongoing free basic education from primary to junior secondary school. We shall continue to rehabilitate and renovate dilapidated school buildings; adopting the whole school development approach,” the governor had said.

Ikpeazu also promised that his administration would continue to build the capacity of the teachers through continuous training and retraining, saying government’s various policies in education have so far raised the enrolment in public primary schools.

Similarly, Benue State allocation to education is nothing to be happy about, if the state government, under Governor Samuel Ortom’s unspecified budget to the sector is anything to go about.

In the 2019 fiscal estimate, the state allotted N196.5 billion, in which the social sector, under which education is placed got N52.9 billion for the year.

The budget, as approved by the state House of Assembly, has N109.3 billion, representing 54.1 per cent as recurrent expenditure and N90.4 billion as capital expenditure, representing 45.9 per cent of the total budget outlay.

Further breakdown of the budget indicated that N52.4 billion was allocated to the administrative sector, while economic sector got N86.4billion.

For 2019, Kano State Governor, Abdullahi Ganduje, presented N219.6 billion “Budget of Sustainable Development.”

In the budget designed to attain the agenda of the administration of overall development of the state and improving the well-being of the people, the education sector got N9.4 billion.

Based on the total budget outlay, N134,065,152, 619 was dedicated for capital expenditure, while the sum of N85,590,650,167 is for recurrent expenditure.

“The focus of the 2019 budget will be on completing on-going projects in health, education, rural roads, power, water and agriculture and other critical infrastructure,” the governor had said.

In the total budget, the Ministry of Water Resources got the second highest allocation of N26.4 billion; Agriculture – N9.4 billion; Education – N18 billion; Environment -N3 billion; Health – N2.5 billion; Rural Development – N2 billion; Commerce and Industry – N1.6 billion; Security and Justice – N2.8 billion; Women and Social Development – N861 million; and general administration, N7.8 billion.

Also for Anambra State, in the N157.17 billion budget passed by the House of Assembly for 2019 fiscal year, Education had a total capital expenditure of N11.9 billion, representing less than 10 per cent, with N1.5 billion allotted for World Bank Assisted State Education Programme and Intervention Project (SEPIP).

Tagged: “Budget for Sustainable Growth and Youth Empowerment,” N65.33 billion of the budget estimate, representing 43.3 per cent was earmarked for recurrent expenditure, while N91.8 billion (58.7 per cent) was set aside as capital expenditure.

Taraba State government has a budget outlay of N146,730,726,882.58 for 2019 fiscal year, with N72.9 billion, representing 49.86 per cent as the capital expenditure and the recurrent expenditure of N73.24 billion, representing 50.14 per cent.

In the budget as approved by the state House of Assembly, under the leadership of the Speaker, Hon. Abel Diah, Education has a total allocation of N8.11 billion, representing 5.48 per cent of the total budget, while Health has N7.5 billion, representing 5.17 per cent , and Agriculture with an allocation of N6.5 billion, which represents 4.5 per cent.

For 2019 fiscal year, the Enugu State government, under its “Budget of Peace, Equity and Prosperity,” approved N109.19 billion for the state.

In the budget, Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi allocated N5.52 billion for the education sector, while the agricultural sector gets N636.5 million.

Of the total budget outlay, the recurrent expenditure was N93 billion, while the capital expenditure was N43.4 billion.

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Doctors’ brain drain draining Nigeria’s health sector

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Doctors’ brain drain draining Nigeria’s health sector

Nigeria loses at least 12 doctors to other countries on a weekly basis while 88 per cent of doctors currently practising in the country are planning to relocate to developed nations. APPOLONIA ADEYEMI and REGINA OTOKPA highlight factors driving the trend and ways to stop it

 

 

In the middle of the night, Aisha Ibrahim developed high temperature and shortly after, she was vomiting non-stop.

As early as 7.30a.m., the next morning, she was rushed to the hospital but couldn’t see the doctor until past 11a.m. owing to the large crowd at the reception. They were all waiting to see the doctor.

After joining another queue to run a scan and other tests requested by the doctor, Aisha returned home still in pains as late as past 2p.m. with no drugs prescribed, as the doctor had closed for the day by the time she was done running the scan.

“I wanted to give him the result from the scan at least while we wait for results from the swab tests that should be ready in two days, but I couldn’t meet him. I might just visit a pharmacy and lay my complaints. There is no need going back to the hospital tomorrow; I will just wait for all the results so I can pass through all this stress just one more time,” she lamented.

Another patient in another hospital, Vivian Okala, said she was going to the health facility twice every month.

She said: “Most times, I am referred to strange faces and different doctors. I am always told that the medical doctor that attended to me the last time I was in the hospital has left the country. As a patient I feel heartbroken anytime my doctors leave, but what can I do when the system treats them poorly? The truth is that most of these doctors leave for better working conditions and you can’t blame them.”

The cases of Aisha and Vivian are two out of the millions of complaints when one visits the Out- Patient-Department (OPD) of public hospitals in the country. Currently, hundreds of Nigerian doctors including those resident in the country as well as some that studied medicine in the Diaspora, are preparing to write the Professional and Linguistic Assessments Board test, known as the PLAB test, which could qualify them to practice medicine in the United Kingdom (UK).

Many doctors in the country presently have registered to participate in the next PLAB test, which is scheduled to hold in Nigeria in November. Some Nigerian doctors currently in service and some that are unemployed are preparing to participate in this test.  Sometime in May, hundreds of Nigerian doctors participated in another examination, which held at the Ladi Kwali Hall of Sheraton Hotel, Abuja, a recruitment exercise organised by the Saudi Arabian Ministry of Health. The ministry sought the employment of medical consultants, specialists and medical officers in various fields with priority areas such as anaesthesia, paediatrics, surgery, emergency and internal medicine, as well as ophthalmology.

One of the Nigerian doctors, Abubakar, who participated in that examination was working in a university teaching hospital where he earned “around N600,000,” a month as a consultant but the Saudi health ministry actually proposes between $3,000 (equivalent of N1 million) and $8,333 (equivalent of N3 million) as monthly salary.

A similar recruitment exercise was held in Lagos and the number of doctors who participated was about five times higher than the approximately 300, that attended the two sessions in Abuja. “The whole place (in Lagos) was full that people had to stay outside; more than 700 came that day,” a doctor told his colleague, according to a report.

Based on the trend by medical doctors to migrate abroad to practice medicine, the PLAB test, the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE), among others, have become special attractions for Nigerian doctors due to the better welfare package attached to practising medicine in developed countries including the U.S., Canada, Switzerland, UK, etc. No wonder the media, local and international, is inundated with tales of the emergence of Nigerian doctors as some of the best hands in advanced countries.

One of such is Dr. Oluyinka O. Olutoye, who was appointed Surgeon-In-Chief at the Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus Ohio in the U.S., with effect from August 1. In his role, he currently leads one of the largest children’s hospital surgery departments in the world, comprising 11 surgical departments. In a similar vein, another Nigerian genius, Dr. Olurotimi Badero, an interventional cardiologist and interventional nephrologist, has been recognised as the world’s first and only fully trained cardio-nephrologist (heart and kidney specialist combined).

Badero, who practices in Jackson, Mississippi in the U.S., and is affiliated with multiple hospitals in the area, including Merit Health Central and Merit Health River Oaks. Both Olutoye and Badero received their medical degrees in Nigeria before travelling abroad. These are just two of the numerous Nigerian doctors who have distinguished themselves in their medical practice abroad.

As the migration of the local doctors have continued unabated, the shortage of medical personnel in Nigeria is therefore not surprising. Those who remain and work in Nigeria struggle on a daily basis to offer care to as many patients in need of care services that visit the hospitals. As a result, these doctors are over-stretched and as such, fail to function optimally to provide adequate health care due to the heavy workload of attending to a large number of patients.

Although a good number of doctors take the Hippocratic oath to serve, the quality of healthcare delivery to patients in need of health services in the country is under threat, as the doctor to patient ratio presently stands at one doctor to 5,000 patients as against one to 600 patients as recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

By implication, the Nigeria health sector has been struggling to address the daunting public health challenges that has continued to weaken the system; maternal and child health indices have continued to remain dismal, there have been back to back outbreak of various infectious diseases in the last couple of years and universal access to quality health care is still at the lowest ebb.

One of the reasons is the consistent exodus of Nigeria-trained medical doctors to the U.S., UK, Canada, Australia, South Africa, United Arab Emirates (UAE) and even Ghana and Cote D’Ivoire to practice. According to NOI Polls, Nigeria loses no fewer than 12 doctors to other countries on a weekly basis. It further states that 88 per cent of doctors currently practising in the country wishes to relocate.

Figures released in February 2018 by the British Government indicate that no fewer than 5,405 Nigeria-trained doctors and nurses were currently working with the British National Health Service (NHS) in the UK. This means that Nigerian medics constitute 3.9 per cent of the 137,000 foreign staff of 202 nationalities working alongside British doctors and nurses.

This development, according to the Director, Policy and Advocacy, Nigeria Health Watch, Dr. Ifeanyi Nsofor, makes Nigeria the highest country engaged in diaspora remittances in the Sub-Saharan region and fifth in the world. In 2017 alone, Nigerians in the Diaspora sent home $22 billion, a 6.4 per cent increase from the amount repatriated in 2016. This proves that not only is Nigeria losing a lot in human resources, but it is also losing a lot of financial resources to other countries.

According to the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, doctors cost an African country between $21,000 and $51,000 to train. Nigeria is one of nine countries who have lost more than $2 billion since 2010 training doctors who thereafter migrate.

Meanwhile, countries like the UK and others are benefiting from this brain drain. With one in 10 doctors working in the UK coming from Africa, the country saves around $2.7 billion by recruiting these doctors.

But for a country with a growing population of over 190 million and having less than 40,000 registered doctors, these medical personnel are needed back home to attend to the citizens’ health as well as boosting the economy through their services. This is because besides the economic gain, the relocation of one doctor from the country affects 5,000 citizens, denying them access to quality care from a trusted medical practitioner.

There is no place like home, says an adage. This means that there are certain issues driving doctors, nurses and health workers out to offer their services in developed countries. A young graduate from the University of Jos, who didn’t want her name in print, said she was working towards completing a foreign licensing examination like many others, in order to get job placement abroad.

According to her, most of her friends have already left. 

She said: “Only a few are remaining and they were equally making plans to make something more meaningful out of their lives.

“There are no good jobs in Nigeria and even when you get one, the pay is poor. Nobody appreciates the sacrifices of medical practitioners in Nigeria and I obviously didn’t spend so many years studying and denying myself a life only to be treated as insignificant.”

According to an Associate Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology from the Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria, Dr. Solomon Avidime, while the number of doctors registering to take national residency training qualifying examinations in the country is dwindling, the applications for foreign recruitment are on a steady increase.

“As at 2012, the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria (MDCN) reported that there were about 72,000 nationally registered Nigerian doctors, with only 35,000 practicing in the country. A deficit of over 260,000 doctors in Nigeria was established, looking at the population figure and growth rate, therefore moving forward and for Nigeria to meet up with recommended average of doctor to population ratio 1:600, a minimum of 10,605 new doctors need to be recruited annually.

“Even though this figure improved by 2019 as the MDCN has in its register 86,722 medical doctors from 1963 to 2019. A total of 4,357 dentists were registered from 1963 to 2019 while 32 alternative medicine practitioners were registered from 1992 till 2019,” Avidime, a one-time chairman of the Nigeria Medical Association (NMA), Kaduna State branch, said.

According to him, the gap is particularly critical for the country, which presently records some of the poorest health indices in the world, including being the fourth highest country with maternal mortality ratio and the eight highest with infant mortality ratio.

He added: “A report of 10-year (2009-2018) migration trend of trained Nigerian physicians presented recently at the NMA Annual General Meeting in Ebonyi State is anything but frightening. About 5,861 Nigerian physicians were in the UK in 2018. In 2014, a net weekly migration rate of two physicians per week was recorded, increasing to a net weekly migration of 17 physicians per week in 2018, representing a whopping 600 per cent.

“While infrastructure, physical capital and pharmaceuticals are important, work force for health remains one of key health system inputs that undoubtedly ensure qualitative service delivery and improves health outcomes. Evidently, the physicians typify this workforce and are the key determinant of the quality of healthcare services available. The world’s best healthcare systems are often to be found among the countries with the highest number of physicians as well.”

Furthermore, Avidime notes that none of the three strata of healthcare service structure in Nigeria is spared; Nigeria is far from achieving a reasonable ratio of healthcare provider per 1,000 population. He added that the ratio is rather worsening by migration of healthcare workers abroad for better working environment in terms of infrastructure and welfare. With the deficit of over 260,000 physicians, many more doctors are still migrating and this should be a matter of national concerns.

Intra-brain drain

Besides Nigerian doctors preference to practice abroad, no medical doctor or health worker wants to stay back at the hinterland to provide healthcare services to rural dwellers. The situation is so epileptic to the extent that National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) doctors seek postings to the cities because everybody wants to work in the city and in specialist hospitals. Even in the face of limited vacancies at the secondary and tertiary health care centres, doctors still find it difficult to render services at the primary heath care centres located in rural areas.

Reasons for exodus

Several reasons have been given by various doctors and experts as to why health workers in the country prefer to render their services outside the shores of Nigeria. Many doctors are being confronted with a precarious situation of being unable to deliver family expectations due to poor remunerations.

Nigerian state-employed doctors earn as little as N150,000 ($416) a month, with top salaries for consultants rising to N800,000 a month, this is still way below what they could earn in Western countries.

Another reason is the frustration of using out-dated equipment, un-conducive working environment, a lack of good employment opportunities, frequent strikes, which often leave patients stranded and craze by the rich to get medical care abroad due to poor funding arising from lack of government’s investment in the nation’s health sector.

Other reasons include high level intra-professional rivalry, mass poverty, poor conditions of service, poor education and health facilities, lack of good rewarding system for hardworking manpower, untimely death of manpower assets, lack of research facilities and opportunity for advancement, political, communal and religious crisis.

It is typical of humans if given the opportunity, to jump at a higher paying job, better quality of life, intellectual freedom and working in a stable environment free from political, cultural, religious, economic and security dramas as witnessed in Nigeria almost on a daily basis.

Even though eight out of every 10 doctors in Nigeria desires to migrate, the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige, argued that there was no crime since Nigeria at present did not have enough health facilities to accommodate all the doctors seeking to do tertiary specialist training (residency) in the teaching hospitals, Federal Medical Centres (FMCs) and a few accredited state and private specialist centres in the country, where roughly 20 per cent of the yearly applicants, according to him, are absorbed while the remaining 80 per cent try their luck elsewhere.

Ngige, a medical doctor who came under fire from doctors and professional bodies in the country, maintained that although there is consequential negative import of brain drain on national productivity, most of the rejected applicants who usually throng the Federal Ministry of Health (FMOH) and that of Labour and Employment to complain of being illegally schemed out, have the right to seek training opportunities abroad to sharpen their skills, become specialists and later turn this problem to a national advantage when they repatriate their legitimate earnings and later return to the country.

He said: “I speak from the vintage position of being a medical doctor and a member, Nigeria Medical Association (NMA) since June, 1979 and enriched by my vast knowledge on health administration, having retired as a deputy director, Medical Services and Training from the Federal Ministry of Health in 1998, member of Vision 2010 Committee on Health as well as senior member, Senate Committee on Health 2011-2015.

“Therefore, the truth, no matter how it hurts, must be told and reality, boldly faced. The fact is that while the Federal Government has recorded a remarkably steady improvement in our healthcare system, Nigeria is yet to get there. Even where some of these doctors are bonded to their overseas training institutions, examples abound on the large number of them who have successfully returned to settle and establish specialist centres across the country. It is therefore a question of turning your handicap to an advantage. 

“This situation in any case is not peculiar to Nigeria as countries like Pakistan, Ceylon, Bangledesh exported teachers to secondary schools in the old Eastern and Northern Regions in the sixties and seventies where their earnings were also repatriated to their countries.”

However, the minister quickly added that the Ministry of Labour and Employment had a migration policy developed with the European Union (EU) to assist skilled Nigerians work and earn decent living abroad.

According to him, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Foreign Affairs and Diaspora, Abike Dabiri-Erewa, has done a lot of work in encouraging Nigerian professionals abroad to return, with a good number of doctors relocating from the United States (US) and other European countries.

A careful analysis of his position shows that he is not far from speaking the truth; many young medical officers who graduate from medical schools spend two to three years looking for a space for Housemanship whereas they can sit for foreign qualifying exams which are easier and faster, and leave the country almost immediately to start practicing.

But in a counter-argument, the NMA President, Dr. Francis Faduyile, said the export of health care professionals, especially medical doctors to the developed world was to the detriment of the nation’s health system.

According to him, unlike Nigeria, the benefitting countries have more than enough doctors to cater for the health needs of their population without sweat.

“The U.S., where they are also going, has an average of 2.8 doctors per 1,000 people whereas Nigeria has 0.2 per 1,000 and you are saying you want more of our 0.2 to go and join 2.8. You can see the disparity. What we have is not enough.

“We actually need more doctors. In the U.K. where our doctors are also going, they have an average of 2.8 doctors per 1,000 people.

“That is about 14 times the number that they have in UK whereas the WHO states that we need an average of one doctor to 500 or 600 people, Nigeria currently with our 40,000 to 200 million, has about one to 5,000. In some parts of the country it can be 10,000 people and what that means is that for every 1,000 people we are short of about 10 doctors and it is unfortunate,” Faduyile said.

The President, Association of Resident Doctors (ARD), Abuja chapter, Dr. Roland Aigbovo, regretted that the calibres of doctors leaving Nigeria to practice abroad were leaving a wide gap that would affect the health outcomes in the county.

Aigbovo said young consultants and new medical graduates were leaving the country in droves.

He added: “The consultants are supposed to train the younger doctors to specialise and now they are leaving. The younger doctors who just graduated are also leaving; now where will they get the manpower to fill the gap?”

Consequences of brain drain on Nigeria

No matter how sweet the argument presented, the truth still remains that due to a poor health management system, Nigeria currently has one of the highest rates of communicable and non-communicable diseases, perinatal mortality rates, maternal mortality rates, infant mortality rates and the average life span is very low. As a result, Nigeria is highest in the number of preventable deaths due to inadequate and poor healthcare services, which of course stems from the shortage of medical personnel.

Also, given the developing status of the country, so much harm is being done to the economy and overall development; not only is investment on health professionals being lost to developed countries, which obviously have more doctors of their own, but the contribution of these workers to health care is equally lost and there is a loss in tax revenue.

Exploring solutions

There is no doubt Nigeria needs to control the migration of doctors in order to adequately meet up with the health needs of the people. However, a lot of work needs to be carried out.

Experts have maintained that the Federal Government needs to start showing enough commitment to bring to an end, the exodus of doctors and other health personnel to other countries to practice.

Greater investment in health is the first key to turning the tide, government must accept that brain drain is a problem and put its priorities straight by taking healthcare seriously. It must also sign all necessary health acts and bills, increase funding for the sector, ensure all funds are properly managed, improve the infrastructural and social amenities, improve the remuneration and pay more attention to the welfare of health workers as compared with those in developed countries.

Faduyile stressed the need for the Federal Government to honour the Abuja declaration by raising the bar on health budget from below six per cent to the 15 per cent agreed by all African heads of states.

He said: “Sincerely, we have been advocating for government to put in place things that will retain doctors in this country. They are just shying away from doing that. We have advocated for them to honour the agreement they willingly agreed to when in 2001 at Abuja all the African heads of states came and they had an agreement that 15 per cent should be budgeted for health every year.

“Nigeria has never had beyond six per cent which occurs only once in 19 years. We have always been less than five per cent. Currently, we are about 3.6 per cent and the one they are about to pass in 2019 is about 3.8 per cent and this is the premium our government has placed on health.

“Because they have not put enough funding in health maybe we have a very wrong view that we don’t have spaces so we have more than enough but the populace is suffering; a lot of deaths that are highly preventable are occurring. A lot of mishaps are happening to our people and we want our people to rise up and tell the government that enough is enough. We need to make a change about the health of our people because one of the cardinal constitutional duties of the government is to see that it provides health services for its populace.”

On his part, Avidime believes that not until certain issues such as an unstable economy and poor working environment are addressed, there will continue to be acceleration in international migration of workers.

To stem the tide, he stressed the need for critical thinking of all stakeholders on the side of policy change that will improve medical school output, economic stability, employment opportunities and improvement in security.

He said: “Opinion points to the fact that if developing countries can provide world-class education and training opportunities, as well as opportunities for unhindered career advancement and employment devoid of any form of discrimination, ethnocentric considerations, the migratory flow can be reduced.

“Institutional capacity will have to be expanded to accommodate more prospective students for the study of medicine at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels.

“The resultant effect is a doubling effect on the current output from the medical school. The Nigeria government, MDCN and the NMA will play a complementary role in this regards.

“Increasing the number of trained doctors is one way to combat future shortages. This is easier said than done, since becoming a doctor not only requires several years of rigid training, but also quality undergraduate education and financial huge investments.”

Avidime, who called out the NMA, maintains the association has an important role to play in addressing the scourge of brain drain by continuous advocacy for improvement on human resource for health, increase in the capacity of the medical institution to improve on the supply and form linkages with Nigerian physicians in the Diaspora in order to attract development in infrastructure, training and service.

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