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HOW ‘CASH TRANSFER PROGRAMME’ BOOSTS GIRLS’ EDUCATION IN KEBBI

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HOW ‘CASH TRANSFER PROGRAMME’ BOOSTS GIRLS’ EDUCATION IN KEBBI

The federal government and development partners are working round the clock to reduce the huge number of out-of-school children in the country, especially in northern Nigeria. However, an unconditional cash transfer programme which caused an explosion in enrolment in schools, has laid bare some challenges confronting education in the North. REGINA OTOKPA reports

 

 

It was a bright Tuesday morning; school is in session but with heavy make-up on her face and a tray of pepper on her head, eight-year-old Aisha Samaila, spent the whole day including school hours, hawking to put food on her family’s table. Although her younger brother, Jafarau, is a primary one pupil at Kawara Manu Model School, Kebbi, missing school to join his sister in hawking foodstuffs in the community has become a habit.

When asked why she wasn’t in school, Aisha smiled and said with the help of an interpreter: “There is no reason to be in school since three of my brothers, including Jafarau, are already in school. I sell to support my mother but sometimes Jafarau does not go to school, he follows me around to sell. I enjoy selling to augment my family’s meager income; I don’t see that as a problem. My elder sisters are into this also.”

However, hawking in Kawara Manu, a community in Maiyama Local Government Area, Kebbi State, has somewhat become a way of life for children. Samaila, who does not know why she is not in school, and Habiba Isah, whose parents prefer to send her brothers to school, are just part of the growing figure of the recently updated figure of out-of-schoolchildren in the country now pegged at a staggering 10.2 million.

Incidentally, Kebbi and Zamfara states are said to contribute a huge quota to this figure, having been categorised as educationally-disadvantaged states, despite the fact that officially, basic education is free and compulsory. When Saturday Telegraph reporter visited some communities in these states, she actually saw many children hawking and doing menial jobs instead of being in school. When she tried to find out why this was so, she discovered that some parents are too poor and are still grappling with education-related costs, which in itself hinder them from sending their children to school. One of the parents, who spoke but refused to have his name in print, listed the cost as both direct and indirect.

They include tuition and examination fees, sport, stationeries, as well as food. Yet, the Minister of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu, has said that such ugly situation is gradually but steadily improving across northern states. This, according to him, is due to the unrelenting interventions of government and development partners, especially the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

The education interventions have helped changed and is still changing the narrative in most northern states and other parts of the country. With the funds, the previous outof- school children figure has reduced from 13.2 million a few years ago to 10.2 million presently. According to the minister, the United Kingdom Department for International Development (DFID), has shown commitment to the cause in order to ensure that every child in the North is enrolled, retained and completes their education. One of such interventions is the ongoing unconditional Cash Transfer Programme (CTP) under the Educate A Child (EAC) initiative which Kebbi and Zamfara states are some of the beneficiaries.

The initiative is a programme whereby N8,000 is paid to a mother or caregiver each academic term per child to meet the child’s basic school needs with leftover stipend enough to finance a petty business. The aim is to help sustain the family and provide an income generating platform to continue sponsorship of the child in school. It is a two-year programme, which is currently being implemented under the Girls Education Project Phase 3 (GEP3) to woo girls to attain basic education, while improving the socio-economic status of their families. It is targeted to reach half a million children who are missing education due to poverty, socio-cultural and economic barriers, by reducing the burden on parents in order to enhance enrolment and retainment levels in school. With this singular act, Adamu said, thousands of children between the ages of five to 11 had been captured to acquire basic education in the nine local government areas of Kebbi alone.

The resultant effect is a massive increase in enrollment of both boys and girls, which is perfectly in line with the overall goal of the unconditional cash transfer programme to expand access to quality basic education for 501,749 out-of-school children by 2020 in Katsina, Kebbi, Sokoto and Zamfara states. Kawara Manu Model Primary School, Kebbi, which used to have 300 pupils majorly made up of boys, is now bubbling with more numbers of children in school. When Saturday Telegraph team returned to Kebbi State recently to access the situation, the school, as a result of CTP, now has a little over 667 pupils.

This has made the school authorities to combine primary five and six in one class due to a stretch in facilities. Figures from other areas in Zamfara, Sokoto and Kebbi states where the cash transfer scheme is operational is said to have also reflected in the enrolment boost. For instance, a school in D/ Wasagu Local Government, the reporter gathered now has a population of 3,574 from the previous 2,722 after the first disbursement of N8,000 to pupils through their caregivers in the third quarter of 2018.

In another school in Suru Local Government Area, enrolment equally jumped from 1,106 to 1,809 after the introduction of the CTP scheme. Kebbi State Project Coordinator of EAC/UNICEF, Isah Usman, said the CTP intervention aims to reach 41,391 child beneficiaries and their female caregivers in four years: 31,044 in Kebbi and 10,347 in Zamfara states. Usman said:

“There is high number of out-of-school children, of which the majority are girls. Education indicators for the states are not encouraging, partly driven by social attitudes towards ‘western’ education, and poverty of parents, especially at the rural communities. The poverty level of the countryside largely restricts their level of participation in the education of their children. The majority of them cannot afford purchases of basic learning materials to even support school infrastructural development.”

Challenges confronting CTP in Kebbi communities

Although the programme has recorded huge successes in Sokoto, Niger, Zamfara and Kebbi states, where it is currently being run, Saturday Telegraph has, however, uncovered some lapses that could pose a threat to the sustainability of the initiative in the communities visited, when UNICEF completes the time bound programme.

There are cases of fraud by some of the mothers who collect the money but do not allow their children to go to school. In spite of the alluring incentive, most mothers still prefer to send their children out to the streets to hawk all day long. Aside that, dearth of infrastructures in the schools due to an explosion blast in the school enrollment looks set to dim the laudable initiative.

There are equally insincerity on the part of both the states and the federal government to keep to their promises of meeting the education needs of communities, lack of interest in education, cases of armed banditry in some communities, delay in payment and inability to capture all the children in most villages where the programme is current running. Hajara, the mother of Aisha and Jafarau, is one of the women whose daughters are beneficiaries of the CTP scheme but do not attend school. Aisha said though her mother was among the first beneficiaries of the programme, she has bluntly refused to send them to school. According to her, “my mother prefers to send us to go and hawk.” The Education Secretary, Mayama Local Government Area, Bello Labbo, confirmed that the majority of the women who collected the money refused to allow their children attend school.

“The women are lying, their children are supposed to be in school, but they send them to go and hawk. This attitude tends to defeat the objective of the programme. I believe they are only interested in the money,” he said. Lamenting the poor attitude to education within the communities under his supervision, Labbo noted that the majority of the women in the school, who complained to our correspondent they weren’t captured in the programme, earlier rejected the scheme. “These women are not beneficiaries. When this programme started, we went to every nook and cranny of the town but they failed to come, it was only the educated ones that started coming with their children. It was later on when they saw that the grant was being given that they began to rush here. They have not enrolled their children in the school and they are the ones complaining now.

“They have negative attitude to this programme, it is because they have seen the elite, the educated people whose children are coming and collecting money. In some other cases, the men refused to allow their women and children come out to be part of the programme initially, now that they are seeing the benefits, they are clamouring to be brought on board,” he further said.

The headmaster of the school, Labaran Falke, also confirmed to our reporter that the village head personally tried to convince parents to embrace the CTP. “Unfortunately, they didn’t take it serious until the disbursement of cash commenced. If only they realised that it’s the needed tonic to galvanise development,” Falke said.

Gender discrimination

However, cash transfer seemed not a solution to gender discrimination in Maiyama LGA. Despite the various opportunities to send children to school, some parents still do not see the need for a girl to be educated; instead they prefer to send their male children to school. This attitude however, has not stopped them from collecting the money meant for girls’ education. Like in Rakiya’s case, while she is out hawking awara (Soya bean cake) every day with her elder sister, who is equally supposed to be in school, two of her brothers enjoy this rare privilege of being in school. Despite this indifference from some parents, there are kids who desire school.

One of such is 13-year-old Mainna Idris, who hawks rice and beans on the premises of the school to students and other passersby every day. She still desires to be in school. Unfortunately, she was denied the opportunity by her parents who insisted education was not for girls. With her face literary glued to the ground, Mainna said: “I would have love to be in school but when the programme started, my parents decided to send my two brothers to school. I am the eldest in the family of three, so, my two brothers are benefiting from the programme.

“I hawk food in the morning and attend the Islamic school in the evening. I like the school but my parents insisted that my brothers should be enrolled. I am always not happy seeing my friends in school when I’m hawking. Even though my younger brother is in school, I would have loved to be a beneficiary as well.”

Turned into the breadwinner of the family from a tender age, Mainna said, ‘’Sometimes, I make between two to three thousand naira but when business is very bad, I make like one thousand naira only. We usually feed from the sales while I attend Islamic school every day except for Thursdays and Fridays.”

Other challenges

With the massive explosion witnessed in the school enrollment, the lean school infrastructures in CTP communities have become an emergency to ensure retention of pupils in school. A worrisome sight at Kawara- Manu Primary School was the limited number of damaged chairs without tables to write on. Also, the classrooms and teachers are insufficient to meet the demand for education. For instance, 100 pupils are forced to squeeze themselves into a classroom designed to accommodate only 30 pupils; they sit on the floor and place their books on their laps to write. Some of the classes were divided to accommodate others. For instance, primary one was divided into three, and one in the class and the two other groups receive lessons outside under the scorching Kebbi sun. Falke disclosed that due to inadequate facilities and teachers, the school could not accommodate all the new intakes.

“They usually put their books on their laps to write, which is not convenient.Due to lack of classes when some of them bring their children we reject them. There is nothing we can do since we don’t have enough classes to admit more students anymore. We need more classrooms and enough chairs for the students.” However, this reality on ground contradicts the claims by the Kebbi State Government which said as part of its commitment towards addressing the dire challenge of basic education in the state, the sum of N2 billion had been channelled towards providing furniture to schools this year.

The Commissioner for Basic and Secondary Education in the state, Alhaji Mohammad Magawata, who made this known during an interaction with journalists in Birnin Kebbi, said the state had embarked on construction in several schools and would also sustain UNICEF’s cash transfer programme to encourage enrolment and retention of pupils in the state. “Kebbi State spends N280 million monthly on feeding pupils. We have built 40 nomadic schools. We have identified 504 almajiri Islamic schools. We will carry out necessary renovation for them and we will make sure that we send Mathematics and English teachers to them.

“When we do that, by 2020, our volume of out-of-school children will be very low and depleted. We will be the least in the North,” he noted. However, checks by our correspondent revealed that what the government was doing had to do with construction of one block of two classrooms in selected schools across the state with new sets of furniture while the provision of furniture for the old, dilapidated buildings are seemingly not part of the government’s skewed intervention programme. To buttress these findings, Labbo explained that “a contractor will be asked to carry out renovation but only new classroom construction will come with furniture. There is no new construction here but if you go to other schools, they are renovating or constructing blocks of two classrooms or three classrooms but the seats are still not adequate.

The dilapidated or old ones do not get seats.” According to him, most of the seats in the school and proposal for more seats where possible, due to the UNICEF micro grant of N250, 000 given to the School Based Management Committees (SBMCs) as he added: “We have 52 schools that are benefitting. Some of the schools used to get chairs, repairs of furniture depending on the need of the school. The case is not so different in Zamfara State, according to the CTP coordinator in the state, Maryam Shantali, the infrastructure in schools selected for the programme are far from adequate.

“Six of them don’t have schools at all, others have one block of two classrooms each. The largest has two blocks of one classroom. From last year to this year, one of the communities in Eidon ruwa community has built a school and this school is taking care of three cash transfer communities; Gidan Maidubu, Eidon ruwa and Marinu.

Shantali noted that although the Zamfara State Basic Education Board (SUBEB) has promised to provide vibrant communities in need of schools an additional block of classroom each, on account of the influx of students, she lamented that in most communities, students learn under the trees in the scorching sun. “Most of them are sitting under the trees. Dokatu does not have a school but the education secretary sends a teacher every day to Bokoyo in the Village head’s house to teach. It is very tight and all the children are not comfortable. The headmaster is always going there to support them and SUBEB has promised to build them a school in Doka,” she said.

Insecurity

In Zamfara State, the increasing rate of armed banditry has affected the CTP programme in no small measure despite the presence of heavily-armed security operatives. Some of the 14 communities in the state running the programme have been destroyed due to activities of bandits, resulting in displacement of beneficiaries to neighbouring communities including those not captured in the programme who are left to seek refuge around schools.

Besides disrupting the normal activities of the family now rendered internally displaced, this has surely affected the education of the children, as many have automatically dropped out of school. Shantali noted: “We had 14 communities under these three local government areas. In one of the local government areas, we have paid all the four communities the first tranche of the money but this time around, two communities have been displaced because the communities have been attacked by the armed bandits. So, most of the beneficiaries of the cash transfer have been dispersed to nearby communities because the communities have been completely destroyed.”

Delayed payments by banks

Both Kebbi and Zamfara State CTP coordinators lamented the inconsistency of Standard Chartered Bank in the disbursement of funds to the beneficiaries of the programme “Standard Chartered Bank has deliberately or otherwise frustrated our efforts at having a seamless project implementation by repeatedly denying us funds for disbursement to beneficiaries. “Everyone involved in the project agreed on a schedule of work. But the bank, for unknown reasons, chose to operate otherwise. We wrote to them on several occasions especially during payment, to know if they are ready. But most times, they don’t reply our mails neither do they honour their commitments.

That had greatly frustrated our efforts,” Usman said. Speaking further as well, Shantali lamented that “in their usual ways, they (the bank) would allow us to assemble parents and beneficiaries at different payment points amidst security threats and they won’t show up with the funds for disbursement, neither would they explain to us the reason for their actions.

In most instances, it will take the strong intervention of UNICEF leadership for the bank to react. “It has affected our credibility and reputations before the beneficiaries. Most worrisome is that it exposes the women, children and officials to danger because of the activities of bandits that are freely operating in Zamfara and other neighbouring states.” But officials of UNICEF at the event have given assurances that its Abuja office is fully aware of the developments and are working assiduously to ensure that the challenges are dealt with as soon as possible.

Reflecting on the economic impact on beneficiaries

Besides the issues confronting the sustainability of the programme, a significant economic impact has also been recorded in all the communities that have benefitted from the programme in all the states lucky to be running the CTP programme, besides the increased enrollment recorded. All the beneficiaries who spoke to our correspondent explained that after purchasing the needed school requirements, they had invested the money left in petty businesses to help them sustain their family and the education of their child once the CTP cash flow stops. Hajara Musa, who has four children already benefiting from the CTP programme, said she had so far been paid the sum of N64, 000, which she judiciously used to meet the basic school needs of her children such as school uniforms, sandals and books for them. Expressing so much joy in enrolling her children in school, Hajara said: “Even though I do not know how to read and write; I can see the difference between my children and those of my neighbours who are not taking part in the programme.” With a mindset to retain her children in school, she wasted no time in investing some of the money into a grain business with the hope that whatever gain she makes from it will help in sustaining the children in school. “From the money UNICEF gave me, I bought grains like millet, beans and soya bean. I will resell once the price starts increasing. I intend to save the profit I make from each bag so that whenever the need arises for us to pay anything connected to our children’s school; I will do so without begging for help.” Another beneficiary, 30-year-old Hafsat Kalifa, has two kids currently benefiting from the programme. “So far, I have been paid N32,000 three times. I have used part of the money to buy uniforms and sandals for my children while the remaining has been put in business to enable me to sustain the programme.” Likewise, Hauset Haruwa, who has two kids benefitting from the programme, decided to vie into livestock business in order to sustain her children’s education.

After CTP, What’s next?

Even though education is very important, every child, including girls, has a right to quality education. UNICEF has set the pace, showing government one of the ways to bridge the education gap in the country, it is now left for government, either at the federal, state and local government levels, to wake up to its responsibilities and learn from the gains and challenges of the UNICEF programme to forestall further reduction in school enrolment that could once again increase the number of out-of-school children. It is on record that the Kebbi State Government is not only working assiduously towards recruiting about 1,000 teachers to meet the demand occasioned by increase in school enrolment in the state. With N504 billion set aside to run a replica of the UNICEF programme in three other LGAs, what is most important is the sustainability of the programme. Definitely, every beneficiary has pledged not to drop out of school but will they keep strong to that promise when the free funds stop? The expectations of UNICEF and government of continued enrollment, retention and completion of education can only be guaranteed through continuous awareness on the importance and impact of education.

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Investigation

EDUCATION: Why many are left behind

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EDUCATION: Why many are left behind

‘Gender discrimination, a big

 

 

issue as girls face unique set of barriers’

 

 

Education offers children a ladder out of poverty and a path to a promising future. This is why quality education is a right for all children as it remains the key to opportunities. But, as ISIOMA MADIKE finds out in this report, poor and inequitable access to former learning is still an issue of urgent national importance

 

Education, it is said, is a great driver of social, economic and political progress. As people learn to read, count and reason critically, their prospects for health and prosperity expand exponentially. But advances in education have not benefited everyone equally—and primary school enrollment rates tell only part of the regrettable story.

 

Thousands of children who start primary school are unable to finish and still more miss out on secondary school. A recent media dialogue to promote equity for children in some parts of the North facilitated by the United Nations   Children Fund (UNICEF) in collaboration with Child Right Information Bureau, Federal Ministry of Information and Culture, Abuja, revealed sometime unpleasant. A boy, who identified himself simply as Salisu, was found begging other pupils for something to eat at one of the primary schools in the region. Salisu, 10, was barely five years old when he left for a journey of the unknown.

 

He appeared too young to remember his surname when he landed on the streets to start fending for himself. He could not remember exactly what happened to his parents but said he lived with his uncle for about six months before he was beaten and sent out of the home for allegedly stealing two pieces of meat.

 

This sent him to the streets to start a life defined by extreme hardship. “That was how I ended up on the streets,” he said with the help of an interpreter. Wondering up and down the streets with no place to call his home has become the lifestyle of this homeless street kid since then.

 

He survives with little or no food in his belly with no hope of what the future holds for him. Being awakened by the morning breeze to go into the streets, guarding people’s vehicles, jostling for a few naira to buy food has become his daily activity. He struggles to find a safe place to sleep and proper blankets has become a major cause for concern for him as he usually resort to cardboards to warm his tiny body. Such is the life of other streets kids in most urban centres in Nigeria. They have been left out of all forms of education in Nigeria.

 

They said even though they were struggling and suffering, they are not worried about what comes along their way as long they are alive. With a fast-paced lifestyle becoming normal, everyone seeks the comforts of their house at the end of the day. But many take things for granted.

 

The truth is many are never thankful to God for making them fortunate enough to live and relish the successes of life. The day breaks and they get into motion. Either trying to do some chores or just pretending to, everyone seems busy. Even then everything seems so usual and complete, in a way. Life moves at its regular pace for most people.

 

But deserts do exist beyond their green pastures. It’s just that they are overlooked by their moneyblinded eyes. A child, maybe a couple of years old, was wandering on the streets, walking bare feet and in rags. He mopped cars with a filthy piece of cloth but no one seems to notice him.

 

However, only a few could clearly see those countless dreams brewing in Salisu’s hopeful eyes, his innocent smiles complemented by an easy-going expression on his face. He literally captured many minds for a while. As some moved closer, they saw an innocent soul in search of a few coins, which meant the world to him. Many of these young children on the streets would protest unnecessarily to slide down the windows, their little fingers got stuck in the gaps, gasping to be released, but nobody bothered. What an irony of life. A single coin, which holds no value for many, meant a meal to them.

 

Their starving eyes got stuck at a fortunate kid, almost their age, gulping a beverage and munching chips in his father’s air-conditioned car. Probably, they want a taste of the same. But then who is going to buy them all these? That’s the fate they were born with. They died every moment! Caught in the vicious circle of poverty and misfortunes, their chances at a normal life were snatched away mercilessly. Hardship killed their every little desire. It was quite obvious that life was a struggle for them. Fighting every moment for their survival, they begged for money or food.

 

Disregarded as lifeless rascals by the fortunate ones, they were born in a ruined shack and nurtured by poverty. Their only sources of entertainment were the used or discarded toys. On a daily basis, people rush towards their respective ways, paying no attention to these little children on the streets.

 

Standing unfriendly under no shade, they waited for no one in particular. From nowhere, some kindhearted people slipped a few wads in their tiny hands. They said nothing and left with a cold blank stare. The nights are often penetratingly cold and without any form of shelter, the cold can make a night seem excruciatingly long. Sometime, they are three, huddled up on a piece of cardboard and cover themselves with a sack and a piece of plastic on top of their frail thin bodies. Any unfamiliar noise awakens them; the constant fear of attack, robbery or what might be worse: a threat of Sodomy alarmingly lurks at every night-fall!

 

The boys and girls live a seminomadic life, constantly haunted by thugs, watchmen and even the police; their entire existence consists of surviving through the starkest poverty, relentlessly forced to move from one place to the next, seeking shelter in abandoned buildings or empty half-roof shops in the market place during the cold nights. The tens would lie close together, keeping each other warm and comforted throughout the night. Before long, dawn breaks and their day begins.

 

Their clothes are damp and dirty, smothered with mud, ash and feces; the stench from each of them is enough to make one’s stomach churn! And they bath in ponds. After bathing, they often come away smelling even worse than before. Once they have bathed and washed their clothes they let the morning sun dry them off and lay for the wind to dry their clothes. The bath made them unsteady and they laugh and tell jokes, like any other boy or girl their age would do. A bath makes them feel “brand new” and for a moment they forget their horrific existence, with conditions that more resemble ones of animals, than of human beings. Finally hunger sets in and gets the best of them; they hurry to a nearby junction where the traffic-jams consistently bring the cars to a slow stop. The kids spread out and wander from car to car begging for money. Hardly anyone gives them any; most people despise them and call them names or hurriedly close their windows and lock their doors at the mere sight of them. “It was so much easier to earn money this way a few years ago” Salisu said.

 

”Now we are often forced to steal or starve or find scraps of food in the garbage dumps.” Noon approaches and the children have only managed to get a few naira between them. As they head back, they decide to hide the money somewhere, out of fear of being robbed by older “street-boys and girls” who, every day demand money in exchange for protection. “A few naira is enough to lose your life over, if you put up a fight” one of the young chaps told Saturday Telegraph. The signs of starvation are inherent; the children’s bodies are frail, sickly and malnourished and their eyes blank and distant. They throw themselves down on the floor and fall asleep. Most of them have stories so dark they delivered them to the hands of the streets. Stories they never want to revisit but which they forever are unable to forget.

 

The early evening is spent stalking the large garbage piles on the nearby dump; relentlessly searching for something to fill their aching bellies with. As the darkness of night approaches and the traffic slowly dies down, the boys light a fire to stay warm by sitting there, their voices, their unheard dreams; dreams of a good life, of going to school, getting a job and a home – and in their hearts, the silent untold dream of being loved. These summed the pathetic life of street children sewn in abject poverty. It is a major barrier to school enrolment and completion. Many have said that it is the greatest barrier to high-quality education. Even when primary school is technically free, additional charges for uniforms,   textbooks, teacher salaries and school maintenance create financial barriers for many families.

 

Parents consistently say these indirect costs keep them from sending their children to school. In such instances, the kids may never get the opportunity to go to school like their mates, even though they would have loved to. But they are not alone in this seeming cross road. A mother, who declined to be identified, told this reporter a story of her 17-year-old son, who had never been to school because he is deaf and has never had the opportunity to learn sign language. The child was put on a waiting list for a special school when he was eight years old but at 12 he was rejected for being too old. For 17 years, Musa has been sitting at home unable to communicate with anyone aside from pointing, despite being perfectly intellectually capable of learning and contributing to society.

 

A lot of African countries have been working hard to improve children’s access to basic education, but there’s still a lot left to be done. 32.6 million children of primary-school age and 25.7 million adolescents are still not going to school in sub-Saharan Africa. But worse, at over 10.5 million, Nigeria has the highest number of children out of school in the world, recent reports said.

According to UNICEF, Nigeria’s population growth has put pressure on the country’s resources, public services and infrastructure. With children under the age of 15 accounting for 45 per cent of about 180 million population, the burden on education has become overwhelming. And while primary school enrolment has increased in recent years, net attendance is only about 70 per cent, which translates to Nigeria having over 10.5 million out-ofschool children. 60 per cent of those children are said to come from the northern part of Nigeria. The increased enrolment rates have also created challenges in ensuring quality education as resources are spread more thinly. It is not rare to see cases where there are 100 pupils for one teacher, or where students learn under trees or seat on bare floors because of lack of classrooms and chairs.

 

 

The Minister of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu, in January, claimed that the number of outof- school kids in Nigeria dropped from 10.5 million to 8.6 million in the last three years: “When President Muhammadu Buhari came into power in 2015, UNICEF said out-of-school children in Nigeria was about 10.5 million. “But I want to tell Nigerians that with the effort of this government, especially with the school feeding programme, it dropped from 10.5 million to 8.6 million as at last year.” While applauding the efforts of government in the feeding programme, many are not taking in by what Adamu said. Some have contested the assertion.

 

“That’s untrue. And we need to face the fact that the Nigerian education system has undoubtedly failed millions of children. In northeastern Nigeria, conflict has deprived many children of access to education. Teachers have been killed, and schools burned down or closed for security reasons,” one of the commentators, who craved anonymity, said.

 

Also, Save the Children Nigeria, a humanitarian organisation that promotes child rights, has said that more than six in 10 Nigerian children have no early childhood education. The organisation made this known in a campaign that focuses on reaching excluded children.

 

According to it, more children in the North than in the South face a daunting life, have no access to education and are more affected by poverty. “Sadly, Children deprived of basic primary education are largely located in the North with 15 states,” the group tweeted.

 

The statistics, according to the organisation, are worse for females. “Malnutrition is higher in the North than in the South and is far more among female children than males in Nigeria.” Recent reports by the UNICEF revealed a startling rise in child brides, occasioned by the incessant kidnaps of young girls by Boko Haram insurgents. The girls are often sexually abused and used as domestic slave, UNICEF had said. Save the Children Nigeria agrees with UNICEF as it said that early marriage is a serious issue and is more preponderant in the North. It said that Nigeria must end the practice of child marriage and the perpetuation of poverty through the practice, as early marriage shows how children are left behind in education as a result protection deprivation.

 

 

The organisation also asked the government to “fast-track the implementation of the Universal Basic Education Act with emphasis on education for girls”. But this issue is not limited to the North alone. For instance, the Anambra State Commissioner for Education, Professor Kate Omenugha, once said that the stereotype over the years in the East had been that the region is noted for the high rate of boy-child drop-out because of the commercial activities in cities like Onitsha and Nnewi. Surprisingly, she admitted, Anambra State has had its share of girl-child drop-out in the riverine areas were girls are married off at the age of 12 and less. The commissioner painted a gloomy picture of those riverine communities, which she said are mostly farmers and place little value to education.

 

She,   however, said the state government is working assiduously to reverse the trend as several policies have been formulated to get the drop-outs enrolled in schools and provide lifelong skills that will equip the state to become one of the three top states with the lowest illiteracy rate. Another is shortage of classrooms. Largely rural and marginalised areas lack classrooms to accommodate those who are not in school. More classrooms will alleviate overcrowding, cut class sizes and reduce the long travel distances.

 

Children in rural areas sometimes trek two to three hours to attend school. Dilapidated classrooms also need refurbishing or upgrading to acceptable minimum standards for learning. There is also the need to fulfill the right to education in humanitarian crises. Many out-of school children live in conflict-affected areas. But in emergency situations, education can save and sustain lives.

 

A safe school environment can give children a sense of normalcy during a crisis. Schools can also aid in post-conflict reconstruction. Yet only two per cent of all humanitarian aid goes into education, according to reports. Gender discrimination is equally a big issue. Girls face a unique set of barriers to education, such as child marriage, early pregnancy, and expectations related to domestic labour, not to mention unsafe travel and a lack of sanitary facilities. Many in the North under-value girls’ education, with the result that fewer girls enroll and those who do, are more   likely to drop out.

 

Some 34 million adolescent girls are out of school around the world, and women make up nearly two thirds (almost 500 million) of the world’s illiterate adults. The gender gap is said to have significantly narrowed in primary education but there has been limited progress at the secondary level. Child labour equally contributes handsomely to the nagging problem of education in Nigeria. Poverty and vulnerability are pushing far too many young children out of school and into the world of work. Some children remain in school, but are disadvantaged doubling up studies with work. For households living in poverty, children may be pulled out of school and into work in the face of external shocks such as rising costs, or a parent’s sickness or unemployment.

 

By leaving school to enter the labour market prematurely, children miss a chance to lift themselves, their families, and their communities out of a cycle of poverty. Sometimes these children are exposed to the worst forms of labour that is damaging to their physical, mental and emotional well-being. Nutrition has also been identified as one of the most important factors for brain development of babies in the womb, and children from birth until about five. Mothers, who eat food rich in proteins, certain fats, iodine, and others, tend to pass these on to their babies, either in the womb or via breast milk.

 

These nutrients aid the brain development of babies and set the stage for their cognitive ability, or their capacity to learn. The nutritional requirements for brain development persist until children are about five years.

 

At this point, the stage is set for life. Children who get to the age of five in “peak” condition are set to learn more and do more for the rest of their lives, compared to children who do not get there in “peak” condition. To put this differently, children who get proper nutrition from the womb until their early childhood are going to be smarter and learn better than children who don’t get proper nutrition. This stage is set even before the child walks into a primary school. What this means is, even before they get to primary school, even before they get to the hands of the poor-quality teachers, even before they get to the dilapidated structures, they are already at a disadvantage; a disadvantage that stays with them for life.

 

The problems unfortunately do not end there. They continue into primary school too. However, the head teacher of Army Children Special Primary School in Tofa Local Government Area, Hajia Harira Ahmed, confirmed to this reporter that the government’s free feeding programme had achieved far-reaching success. This development, she said, had brought huge relief and has improved enrollment in schools within Kano State.

 

“Nutrition is a major issue in the rural areas and because our pupils can now access free food in school, the attraction has kept increasing. The free school fee is also a major motivation for indigent pupils and we are trying our best to make representation to government on the need to provide more free books than we are having at the moment,” Ahmed said. Infrastructure has remained a major issue in schools in Nigeria, as pupils still take lessons squeezed in a few chairs and desks available. The recent visit to some schools scattered across the country revealed a lot; the major stain being the steady decline of the buildings. It is obvious most of them are living in the glory of their past. The decay, however, is most visible in the classrooms and lavatories.

 

The World Bank Group had warned that the education sector in Nigeria is in crisis and currently widening the social inclusion gaps in the country. The group said this in its World Development Report for 2018 titled “Learning to Realise Education’s Promise” which was presented in Abuja in March this year. It called, in its report, for greater action and coordination of the education sector to achieve the objectives of poverty reduction.

 

It said millions of young students in low and middle-income brackets face the prospect of lost opportunities and lower wages in the future because their primary and secondary schools were failing to educate them to succeed in life. It further warned of a ‘learning crises as it believes that not only to be a wasted development opportunity but also a great injustice to children and young people everywhere.

 

Without learning, it said, education would fail to deliver on its promise to eliminate extreme poverty and create shared opportunity and prosperity for all. The report observed that even after several years in school, millions of children could not read, write or do basic mathematics. This learning crisis, according to the report, is widening social gaps instead of narrowing them. It added that young students disadvantaged by poverty, conflict, gender or disability got to adulthood without even the most basic skills of life.

 

The schools, in the early days of Nigeria’s formation, were what one could wish for. But, not any more as many have degenerated and become eyesores. There is no longer any sign of their status as planned schools right from their entrances, particularly the primary and secondary schools.

Most of these school buildings have been bastardised over the years, while those wearing rainbow new looks have only paints applied without extensive repair work. Many of them lack access to water and sewage disposals. Roads leading to some of them are not easily accessible and are in terrible states of disrepair with heap of refuse that become worse whenever it rains. The once beautiful and attractive schools have today become environmental blights not only to people in their neighbourhood but also to the government, which built them. The schools are, indeed, becoming slums. Dirt, debris, acute shortage of basic amenities and infrastructural decay has crept in on the once vibrant institutions.

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INSIDE STORY OF SOUTH AFRICA DRUG CARTELS

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INSIDE STORY OF SOUTH AFRICA DRUG CARTELS

A growing drug epidemic appears to be silently taking over cities and towns in South Africa. The country seems to have become a key player in global drug distribution with many alleging that Nigerian dealers dominate the trade in recent times. ISIOMA MADIKE, in this report, looks at the booming drug cartel which, over time, has fueled the dangerous xenophobic attacks against other nationals

 

South Africa is gradually but steadily assuming the status of a xenophobic state, which is evil in the eyes of civilised world. The killings and destructions that are associated with it are unimaginable. Little wonder Nigerians are wailing with nationals of other countries agonising too.

However, the recent “madness”, which started on Tuesday, seemed to have united Nigerians, whom, on a normal day, enjoys touting ethnicity and religion to further crate a gorge among the populace.

Yet, some Nigerians do not see the need for the deluge of verbal retaliatory attacks on South Africa in this instance. Chinedum Agwaramgbo, one of such persons, alleged in his Facebook post, that Nigerians in that country actually engineered the hatred visited on them. He claimed that those living in South Africa deliberately and consistently contrive the drug war raging in that country and have “systematically destroyed the very fabric of the people, morally, culturally, economically and socially”.

He further alleged that Nigerians who immigrated to South Africa turned it to one of the major capital city of drugs in the world. The drug cartels, according to Agwaramgbo, began with the Yorubas and increasingly overtaken by the Igbos.

He said: “The Igbos in the drug business have effectively run the Yorubas out of S.A. to other southern African countries like Mozambique. The Nigerians have presently turned the country into a drug-war zone, killings galore with Igbos killing Igbos.

“Do you know that every day in S.A., a Nigerian, precisely an Igbo man, is killed in a drug-related case? I said every day not once a week or once in three days, every day. In fact the Igbo boys running the shows in S. A. have dominated areas they control and all these to the chagrin of the law enforcement agencies.

“Let me tell you a secret that is not so a secret. Do you know that every week at the Akanu Ibiam International Airport here in Enugu, corpses of Igbos slain in “drug battles” in different streets of S.A. are flown into the country? I have personally witnessed the receiving of seven corpses in three weeks in one instance.

“At one of those occasions (normally the corpses arrive on cargo flights of Ethiopian Airlines) I was present when three different families were in the manager’s office to receive their slain sons, two of those families were represented by the aged biological fathers to the dead boys. The third family represented by a younger man in age, an uncle to the third corpse. One of them asked the other elder, which city his son was in. He answered Jo’burg.

“Did the South Africans begin to hate us all of a sudden or they had always hated us all these while? Would you close your eyes to the evil we Nigerians have unleashed in South Africa simply because we saved them from apartheid era? So, because we assisted them that now gives us the gumption to destroy their society like we’ve persistently done ours?”

The post, as should be expected elicited stern reactions, with many pouring out their venoms on Agwaramgbo. To most people, drug issues are as old as the South African nationhood. It has always been a mushrooming trade in that part of the world.

The country, according to investigations, has been facing a growing epidemic with drugs said to have been quietly taking over major cities and small towns in the former apartheid enclave. This much was revealed at the policy briefing by Enact Project, a group, which comprises INTERPOL, in April, based on its research and on-the-ground interviews with drug users and dealers across South Africa. 

“The drug route that crosses South Africa has created a regional heroin economy, with severe social and political repercussions. To a significant degree, heroin is a key commodity underpinning the criminal economy in South Africa and has facilitated the expansion of the criminal economy by pulling in new players as traffickers, dealers and users,” the group was quoted to have said.

Enact is a three-year project (2017-2019), which works to mitigate the impact of transnational organised crime on development, governance, security and the rule of law in Africa.

During the latter months of 2018, Enact conducted interviews with drug dealers, users, health professionals, outreach workers, law enforcement and gang members, to better understand the growing heroin epidemic in the country. It found that the trade in South Africa was far larger and more lucrative than previously thought – with the situation receiving “surprisingly little attention as a national issue”.

Names like nyaope, unga and sugars, are what those involved in the illicit trade call heroin. The dealers are said to maintain a low profile, and are largely non-violent so as not to draw attention. Cape Town, Nelson Mandela Bay, Johannesburg and Tshwane largely control heroin trade, which is sold widely even in villages from taxi parks, train stations, and other fixed spots. It outsells many other drugs, and rivals tik (crystal meth).

A mid-level dealer (in a large gang controlling a fixed dealing point), according to findings, can make up to 200 sales a day from about 50 customers. With “good quality” heroin, they can make between R3,000 and R4,000 a day. Enact though said research into heroin use in South Africa had been lacking, it nonetheless pointed out the difficulty in pining down the exact number of use in the country.

“In Cape Town, dealers in gang-controlled neighbourhoods say that patrol vans treat their selling points as ATMs – a place to visit for small injections of cash. They claim there is no set price for bribes paid to police, but R50 to R100 was an average bribe payment for a low-level police officer in a patrol van. Police officers are said to visit a few times a week,” the group had said.

In January, a R700 million consignment of uncut cocaine from Brazil en route to Singapore and India, which was seized by authorities at Coega harbour outside Port Elizabeth, prompted a call from one of South Africa’s top cops for communities to disempower drug lords.

“By confiscating this cargo, we have severed the supply chain,” Lieutenant-General Godfrey Lebeya, the national head of the Hawks, said of the massive bust.

The Hawks are South Africa’s Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (DPCI), which targets organised and economic crime, corruption, and other serious criminality. The consignment of 706 cocaine bricks, each weighing 1kg, was found concealed at the bottom of the ship – below more than 3,669 containers.

When the ship docked to offload some of its cargo, a team from multiple law enforcement units pounced. A drug bust at the Port of Ngqura on the outskirts of Port Elizabeth that afternoon netted over R700 million in cocaine. The discovery was made after almost two weeks of tracking the cargo as a result of a tip-off by Interpol.

“Since December 27, 2018, the vessel was observed with the assistance of Interpol from both local and abroad. It had already been established that the vessel was going to dock at Coega harbour and continue to Singapore before going to its final destination in India with the illegal cargo. The crime was not only committed in the country where the cargo was harvested and produced; it was also committed in Brazil, where the cargo was clandestinely loaded into the ship. The crime continued in high seas and in South African waters,” said the Hawks in a statement.

The bust, according to a local newspaper, Herald in Port Elizabeth, was the latest in a number of busts involving drugs loaded onto ships from Brazil and then sent through South African ports. Lebeya had urged communities to stop empowering drug syndicates.

While applauding the bust, he acknowledged: “The war on drugs has neither been lost nor won. We are still going to put more efforts in targeting the supply of these dangerous, dependence-producing substances. We will not be allowing these substances to go and ruin the lives of innocent people, who are being turned into drug addicts.

“We are making a call to all communities not to do drugs. Do not demand drugs. Do not apply for a criminal record by doing drugs. If you stop demanding drugs, cartels will not be producing or delivering them. The empires of the cartels will fall. Sever the demand chain. The power to stop this is in your hands.”

Before the January bust, two suspects had been arrested in June 2018, in Namibia after a container with 412kg of cocaine was seized. It is alleged that the container was dispatched from Brazil via Cape Town and then to its final destination in Walvis Bay. A month later, the Hawks found a state-of-the-art underground mandrax-manufacturing laboratory in Harding, KwaZulu-Natal. Police minister, Bheki Cele, who confirmed that, said the mandrax and lab equipment valued at nearly R250 million were also seized.

The January bust was similar to one that took place in 2010, when R400 million worth of cocaine was found sealed inside the frame of a shipping container. That operation also followed a tip-off from Interpol and saw the container seized at Coega, also known as the Port of Ngqura. In the 2010 bust, a Cuban was arrested at home in his Hyde Park, Johannesburg. But, charges against him were later withdrawn following numerous delays in the case.

There had equally been accusations of collusion with criminals by the police to transport drugs while on duty. Bribes taking and falsifying information also led to the arrest of five Vredenburg police officers. The five officials were apprehended after a protracted undercover operation by the Western Cape Anti-Corruption Investigating Unit with Crime Intelligence, South African Police Service (SAPS), said.

“The suspects‚ between the ages of 31 and 38‚ faced an array of charges ranging from unauthorised disclosure of information and fraud to dealing in drugs as well as corruption. The suspects are alleged to have committed illicit activities while deployed to perform court and crime prevention duties. By virtue of the arrests, the suspects‚ two sergeants and two constables are automatically suspended.”

However, there have been other nationals, especially from neighbouring South African countries as well as from Eastern Africa who converge on South Africa that have made her a key player in the global distribution of drugs, according to a multinational research report. The Mpumalanga coal-mining towns of eMalahleni and Middelburg are said to have been “decimated” by the trade, as they are a popular stop for truckers ferrying the deadly drug along the Mozambique ports to Johannesburg.

Children as young as eight in these towns are alleged to be peddling heroin in schools, with one rehab reporting that they have treated 48 children for heroin addiction over a few past years. The report by the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organised Crime (GIATOC) and Interpol said corrupt police and customs officials have allowed international drug traffickers to swarm into South Africa.

It names Gauteng’s City Deep container depot as a heroin smugglers’ haven, and claimed that 75,000 South Africans inject heroin daily, the highest number in Africa.

In spite of this, fingers have always been pointed to Nigeria as the arrow head of the drug cartels. According to a report by the Pretoria-based Institute for Security Studies, Nigerian dealers dominate the cocaine trade, which, it stated, had exploded in South Africa since the end of apartheid in 1994.

“Cocaine and crack cocaine were not commonly available in South Africa (prior to 1994). This market vacuum was filled when Nigerian nationals arrived in Johannesburg just as democracy was dawning,” it said.

The report was released at the time the African Union known then as Organisation of African Unity (OAU) held a conference in Ivory Coast on drug trafficking networks throughout Africa. “This conference is very significant for our country … desperate and unemployed South Africans are being lured by international syndicates with promises of easy money into becoming couriers,” said the then South Africa’s representative, Social Development Minister, Zola Skweyiya, before her departure.

According to the report, Nigerians settled next door to prostitutes, who were central to the demand for crack cocaine and its distribution. “Nigerian nationals had long been involved in the transnational trade in cocaine, heroin and addicted sex workers would rather smoke drugs with their clients than have sex with them, and so have a strong incentive to spread the drug,” it further said.

There are also unconfirmed reports that Nigerians camouflage with genuine businesses to conceal their illicit drug trade.

South Africa’s first arrest for crack cocaine in 1995 was a decade after the drug’s peak in the United States. But by 2001, some eight to 10 per cent of addicts admitted to treatment centres in South Africa were using cocaine, said researcher Andreas Pluddemann.

One reason for the Nigerian dealers’ success, the report said, is the fact that they do not consume their own drugs. In general, the Nigerians, it added, are not as violent as local dealers. The report’s editor, Ted Leggett, said that the Nigerian dealers organised themselves in residential hotels in Hillbrow, a seedy and dangerous inner-city neighbourhood of run-down apartment buildings in Johannesburg.

While this organisation could imply a syndicate structure, it is an organic network where the removal of a “top man” is futile, he said.

The report also advocated the decriminalisation of prostitution as “another way of removing power from the drug lords”.  Findings revealed that emaciated prostitutes, trawling for their next fix, haunt the bars and corridors of these dingy hotels.

However, the incident of 2017 appears to have given credence to the allegation of drug cartels in South Africa. The fight for control of the lucrative South African market, more than 6,000 kilometres (3,700 miles) away came to St Philip’s Parish in Ozubulu, a village in the South-East Nigerian State of Anambra. Thirteen people were shot dead in an apparent reprisal attack between Nigerian drug barons operating in Johannesburg.

Piles of trash line the dirt road leading to Ozubulu, where an endless stream of people hawks everything from adulterated fuel to plastic flip-flops. But among the grinding poverty are huge villas with grand columns and intricate wrought iron gates – glaring anomalies in a region with epileptic power and disintegrating roads.

In August of that year, unknown gunmen interrupted the 6 a.m Sunday mass in the town, hoping to kill Aloysius Nnamdi Ikegwuonu, an alleged Johannesburg drugs kingpin known as “The Bishop”. He wasn’t there but his father and a one-year-old child were in the church and were among those gunned down. “What we had were gunshots, sporadic and reckless shootings,” said Jude Onwuaso, the parish priest.

Police had stated that about 11 people were killed in the church massacre with over 18 other worshippers wounded. But, there were conflicting reports over whether the attack was carried out by a lone gunman or a group of attackers. Although police said the shooting was the result of a feud between Nigerians from Ozubulu who were living abroad.

Anambra State Police Commissioner at the time, Garba Umar, had hinted that the violence could be linked to drug war. He said that the gunman had been hired to kill a local man who was believed to be in St Philip’s Catholic Church built by one of the Nigerian expatriates involved in the feud.

Pastor Linus Akpunonu, father of Chinedu Akpunonu (aka Obrocho), one of the alleged dramatis personae in the Ozubulu Church attack, had said God would have revealed to him if his son was involved in the criminal activity.

He had said: “I am ready for war… I see vision myself and I know that my son has no hand in the killing of innocent citizens at St. Philips Ozubulu. I want to challenge the Anambra State Government, the Ozubulu community and all those involved to invite, if they like, all the seers, to tell Nigerians what happened to the worshippers at St Phillips.”

Akpunonum, in an interview with one of our correspondents then had said that his son had nothing to do with the killing, rather with one Ginika from Mbaise in Imo State, who served him in South Africa. “They had problem in South Africa and all the members of Ozubulu Development Union in South Africa came home in 2014 with their minutes of meetings’ book and the matter was decided at Obi’s palace and Alloysius was told to leave my son alone.

“My son owns a supermarket in South Africa,” the pastor further said, adding, “They told us that one Ginika from Mbaise, who served Alloysius, had a problem with him and left him to join my son and that was also part of the problem they brought home because the boy sued him at the Ozubulu Development Union in South Africa. The boy later died mysteriously with other of his colleagues from the same Umuezekwe Village.”

Meanwhile, families of the dead, who were suspected to belong to drug gangs, licked their pains in solitude as many of them were said not to have approved the vocation their slain sons went into in foreign lands. Most people interviewed on the identity of the South Africa-based business tycoons by our correspondents declined comment while those who spoke did not want their names in print. One of them however, said they were not happy at the turn of events in Ozubulu.

The anonymous source had said: “These young men are evil. See the road leading to where one of them built his mansion. Does it look like the road to the house of somebody who is as rich?

“Many of them in South Africa have formed a drug cartel and that is the reason why they don’t last to enjoy their wealth. Theirs is drug money; evil money. It is sad that all we now do in this town is to burry young men who knew nothing more than drug. This is shameful and we are not happy about what is happening here. May God save us from evil people.”

There was an unconfirmed allegation that pointed to the burial of about three young Ozubulu sons, which sparked suspicion that “Bishop” may have been around to witness the burial. “The people that carried out the shooting and killing of innocent souls on that fateful day were rival drug groups. We heard they wanted to take revenge but missed their target. Instead of retreating, they decided to snuff life out of blameless individuals,” another source, who declined to give his name, had said.

Ozubulu had made headlines for drugs before then. In 2015, for instance, the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) had busted a meth lab allegedly belonging to Ikejiaku Sylvester Chukwunwendu, also known as “Blessed Benita”. He was charged with meth production and trafficking in the village.

He’s one of the biggest kingpins we’ve got,” said state prosecutor, Lambert Nor, who claimed that some of Chukwunwendu’s couriers had been executed in China for drug trafficking. Security experts had their fear that as production increases, meth will find a domestic market like in South Africa, where “tik” — as it’s known on the street — has been described as an “epidemic” and is the most abused drug in the South African Western Cape Province.

But, while speaking on the current xenophobic crisis in South Africa, an unidentified Somali, who claimed to be the Chairman of a board in Somalia, said: “MTN is everywhere, ShopRite is everywhere, and MultiChoice. We are not attacking them, why are they now attacking us? Not all Nigerians are drug dealers, not all Mozambique are bad, not all Zimbabweans are cars hijackers but every day there is constant intimidation, interference and harassment of their business.”

Nigerians have also been reacting. For instance, former Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, advised the Federal Government to suspend diplomatic ties with South Africa. He condemned the incessant attacks on Nigerians and other African nationals in South Africa, describing it as “unAfrican, barbaric, and unparalleled acts of in gratitude”.

The former speaker of the parliament of Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) regretted that the government of South Africa had failed to wield the big stick to end the assaults.

And in what appears to be the government’s alignment with the populace, the presidency announced the pulling out of Nigeria from the ongoing World Economic Forum in Cape Town, South Africa. Before the government’s action, notable Nigerian entertainers, spearheaded by Tiwa Savage, have cancelled their engagements in that country to protest the attacks on fellow citizens.

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MENINGITIS: The disease, the cure

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MENINGITIS: The disease, the cure

Meningococcal meningitis, commonly referred to as cerebrospinal meningitis, is a serious infection of the meninges that affects the brain membrane. The country has been witnessing its outbreaks with the 2017 epidemic earmarked as one of the worst with high mortality. Recently the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA) alerted that about 26.7 million Nigerian children are at risk of contracting this disease. ISIOMA MADIKE, in this report, attempts to find out how this could be tamed from medical experts

 

  • Kissing, sneezing or living in close contacts with a carrier facilitates its spread –Medical experts

 

A Consultant Public Health Physician, Bayo Onajole, has disclosed that meningococcal meningitis, a bacterial form of meningitis, is a serious infection of the meninges that affects the brain membrane. According to the professor of Community Medicine, it can cause severe brain damage even as it is fatal in 50 per cent of cases if untreated. Several different bacteria, he said, can cause meningitis. But, Neisseria meningitidis, he further said, is the one with the potential to cause large epidemics.

“There are 12 serogroups of Neisseria meningitidis that have been identified, six of which (A, B, C, W, X and Y) can cause epidemics. Geographic distribution and epidemic potential differ according to serogroup,” the Consultant Public Health Physician at the College of Medicine, Uni-versity of Lagos / Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), said. Onajole said that the bacteria are transmitted from person-to-person through droplets of respiratory or throat secretions from carriers.

He said: “Close and prolonged contact – such as kissing, sneezing or coughing on someone, or living in close quarters (such as a dormitory, sharing eating or drinking utensils) with an infected person (a carrier) – facilitates the spread of the disease.

“The average incubation period is four days, but can range between two and 10 days. Neisseria meningitidis only infects humans; there is no animal reservoir. The bacteria can be carried in the throat and sometimes, for reasons not fully understood, can overwhelm the body’s defenses allowing infection to spread through the bloodstream to the brain.

“It is believed that 10 per cent to 20 per cent of the population carries Neisseria meningitidis in their throat at any given time. However, the carriage rate may be higher in epidemic situations.” Waheed Abayomi, another medical doctor and managing director of Crest Hospital, Egan-Igando, while agreeing with Onajole, said that the most common symptoms are a stiff neck, high fever, sensitivity to light, confusion, headaches and vomiting.

He said: “Even when the disease is diagnosed early and adequate treatment is started, five to 10 per cent of patients die, typically within 24 to 48 hours after the onset of symptoms. Bacterial meningitis may result in brain damage, hearing loss or a learning disability in 10 to 20 per cent of survivors.

“A less common but even more severe (often fatal) form of meningococcal disease is meningococcal septicaemia, which is characterised by a haemorrhagic rash and rapid circulatory collapse.” According to the doctor, initial diagnosis of meningococcal meningitis can be made by clinical examination followed by a lumbar puncture, showing a purulent spinal fluid. The bacteria, he said, can sometimes be seen in microscopic examinations of the spinal fluid.

“The diagnosis is supported or confirmed by growing the bacteria from specimens of spinal fluid or blood, by agglutination tests or by polymerase chain reaction (PCR). The identification of the serogroups and susceptibility testing to antibiotics are important to define control measures,” Abayomi said. For Onajole, meningococcal disease is potentially fatal and should always be viewed as a medical emergency. Admission to a hospital or health centre, he said, is necessary, although isolation of the patient, according to him, is not essential.

“Appropriate antibiotic treatment must be started as soon as possible, ideally after the lumbar puncture has been carried out, if such a puncture can be performed immediately. If treatment is started prior to the lumbar puncture it may be difficult to grow the bacteria from the spinal fluid and confirm the diagnosis.

“A range of antibiotics can treat the infection, including penicillin, ampicillin, chloramphenicol and ceftriaxone. Under epidemic conditions in Africa in areas with limited health infrastructure and resources, ceftriaxone is the drug of choice,” he said.

To prevent the disease, according to the consultant, three types of vaccines available. He however, said that polysaccharide vaccines have been available to prevent the disease for over 30 years. “Meningococcal polysaccharide vaccines are available in either bivalent (groups A and C), trivalent (groups A, C and W), or tetravalent (groups A, C, Y and W) forms to control the disease. “For group B, polysaccharide vaccines cannot be developed, due to antigenic mimicry with polysaccharide in human neurologic tissues.

The first vaccine against NmB, made from a combination of four protein components, was released in 2014. “Since 1999, meningococcal conjugate vaccines against group C have been available and widely used. Tetravalent A, C, Y and W conjugate vaccines have also been licensed since 2005 for use in children and adults in some countries like Canada, the United States of America, and Europe,” he further said. Abayomi however, said that Cerebrospinal Meningitis (CSM) is a disease characterised by inflammation of the meninges (protective membrane covering the brain and the spinal cord).

He said it can be caused by a variety of microbial pathogens including viral and bacterial organisms, noting that the main etiological agents in bacterial meningitis are Neisseria meningitidis, Streptococcus pneumoniae and Haemophilus Influenzae. Just like Onajole, Abayomi agreed that Neisseria meningitidis (Meningococcus) is a leading cause of bacterial meningitis. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), Meningococcal meningitis occurs in small clusters throughout the world with seasonal variation, and accounts for a variable proportion of epidemic bacterial meningitis.

The largest burden of meningococcal disease, the world health body said, occurs in an area of sub-Saharan Africa known as the meningitis belt, which stretches from Senegal in the west to Ethiopia in the east. WHO further said that during the dry season between December to June, dust winds, cold nights and upper respiratory tract infections combine to damage the nasopharyngeal mucosa, increasing the risk of meningococcal disease. At the same time, transmission of Neisseria meningitidis, it also said, may be facilitated by overcrowded housing and by large population displacements at the regional level due to pilgrimages and traditional markets. WHO said: “This combination of factors explains the large epidemics which occur during the dry season in the meningitis belt. Following the successful roll-out of the MenA conjugate vaccine, epidemics due to Neisseria meningitidis serogroup A are disappearing, but other meningococcal serogroups such as NmW, NmX and NmC still cause epidemics albeit at a lower frequency and smaller size.”

The experts are in agreement with WHO when they noted that Meningococcal meningitis occurs in small clusters but stated that the outbreaks can occur in any part of the world, the largest of these usually occur mainly in the semi-arid areas of sub-Saharan Africa, designated the ‘African meningitis belt’.

Nigeria, according to them, is one of the countries situated within the meningitis belt with almost entire northern sphere of the country embedded in the belt geographically. This, they said, might be the reason the country has been witnessing outbreaks of meningitis, with the 2017 outbreak earmarked as one of the worst with high mortality.

Several guideline documents exist globally, which address specific compoinnents of meningitis response but there is none that is specific to the Nigerian context, leading to response efforts being uncoordinated and unstructured.

The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) which is a parastatal of the Federal Ministry of Health (FMoH) has the responsibility of protecting the health of Nigerians through prevention, detection, and control of communicable and non-communicable diseases. Consequently, the NCDC developed a document as a “National Preparedness and Response Guideline for Cerebrospinal Meningitis Outbreak” in response to the growing need by stakeholders to streamline coordination efforts to prevent and respond to outbreaks of meningitis in Nigeria.

The purpose of the practical guideline was to provide guidance on the prevention, detection and response to cerebrospinal meningitis outbreaks in Nigeria through specific measures. These include prevention, early detection of suspected cases and prompt reporting of these cases from health facilities to higher levels, activation of response coordination structures at national and sub-national levels during outbreaks. It is equally saddled with the responsibility to strengthening surveillance and laboratory confirmation data at all levels and use of such information for immediate public health control response.

The document is the first of its kind in Nigeria that integrates all aspects of control such as Prevention, Surveillance, and Laboratory diagnosis. Others are Case Management, Risk Communication with Social Mobilisation, Vaccines/Logistics and Incident ForewordF8 Management Coordination for meningitis outbreaks with sample details of some useful practical annexes. Compliance with this guideline will improve the country’s response capacity in any subsequent outbreak of meningitis in Nigeria. Little wonder, the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA), a few weeks ago alerted the nation that about 26.7 million Nigerian children between ages one to seven years are at risk of contracting meningitis.

The Executive Director, NPHCDA, Dr Faisal Shuaib, revealed this recently in Calabar, according to the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN),in a message during the introduction of “Men A” vaccine into routine immunisation in Cross River. In the signed message, made available to journalists at the occasion, Shuaib said that Nigeria had 25 states and the FCT that fell within the meningitis belt. He said that the use of vaccines was the only way to prevent meningitis for now. Shuaib said: “The introduction of “MenA” vaccine into the EPI schedule will provide protection against Neisseria Meningitis Serotype A.” In his speech, Professor Ivara Esu, Deputy Governor of Cross River, said the state had trained hundreds of health workers to ensure the success of the exercise.

Esu said that since Cross River was among the 25 states that fell within the belt, the government would do everything possible to ensure that every eligible child was immunised. “Immunisation remains the protection against meningitis. Meningitis is a devastating disease that affects children. We will ensure that every eligible child in the state is immunised,” he said, while urging the women to take their children within 15 months of birth to the nearest government health facility for immunisation.

He expressed appreciation to all the partners in the fight against meningitis, including the WHO, United Nation’s Children Education Fund and the NPHCDA. Also, Rilwan Raji, the State Coordinator of WHO in Cross River, appealed to the state government to ensure the vaccines were well protected. Raji said there was a need for periodic review of routine immunisation in the state. He appealed to traditional rulers, religious and opinion leaders to sensitise their subjects and followers on the need to take advantage of the exercise to immunize their children. NPHCDA however, had earlier introduced meningitis vaccine into the national routine immunisation schedule to tackle this menace, according to reports. With the support of development partners, the Agency in August, 2019, introduced the meningitis A (MenA) vaccine into Nigeria’s routine immunisation (RI) programme.

The introduction of MenA vaccine into the RI schedule was effective nationwide as it provided protection against Neisseria meningitidis Serotype A, the microorganism responsible for meningitis A. This update was obtained from a thread of tweets from NPHCDA’s official twitter account @NphcdaNG. The MenA vaccine was administered free of charge as a single dose injection to children nine months of age, alongside measles and yellow fever vaccines. NPHCDA assured the public of the safety, potency and efficacy of the MenA vaccine and all other vaccines administered under national RI schedule.

WHO is said to be providing supportive guidance to intensify routine immunisation (RI) strategies in lowperforming Local Government Areas in selected priority states in Nigeria. One of such supportive guidance is the engagements with local government area teams during the Optimised Integrated Routine Immunisation Sessions (OIRIS). During these engagements, the local government area teams were taken through problem solving tools to identify root causes and develop strategies to resolving the problems.

In addition, there were face-to-face sessions where the local government area teams were able to share sensitive details about barriers to implementation of their plans for which national interventions are required. The Routine Immunisation Lots Quality Assurance Sampling (RILQAS), which started in the fourth quarter of 2017, has also been adopted by the country to assess the quality of RI service at the local government level. Meningitis is an inflammation of the membranes (meninges) surrounding the brain and spinal cord.

The swelling from meningitis typically triggers symptoms such sudden high fever, stiff neck, severe headache that seems different than normal, headache with nausea or vomiting, confusion or difficulty concentrating, seizures, sleepiness or difficulty waking, sensitivity to light, no appetite or thirst, skin rash (sometimes, such as in meningococcal meningitis). For the newborns and infants, the signs are high fever, constant crying, excessive sleepiness or irritability, inactivity or sluggishness, poor feeding, a bulge in the soft spot on top of a baby’s head (fontanel) and stiffness in a baby’s body and neck. However, early meningitis symptoms may mimic the flu (influenza) and may develop over several hours or over a few days and the infectious agent is virus while risk factors are alcoholism, diabetes, and Human Immuno Virus and Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (HIV/AIDS).

Most cases of meningitis are caused by a viral infection, but bacterial, parasitic and fungal infections are other causes. Some cases of meningitis improve without treatment in a few weeks while others can be life-threatening and require emergency antibiotic treatment. Suspected persons with these sign are advised to see a doctor and seek immediate medical care.

Initial diagnosis of meningococcal meningitis can be made by clinical examination followed by a lumbar puncture showing a purulent spinal fluid. The bacteria can sometimes be seen in microscopic examinations of the spinal fluid. The diagnosis is supported or confirmed by growing the bacteria from specimens of spinal fluid or blood, by agglutination tests or by polymerase chain reaction (PCR). The identification of the serogroups and susceptibility testing to antibiotics are important to define control measures.

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IGANDO ORUDU: HOW LAND DISPUTESTORE 6 COMMUNITIES APART

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IGANDO ORUDU: HOW LAND DISPUTESTORE 6 COMMUNITIES APART

Land tussle and Omo niles are part of Lagos history. It is a constant battle between developers and those bequeathed with the ancestral inheritance. At present, Ofiran and adjoining communities are boiling. While developers cry against ‘land grabbers’, the Omo niles insist they are taking back what rightfully belongs to them. So, who own the lands? ISIOMA MADIKE, TOSIN MAKANJUOLA AND OLAMIDE SOLANA, who have been following this ugly fracas, report

 

One of the biggest decisions to make when buying land in Lagos State is who to buy from. Dealing with Omo ‘niles are not usually easy; it could be a bit risky. Though not every Omo ‘niles’ property deals go bad.

 

However, prospective land buyers could be treading on a thin line, especially if the Omo ‘nile sell   ing the land is not the true owner. This may be the reason why the peaceful environment of Igando Orudu communities was disrupted recently. According to one account, those who unleashed terror on residents and landlords are hoodlums, who the people described as land grabbers. This account has however, been rubbished as the Omo ‘niles insist the lands are their ancestral heritage as they bent on taking back what rightfully belongs to them. The tussle, which saw the gladiators moving from one site to another is fast gaining unwanted momentum and gradually but steadily getting out of control. Foot soldiers are said to have been recruited from all over South-Western communities.

 

They, according to sources, came in from Ibadan, Ondo, Ilaje, and Ekiti. Those alleged to have become notorious faces in the fracas, the sources add ed, were believed to be constantly assembled in a camp provided by their patrons and usually close to the disputed lands. Some of the affected communities are Ofiran, Alakun, Aiyeteju, Onipanu, Elepete, and Gbarada. These communities occupy a sizable portion of Ibeju-Lekki Local Government Area, home to Lekki Free Trade Zone and Epe with over 30 Community Development Areas (CDAs). The attraction is high, making dealers, house owners, builders and artisans to flock the area in their hundreds for business and daily breads. This makes the region the most sought after by property investors. Its rapid development is due mainly to the proposed multimillion dollars projects; the Dangote Refinery, $450 million Lekki International Airport and the 4th Mainland Bridge. Chairman, Ofiran Community Development Association (CDA), Comrade Agogo James, said: “For about six months now, they (land grabbers) have been coming to our community to wreak havoc. They don’t come empty handed but with charms, machetes, and sometimes with guns.

 

They usually come in groups of three, sometimes 10 and could be up to 30 on motorcycles in some instances. “It’s easy to spot them because they drive recklessly without consideration for other road users.

 

Whenever they come   children and adults will run for their lives. School proprietors will have to be on standby to guide their wards to safety while parents rush to schools to pick their children out of fear. We live in constant fear here; fear of the unknown. We need government’s attention and help.” To show their grievances, people in Ofiran community held peaceful protests at different times. “At one time, the women in the community led the protest and the acting chairman of the local government, Jelil Odofin, said he would call the land grabbers for peace. But as I am talking to you now, we have not seen his intervention in any way.

 

“On June 12, we held another peaceful rally in our community to make government know what we are going through. We learnt that the governor was supposed to visit us then but for the crisis in Ajah at the time. We had written petitions to Area J and Elemoro Police stations, in Ibeju-Lekki, before that. “The following day, scores of land grabbers forcefully entered the community and while they were trying to pack workers’ tools, a woman challenged them, and she was beaten up. This led to a free for all as the women defended themselves and threw bottles at them. In the process many women sustained serious injuries and one of them got injured too. This has been our lot for some time now. “Four days after, on June 17, I was invited to Elemoro Police Station, seven others, including a woman were taken away about 2am from their respective homes. I personally spent 15 days in custody while others spent an average of 10 days before our bails were facilitated by the community,” James said.

 

He added that the land grabbers were open to negotiations with landlords, who were ready to meet their usually huge demands. Some landlords, he further said, resorted to negotiate with them to keep their property. “Out of fear, some landlords went on to discuss with them and pay to complete their housing project. Such payments usually run into millions of naira. It’s like buying the land afresh and at prevalent market rate. Unfortunately, not all the landlords were willing to negotiate. For others, they could not meet such stringent condition,” he said. But, the assistant Secretary to the Orudu Royal Family, Ibrahim Adewale, has put a lie to all allegations by James and others living in the communities. On the contrary, Adewale said they had been the ones terrorising the communities with hoodlums. According to him, the name of the kingdom is Igando Orudu.

 

He said: “It has been its name from time immemorial; that is what is in the archive. It was not only the name of Orudu that was written in the archive, also Debojo, Idajo, Arapaju, Ibeju-Lekki, Onimedu of Orimedu were written in the archive too and they wrote about the villages that were under each town.

 

 

“Apart from the archive facts, it was mentioned that the first settlers at Igando Orudu were from Ipemoko. According to impostors, the town bears different kind of names; they call it Igando Orudu Confederation or Oku Igando. The other names they mentioned are not in the archive. What the Igando Orudu kings met right from the inception, is how it is presently.

 

“They took us to court for chieftaincy issues, and we won the judgement against them, which shows that we are the rightful owners of the land. They quoted a document in some publications that the king of Onilekki was the one that did the document. “The king of Lekki is not the paramount ruler of Ibeju-Lekki kingdom. The only paramount ruler we have in Ibeju-Lekki is Oba Rafiu Salami and he is still the present ruler. He was the one that enthroned Baale Surajudeen Olukayode Bello in that position and did not dethrone him till now. The chieftaincy affairs of Lagos State and that of Lekki confirmed that Surajudeen Olukayode Bello is the proper person who should lay claims to the throne. He is the one that has authority over the lands in that town and not Chief Fatai Agbaje, Taiwo Agbaje or anyone else.

 

“There was a man named Bashiru Oruye who said he is the head of the 13 communities in the villages. But I can tell you for fact that Bashiru is not connected to Igando Town. Let them bring any document they claimed to have to prove their stake in the town; let them come forward to defend it. They only portray themselves as the Igando Orudu Family. If truly     they are the owner of the land and bears Igando Orudu’s name, they should come forward with the document to buttress the fact that they bear Orudu.” Chief Ganiu Giwa, General Secretary to the Royal family of Igando Orudu, also confirmed to this reporter that they were, indeed, the original owners and founders of Igando Orudu in Ibeju-Lekki comprising Aiyeteju, Alakun, Ofiran, Ofiolokun and Okeya villages.

 

“At the beginning of this crisis, we went to the Lagos State government, which advised that the issue we are talking about is of two folds. The people we met advised that we take the one concerning chieftaincy to the ministry of chieftancy affairs in Alausa and the second one should be taken to the ministry of land and civil matters of which we wrote two separate letters to them.

 

Thereafter, we were advised to direct the chieftaincy issue to Ibeju-Lekki chieftaincy committee and we have been attending their meeting for over two and half years on a monthly basis. “It was confirmed that Orudu was founded by our great grandmother. Having shown them the archive, they gave us the authority to ascend the throne of Baale. The Onibeju crowned our Baale. So, we were given the authority to ascend the throne of Baaleship. “I can also confirm that we sold the land they claimed belong to them to Baba Mutairu Owoeye because the lands belongs to the Orudu Royal family. The family sold the land to him several years ago. The other family is saying that we don’t have right and we told them that we are the owners and we have been following them to Ibeju-Lekki Local Government chieftaincy meeting for many years.

 

 

“They took us to Magbon Magistrate’s Court; so, I don’t know why they are causing trouble. They burnt all our properties including cars and houses. Just of recent, Baba went to show a customer that wanted to buy land, when they got to the site, a man came and approached Baba Owoeye threatening to kill him and he was arrested by the security agent that accompanied him to the site and was taken to court.” Baale Bello also said his kingdom has enough evidence to show that the land sold to Owoeye belongs to his forefathers.

 

“My people collided with the Ajagungbales that came to our town in 2015 and destroy our properties including houses and cars. “Our document is here, and we have them in archives too because when we went to the Lagos State government to discuss this matter, they made us to understand that we have to go to the national archive in Ibadan, we have the document there. In the archives, it’s there that Orudu is the founder and owner of Igando and this Orudu they are talking about was the Orudu that came from Epe and they itemised the way we own the land.

 

“Therefore, we don’t want anybody to carry any erroneous publication against us, especially against Baba Owoeye because he is a gentle man.

 

Baba Owoeye will never do anything untoward to collect anybody’s land with force. Turning around to label him an Ajagungbale is most unfortunate. “We have known him from the year 2000 and we have been together since then. I am saying this on behalf of the royal family of Igando, Aiyeteju, Alakun and Ofiran. The place that was mentioned, Ofiran; our mother was the founder of that land and the owner of the land.

 

The descendants of those she brought to work for her are the ones causing these problems. They don’t have any stake here. So, I don’t know why they are making trouble with us.” Incidentally, the petitioners have thus far failed to follow up with their petition at the state Ministry of Justice and the Anti-Land Grabbing Task Force offices. Although he claimed that one Emma from the Admin office of the anti-land grabbers office sent him a text message on August 8, to come and collect the   acknowledged copy of the petition, a source in the justice ministry alleged that since after the petition over two and half months ago, nobody has come forward to furnish the office with further information on the issue.

 

 

“It is not feasible for us to know about all land fracases in Lagos. We rely on such communities to come out, file petition and do follow up. That is the only way we can help them,” the source added. Also, the image maker of the Lagos State Special Anti-Land Grabbers Task Force, Mrs. Bukola Bakare, confirmed to one of our reporters in her Alausa office that a petition was indeed submitted on May 2, on the CDA letter head but that the phone contact on the letter was not going through when a call was put across to the petitioners. She said: “It was acknowledged by our office and a file was opened for them with number 3301. But as I speak with you, we have not heard from them.

 

Once they come with the required documents, and the Attorney General authorises us, we shall definitely step into the case. It is our duty to investigate and mediate between feuding parties.” Meanwhile, the Lagos State Government has advised all legitimate land and property owners in the state to perfect title documents as well as other legal documents pertaining to their parcels of lands and properties. It said this would help put land grabbers at bay and ensure easy administration of justice in the event that such properties were forcefully taken.

 

The coordinator of the state Task Force on Land Grabbers, Owolabi Arole, gave this advice recently at his office while reviewing the activity report of the taskforce for the first and second quarter of 2019. He noted that undocumented and incomplete transactions as well as untidy property documentation made it difficult for property forcefully taken to be retrieved through legal means. He said: “A large chunk of the land grabbing cases the taskforce is working is fraught with issues of improper and incomplete documentation and such causes delay in getting justice for rightful owners of land.

 

These issues however have not deterred us from carrying out our mandate and getting justice for rightful owners of land from unscrupulous element that forcibly encroach and dispose them of their property.”

 

He explained that the taskforce had continued to vigorously carry out its mandate to reduce to a barest minimum the activities of persons or corporate entities that use force and intimidation to disposes or prevent any person or entity from acquiring legitimate interest and possession of property in Lagos State. Arole noted that the task force has since inauguration received over 1, 300 petitions bordering on land grabbing and related issues, treated and concluded 550 cases, made 35 arrest and presently working on 330 petitions. While urging citizens who are victims of land grabbers whose land has been encroached upon not to take the laws into their hands, the coordinator advised them to report such incident to the special taskforce on land grabbers who would take it up and ensure that justice was done. He warned land grabbers to desist from their illicit trade, stressing that the state government would through the task force bring the full wrath of the law on anybody caught for forcibly taking another person’s land. The activities of land grabbers were rampant but relative calm and peace prevailed following the Lagos State Government Properties Protection Law on August 15, 2016.

 

The 15-section law prohibits forceful entry and illegal occupation of landed properties, violent and fraudulent conducts in relation to landed properties in Lagos State and for connected purposes. The main objective of the law is to ensure that investors, businessmen, and the general populace carry on their legitimate land/property transactions without hindrance or intimidation. With the passage of the law, a Special Anti-Land Grabbers Task Force was inaugurated to help investigate, mediate and execute the law. The task force was also giving the power to arrest and prosecute those who go contrary to the law.

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BREAST MILK , ‘BABIES’ FIRST KITCHEN’, CRUCIAL FOR FIGHTING MALNUTRITION –EXPERTS

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BREAST MILK , ‘BABIES’ FIRST KITCHEN’, CRUCIAL FOR FIGHTING MALNUTRITION –EXPERTS

Malnutrition is said to be a pathological condition brought about by inadequacy of one or more of the nutrients essential for survival, growth, development, reproduction and capacity to learn and function in the society. This is invisible, yet deadly. Breast, which is the ‘first kitchen’ for the baby’s meal, remains a therapy for attacking this malady. As such, experts insist, infants should not be deprived of this nature’s take away food. ISIOMA MADIKE reports

 

 

 

Oluwatoyin Mordi, who lives in Otuke Village in Sango Ota, Ogun State, has seen many of her community’s children suffer from malnutrition, some of them dying as a result. The 32-year-old feels fortunate that she didn’t lose any of her own. She fed two of her babies with water as well as breast milk during the first six months of their lives, but only because she didn’t know other better options. “I didn’t know I should have given them only breast milk at that age. I only learnt that later at the Ifako General Hospital, Agege, Lagos, where I had gone to see a friend, who newly gave birth to a baby at the health centre in February, 2018. I wish I knew what I now know then,” she explained with regret etched into her voice.

 

Amaka Chibuzor, 36, is also a mother of two young children. Her first baby was often sick and used to cry through the night, but after learning about better breastfeeding practices, Chibuzor changed the way she feeds her second baby, now four months old and in good health. She said: “With this child, I can sleep well because he is not ill. I breast-fed him immediately after birth and had given him no other foods thus far.

 

Even when he is ill I still breastfeed him because now I know it is important.” This is a sharp contrast to Clara’s first experience with motherhood when she fed her baby boiled sugar, water, and butter, which made him ill often. This was due to misconception and lack of awareness that breast milk is a complete meal for an infant. “I often took him to the primary health centre at Alapere-Ketu, Lagos, where I live, with abdominal cramping, diarrhea and vomiting. The health bills were always making me broke,” she recalled.

 

Relieved and smiling, another woman, who preferred to be identified simply as Ofunne, recounted the ordeal she had to go through a few years back in her Egbeda, Lagos abode. Her youngest child, Emmanuel, unexpectedly fell ill and Ofunne had no idea what to do.

 

“He is smiling and being playful now that he is cured. You should have seen him when I took him to the hospital. He could not eat and his temperature was very high and he looked frail,” she said. For almost a week, then one-yearold Emmanuel was unwell and had a very high fever. With each passing day, he became weaker and a neighbour advised his mother to seek treatment at a primary health care facility in their neighbourhood, where integrated nutrition services were provided.

 

“I was very worried. I had never seen this before and my other child had never suffered from this disease. Things were tough and I didn’t know whether the fact that we were struggling to find enough food had anything to do with it,” she told Saturday Telegraph. Ofunne, with little education and two children under the age of three, relies solely on her husband for survival. The man, an Okada rider, who also grows crop on a small rented piece of land, has lately been struggling to harvest enough for food and sale. As a result, the household has had very limited food intake, with the youngest, Emmanuel, being the most affected. After screening, Emmanuel was found to have severe acute malnutrition. He also had a high fever and no appetite after initial medical assessment.

 

“We had to transfer him to a Stabilisation Centre for in-patient management of severe acute malnutrition with medical complications in a general hospital. “We needed his medical condition to be stable first so we could handle his nutritional rehabilitation,” said a nutrition services provider at the centre, who preferred to remain anonymous. Two weeks ago at another primary health centre in Gbagada, Lagos, one and half-year-old Bolanle gave a loud cry as she was placed in the spring scale with her legs dangling in the air.

 

A health worker quickly noted down her weight, lifted her out and returned Bolanle to her mother. The news was not good. Bolanle weighed five kilos, only two thirds the average weight of a normal toddler her age. “My baby is very ill,” said Bunmi staring at her daughter.

 

She had been queuing with other mothers of malnourished children at the health centre, which is a few yards away from her house. “For about four days, she has been suffering from severe diarrhoea, high fever and lack of appetite,” the mother said of Bolanle. “From the screening and weight records, Bolanle was severely malnourished but with no complications,” Ahmed, one of the nutritionist said, adding, “We have many cases like these coming to the Outpatient Therapeutic Programme.

 

This month alone, we received over 10 new cases of severe mal-   nutrition,” he told Saturday Telegraph. Pathetic as Bolanle’s case may seem, hers, is not an isolated case. In the queue on this day is Aminat with her eight-month-old baby – Sadiq.

 

Two months ago, the child had acute diarrhoea and became severely malnourished. At that time she weighed four kilogrammes but after treatment and a supply of the peanut-based paste, she is nearly double that weight. “I couldn’t produce breast milk, I used to feed her with cows’ milk and tea before I knew it was not good for her,” said Aminat, a mother of seven children. “Today, I was told it is her last day at the clinic, she is better now.” The nutrition officer at the centre explained that the major causes of malnutrition in many neighbourhoods are majorly lack of breastfeeding, inappropriate food for babies and children, poor hygiene and sanitation as well as drinking contaminated water. “The other challenge is that there is not enough food in many homes,” said matron of the home, who identified herself only as Motunrayo.

 

“If a mother has not eaten well, she will not be able to produce enough milk to breastfeed her child and that is a big problem here.” Like Bolanle, most of the children in this bracket are said to come from Nigeria’s poorest communities, where literacy is poor and poverty high. Their mothers are themselves often undernourished, forced into early marriage when they reach puberty, and give birth to underweight babies with weak immune systems. In many Nigerian neighbourhoods, there are children whose bones are popping out of the body.

 

The sunken eyes, drooping faces, swollen belly, chapped lips and wrinkled skin are common place in most states of the federation. This, incidentally, is the physical description of a child, who is malnourished. Due to lack of food and insufficient health supply, many children in Nigeria suffer from this heartbreaking disease. Though no longer news to a vast majority of the people as many who live in big cities with big houses and drive posh cars, still have plenty of chances to come across the malady. In highbrow areas, they are considered to be low and windows are usually shut when they beg for money for their survival. But Nigerians, as a minimum, deserve a life free from hunger, considering her vast resources. Unfortunately, both poverty and hunger have continued to haunt the country’s landscape.

 

Hunger is both a cause and consequence of poverty, as people on low income tend to have worse diets, while people who lack adequate nutrition struggle harder to extricate themselves from poverty. The scary picture is the same all   over. Illiteracy or lack of awareness has, indeed, taken its toll on Nigerian kids. Mothers, in most communities, according to investigation, do not breastfeed their children well, chiefly because of ignorance or lack of nutrients in their own bodies. They often rely on con taminated water, making their children prone to illnesses like diarrhea, which prevents nutrient absorption. Incidentally, many of these families live on less than $1 a day, which can hardly afford anything beyond local foods like corn mill (tuwo) in the North and palp (akamu) in the South.

 

These foods are devoid of much-needed protein and other nutrients. For the children, their mothers’ plans mean little unless they put enough of the right food in their stomachs. Almost as shocking as Nigeria’s high prevalence of child malnutrition is the country’s failure to reduce it. “It is a national shame. Child nutrition is a marker of the many things that are not going right for the masses,” said a nutritionist, who identified himself simply as Maduegbune. But, it does appear that the country’s efforts at reducing the number of undernourished kids have been largely hampered by blighting poverty where many cannot afford the amount and types of food they need.

 

In addition, over reliance on carbohydrate-rich food that fuel and fill the poor rather than truly nourish them in the country’s poorest rural settings, according to findings, have not only added to the problem but have worsened it. The country’s GDP maybe marginally high, but the majority of the children under five years of age are immensely underweight.

 

They have no source of gaining their weight back or stay healthy, as the most privileged in the society are not taking enough actions to mitigate this. Sadly, about three in five babies, according to global statistics, are not so lucky and are not breastfed in the first hour of life, despite the fact that breastfeeding within an hour after birth is critical for saving newborn lives. Perhaps, this may be the reason why United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) often emphasises that breastfeeding gives the best and the only nutrition babies need in their first six months of life. It helps them, according to UNICEF, to prevent illnesses and boost their brain development. It is also said to be an integral part of the reproductive process with important implications for the health of mothers.

 

The first 1,000 days of a child’s life, according to nutrition experts, offers a unique window of opportunity for preventing undernutrition and its consequences. But due to poor adherence, malnutrition, which is a direct or underlying cause of 45 per cent of all deaths of under-five children, remains high, especially in Nigeria. To enable mothers to establish and   sustain exclusive breastfeeding for six months, the World Health Organisation (WHO) and UNICEF recommend: Initiation of breastfeeding within the first hour of life, exclusive breastfeeding – that is the infant only receives breast milk without any additional food or drink, not even water, breastfeeding on demand – that is as often as the child wants, day and night and no use of bottles, teats or pacifiers.

 

UNICEF also said that breast milk, which was the natural first food for babies, provides all the energy and nutrients that the infant needs for the first months of life, and it continues to provide up to half or more of a child’s nutritional needs during the second half of the first year, and up to one-third during the second year of life. It is equally said that breast milk promoted sensory and cognitive development, and protected the infant against infectious and chronic diseases.

 

Exclusive breastfeeding, UNICEF emphasised, reduced infant mortality due to common childhood illnesses such as diarrhoea or pneumonia, and helped for a quicker recovery during illness. “It contributes to the health and wellbeing of mothers; and helps to space children, reduces the risk of ovarian and breast cancers,” the world health body said. However, while breastfeeding is a natural act, it is also a learned behaviour. An extensive body of research has demonstrated that mothers and other caregivers require active support for establishing and sustaining appropriate breastfeeding practices. This may be the reason why WHO and UNICEF launched the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative in 1992, to strengthen maternity practices to support breastfeeding. However, breastfeeding policy tends to be an emotive issue. Yet, international agencies recommend exclusive breastfeeding for 4-6 months followed by continued partial breast-feeding into the second year of life in order to promote infant and child health and minimise the damage caused by the malnutritioninfection cycle.

 

It provides natural antibodies that help babies resist illnesses such as ear infections. It’s usually more easily digested, according to medical experts, than formula. So, breastfed babies, they say, are often less constipated and gassy. It is also believed to benefit infants because, according to nutritionists, breast milk contains the ideal mix of nutrients for babies, as it contains factors which promote development of the infant’s gut and immune system and which prevent pathogen invasion, and prevents intake of pathogens in food or water. It has been shown to enhance bonding with their mothers. “Breastfeeding usually plays an integral role in forming the deep attachment between mother and baby. Bottle-feeding mothers may not be securely attached to their babies in like manner.

 

Newborns have a strong sense of smell and know the unique scent of breast milk. That is why a baby will turn his or her head to the mother when he or she is hungry. They can see up close and personal. They are born extremely nearsighted, which means they can only see things about eight to 15 inches away. “There is a well-accepted extra closeness that breastfeeding mothers experience that is both hormonal and emotional in nature. The only disadvantages for the baby in breastfeeding occur when things are not going well, for example, if there’s an inadequate supply of breast milk or an inefficient suck reflex in the baby,” said one nutritionist. It has also been said that breastfeeding has a nearly perfect mix of vitamins, protein, and fat — everything the baby needs to grow.

 

It has equally been linked to higher IQ scores in later childhood in some studies. Breastfed infants are said to be more likely to gain the right amount of weight as they grow rather than become overweight children. Nutritionists have also said that breastfeeding plays a role in the prevention of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). When children, before the age of five, miss out on the nutrition they need it can affect them in many ways. They may be shorter for their age, perform poorly at school and have problems learning skills, which stops them from reaching their full potential. However, if they have not received enough nutrients or if they have been ill, they will more than likely suffer from malnutrition. A malnourished child is more prone to disease. He needs food to stay alive, and to stay strong. Without proper nutrition, the immune system is not efficient, and disease enters through germs like bacteria and can attack easily. Then a cycle begins. When there is a disease, the child could easily become malnourished.

 

Malnutrition is a dangerous condition that develops when the body does not get enough nutrients to function properly. While stunting remains the main long-term effects of malnutrition in children. The malady can hinder a child’s ability to grow normally, leaving both height and weight well under normal when compared with children the same age. Stunted growth can be permanent, and a child may never   achieve normal height or body weight if chronically malnourished. According to the “British Medical Journal,” malnutrition in children can adversely hinder brain development and intellectual capacity in the early stages of life. Marsamus is one of the effects of malnutrition. It is a severe protein-energy deficiency that can develop as a result of malnutrition. It is characterised by a lack of nearly all nutrients, particularly protein and calories. Equally called an energy deficiency, marsamus is categorised by pronounced and severe weight loss, thin and papery skin that is sometimes darker than normal, distinct hair loss, a pinched facial expression and long periods of apathy.

 

Kwashiorkor is slightly different. It is an acute type of protein-energy deficiency that is common in children who are malnourished. It differs from marsamus in that calorie intake can be sufficient, but protein intake is severely restricted. Symptoms of kwashiorkor include discoloured, brittle hair that has a copper sheen, rashes, water retention, a distended belly caused by bloating, an enlarged liver and lethargy. If left untreated, this condition leads to coma and eventual death.

 

However, malnutrition can involve not only insufficient macronutrients such as protein, carbohydrates and fat, but also insufficient micronutrients such as vitamins and minerals. Vitamin and mineral malnutrition can have an array of effects, depending on the specific micronutrient that is lacking in the diet. For example, a deficiency in the mineral iron can lead to anaemia, or a low red blood cell count. While a lack in vitamin C can lead to scurvy, which causes tiredness and yellowing of the skin.

 

But, ingesting adequate amounts of vitamins and minerals can prevent deficiency. This malaise could be invisible, yet deadly. As recently as 10 years ago, treatment for severe wasting had to be carried out only in hospitals. Today, in Nigeria, an innovative community-based approach (CMAM) led by the government is reaching large numbers of children – far more than a limited number of hospital beds will ever allow. Nigeria’s CMAM programme welcomes mothers, careers and children to local health clinics across the country. At CMAM, malnourished children are able to recover quickly by eating fortified peanut-based Readyto- Use Therapeutic Food (RUTF). Mothers and children also receive basic health care, treatment for common childhood diseases, and nutrition and feeding advice, which can be followed at home. Working with Nigeria’s Federal Ministry of Health, state Ministries and UNICEF, the community programme delivers life-saving care and treatment to children with severe wasting under the age of five in Nigeria.

 

All children diagnosed with severe wasting attend regular clinics and receive advice on home care and treatments, including packets of RUTF which can help them, recover quickly. The model for community-based treatment has proven itself to be cost effective with impact.

 

There is an urgent need for treatment of severe acute malnutrition to become part of essential health services delivered by all clinics across Nigeria. The expectation is that every child who needs treatment should receive it. Insufficient diets are a fact of everyday life for hundreds of millions of children. The signs of malnutrition are so common – a short child or a child who has lost some weight. They often do not appear sick or suffering at first. But they are. Although malnutrition is not merely the result of too little food, it is a pathology caused principally by a lack of essential nutrients, which not only causes growth to falter, it also increases susceptibility to common diseases. This is why a common cold or bout of diarrhoea can kill a malnourished child. Most of the damage caused by malnutrition occurs in children before they reach their second birthday. This is the critical window of opportunity when the quality of a child’s diet has a profound, sustained impact on his or her health, physical and mental development.

 

Despite the vast numbers of pre ventable deaths worldwide, international assistance over the past decade appears to have paled into nothing when compared to what the World Bank estimates is required to adequately combat the malaise in high-burden countries, where 90 per cent of malnourished children live today. The Country Manager, Nigeria and Regional Representative West Africa, Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), Dr. Larry Umunna, said: “Malnutrition has become a public health concern in Nigeria as micronutrients were absent in staple foods.” Also, Prof. Laolu Akinyele of the Department of Human Nutrition, University of Ibadan, has called for the fortification of food products with micronutrients to reduce high rate of malnutrition-induced diseases. Akinyele, who described micronutrients as nutrients needed only in tiny amounts but which absence in the body have severe consequences said their absence affect every stage of the lifecycle from embryo to the adult stage.

 

“The lack of micronutrients in foods could cause delayed growth and intellectual development in babies, blindness and anaemia in adolescents; night blindness and maternal anaemia in pregnant women and diabetes and cancer in adults,” he added. Quoting statistics, president, Nutrition Society of Nigeria, Prof. Ngozi Nnam, once said about 37 per cent of Nigerian children were stunted, 29 per cent underweight and 18 per cent wasted while micronutrient deficiencies were also high. “While we are grappling with the challenge of under nutrition, the incidence of obesity and related manifestations of over-nutrition are beginning to emerge at relatively significant levels,” she said.

 

The Deputy Director/head of nutrition, Federal Ministry of Health, Dr. Chris Isokpunwu, also said that malnutrition was one of the underlying causes of under-five mortality rate in Nigeria, contributing 53 per cent of infant mortality. While blaming malnutrition on low level of exclusive breastfeeding of Nigerian children under the first six- months of life, Isokpunwu urges mothers to scale up nutrition before and during pregnancy till age two of a child’s life in order to empower his mental development.

 

John Mudzongo, a nutritionist, said: “We are often told that we are what we eat. Not just that, food is what makes you and nutrition comes out of food and one thing we also know is that, if a person is not adequately nourished, the person is practically in no place to do much of anything.”

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Childbirth: Paralysis, not a hindrance –Doctors

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Childbirth: Paralysis, not a hindrance –Doctors

Specialised medical practitioners have debunked insinuation suggesting that people with spinal cord injuries may not be able to bear children because of their disabilities. ISIOMA MADIKE reports

 

A –Doctors young woman, who identified herself simply as Gloria, shared her story to encourage other women who are paralysed and have little information on how paralysis affects the body during pregnancy and childbirth.

 

She said: “Just a few years ago I was ignorant to the realities of paralysis. I didn’t know what it meant to have a spinal cord injury or what that world was like.” Gloria said she had no such information when she decided to take the plunge to and become a mother. “In 1996, I had a car accident that resulted in a complete Spinal Cord Injury (SCI).

 

I was a very young girl at the time of the accident and like most young people, had many aspirations to fulfill. One of those wishes was to become a mother. This dream came true in 2007 with the birth of my first child: a healthy baby boy.

 

 

“It was February 2007 when my doctor told me that I had conceived and was to become a mum. I was so excited, happy and thankful that I was able to conceive naturally – not that there was any physical reason why I couldn’t. Initially, I went to a hospital (Spinal Unit) and from there I was referred to a Professor of Obstetrics

 

“In the first three months of pregnancy (trimester), I had many sleepless nights due to relentless nausea and experienced a general feeling of being unwell 24 hours a day. I can’t recall how many times I threw up! Being nauseous is a common condition during pregnancy and had nothing to do with my paraplegia.

 

 

“Another symptom was frequent urination and it drove me insane! I was fortunate that I did not get any bladder infections and hence no medication was required prior or during my pregnancy. As a result of the physical stress on my body, I began to feel emotionally drained, unfocused and moody.

 

“Even with these symptoms, I found the first three months of pregnancy relatively easy. I was able to work up until I was five months pregnant. I didn’t need any special treatment or help at this stage. In order to get a grasp on the things that were happening to my body, I bought a few books on pregnancy and the effects it has on a woman’s body. I was of the opinion that I was not any different to able pregnant women.”

 

She said that her posture began to suffer as her abdomen began to sit on her lap, pulling her shoulders forward. She had to constantly make a conscious effort to hold herself upright and not slouch over.

 

Red marks began to appear on her bottom due to the increase of weight and bad posture. “It became increasingly difficult to do my lifts to relieve the pressure off my bottom,” she said, adding, “my balance was all over the place. I could not take the risk of getting a pressure sore while pregnant so I began to spend extra time lying down. I noticed my bowel regime had changed. Prior to the pregnancy I was regular but now it had become more difficult. “At times, I was constipated and felt as if I was going to explode. I ate lots of fruit in an attempt to resolve the problem.

 

 

However this was only effective part of the time. I can’t recall if I had any bowel accidents.” The day before she went into labour she began having tingles about 4.00pm. At first, she thought she had to pass urine, as that is what the tingling sensation usually indicated for her. However, on this particular day the tingles lasted longer and they were much more intense. She called her husband on the phone when she got the second bout of tingles and explained to him what she was feeling.

 

Gloria said: “I remembered him saying that I must be going into labour and I replied ‘No I’m not! I’m not supposed to be feeling anything’. At this stage I thought I had better tell one of the nurses, who had been looking after me for the past four weeks, that I was experiencing these strange sensations. The nurse examined me and said I was dilating and should get prepared for birth.

 

“Later on that afternoon my doctor examined me and I had become even more dilated. In the evening I was taken to the delivery ward. In the early hours of the next day the tingling and sweats intensified and by 7:00 am I was in a constant sweat.

 

I had also started to develop a headache. It felt as if I was experiencing an extreme bout of hyper-reflexia. In the later phase of labour, every time I had a contraction my abdomen felt as if there was a herd of elephants stampeding and I was being trampled on. “The closer the contractions became, the worse I felt. I was in agony and could barely catch my breath.

 

 

With every contraction I began to push and was sweating profusely. At this time a group of nurses, who had looked after me, came in to gain insight on a paraplegic giving birth. With the help of forceps and an episiotomy, at 9:33 am, my son was born fit and healthy. All the pain had gone and the sweat began to diminish.

 

“The birth of my son was the most unbelievable experience I have ever had. I was overwhelmed with joy and happiness that I could bring a new life into the world. When I held him in my arms for the first time I began to question my ability to look after him. I am so glad that I did not miss out on the motherhood experience because of paraplegia.”

 

However, women are not alone on this as there was also a story of a popular gospel singer, Yinka Ayefele, who had triplets 22 years after spinal cord injury. When, three years after the accident that damaged his spinal cord and left him permanently on the wheelchair, the said musician got married to his heartthrob in the year 2000.

 

Many questioned if the man and the woman signing up for a lifetime of love knew what they were doing. Fate proved everyone wrong when the man announced the birth of his triplets to the bewildered audience via a live programme on a popular radio station in Ibadan.

 

Said to consist of two boys and a girl, Ayefele made the confirmation in a programme titled “Let’s Talk About It” which he anchored with another person shortly after reports began circulating that the famous musician is now a father of triplets. The confirmation however, came barely a month after he was forced to deny a trending story that his wife had given birth to triplets.

 

This may be the reason why the announcement further left many people confused. But, such sweet stories of those confined to wheelchair are not common everywhere. For some, their stories took a different pattern. Bridget, in her early ‘40s, for instance, had an accident a few years ago, which cramped her to a wheelchair.

 

She was newly married at the time but her husband, Olayemi, was quite supportive. In spite of Bridget’s paralysis, Olayemi provided all that could help her pretty wife live well. “I didn’t see what happened to her as an impediment to our marriage in any way or having children.

 

Though there are things one would have loved to see and enjoy in marriage which was absent right from the time the accident happened,” Olayemi said. Little wonder, pressure sets in after seven years in the union without a child of their own.

 

“Our inability to have a child naturally pitched my husband against his parents as they wanted him to marry someone they believe could give him a child. To solve this debacle, we had to agree to adopt in other to calm nerves and the trick worked. So, as I speak with you now, we have two lovely girls via adoption, and the way we went about it, many really did not understand what happened.

 

We did it as if the children came naturally,” Bridget told Saturday Telegraph, smiling. Reacting to the possibility of those paralysed having their own children, a public health physician, Professor Bayo Onajole, said that having spinal cord injury does not prevent people from having children.

 

Though he said that depends on the level of spine that has the injury. “If the injury is not above certain point, it may not affect the reproductive organ, it’s just that it affects the muscles of the leg. So, that does not exclude the person from having children. However, there are other methods of having children like the In-vitro Fertilisation (IVF) technology where the sperm can be extracted and used to fertilise the egg.

 

In another scenario, doctors have various terms as long as there is an agreement between the two that is concerned and the female party is impregnated and then can also have children,” Onajole, a doctor from the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), said. He however, said that such special people could chose to have a biological children or through adoption. The decision, he said, depended on the couple and the state of their minds.

 

Those without such injuries, he added, could also decide to have their children through adoption. To him, there is nothing special about that. “The difference of what you want is the state of your mind. The persons with spinal cord injury could perfectly have children provided the injury does not affect their reproductive organs. However, if there are other issues, technology- assisted birth could be employed to help, especially for the woman.

 

Generally, they can have normal intercourse like any other person even though they may not be able to feel the same sensation like those without such injuries, which is understandable,” Onajole said.

 

 

Another Consultant Neurological Surgeon, Dr. Biodun Ogungbo, also said pregnancy was relatively safe in women with Spinal Cord Injury (SCI). However, disability-related issues, he added, could be exaggerated during pregnancy, delivery and post-partum periods. Thus, understanding common issues related to pregnancy in this population, according to him, is important.

 

Though he said specialised obstetric care with rehabilitation input throughout antenatal and postnatal care was crucial for the overall outcome of a pregnant woman with SCI. Ogungbo said: “Yes, it is possible for people with SCI to bear children like any other person and have them like normal people without injury. Everything depends on the couple and also depends on the type of injury.

 

People that have those injuries have control of their passing urine and erection and could still have their ability to have intercourse. “Don’t forget, regardless of whether they have such an injury or not, they still have their organ for reproduction. So, even if the man does not have an erection, the doctors have a surgery to get that happen and be able to disseminate into the woman.

 

 

 

That way, the couple can have a child through assisted birth like IVF technology. “If the woman is the one that is paralysed, it will mean that she might not be able to feel the penetration or total sensation of intercourse, but all her organs are there. So, she can still be impregnated if the man is active.

 

She could carry the pregnancy like any normal person but this time she may have to deliver the baby via injection to push the baby out.”

 

For Dr. Waheed Abayomi, managing director of Crest Hospital, Egan-Igando, Lagos, people with paralysis could totally be intimate and enjoy sexual life as others. “I don’t want to get graphic or anything but let’s think about the anatomy of the human body for a second. “It’s not like shop closes up down there just because you are paralysed. Is feeling compromised? Well for some, absolutely. But often times other erogenous zones become even more sensitive in this case.

 

Research has also discovered that there are nerves associated with sexual pleasure that completely bypass the spinal cord. “Paralysis affects feeling and movement, not the uterus. There are factors that would make it difficult for them such as low blood pressure and nerve pain.

 

Pregnancy is relatively safe in women with SCI. However, pregnant women with SCI experienced 25 per cent more complications compared to able-bodied women. The complications encountered are usually related to the disability. “Impaired sensation makes the presentation of labour in SCI unique.

 

They commonly complain of pain either above the level of injury or a nonspecific pain, rupture of membrane, occurrence of autonomic dysreflexia, increased bladder spasm or increased spasticity without other obvious cause.

 

Therefore, daily vaginal examination should be advocated from 32 weeks of pregnancy. Although relative number of women with SCI may experience the same labour symptoms as non-SCI women do. “Half of the women with SCI do not require analgesia during labour.

 

However, when indicated, especially to prevent autonomic dysreflexia, regional analgesia is proven effective. The autonomic dysreflexia management during labour will require a thorough assessment to remove the noxious stimuli, positioning, close monitoring of blood pressure and conventional management using fast-acting antihypertension when all failed.

 

“Due to the concern of pure autonomic dysreflexia during labour, cesarean delivery is not a recommended method of delivery, except for poor hypertension control despite maximum effort.

 

 

Early anticipation and preventive intervention is crucial,” he said. The doctors however agreed that more than half of the women with SCI successfully delivered vaginally either spontaneously or assisted with vacuum or forceps. Cesarean section rate, according to them, is higher by 9.5 per cent when compared to pre-injury status; nonetheless, there is no elaboration on the indication, they said, except for higher fetal malpresentation and prolonged second stage.

 

Precaution, they also said, should be imposed on regular turning to prevent development of pressure ulcer. In view of some unforeseen challenges, most people who are paralysed via spinal cord injuries take to adoption while others prefer surrogacy. The word, which comes from the Latin word “subrogare”, means to substitute. The process of using a surrogate mother to have a baby is tricky and so many argue that it is not right.

 

But, some have also argued that it is an option for a woman, who cannot carry a baby for a number of medical reasons. In the traditional surrogate, a woman gets artificially inseminated with the father’s sperm (or a donor’s sperm).

 

Then she carries the baby and delivers it for the couple to raise. A traditional surrogate is the baby’s biological mother because it was her eggs that were fertilised by the father’s sperm.

 

The second is known as gestational surrogate. This is usually through IVF. In this form, eggs will be gathered from the mother, fertilised with the father’s sperm, and then place the embryo into the uterus of another woman (gestational surrogate). She then carries the baby until birth. A gestational surrogate has no genetic ties to the child at since it wasn’t her egg that was used.

 

 

Although she will still be called the birth mother, the mother whose egg was fertilised, is the biological mother.

 

This is less legally complex, and the gestational surrogate can’t be of any trouble in the future.

 

Even though this practice raises the hope of the infertile couple, especially where natural conception is impossible, like women with severe uterine factors, opinions are still divided on the morality, legality and ethics of surrogacy. While proponents point to the validity of informed contract between surrogate mothers and intending couples as well as the hope given to childless couples, opponents say that the practice is dehumanising and exploits a vulnerable population.

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HOUSING DEBACLE: NIGERIANS LIVE IN SLUMS, SLEEP UNDER BRIDGES

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HOUSING DEBACLE: NIGERIANS LIVE IN SLUMS, SLEEP UNDER BRIDGES
  • ‘Landlords take advantage of this  and see themselves as mini gods’

 

Across the country, low-income earners are still in quagmire, regarding their own houses. This may be the reason stakeholders are worried that despite government claims of formulating policies to provide shelter for appreciable percentage of the citizenry, there are no indicators to justify the claims. The mortgage institutions in the country, according to ISIOMA MADIKE, in this report are also largely inactive

 

Madam Onyeka Nkemakonam is a widow. She lived in a mini-flat apartment at No 5, Lagos Street, off Akilo Road, Agege, Lagos, with her family for close to six years.

 

She lost her husband, Nnamdi, in May last year. After the burial rites of her husband and the mandatory mourning period, Nkemakonam returned to Lagos with her four children, to face new challenges of life without the breadwinner.

 

Her landlord, sensing that it could be difficult for her to continue with the payment of rent, decided to issue a quit notice to her. She pleaded for time, which she thought the landlord had consented to. But she was wrong. Unknown to Nkemakonam, her landlord had a different game plan.

 

The man, according to what later played out, might have decided to test the signed tenancy law in the state. He ejected her, along with other tenants with the aid of thugs, a few months after.

 

One of the tenants, Christopher Johnson, a commercial bus driver, who raised the alarm, said he was at Obalende when someone called to inform him that thugs and fake policemen were at his residence in an apparent move to eject all the tenants in the bungalow building.

 

“I had to abandon what I was doing at Obalende Park and rushed home. I met other tenants outside the house, their properties and mine had already been vandalised by the thugs,” Johnson narrated to Saturday Telegraph.

 

According to him, items lost to the hoodlums were clothes, phones, laptop, a travelling bag and N70,000 cash he had been saving to rent another apartment. Other tenants in the house also claimed they lost sums of money ranging from N50,000 to N90,000 to the invaders. Nkemakonam said the N250,000 donated to her to complete her husband’s building at Sango Ota area of Ogun State during the burial of her husband, was also stolen.

 

The total money lost to the thugs was over N360,000, according to claims the tenants made at the police station, where the matter was reported. Narrating her ordeal to Saturday Telegraph, Nkemakonam said she was in the room when the thugs rushed in, threatened to break her head with a hammer after which they bundled her out of the room.

 

“They claimed they were from the court with an instruction to eject us. The landlord has been on the run since then,” she said amid tears. Like Nkemakonam, many Nigerians, especially those living in the cities, have tales of woe the other to tell about their ordeal in the hands of landlords.

 

Many people have had terrible experiences in the hands of landlords whose power seems to be growing unchecked. And since shelter is one of the basic necessities of life, many are determined to acquire this essential need. It has thus become a major concern for both individual and governments in the country.

 

In fact, the scorecard of any government in the country has, more often, been assessed on its ability to provide housing for its populace. Shelter, indeed, is very important and obligatory in human living. It is imperative for every human being to have a home.

 

However, the individual financial capacity often hinders the purchasing power, hence, the prevalence of house rent in Nigeria. This may be the reason why most landlords take advantage of this and see themselves as ‘mini gods’.

 

They believe they have power, which can quickly change the livelihood of any person negatively. However, many of the home occupiers in Nigeria today are largely tenants, who pay for accommodation monthly or yearly. And, the uncontrollable rise in the country’s population, particularly in urban areas has resulted in an unimaginable demand for housing.

 

The overall cases of landlord palaver over the years are alarming and mind boggling. Most of the landlords today, who hitherto were tenants, do not care about the laws or rules guiding landlords and tenants relationship. The thinking is that the house belongs to them and they are free to make their decisions anytime. Though, government at various levels had come up with difficult landlord/tenancy laws, they have only achieved very little in addressing the problem.

 

In Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory, only the well-to-do can afford to rent an apartment in the metropolis as the costs appear not to be for small salary earners. Judith Nmakwe, a civil servant said: “The rate of accommodation in this city has assumed an alarming dimension; you cannot see a beginner, I mean someone who is trying to start life, settle down in Abuja. A room apartment at the boys’ quarters is what most people can afford here,” she said. There are other views. According to another resident, Ade Adebayo, the FCT is not meant for everybody to settle.

 

“You cannot compare Abuja with other places in the country. This is the capital of Nigeria and it’s no dwelling place for every Tom, Dick and Harry. However, not all houses are expensive; it depends on the area you choose to live. Many settle on     the outskirts where rent is quite reasonable,” he said. But, Lagos and Abuja are not isolated cases.

 

 

In Ibadan, the Oyo State capital, Bidemi Babatope, narrated her ordeal in the hands of her 58-year-old landlord. She had earlier paid for two years house rent, but after a year of occupancy, the landlord demanded that she paid more. Reason: Because other landlords had increased their rent. Babatope declined such demand and referred the landlord to his tenancy agreement, which they both signed. That was not enough to dissuade the shylock landlord as he refused to acknowledge his agreement. The consequence was that Babatope was given a seven-day quit notice to evacuate the room.

 

“He gave me the notice on a Saturday, the following Monday, he started knocking my door early in the morning, telling me that someone had paid for my room and that I should move out in two days’ time. Though I had been busy looking for a room before then, but I couldn’t get one. In fact, I was not financially buoyant enough to do much running around or guarantee a decent house since the man said, he won’t return my money until I move out. “As I was praying the next day, I noticed a carpenter was working on my roof, I thought it was a usual change of a leak in the roof but again, I remembered that my room was not in need of repairs. As I dashed out to find out what was going on, the landlord said he was removing my roof so that I will know that I had overstayed my welcome in the house. Unfortunately for me, rain fell that day and most of my properties were destroyed,” Babatope recounted. Residents of Port Harcourt in Rivers State are also groaning.

 

They have called on the state government to intervene in the high cost of housing in the city. They said that unless something was done urgently by the authorities to address the astronomical cost of housing in the state, some of them might be forced to relocate to the suburbs. Currently, rent offered for a oneroom “self-contain” apartment goes for between N200,000 and N250,000 per annum while a one-bed flat costs as much as N600,000 in some locations. Likewise, two-bed room is offered for rent at between N600,000 and N700,000 depending on the area.

 

One of the residents, Kelvin Onwuka, lamented that house rent in the city was fast getting out of the reach of public servants. He said it was becoming increasingly difficult for government employees to live in good houses.

 

Onwuka, a civil servant, said that housing was a critical social service issue and called on the federal government to enact laws that would regulate housing, especially rents in the country. But, Mrs. Josephine Okenwa, a landlady, attributed the high cost of housing to the rising cost of building materials. She said one way to solve the problem was for government to also regulate cost of the materials. “You cannot expect someone to sell goods below their cost prices; that is what we have been passing through and government knows about it.

 

The first thing the government should do is to ensure that cost of materials for building is reduced and it can, therefore, address the issue of rent,” she said. Building experts see housing as an economic product over which an average investor wants profits.

 

It is, perhaps, for this reason that the Lagos State government passed a tenancy law. It was targeted at making life comfortable for its citizenry and safeguarding the low income earners in the state. The law, however, has thrown up endless debate among major stakeholders in the real estate industry. Its provisions made it unlawful for a landlord or his agent to demand or       receive rent in excess of six months from a sitting tenant. With the law, it becomes illegal for any landlord to receive more than a year rent from a new tenant otherwise he will be made to pay N100,00 or sentenced to three years imprisonment.

 

Similarly, it will also be unlawful for a tenant to offer to pay more than a year rent, even though, it allows for the two parties involved (landlord and tenant) to sign a tenancy agreement. But, as plausible as the law may seem, most landlords, stakeholders and property developers have argued that such would never achieve its purpose.

 

According to them, the Nigerian society has failed to provide sufficient housing facilities for the people. It is argued that the problem of insufficient accommodation should be tackled first before promulgating such laws.

 

The general case of landlords make Nigerian housing situation looks like a lawless one as they do not care about what the law says concerning their actions and inactions. An Abuja-based Estate Surveyor and Valuer, Ahmed Shehu Dogon-Daji, said that even when rent control laws are available they cannot be implemented because of the refusal of grant to fund research on local building materials through the Nigerian Building Roads Research Institute (NBRRI). He also pointed to the refusal of government to bring the price of cement down because of interest or romance with some manufacturers.

 

Another Abuja-based property developer and MD, Urban Shelter Ltd, Musa Aliyu, admitted that though the courts are there, absence of rent control laws tend to make all landlords abuse the situation. The Lagos State Publicity Secretary of All Progressives Congress, Joe Igbokwe, also submitted: “Dubious and lazy landlords in the country have no conscience.

 

They rely on houses they built 30,40 years ago to pay school fees for their children and children of their concubines in Nigeria and abroad.” As it stands today, many Nigerians still rest their heads under the bridge in the dark hour. Such people, who cannot afford a house rent, are left to sleep in the cold at night, exposing themselves not only to the vagaries of the weather but other dangers. Less privileged tenants also live in uncompleted buildings.

 

 

These kinds of people are exposed to hazards both night and day. There are others too, who often consider themselves lucky but live in the slum where all forms of inhuman act     tivities abound. They inhabit the slum because they cannot afford the cost of a decent accommodation. The efforts of the federal government, particularly the National Assembly and state assemblies to propose rent control legislation have met with unrealistic fantasy. This is as a result of the failed situation on the supply side of the real estate market and the failure of the existing and subsisting rent control legislation and home ownership schemes to address the problem of housing in Nigeria. Housing generally has not ranked high on the scale of priorities for social spending by successive administrations in the country.

 

This may be the reason efforts at providing low-cost housing have been minimal, despite the creation of the Federal Mortgage Bank of Nigeria (FMBN) in 1977, as shanty towns and slums are common sights in urban areas leading to overcrowding. It has been estimated that about 85 per cent of the urban population live in single rooms often with eight to 12 people per room, making living conditions very dehumanising. Former MD, FMBN, Gimba Ya’u-Kumo, said that lack of a robust mortgage financing system in Nigeria had made rate of home ownership in the country one of the lowest in Africa. Ya’u-Kumo noted that mortgage credits accounted for less than five per cent of total lending portfolio of Nigerian banks and just about 13.5 per cent of mortgage lending by Primary Mortgage Banks (PMBs).

 

According to him, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) supervision report 2008 revealed that 90 per cent of housing developments in Nigeria were selffinanced through personal savings for periods upwards of 10 years. He said that housing not only satisfied the basic human need for shelter, but a key component of economic growth and development. He pointed out that provision of housing was not only a key driver of economic development, but that it formed a substantial part of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of most developed countries.

 

“The supply gap for low and medium income groups is huge, reaching a crisis level in some cities in the country. This is heightened by the rapid urbanisation of the population,” he added,   noting that the World Bank had predicted that the housing problem in Nigeria would become even more acute by the year 2020 if adequate measures were not taken. In his contribution, Prof. A.O. Olotuah of the school of Environmental Technology, Federal University of Technology, Akure, said: “The Nigerian housing is fraught with a plethora of problems, especially for low-income earners, who incidentally constitute the majority of the population. Fundamental to this is the lack of access to housing finance by this segment of the society.”

 

In Nigeria, like in many other developing nations of the world, housing problems are multi-dimensional. The problems of population explosion, continuous influx of people from rural to the urban centres, and lack of basic infrastructure required for good standard of living have compounded housing problems over the years.

 

Access to this basic need by the poor, who constitute the largest percentage of the world’s population, has remained a mirage, which needs to be critically addressed. Perhaps, this may be the reason why President Muhammadu Buhari’s Independence Day Speech on October 1, hinted on what the government intends to do in the real estate sector. He said: “We have initiated the National Housing Programme.

 

In 2014, four hundred million naira was voted for Housing. In 2015 nothing. “Our first budget devoted a whooping N35.6 billion to the housing sector. Much of the house building will be private sector led but government is initiating a pilot housing scheme of 2,838 units uniformly spread across the 36 states and FCT.

 

This initiative is expected to reactivate the building materials manufacturing sector, generate massive employment opportunities and develop sector capacity and expertise.”

 

Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, unveiled the plans by the federal government to deliver mass housing for Nigerians. He said that 360 houses would be built in three states through Public Private Partnership (PPP) arrangement in the first phase, develop “Rent to Own” housing scheme for those who cannot afford mortgage and incorporate a new housing model into the National Building Code.

 

He, however, lamented that the money appropriated for housing sector was grossly inadequate. Former Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mohammed Bello Adoke (SAN), added his voice to the housing debacle when he noted that Nigeria with a population of well over 150 million people requires housing unit per annum. According to him, this is to replenish decaying housing stock, as well as to meet rising demand and avert a further crisis in the sector. Ms Ama Pepple, former Minister of Housing and Urban Development, also pointed out that Nigeria was facing a national housing deficit of over 17 million units.

 

She was blunt in saying that the country required additional one million housing units a year to reduce the national deficit with a view to averting crisis in the year 2020 and beyond. In like manner, former Head of State, General Abdulsalami Abubakar, believes that housing defines culture, style and provides the much needed security, even as he urged the three tiers of government to intervene in the building construction sector. He said the intervention, which should be in the form of direct construction of houses, was necessary for the sake of the low-income earners, who were in need of mass housing.

 

One time president, Nigerian Institute of Quantity Surveyors, Agele Alufohai, also said there was the need for an evolution in the mortgage system with a view to strengthening the build-   ing construction sector. He stressed the importance of a viable mortgage system that could strengthen home ownership, and urged government participation in the process through the creation of an enabling environment.

 

“If we have a mortgage system where the rent you pay will lead to owning a house, then we talk of low-income housing. Elsewhere in the world, you pay rent to mortgage institutions and between 20 and 25 years, you become a landlord and move from being a tenant. Government has to move in to provide the enabling environment by encouraging mortgage origination.”

 

His former counterpart in the Institution of Estate Surveyors and Valuers, Emeka Eleh, equally said tenants would have a better deal if the supply of homes increases since, according to him, the nation’s housing sector is ruled by landlords. “I believe the solution to our housing problems may not even be short term. We have to deal with the problem: access to suitable and title land on which people can build. There are statistics on how badly we are doing in that area,” Eleh added.

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OPEN DEFECATION:How we eat, drink our ‘shit’ without knowing, says 80-year-old Ibadan trader

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OPEN DEFECATION:How we eat, drink our ‘shit’ without knowing, says 80-year-old Ibadan trader

‘Shit’ in the open is a huge challenge in the country. About 24 per cent practice this according to findings from the 2018 WASH National Outcome Routine Mapping (WASH NORM) survey. The practice contaminates water, food supplies and makes it one of the most deadly issues the nation faces nowadays. ISIOMA MADIKE, in this report, looks at efforts to get 47 million Nigerians to use the toilet and end open defecation in 2025

 

 

Alhaja Suliat Ogunbola, 80, is one of the aged traders at Ogbere Idi Osan Market in Ona Ara Local Government Area of Oyo State. Ogunbola is in pains, though not as a result of her old age. She is unhappy because the environment where she ekes out a living looks more like a slum. And beneath the relentlessly slummy surface of the market lies a kind of moral discomfort. The drainage ditches are smelly and blocked with faeces, which she said, often overflows when the rains come, into shops and pathways, such that the vicinity is wholly composed of human waste.

Ogunbola described it not only as an eyesore but a shame to find human faeces litter such a public place. She told Saturday Telegraph that she, like the other women in the market, are willing to use toilet facilities and save themselves the agony of spending the money they don’t even have in treating all manners of diseases in hospitals.

It is because we can’t find a decent toilet to use, she said, that makes them resort to their old ways of defecating without qualms. Ogunbola said: “No bi our fault. Yes, we have toilets in this market, but no water to flush after use.

That is the reason why we now use our bowls which we empty at a more convenient time in the derelict public toilet at the other end (pointing to the location) of the market where we don’t pay any money. “Who does not want to use a decent toilet? Let the government provide a more decent one and make sure there is water supply to prevent us from contracting disease while trying to defecate. Don’t forget we are women and could easily contract disease from dilapidated toilets. Some of us urinate anywhere we can find a space and get infected in the process.

This way flies feast on our faeces and bring them back to our foods and water. My son, we eat and drink our ‘shit’ in this market without knowing.”She pleaded that the state or local government should come to their aid and do the right thing to save them from dying prematurely. Another trader, a 70-year-old widow, Felicia Akindele, also expressed worry over the spate of open defecation in the market. The traders who spoke to Saturday Telegraph during a visit to the market recently, said the development poses hazard to their health and businesses.

“It is obvious that more toilets need to be built to cater for our needs and that of our customers and I think this has been a major challenge for us,” Akindele, who equally lamented scarcity of water for usage in the available toilets, said. However, the only good toilet in the market was built by private initiative.

It supposed to be a decent convenience but for lack of water in its compartments to flush after use. The borehole within the vicinity which should serve the toilets has broken down and those charged with maintenance of the facility seemed unperturbed about it. For Ogunbola, “we had been forced to improvise on the water scarcity by bringing water along from home every day for our convenience.

I found this routine very tough to do at my age but it is still better for me than to risk my health.” A few other traders said they had to also make do with their bowls to avoid direct use of the toilets. “I use a bowl for my convenience and then pour the waste into the toilet thereafter.

The three functioning toilets at the market cater for over 200 traders, in addition to customers, which is not even gender-sensitive,” another, who declined to give her name, said. Yet, Abimbola Oderinde, a principal environmental health officer in the local government, who was sighted at the market, told Saturday Telegraph that her office was pleased with the health condition in the market. According to her, “we do sensitise the traders on the need to maintain hygiene at all times and they adhere.

She however, blamed some of the traders she said, flouts the rules to defecate in the open market. This reporter visited the market as part of a two-day media dialogue hosted in Ibadan, the Oyo State capital by the federal ministry of information’s child rights bureau in collaboration with The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), with the theme “Clean Nigeria: Use the toilet campaign”. Strange as the testimonies may sound, they represent typical scenarios in several communities, as poor living conditions and the dearth of sanitation facilities are peculiar features of many neighbourhoods across the country.

A major outcome of the lack of sanitation facilities is open defection which, according to Chisoma Okpara, Chief scientific officer and acting coordinator for the clean Nigeria campaign, usually provokes the outbreak of waterborne diseases such as cholera and dysentery, particularly among the children. But Ogbere Idi Osan’s Market is not alone in this mess.

At the Kosofe-Ketu community a few days ago, a young man dashed out of his room with clenched teeth, pulled open his zippers, took a quick look to his right and left, retired to a small bush by the school building, and dropped off lumps of smelly faeces. His action surprised no one, for it is a tradition of sort in this part of the mega city. In virtually every open space in and around the neighbourhood, heaps of faeces literally jostle for space with human beings.

From the homes, they are wrapped up in newspapers and launched from windows, scattering into a spatter mess. It piles the streets as though they are articles of ornament. Yet, no one seems to bother about it. “This is how we do it here.

You can hardly find a toilet in most homes and where you find one, it is untidy; not good for any decent use. Most times, what you find is a makeshift toilet in which wooden plank platform are constructed with buckets under it.

The sight of such is quite disgusting. For all these, we consider it convenient and comfortable doing it in the open, and since it suits us, it should not be anybody’s headache,” said an elderly man, who declined to give his name.

He added: “This practice is common in this community, especially in places where toilet facilities are a luxury. When nature calls, everyone responds differently.” The old man’s excitement, many believe, is simply a collective adaptation to extreme hardship. He, like many others in the Kosofe community, were born and bred in that ghetto.

Though, he and his likes seem to have a fascination for defecating in public places and in bushes, they are not alone in this act and Kosofe is definitely not an isolated case. It is a common practice in the city of Lagos.

But, such behaviour, according to some, clearly portrays the level of helplessness and frustration in most Nigerian communities. Many of the families living in Nigeria, especially in villages, do so at a heightened risk of hygiene-related diseases. This is due to poor infrastructure and inadequate toilets.

As a result, open defecation is very common, with many families regularly using river banks as open air toilets. These highly unhygienic practices put the communities at a high-level of risk in relation to a range of water borne diseases. Many families are simply unable to build functioning toilets due to a lack of resources and knowledge on safe hygiene practices.

Incidentally, lack of safe water, according to Bioye Ogunjobi, WASH specialist for UNICEF Nigeria, has contributed to this menace in recent time. This may be the reason wh y he harped on improving access to potable water and toilet facilities which, he believes will largely reduce open defecation. Curbing this nuisance will, he further said, check morbidity, avoidable diseases and improve the quality of life.

Sadly, efforts by government to provide public toilets and enforce sanitation habits have been vitiated by igno by some Nigerians. President Muhammadu Buhari has keyed into the campaign “Clean Nigeria, Use the Toilet”, to end open defecation in the country by 2025.

Buhari is said to be prepared to launch the campaign at a date yet to be announced. This follows the disturbing report of Nigeria being listed among the top five open defecation countries in the world. The country, according to reports, rose from its 5th position in 2003 to 2nd place in 2015 behind India. Also worrisome is the disclosure by the former Minister of Water Resources, Suleiman Adamu that Nigeria is set to overtake India in this inglorious index.

The former minister observed that the country was unable to attain the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) targets for water supply and sanitation because of poor investments, low capacity and other challenges not limited to rural areas. The President had in November 2018 launched National Action Plan for Revitalising WASH, where he also declared a state of emergency on water and sanitation sector in Nigeria, an important aspect of the plan is for the country to be open defecation free.

The National Plan of Action is a significant political milestone towards achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 6 to reach everyone, everywhere with clean water and decent sanitation by 2030. Adamu said Nigeria has developed a road map, 2016-2025, to end open defecation. He added that out of the 774 local government areas, only 13 are open defecation free.

He said: “13 out of 774 local governments is very dismal but it is work in progress. But we have also made some progress as 20 to 21,000 communities in the country today are open defecation free. The problem is we still have 47 million people practicing open defecation and Nigeria has been moving up the ladder since 2012 from being number four or five in the world to having the ranking of number two.

“India is number one but India has been working to end open defecation, in the last four years they have taken over 500 million out of open defecation. And India plans to declare itself open defecation free by October. Once that happens, Nigeria will become the number one country in the world that practices open defecation.

You will all agree with me that this is an honour we do not want to have.” The World Bank’s recent statistics, according to reports, show that regions with high rates of open defecation experience catastrophic waste management problems. Unfortunately, the warnings by the World Health Organisation (WHO) that open defecation can lead to cholera, typhoid, trachoma, diarrhea, stomach upsets and poor overall health have not been heeded, according to experts.

The aggregate opinion is that the environment suffers as a result of open defecation because it introduces toxins and bacteria into the ecosystem in amounts that it cannot handle at a time. This, experts said, leads to build-up of filth.

The load of microbes, they also said, can become so much that, in the end, they end up in aquatic systems thereby causing harm to both aquatic life and humans. But there are known solutions to tackle the menace.

To overcome this problem, the government needs to invest more in WASH. UNICEF has said that about N95 billion will be needed per year to eliminate open defecation in Nigeria. It also advised that the country could achieve economic gains as high as N359.1 billion ($US 1.026 billion) annually from the N455 billion it loses due to lack of sanitation.

Besides, the government’s Open Defecation-Free Roadmap, experts said, should be more than a plan to eliminate the nuisance by 2025, it should, according to them, also put into consideration the N234 billion needed to attain open defecation-free status in its annual budget.

The experts also recommend that the 774 local governments should be involved in the campaign to end open defecation in the country. And that bill should be initiated to promote sanitation and take urgent action to implement Open Defecation-Free Roadmap. Available statistics revealed that access to sanitation has been on the decline from 30 per cent in 2010 to 28 per cent in 2015 while open defecation has been on the increase in Nigeria.

The 2018 National Outcome Mapping Report has also shown that 47 million Nigerians defecate in the open, while the country loses N455 billion (US$1.3b) annually due to poor sanitation. Last year, the findings by the Brookings Institute, based on a projection by the World Poverty Clock, indicated that Nigeria had overtaken India as the country with the largest number of people living in extreme poverty, with an estimated 87 million Nigerians believed to be living on less than $1.90 a day.

The link between poverty and poor sanitation is very thin, intertwined and tenuous. According to Nigeria WASH Poverty Diagnostics Report, the country’s sanitation sector is in a critical condition. The report shows that the economic growth of Nigeria, which has an estimated population of over 180 million, has not translated into rapid poverty reduction.

This may the reason why Adamu warned at the National Council on Water Resources meeting, held in Abuja between November 13 and 15, 2018, that if India would be able to exit from its number one position in the list of countries with poor sanitation and open defecation by November, it would be a “national shame” for Nigeria not to do the same. “I have been to India, the country has been adequately mobilised on issues of sanitation and open defecation.

It is, therefore, a civic responsibility for all of us,” he said. Four years ago, only 40 per cent of Indians were using toilets but now, over 95 per cent of them are practising full sanitation practices. “The Indians have not only stopped to defecate in the open, they are also recycling their waste into usable products; they have experienced a lot of transformation within these years. “The Indians have built over 80 million toilets; we need this kind of quantum leap in our country.

Very soon, wherever you go in the world, you would hear that Nigeria is number one in open defecation and that is a national shame, which we must not allow to happen. Though the federal government would soon enter into a technical cooperation with India to salvage the Nigerian situation,” he added.

Rolf Luyendijk, the Executive Director, Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC), also said that policymakers should take concrete actions to rid the world of more than 800 million open defecators.

He particularly noted that hundreds of millions of schoolchildren had no access to school toilets, with cholera outbreaks resulting in hundreds of thousands of child deaths every year from poor sanitation and hygiene. Luyendijk said apart from considering the data, the call for action from all tiers of government to accelerate progress on sanitation projects globally and nationally was very imperative. He stressed the need to invest in a common matrix and monitoring system across programmes to absorb more funds.

“Instead of us all chasing the numbers — with scattered and relatively small projects and programmes — I really think that we need to pull together and strengthen the system and absorption capacity to scale up and accelerate programming.

We need to get behind ending open defecation roadmaps; we need to invest in a common matrix and monitoring system across programmes so that we can absorb more money but we don’t have our own monitoring frameworks,” he said.Open defecation, according to experts, has an economic, social, and health impact on national development.

Nigeria, it is said, loses about 1.3 per cent (N455 billion) of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) annually due to poor sanitation and a third of that cost is linked to open defecation. It is also said that more than 100,000 children under five years of age die each year due to diarrhoea; of which 90 per cent is directly attributed to unsafe water and sanitation. However, one in four children under five years of age are said to exhibit severe stunting, while one in 10 are wasted, due to frequent episodes of diarrhoea and other WASH-related illnesses.

This frequent episodes of WASH-related diseases cause absence from school or work, as affected people take time off to heal, and some to take care of a sick relative. There is also the issue of poor education outcomes in which reduced school enrolment and attendance due to time lost in search for water and frequent illnesses are rampant. Open defecation equally results in loss of dignity, increased risks of insecurity and violence against women and children. However, the country, experts have said, needs to add two million toilets per year between now and 2025 to achieve the target of Universal Basic Sanitation. Its current delivery of improved toilet is approximately 160,000 per year.

The Nigerian government has made some progress towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goal 6 and eliminating inequalities in the WASH sector. For instance, the Partnership for Expanded Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (PEWASH) programme was formulated and launched in 2016 in direct response to the challenges affecting the rural WASH sector, with the aim of achieving 100 per cent WASH coverage in rural areas.

The “Clean Nigeria: Use the Toilet” campaign to end open defecation is a key initiative that is designed to reach many unserved populations. Sanitation financing mechanism, through the engagement of micro finance institutions, community-based savings and loan schemes, as well as a government pool fund, are also being used to make loans available for households, especially the rural poor, to construct improved toilets. Also, a national Village Level Operation Maintenance (VLOM) strategy for managing water supply facilities in all rural communities in Nigeria has been launched. National guidelines are being drafted by the Federal Ministry of Water Resources to appropriately mainstream gender issues in WASH programming in the sector.

The WASH National Outcome Routine Mapping survey disaggregates national WASH data across regions, sub-sectors, and household wealth, gender, literacy and disabilities status. It also explores equity and dignity indicators, such as gender-separate toilets for privacy in public institutions and safety of water systems and toilets for children and people living with disabilities. Other priorities, according to government, are sanitation and hygiene promotion and awareness creation.

It is in her place to also advocate for the provision of WASH services and infrastructure development in rural communities, schools, health care facilities, and across marginalised and disadvantaged groups. Adamu wants to see support sanitation demand creation and supply chain through community engagement, market-based sanitation, and that financing are also priorities while advocating for a strengthened WASH sector policy. He also advocated for institutional environment at the national and subnational levels for better WASH governance and service delivery.

The government, he said, is aiming to supporting the presidential declaration of the state of emergency and the national action plan for the revitalisation of the WASH sector. “What is needed to achieve this is a strong political commitment in leadership at all levels to improve sanitation and increased budgetary allocation.

The programme needs increased support from the media for the dissemination of behaviour change messages, institutional advocacy, and increased coverage of human interest stories on sanitation “There should also be an increased private sector engagement in the WASH sector through business investment and corporate citizenship/ corporate social responsibility as well as sanitation and hygiene awareness creation through branding and promotion,” he said.

However, becoming an open defecation free community does not happen overnight. It takes a process of mobilisation, engagement, and action. The first stage is pre-triggering activities in which officials of Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Agency (RUWASSA) and local government area WASH department or the State Task Group on Sanitation (STGS) to carry out an advocacy visit to sensitise and mobilise the support of political, traditional and religious leaders and community members.

They seek their support in implementing a Community- Led Total Sanitation (CLTS). There are also the triggering activities. During this phase, CLTS facilitates (LGA WASH Partners and RUWASSA) to engage community members to analyse their sanitation practices and see how open defecation threatens the community. This will ginger the community members to take collective action to develop a Community Action Plan (CAP) to improve sanitation and open defecation. At this stage, sanitation marketing is conducted, with displays of improved latrine options for households to select their preferred choice.

Issues of inclusiveness are also integrated into the CLTS approach to ensure that the needs of all the groups are captured, without leaving anyone behind. For the post triggering activities, the WASH department/unit within the local government area and other local partners follow-up and monitor the CAP. RUWASSA provides supportive monitoring during this period. When the community is able to curb the trend of open defecation, they self-declare that they are now ODF and inform the LGA.

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ADULTERATED PRODUCTS: KILLING CONSUMERS THROUGH ALTERED FOOD ITEMS’ PACKS

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ADULTERATED PRODUCTS: KILLING CONSUMERS THROUGH ALTERED FOOD ITEMS’ PACKS

‘Now I make it a law to pour juice into cups before taking it’

 

Not everyone go through the products they buy. And for those who do, how certain are they about the state of these products? The saddening reports of adulterated and expired food items, especially drinks and sausages produced here in Nigeria, keep coming in at an alarming rate. ISIOMA MADIKE, in this report, looks at the hazards posed to consumers by this situation and other forms of consumer abuse

 

With an inviting display of drinks, which comes at relatively friendly prices, the Walk-In Fridges at many stores in Lagos, have become magnet for many customers. Shoppers planning parties, events or just want to buy themselves a few drinks can find the Walk-In Fridge drinks a good bargain due to their discounted prices. The cold-room like giant fridges have doors and spacious interior through which shoppers can walk through, and is stocked with mainly bottled and canned beer brands, stacked in crates or packs.

 

The added incentive for the buyer is that he gets the drinks, inclusive of the bottle and liquid content, at the cut-rate prices, against the practice elsewhere where he or she has to exchange his or her empty bottles before he or she can buy the product. Incidentally, not everyone who goes to the stores has a good story to tell. Just recently, a middle-aged woman, who identified herself simply as Mima, had a soured experience she would not wish her worst enemy. She shared a disturbing image of what she claimed her daughter found inside one of the bottles of malt drink they bought from Shoprite on January 14. According to her, the strange object was discovered by her daughter after the family got back from Shoprite where they had gone shopping.

 

She said: “My daughter took the malt drinks to the refrigerator after which she decided to take a sip from one of the bottles. She perceived a foul smell as she did that which prompted her to pour the remaining content out into a glass cup. What we  saw was, indeed, horrifying. I couldn’t describe whether it’s a mushroom, robber or a piece of glass. My daughter was troubled as a result and was taken to a hospital. I am sharing this so that other children will not fall into this trap. “Unfortunately, when I called the customer service number found on the bottle, the response was quite discouraging; the speaker from the other end tried to blame me for their carelessness.

 

This is terrible and I believe it can only happen in Nigeria where anything goes with nobody caring a hoot.”

 

But Mima’s experience is not an isolated one. Another lady, who preferred to be called Motunrayo, came back from work on Monday, January 8, to meet her first child, Tobi, vomiting and complaining of a stomach ache. He was taken to the hospital for treatment and stayed indoors afterwards to properly recover. “I remembered that Tobi had asked for one of the packs of juice we had at home, which was purchased from a major supermarket the Saturday before that Monday. On taking the juice, he started to complain of tummy ache and almost immediately started to vomit without finishing the drink, though the stomach pains subsided almost immediately. My younger sister took it away from him and noticed some black stuff on the straw and proceeded to cut open the pack. It was then she observed that the juice appeared whitish with an off look from what it should normally look like.

 

“We immediately kept the remaining packets left in the carton away and warned him not to take from it again. But when I got back that Monday and noticed that the pains had started again, I had to cut open the remaining ones left in the carton, and what we found out can only be imagined. We noticed biological matters, which looked like fungus in them. It was black, white and quite disgusting,” she recalled. Yet, Mima and Motunrayo are not alone in this.

 

Adaeze, who lives at Palm Grove area of Lagos State, also told this reporter that it happened to her sometimes in 2017. “I don’t buy it regularly but when my nieces and nephews show up   for holidays, I got a carton. In one of such occasions, I was having some difficulty getting my juice out through the straw, I cut it open and saw green mold. “We had to cut open the remaining packets and two more had mold in them. Now I make it a law to pour juice into cups before taking it. The kids don’t like it so I got fancy cups that make it more fun than drinking from a plain cup,” Adaeze said.

 

Abimbola’s experience was in the traffic. She was on her way home from work. She flagged down a hawker to buy a sausage roll and a bottle of soft drink. She had already popped the former into her mouth when she remembered that she had not checked the expiry date. To her dismay, the roll had expired four days earlier. In an almost similar situation, Ibrahim, who stays at Lagos Street, off Akilo Road in Ogba, returned from work with a headache. He reached for his first aid box and thankfully there was a pair of tablets left in a sachet of paracetamol. He briskly pressed the tablets out of the sachet, but just before he put them into his mouth, he looked at the expiry date on the sachet… “the drug expired only yesterday.”

 

Confused, he contemplated going  ahead to take the drug. But, he thought of the consequences. Would taking the paracetamol not be a fatal mistake or should he simply continue to suffer from the headache? This was Ibrahim’s dilemma. Many in his shoes would have faced that too.

 

In a country like Nigeria, where many consumers are illiterate, they are likely to be susceptible to exploitation by dishonest dealers. This may be why health experts often advise consumers against eating expired foods and had always counselled to throw them away when they are past their shelf life. However, one way to know if a particular food is beyond its shelf life is to check the food label for a stamped date, usually with the inscription: “expiry date” or “best before”. But in Nigeria, this inscription means little or nothing as they have often been manipulated. Many dubious retailers have been caught many a times in this act by the authorities concerned, though no concrete steps had ever been taking to put a stop to such.

 

With this attitude, checking expiry date, at present, may not be a guarantee of safe products any longer. In most cases, the cartons and each individual pack of items would have months ahead as expiry dates when in actual fact such products had long expired. If one is very observant however, the manipulation of the original expiry stamps could be detected.

 

A seamstress, Hamzat Abiodun, told Saturday Telegraph of the experience she had on Friday, March 27. She had gone to a frozen food store at Ogba to buy food ingredients she wanted to use to prepare soup but ended up buying a bag of Semovita from one of the newly opened shops in the vicinity. “When I opened the bag the next day, I discovered maggots inside the Semovita. I was surprised because before I bought it, I checked to assure myself of the genuiness of what I was buying.

 

That was why it was so surprising what l later found in the bag of Semovita; I was really shocked and could not believe what I was seeing. I went back to the shop but met the sales girl who said that her aunt had gone out. I waited for her because I needed to lay a formal complaint.

 

“By the time she returned she could not fathom the reason for the state of the Semovita and pleaded, saying she was sorry. Yet, she added annoyingly that there was nothing she could do. Though I understood her predicament, but the way she spoke in a dismissive manner got me angry, and I started lashing out at her. I threatened to let hell loose if she does nothing to compensate me. I left a while after but promised myself not to buy anything from her shop again,” Abiodun added.

 

Prince Ifeanyi works in a cosmetic company somewhere in Ikeja, Lagos. He recalled how their managers used to give them certain chemical with which they use in cleaning plastics. But the cleaning was much more than we thought. “We were often instructed to use it to also clean batch numbers, the production and the expiration dates. The plastics then will be taken to the machine where new numbers will be printed on them.

 

“At first, I thought it was a normal thing to do. But when I came to really understand the fact that we were altering what could be damaging to other people’s life, I just collected the pay for that month and stopped working there. I felt it was wrong to change such expiry dates. From that moment I didn’t feel comfortable working there anymore. I had to opt out because my conscience had started to prick me,” said Ifeanyi. Blessing Onyedika, an indigene of Anambra State, has her story as well.

 

“The day was Thursday, January 30, at Ojota, Lagos. An opened bottle of diet mineral drink lay before my desk. I have always been a fan of that brand’s products because of their catchy advertisements and mantra. But there was something wrong with this beverage on this particular daya swig from the bottle was enough to arrive at a conclusion. The ‘best before date’ on the bottle’s cap answered my doubts. The drink or rather the ‘poison’ before me had long expired. “I made a dash to the shop where the drink was bought.

 

A rather naïve sales attendant apologetically collected it from me. Her offer to replace the drink only unearthed more rot. Stacked in a corner of the room were cartons of expired stock. In alarm, she opened the refrigerator and more expired bottles smiled at us.

 

Off course all the bottles bore the date 01/07/2018. There is also this rumour about a major retailing chain in Nigeria selling expired products. Although the rumour has not been properly verified by the authorities concerned, many believe that the management and staff of the superstore have been silently killing Nigerians by tactfully reducing prices of adulterated products. Not long ago, a family reportedly lost one of their sons, who died from food poisoning from eating a contaminated cheese bought from the retail giant. Many have had similar testimonies too. However, a list of different terms and what they mean have been provided by food health experts to further educate consumers on the appropriate thing to do.

 

One of such terms is “Sell by” date. The labelling “sell by” tells the store how long to display the product for sale and advises customers to buy the products before this date. This is basically a guide for the retailer, so that the store knows when to remove the item from its shelf.

 

This though, is not mandatory because the issue is with the quality of the item (freshness, taste, and consistency) rather than whether it is on the verge of spoiling. According to experts, “sell by” date is the last day the item is at its highest level of quality, but it will still be edible for some time after. Another is “Use by” date: After this date foods may be unsafe to eat even if they look fine, because the nutrients in them may become unstable or a build-up of bacteria may occur.

 

This is the last date recommended for the use of the product while at peak quality. The date is determined by the manufacturer of the product. Most visible “use by” foods include milk, meat, and vegetables. And then, the common one, “Best before” date. This refers strictly to quality, not safety. This date is recommended for  best flavour or quality. It is not a purchase or safety date.

 

The “Best before” date simply indicates that the product may lose some of its quality after this date. If one stores these foods properly, one can still expect them to retain their colour, taste, texture and flavour. “Best before” foods include canned foods, cereals, biscuits, sauces, chocolate, sugar, flour and frozen foods. However, it is advised not to throw foods away just because they are past their “Best before” dates. This only means that such foods are no longer at their peak of freshness. There is also “Guaranteed fresh” date.

 

Though not too common in this part of the world, it usually refers to bakery items. They will still be edible after the date, but will not be at peak freshness. However, to make sure food lasts until its date mark, it is important to follow storage instructions, such as “keep refrigerated” and “store in a cool, dry place”. Sometimes, heating the food can kill bacteria, according to food experts.

 

Yet, there are the categories of contaminated products that are purely burn out of share negligence of the workers, who are supposed to supervise the purity of such items in the line of production. This happens especially in bottling companies in which the workers on production line are supposed to check at every point to make sure no dirt gets in into the bottle before corking it up. But often times, this simple process is neglected either genuinely or by share wickedness on the part of some dubious employees. A 54-year-old shop-owner in Idumota, Lagos, who prefers to remain anonymous, told this reporter he would not stop selling food past its sell-by date if there are demands for them. “If the food is well packed, even if it has expired, people can consume it without being worried.

 

Of course, what I sell is cheaper and people like that. When they buy I make them aware that I don’t take any responsibility for the quality or any effects caused,” she said.

 

Another beverage vendor at Mushin market, who also does not want to be named, admitted he usually changed expiry dates. “I make up a new expiry date. People say that most of the products can be consumed after the expiry date for at least one year; so I don’t see why I should throw away such items. What I do is to change the stamp to a later date and people can buy them. “I have never got into trouble with the government because I perfect what I do. People are dying because of violence and I’m not the one killing them. So, if they have any health problems as a result of what I am doing, they have a doctor to take care of them,” he jokingly said.

 

 

But health officials are concerned by the increasing number of fake foods and medicines on sale in the country. “Doctors have raised serious concerns about the increasing number of people who get foodpoisoning as a result of consuming such products,” said a woman who identified herself simply as Kafayat, a senior official in the Lagos State Ministry of Health. Yet, expired products are not just peculiar to shelves of some stores or supermarkets in Nigeria alone. They can be found all over the world. For example, In November 2014, some shoppers who picked a number of items in a few stores in Houston, Texas, USA, found out when they got back home that some of the items had expired since April 2012.

 

This kind of experience abound in other countries as well Reacting to the issue of adulterated dates, the Public Relations officer of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), Obiazikwor Christiana, said that NAFDAC only deals with regulated products. These, according to her, include items such as drugs, cosmetics and medical devices. “For products we have two dates on them; the manufacturing date and the expiry dates; although there are also batch numbers on them. Expiry date means the date that the producer has advised users to discontinue using such products. The product is no longer safe for use after that day. And any consequence from the usage of that product the producer is no longer liable for it.

 

And that is why we advise people to read product labels very well so as to make sure that products they buy are not expired. “Any product that has manufacturing date without expiry date can never be approved by NAFDAC. So, it is even a way of identifying a good product. No product can last forever.

 

Garri that we use in our houses cannot last be forever. Even yam, there is an extent you keep yam in the barn no matter how you want to preserve it. With time it will start shrinking and turn to something that you can no longer eat. These are natural things not to talk of things that you use preservatives that have chemical components,” she said. In like manner, the General Manager, Lagos State Consumer Protection Agency, Mrs Oluwakemi Olugbode, is irked by what she called the brazen attitude of businessmen, who capitalise on Nigerians’ low knowledge about their rights on consumables to cheat. She said: “We consumers must take our destinies in our hands and go the extra mile to check the life span of what we consume. You are kings and you have the right to determine who gets your money.

 

If you see products that are near expiration    just don’t buy. And when you don’t buy, they stay on the shelf and over time, those who put them on the shelf would be forced to remove them. Stop making billionaires out of unscrupulous and dubious businessmen, who go to other countries to bring products that are not safe for consumption at unbelievable cheap prices into Nigeria.” Olugbode said on assumption of duty, she discovered through a consumer survey conducted, that the level of consumers’ awareness of their rights and responsibilities was abysmally low. She said that over time, this lack of awareness has been exploited by some businesses to brazenly engage in all sorts of sharp practices that undermine the safety, comfort and economic interest of the consumers.

 

She also frowned at the manner some products were being stored in markets, warning that improper storage, like leaving packaged or bottled water exposed to the sun, has been undermining the quality of such products.

 

“It is common knowledge that even when they were not expired, the quality of most products gets compromised when stored under harsh weather conditions. It is worrisome that most super stores across the country stock their bottled water and beverages under direct sunlight in front of their shops for weeks on end. The practice of storing such items under the sun is unacceptable as it negates the storage conditions stipulated by the manufacturers and thereby exposing consumers to injury,” she added.

 

The Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON) has also warned Nigerians to be careful of the products they buy and not to buy any merchandise without expiry date defective. Bottled Water (Labelling) Regulations, under the NAFDAC Act, made similar provisions in the cases of prepackaged foods and bottled water respectively. Surprisingly, despite the indifference on the part of many Nigerians to report and or enforce product liability laws, particularly the violations of the legal requirement of expiry date labels in consumer products, Nigerian laws did not treat it with kid gloves. Paragraph 21 of the Prepackaged Food (Labelling) Regulations and Paragraph 16 of the Bottled Water (Labelling) Regulations, NAFDAC Act prescribes permanent or temporary prohibition from the importation, exportation, manufacture, distribution, sale of and use of the consumer items in each case, or in addition, a fine of N50,000 as penalty for contravention thereto.

 

It is also an offence under Section 9 of the Consumer Protection Council Act, for a manufacturer or distributor of a product to fail, on becoming aware after such a product has been placed on the market of any unforeseen hazard arising from the use of such product; and to notify the general public immediately of such risk or danger and cause to be withdrawn from the market such product.

 

Not too long ago, NAFDAC revealed that importers of substandard products had devised a new strategy of repackaging expired products and making them look like valid products. An example is the case of some dairy products imported into Nigeria from Holland. It was discovered that the milk had expired but was repackaged and another valid date put on the packs.

 

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FAILURE IN EXAMS, LACK OF FUNDS, BREAKUPS FUEL UNDERGRADUATE SUICIDES, SAY EXPERTS

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FAILURE IN EXAMS, LACK OF FUNDS, BREAKUPS FUEL UNDERGRADUATE SUICIDES, SAY EXPERTS

Suicide, according to medical experts, is a serious health problem. It is currently said to be the third leading cause of death for teenagers between the ages of 15 and 24 years. However, depression, which is also a serious problem for adolescents, is one of the significant biological and psychological risk factor for youth suicide. While substance use remains extremely widespread among today’s youths, it is related to both suicide mission and depression. ISIOMA MADIKE, in this report, attempts to look at a combination of individual and societal factors that contribute to the surging trend of this malaise among the country’s undergraduates

 

 

With undergraduates’ suicides on the rise in Nigeria, a mother who lost her son a few months ago, but prefers to remain anonymous, described her son, Tony as a “typical” teenager. Tony, she said, was a 300-level student of Chemical Engineering in one of the universities in the Southwestern part of the country. He was an athlete, who led a youth group at a church. At the time of his death, she didn’t see that he was struggling, despite her job as a teacher and her degree in counselling.

“You don’t get an instruction booklet with kids,” she said, adding: “So you don’t know what’s normal or not normal.” Since her son’s death by suicide at the age of 21, she has devoted time to researching youth mental health and suicide prevention. She now recognises her son’s tendency toward perfectionism and recalled how he’d begun struggling in some of his courses at the university.

He had mild Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and had been prescribed medication that came with a side effect warning about potential suicidal thoughts in adolescents. She believes he might have planned suicide for some time before he left church early one Sunday, walked home alone and took his life. The keys for parents, she said, were listening and communicating.

“Be very honest about mental illness and different feelings. Listen to their emotions. If they are on any medication, it’s important that the adults in their life, including teachers, are aware and watching for changes in behaviour. Anything that is not typical of their ‘normal,’ is an opportunity to start a conversation.

And it’s important to be direct when you believe there is something wrong with your child or your student,” she said. Mental health professionals, she said, recommend asking directly if a young person is thinking about harming themselves. According to her, the health experts, see that as the best approach and won’t put ideas in their heads or otherwise make things worse. But beyond parents being vigilant and involved with their children’s mental health, she’d like to see schools start teaching coping behaviours earlier and offering more support groups for youngsters to share their feelings.

“There is the need to be a lot kinder and a lot more accepting of people’s differences,” she said. While the woman acknowledged that it can be hard for parents and teachers to connect with kids as technology changes, she, nonetheless, would like to see more youth-led programmes so that they can connect with people their own age in their own way about mental health.

“I think there is a disconnect with these kids. They live on social media. Faith communities also could do more to engage families in discussions about mental health. Suicide affects everyone,” she said. The distraught woman however, highlighted what she called the fantasy of life, which youths see with lofty dreams as they look into the future with great expectations. She said: “They usually don’t believe life could defeat them. So, they look forward to winning all life’s battles. But when their dreams begin to fade, depression sneaks in, with hope giving way to despair while sadness takes the place of joy in their hearts.

It is at this stage that they start thinking of death. Unfortunately, in their quest to escape the reality of life, they leave pains in the hearts of those who loved them.” Incidentally, many, including health experts, seem to agree on depression as the possible cause of most suicide incidents. Hopelessness, feelings of guilt, loss of interest, insomnia, and low self-esteem are some of the most popular symptoms of depression. Suicide, according to them, is a serious health problem as they quoted global statics that suggests it is currently the third leading cause of death for teenagers and young adults between the ages of 15 and 24 years.

Apart from depression, which is said to be a serious problem for adolescents, and a significant biological and psychological risk factor for youth suicide, substance use remains extremely widespread and is related to both suicide mission and depression. Aside Tony, there have been many more in recent times.

The surging trend of reported cases of suicide by youths, with some of them announcing their intentions on the social media, has remained a major challenge for both parents and government. On June 8, a final year student of Ekiti State University (EKSU), Oluwafemi Akindeko, attempted suicide due to poor academic result. According to PREMIUM TIMES, Akindeko is a final year student of the Accounting Department. He was waiting for his results to be released so as to proceed for clearance for the National Youth Service Commission scheme.

When the result was released, it wasn’t what he was expecting; he failed one of his major courses, BUS 418, which he believed meant he would spend an extra year in school. Prior to his act, he made a series of post on his WhatsApp status, expressing displeasure and loss of hope.

In some of his posts, he said: “Everything about today is just bad… God help me. This month is not smiling. Why is today like this? God help me throughout this month. From June 1, everything hasn’t been good. All I want to do now is to commit a crime and be sentenced to life imprisonment. So, keep off, so you won’t fall a victim. “Life and education is something I don’t want again.

I guess going off is the best for now. I’m dropping this in case you call me and I’m not picking or you send a message and I’m not replying. Ire Ooooo! God be with the living. I regret ever coming to this world and I regret ever choosing to be educated. I swear. EKSU, you are cursed.”

He reportedly consumed sniper insecticide to die by suicide. Some of his friends also were quoted to have said that Akindeko cut himself before he was rushed to the hospital. The media was also awash with the story of another 300-level student of Medicine and Surgery at the Faculty of Basic Medical Sciences of the Niger Delta University, Amassoma in Southern Ijaw Local Government Area of Bayelsa State, who died by suicide for failing his examination. The student, who was identified only as Ebiweni, reportedly dived into Amassoma River and drowned before help came.

He was said to be among the 22 students shortlisted to be withdrawn from the college for failing the Bachelor of Medicine exams beyond the level that they could be placed on academic probation for another academic year. Reports had it that the deceased could not absorb the disappointment that came with the news despite attending the counselling session organised by the university for the affected students before being asked to withdraw from the institution. He was also said to have dropped a hint about his suicidal intention through his WhatsApp status update. Another, a 22-year-old Chukwuemeka Akachi, of the Department of English and Literary Studies at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, also took his life in an unpleasant circumstance. Akachi, a native of Eha-Alumona in Nsukka Local Government Area of Enugu State, was said to have had a long battle with mental illness.

It was said that he had on two previous occasions drank kerosene and petrol in an attempt to kill himself but was rescued. In a bid to make him void the thought of taking his own life, two of his lecturers were said to have taken interest in counselling him, including creating opportunities to have leisure with him whenever they noticed a slight change in his countenance. But their efforts were not enough to dissuade him. There was also a 400-level Law student of the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile-Ife, identified simply as Ige. He reportedly killed himself at his residence outside the campus of the university a few days after his lover allegedly broke up with him.

It was gathered that Ige, said to be above average academically by his colleagues, was found dead in his apartment at Asherifa area, a stone’s throw from the campus. His suicide note, reads in part: “Father, while reading this message, I would have been gone” before he allegedly ingested some substance later discovered to be poison. He was said to be a member of the Christ Apostolic Church Fellowship on campus and had met the lady who was said to have financed his education for over eight months of their relationship before the bubble burst. The lady, an undergraduate, is also a member of the same fellowship. She was said to have broken up with Ige because of his poor background and could no longer cope with him.

This development, reports said, subjected Ige to emotional trauma. He was said to have threatened that he would die by suicide should his lover remain adamant on her decision before he finally took his life. He was described by some students as a person who lived a lonely life. In what is fast becoming a fad among students of higher learning in Nigeria, a 16-year-old 100-level student of Microbiology in a university in the South-East, identified simply as Mercy, also killed herself. Mercy allegedly took ‘Sniper’ days after she wrote on Facebook that she wanted to see God’s face and speak with Him face to face. Her fellow students and a neighbour revealed that she killed herself due to financial pressures. One of her neighbours reportedly said she died after she took “rat poison mixed with battery extract.”

One of her friends said: “Mercy often isolated herself in class and looked depressed. She told me she was tired of living on his boyfriend. She actually struggled to meet up with her financial needs but the boyfriend tried to share the little he has with her. But as a woman, she felt she was becoming more of a burden to him.” Suicide rate among Nigeria’s undergraduates appears on the increase with sniper becoming a ready tool for them in such situation. However, many health experts have blamed poor understanding and treatment of stress and depression for the rampant malaise. Most people feel sad at times but believe it’s a normal reaction to loss or life’s struggles.

Yet, experts said that when intense sadness — including feeling helpless, hopeless, and worthless — lasts for many days to weeks and keeps one from living his or her life, it may be something more than sadness. At that point, they said, it could be clinical depression –a treatable medical condition. According to the DSM-5, a manual doctors use to diagnose mental disorders, one has depression when five or more of these symptoms last for at least two weeks: A depressed mood during most of the day, especially in the morning, feeling tired or having a lack of energy almost every day, feeling worthless or guilty almost every day and a hard time focusing, remembering details, and making decisions. Others are sleeplessness or sleeping too much almost every day, having almost no interest or pleasure in many activities nearly every day, thinking often about death or suicide (not just a fear of death), feeling restless or slowed down, lost or gained weight. WebMD also shows that sadness, sleeping problems, irritability, and more may be signs to seek help for depression.

It could equally occur when one feels irritable and restless, overeat or stop feeling hungry, have aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems that don’t go away or get better with treatment, feeling sad, anxious, or “empty” feelings. While these symptoms are common, not everyone with depression will have the same ones, said Oye Gureje, a Professor of Psychiatry and Director, WHO Collaborating Centre for Research and Training in Mental Health, Neuroscience, Drug and Alcohol Abuse, University of Ibadan.

How severe they are, how often they happen, and how long they last, he said, could vary. He also said that symptoms might happen in patterns. For example, depression, Gureje said, might come with a change in seasons (a condition formerly called seasonal affective disorder). However, it’s not uncommon for people with depression to have physical signs of the condition, he added.

They may include, according to him, joint pain, back pain, digestive problems, sleep trouble, and appetite changes. One might have slowed speech and movements, too. The reason, the experts said, was that brain chemicals linked to depression, specifically serotonin and norepinephrine, play a role in both mood and pain. He said: “Depression may have other specific features, such as anxious distress, that is worrying a lot about things that might happen or about losing control. Another typical feature is when one can feel good after happy events, but also feel hungrier, need to sleep a lot, and are sensitive to rejection. It could also be psychotic in which one believes things that aren’t true, or see and hear things that aren’t there.

“These are familiar to everyone but that only a few people would see it as mental issue that would require the attention of those trained to deal with such challenges. These could affect life substantially, if they persist.” Another child and adolescent consultant psychiatrist, also at the UCH, Ibadan, Professor Olayinka Omigbodun, said there is a universal intervention in preventing depression and suicide in children and adolescent to promote mental health and wellbeing and child adolescent mental health. She called for the review of mental health laws to provide proper care for affected persons in Nigeria.

“We cannot talk about the proper treatment of mental health issues if we do not have a law to back it up and we also need to understand that mental health issues affect everyone,” she said, adding, “the burden of depression on adolescents affect their interpersonal relationships and could be linked to other problems including smoking, drug abuse, academic failure, physically inactive and secondary behavioural problems like truancy and stealing.” She defined depression as a mood disorder characterised by persistently low mood and a feeling of sadness and loss of interest. She said: “It is a persistent problem, not a passing one, lasting on average 6 to 8 months.

Diagnosis of depression starts with a consultation with a doctor or mental health specialist. It is important to seek the help of a health professional to rule out different causes of depression, ensure an accurate differential diagnosis, and secure safe and effective treatment. “As for most visits to the doctor, there may be a physical examination to check for physical causes and coexisting conditions. Questions will also be asked – ‘taking a history’ – to establish the symptoms, their time course, and so on. Some questionnaires help doctors to assess the severity of depression,” Omigbodun said. Omigbodun, however, pointed out that depression is different from the fluctuations in mood that people experience as a part of normal life. “Temporary emotional responses to the challenges of everyday life do not constitute depression.

Likewise,the feeling of grief resulting from the death of someone close, is not itself depression if it does not persist. Depression can, however, be related to bereavement – when it follows a loss, psychologists call it a ‘complicated bereavement.’ Dr. Raphael Ogbolu, also a consultant psychiatrist at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), Idi Araba, and coordinator, Suicide Research and Prevention Initiative (SURPIN), looked at the issue differently. He said that the youth are less traditional and are more likely to be single parents, but more entrepreneurial and into phones than television.

This, he attributes to the advent of social media. The advent of GSM meant that their popular mode of communication was less likely to be face-to-face, and as such “this generation more often lives in a virtual world where social media gained a lot of prominence.”

The Director-General of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), Professor Moji Adeyeye, who was quoted by the Punch, looked at the direction of drug abuse. She said there was the need for parents and religious institutions to do more in discouraging youths from abusing drugs, especially controlled substances. She also called for the creation of more rehabilitation centres to cater for drug addicts. “We don’t have enough rehabilitation centres for our youths and people addicted to drugs. Right now, we have only 10 centres in the country.

We need like 10 centres in each geographical zone. We need to provide more rehabilitation centres.” The Spokesperson for the National Orientation Agency, Paul Ogenyi, however, blamed the incessant suicide cases on the disintegration of societal values including an increase in mental cases. He said in the past, people remained positive even when faced with financial crisis but the new culture of making money through any means and the glorification of money over values had made people to see money as a life or death matter. Ogenyi said, “Societal values have disintegrated and parents have failed. Also, institutions in charge of moulding the minds have also failed.” Clerics have also commented on the increasing rate of suicides among youths of the country. According to an Islamic scholar and lecturer at the Lagos State University, Ojo, Dr. Alayinde Yusuph, suicide is Haram; it is forbidden.

“You shouldn’t kill others let alone yourself. “Among the prohibited things in the Holy Quran, suicide is one of them because before the advent of Islam, the Arabs used to kill their daughters to run away from hardship. But the Holy Quran frowned at it. It is called Wabil jannat. So, the Holy Quran forbids it totally.” Yusuph, who aligned with Ogbolu, said because of the new media, adolescents of today were likely to have less social and interpersonal skills compared to the older generations. With this problem, he said, a lot of ‘make believe’ and fake personalities came into play.

He said: “For that reason, we now have children who will become sad because they cannot show off like their mates, even if they are fake. This in turn can affect their selfworth.” Also, the Senior Pastor, Transformation Chapel, Emmanuel Ohere, told Saturday Telegraph in a separate interview that as Christians, taking one’s own life was wrong and not biblical.

“No man or woman has the right to take his or her life; the messages and admonitions from the church, is also helping to curb the ugly incident. Unfortunately, the situation is made worse by a technological world where someone can create a photo-shopped image of a ‘beautiful’ person. What all this does is to diminish the self-esteem of a child who already lacks self-belief and confidence.

The clerics observed that adolescents attempting suicide by overdose at increasing rates was further evidence that the pervasive public health problem needs more conversation, money and experts. “The church, mosque and parents, should also be useful in this regard,” Ohere added.

MentalHealthNg, while confirming the reality of depression, which it acknowledged as a precursor to suicide, has advised people mounting pressure on singles to get married or couples who are childless, to desist from such attitude. It did not stop there but urged those asking fat people to slim down and slim people to eat so that they can get fat to also have a change of heart. Others are to stop body shaming people because, according to the organisation, abusers may not have any idea what others are passing through in life and that the best anyone could do is to have a nice thing to say to people as a way of encouraging them.

It equally advised ladies to be mindful of competitive life which, it said, did more harm than good. Fashion, it started, could come and go just like phones are evolving every day. It added: “People should be contented with the little they have at present while Nigerians should cultivate the habit of sharing their problems by talking to someone, especially medical experts, instead of taking their lives.”

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