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May 29: Buhari’s ministers’ scorecards (1)

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May 29: Buhari’s ministers’ scorecards (1)

President Muhammadu Buhari made history in 2015 when he, as the candidate of the opposition party at that time, defeated the incumbent (President Goodluck Jonathan) at the polls. With that victory, Buhari’s party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) became the first opposition party to achieve such a feat in the history of Nigeria. He took the oath of office on May 29, 2015 and will be completing his first term of four years as well as stepping into the second and final term in office by May 29, 2019. In this report, our correspondents – Onyekachi Eze, Regina Otokpa, Chukwu David and Abdulwahab Isa – assess the performance of the men and women Buhari chose to oversee the ministries over the last four years.

 

Prof. Isaac Adewole (HEALTH): Universal Health Care Coverage – still a mirage

 

When the Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole and the Minister of State for Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, came on board as members of President Muhammadu Buhari’s cabinet, they promised to among other things, revitalise the 10,000 primary healthcare facilities in the 774 local government areas across the country; provide antenatal care for pregnant women; free health care for babies and persons infected with infectious diseases; rehabilitation of cancer machines across the country; reducing the rate of maternal mortality and mother to child HIV transmission as well as placing more people on free anti-retroviral drugs. Although faced with low budgetary allocations, the Federal Ministry of Health within the last four years was able to put a lot of policy reforms and initiatives in place.

 

The Tobacco Act and Campaign was launched, N550 million was committed towards the revitalisation of 110 primary health care centres, an increased number of radiotherapy machines, a re-launch of family planning programmes nationwide, a successful implementation of routine immunisation which brought about an increase in the number of children covered including those in the hard to reach areas.

 

Through the successful implementation of the Nigeria HIV/AIDS Indicator and Impact Survey (NAIIS), Nigeria discovered its ranking had dropped on the global HIV ratings from 3.2 million persons living with the virus, to 1.9 million.

 

This could not be divorced from the various interventions put in place, collaborations with foreign and development partners in an increased awareness and access to preventive measures. In the same vein, new HIV test kits were developed to address the fear of stigmatisation and increase the number of Nigerians who now know their HIV status. For the first time, N55 billion has been committed to the Basic Healthcare Provision Fund (BHCPF), a fundamental funding provision under the National Health Act.

 

The first six states benefitting from the initial roll out included Osun, Abia, Niger, Yobe, Borno and Edo. With help from development partners, the malaria prevalence rate reduced from 42 to 27 percent, in addition, lot was done to mitigate disease burdens, increase birth registration, and curb the high rate of malnutrition and meeting up with universal health care projections and targets. Also, within the period under review, a health facility registry was launched to grant public access to up to date information about all health facilities in the country electronically, a maternal perinatal death and surveillance response was launched to ensure proper capturing of data of mothers and babies around pregnancies and deliveries.

 

One of the best news of all, is the proposed declaration of Nigeria as a polio free country by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the approval of a new National Health Policy aimed at promoting the health of Nigerians and the passage of the National Health Insurance Amendment Bill by the National Assembly still awaiting assent by the President. However, on the downside, Prof. Adewole’s tenure as minister witnessed a prolonged leadership crisis at the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS); while there is still poor national coverage of the NHIS scheme, Primary Healthcare Centres (PHCs), lack basic amenities, equipment, and drugs thereby severely undermining healthcare service delivery and health outcomes.

 

Also, Nigeria still accounts for a significant percentage of the global malaria burden placed at 25 percent, and 19 percent of malaria related deaths according to the World Malaria Report. According to the 2017 Global TB Report, Nigeria is among the 14 high burden countries for TB, TB/HIV and MDR-TB, and ranked 7th among the 30 high TB burden countries and 1st in Africa. The country is presently among the 10 countries that account for 64 percent of the global gap in TB case finding in 2017.

 

The last four years witnessed various outbreaks of vaccine preventable diseases such as meningitis, cholera, yellow fever due to inadequate vaccines in the country. Although a Memorandum of Understanding was signed with May and Baker towards a commencement of vaccine production in the country, there are no signs of notable progress as the country still depends on international donors for vaccine supplies.

 

Universal Health Care Coverage is still a mirage as majority of Nigerians still pay out of their pockets to access health services, Nigeria loses $1 billion to medical tourism on an annual basis, and about 12 doctors leave the country to practice abroad on a weekly basis. In addition, the health sector witnessed a lot of industrial unrest by members of the Medical and Health Workers Union (MHWUN), Association of Resident Doctors (ARD), and the Joint Health Sector Unions (JOHESU) who were often engaged in a battle for supremacy.

 

Mallam Adamu Adamu (EDUCATION): Illiteracy levels have risen to 60m

 

The tenure of Mallam Adamu Adamu and Prof. Anthony Anwukah as Minister of Education and Minister of State for Education respectively, witnessed quite a number of achievements.

 

When the duo assumed office, they promised to reduce the number of out of school children, ensure 30 million Nigerians become literate, strengthen basic and secondary school education, boost capacity building and professional development of teachers, re-negotiate the 2009 Agreement with unions in tertiary sector, reduce the percentage counterpart fund paid by states to ease their accessing of funds and provision of e-learning, technical and vocational education and training, education data and planning and adult literacy including special needs education. Though criticised for being slow in their style of administration in a sector considered vibrant, they kicked off with the presentation of a road map for radical change within their tenure.

 

They effected the separation of CRK/IRK in the basic education curriculum, implemented open distance and flexible learning for 25 polytechnics, conducted efficiency test for pupils and teachers, approved 15 university online learning centres, introduced teachers professional examination and modified the United Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME) for candidates seeking admission into the higher institutions of learning by introducing Central Admission Processing (CAP) System.

 

Only recently the number of out of school children was said to have reduced to 10.1 million. Figures peddled by the Federal Government and development partners in 2015 were hovering around 10.5 million and 13.2 million out of school children.

 

Education Minister, Mallam Adamu Adamu, who lamented the constraints of adequate data limiting the ministry’s ability to plan and report on the out-school children phenomenon, revealed that the new figure was arrived at due to the collaborative efforts of the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC), National Population Commission and the National Bureau of statistics, the World Bank (WB), United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and other development partners.

 

Also, several private and state tertiary institutions were approved, the data collection system was revamped an assessment was conducted for all basic schools and N1.9 billion intervention fund was approved for each university. Also N728 billion was spent in critical areas of tertiary education in the last four years, addressing physical infrastructure, project maintenance, information and communication technology, entrepreneurNgigeial skills, library development, academic staff training and development, as well as research. Out of the Paris Club Fund, the sum of N71.3 billion was given to the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC), to further boost basic education.

 

Out of this amount N14.6 billion was disbursed to states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) to ensure the provision of needed facilities in public primary and junior secondary schools nationwide. After series of strikes, which were often very prolonged, the sum of N163 billion was coughed out to “settle” the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU). However, the lack of faith in the quality of education has recorded a tremendous increase in the number of students seeking to study abroad.

 

Rather than reduce, the illiteracy level in the country has increased to 60 million, the rate of proliferation of unregulated private schools is still on the increase, over 40 percent of Nigerian teachers still lack the minimum qualifications for teaching, about 50 per cent of Nigerians with post -secondary school qualification are underemployed or unemployed.

 

The immediate past administration established the almajiri school system to address the high number of out of school children in the north, rather than sustain the programme, the multi-billion naira project has been left to ruin. Within the last four years, almost unions in the education sector including ASUU, COEASU, ASUP & JAC (Comprising NASU, SSANU & NAAT), embarked on labour disputes one time or the other, over Federal Government’s insincerity to honour previous agreements, and its nonchalant attitude towards the welfare of its members. These various strikes hit the sector hard.

 

Sen. Chris Ngige (LABOUR AND EMPLOYMENT): 20.9m Nigerians still unemployed

 

Sen. Chris Ngige believed that before leaving office as minister in 2019, he would crash the high rate of unemployment, ensure an improved wage and working capacity for Nigerian workers, implement the Local Content Act to boost job creation, enforce the 1990 Factories Act concerned with occupational health and safety and in addition, an online portal to register unemployed Nigerians. Formally known as Ministry of Labour and Employment, President Buhari redesigned and named it Ministry of Employment.

 

 

Four years down the line, the notable achievements of the one-time Senator was his ability to settle the numerous labour disputes that ensued under the administration’s first term of four years in office.

 

After a long-drawn battle resulting in several negotiations and renegotiations, strikes, protests and threats by labour movements in the country, the New Minimum Wage was finally approved for Nigerian workers after it was assented to by President Buhari on April 18. The nation’s upper legislative house (Senate) had earlier passed the bill in March.

 

The Labour Ministry equally saw to the training and empowerment of internally displaced persons, young men and women on skills and acquisition through the National Directorate of Employment.

Sadly, current data shows that about 20.9 million Nigerians were unemployed as at third quarter of 2018. The unemployment rate in Nigeria increased to 23.10 percent in the third quarter of 2018 from 22.70 percent in the second quarter of 2018.

 

Unemployment Rate in Nigeria averaged 12.31 percent from 2006 until 2018, reaching an all-time high of 23.10 percent in the third quarter of 2018 and a record low of 5.10 percent in the fourth quarter of 2010. Till date, the online portal which was expected to create a data base for unemployed youths to help the govt plan properly is still a mirage. Incessant strike actions from various unions and non-fulfilment of agreements between labour unions and the Federal Government were constantly resurfacing.

 

Rotimi Amaechi (TRANSPORT): Massive rail, road infrastructure development

After much intrigues, lobbying, horse trading and some times, bitter altercations among some members of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), the Executive arm of the Federal Government and the Eighth Senate, the apex legislative chamber, in October 2015, confirmed Rotimi Chibuike Amaechi, for appointment as a minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. At the point of his confirmation, it was not obvious to Nigerians, which sector of the economy he was going to be assigned to handle. However, it was obvious that he was going to be given what some Nigerians prefer to call a “Grade A or juicy” ministry.

 

The reason for this speculation and eventual manifestation of the grade of ministry to be assigned to him was due to the pivotal role Amaechi played in the election of President Muhammadu Buhari and the APC in 2015. Consequently, he was appointed the Minister of Transportation, with Aviation under it as a sub-sector. Amaechi, who served in Rivers State as Speaker of the State House of Assembly for eight years, and another eight years as the governor of the state, has manned the Transportation Ministry for three and half years, with a number of achievements to show.

 

Within this period, the ministry under Amaechi has made tremendous impact especially with respect to improving the nation’s transport sector. It is stating the obvious that the bulk of the achievements of the Ministry of Transportation are recorded mainly in the railway sub-sector of the economy.

 

Some of the achievements are as follows: The Rail Sub-Sector:

 

The Nigerian Railway Modernization Project Segment 1: Abuja-Kaduna Project which is a segment of the Lagos-Kano Rail (Western) Corridor was actually started under the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan, was completed  by   Amaechi, and commercial operations also commenced on the line after President Muhammadu Buhari, commissioned the project in July, 2016. Nigerians of all classes are now using it, and in fact, it is being overstretched currently as a result of the deteriorating state of security along Abuja-Kaduna Expressway, where armed bandits hold sway and subject the road users to kidnapping, robbery and sometimes outright killing of their victims.

 

The menacing security situation along the Abuja-Kaduna Expressway has put the less privileged (poor) Nigerians, whose interest in the construction of the rail line was paramount, are now being almost displaced by the rich, high and mighty in the society, who now see the rail transport channel as safe heaven to escape from the terror of the dare devil bandits.

 

There were reports that Abuja-Kaduna rail line is now conveying about 2000 passengers per day, thereby putting so much pressure on the available coaches. In order to tackle this problem, the Federal Government is expected to take delivery of the first batch of 10 coaches, out of the 64 coaches expected from China in June to augment the available ones.

 

Amaechi, disclosed this recently, when he led a delegation to China to inspect the pace of work on the construction of the coaches at the Chinese Railway Rolling Stock Corporation (CRRC) Tangshan Co., Ltd, China. He also noted that the coaches, when delivered, would be deployment to the Standard Gauge Rail lines in the country, particularly, Abuja-Kaduna rail line to reduce the current congestion.

 

Another major achievement by Amaechi in the sector is the implementation of the Nigerian Railway Modernization Project, Phase 1 – Lagos-Kano Project; Lagos-Ibadan Segment with extension from Its Terminal Point at Ebute-Metta to Lagos Port Complex at Apapa which is on-going. The Lagos-Ibadan rail line, according to Amaechi last weekend, has reached 70% completion.

 

He was also optimistic that the railway stations from Lagos to Ibadan, Abeokuta and Apapa would all be completed by December. It is pertinent to note that the Lagos-Ibadan rail project, which is being executed by the China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCECC), was signed to be completed in three years but due to Amaechi’s pressure on the contractor, the project is likely to be completed six months ahead of the initial duration period.

 

Other areas of the Nigeria Railway Central line are Itakpe- Warri line to Aladja – South ward line to Warri town, Refinery and Port (started by government in 1987). Work is very much in progress for completion by President Muhammadu Buhari’s Administration under strict supervision by Amaechi.

 

Concession Policy:

In line with the Federal Government’s reform policy to involve Private Sector Investment to participate in the Railway Transport Sub-sector, concession of various rail corridors for construction, rehabilitation and operation are on-going. This is being carried out majorly with relevant agencies on the Concession of the Nigerian Narrow Gauge Rail lines of Lagos – Kano (Western Lines) and Port Harcourt – Maiduguri (Eastern Lines).

 

This is to be done with General Electric (GE) of which millions of Nigerians will benefit. The Federal Government also has as priority for the connection through branch line of Port Harcourt–Maiduguri line to Damaturu and Yola, capitals of Yobe and Adamawa states respectively.

 

The Federal Government is also in negotiation with Chinese investors for the development of vital connection with neighbouring countries in the West African sub-region through new lines in the Kano-Katsina-Jibriya Line connecting Maradi Niger Republic and Benin and hope to reach Port of Marrakech in Morocco, when adequate protocol is established between the intervening countries within the context of ECOWAS Rail Interconnectivity policy.

 

Maritime Sub-Sector:

 

In April, 2017 the maintenance dredging of the River Niger from Ajaokuta to Onitsha was flagged off. The National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA) undertook the project with their in-house developed manpower and equipment.

 

The Nigerian Maritime Administration & Safety Agency (NIMASA) got a FEC approval for the award of contract for the lease of six units of Fast Intervention Security Vessels for prompt safety and security manning of the Nigerian Maritime Domain in line with IMO Protocol and Conventions. The Agency has renewed its Memorandum of Understanding with the Nigerian Navy and Nigerian Air Force for the same purpose of safety and security.

 

The Steering Committees for the actualization of the Deep Sea Ports at Ibaka, Akwa Ibom State and Lekki, Lagos State have been inaugurated and they are making impactful progress.

 

AVIATION

Safe And Secure Air Transport System

 

In the bid to achieve a safe and secure air transport system, FAAN has undertaken the following activities some of which are at the verge of completion: *Reconstruction of Abuja runway and isolated repair of the taxiway and apron, including complete remarking of the entire pavement and associated airfield lighting system.

 

*Completion of remodelling of Kaduna Airport; procurement and installation of fire alarm system in various airports, runway repairs at Benin Airport; construction of Control Towers with technical building at Ilorin and Benin, provision of bomb containment vessel at MAKIA & PH.C, among others.

 

*Only last week the ministry announced the closer of the runway at the Enugu Airport for repairs and plans to demolish the Murtala Mohammed International Airport in Lagos in order to build a more modern structure.

 

Setbacks: The major setback faced by Amaechi in the ministry, which has limited his exploits in the railway sub-sector is paucity of funds, which made it impossible for him to simultaneously extend the on-going rail projects to the Eastern corridor, with linkage of the Eastern to Western Geo-political zones as with the North. This has attracted a lot of criticism to him because the people of the South East and the South South have been accusing him of excluding them from the railway development Programme of the Muhammadu Buhari-led Federal Government.

 

Meanwhile, Amaechi has continued to assure the aggrieved sections of the country, that as soon as there are adequate funds, their own axes of the rail project would be commenced.

 

Alhaji Lai Mohammed

(INFORMATION AND CULTURE): We’ve transited from analogue to digital

 

The launch of Digital Switch Over (DSO) is one of the major achievements of the Ministry of Information and Culture in the last four years. This landmark achievement has seen Nigeria transiting from analogue to digital broadcasting.

 

At the launch of the programme in 2016 at Mpape, Abuja, the Minister in charge of the ministry, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, described the launch as revolutionary in the Nigerian broadcasting ecosystem. Alhaji Mohammed said 30 free channels would be available for Abuja residents upon the switch over while over 450,000 Set-Top Boxes (decoders) have been provided for the commencement. “Our objective is not just to move Nigerians from analogue to digital in a simple technical sense, but to ensure a total overhaul of the whole TV watching experience and the economy around it,” he said.

 

The programme was later launched in other parts of the country. The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) had given Nigeria up to June, 2017 as deadline to switch from analogue broadcasting to digital across the country. As a ministry charged with the responsibility of projecting government image and promoting its activities, the Ministry of Information, sometime in October 2016, launched the ‘Change Begins with Me’ campaign. Alhaji Mohammed, at the launch of the campaign in Lagos, said Nigeria needs a national rebirth.

 

“We need to change the way we do things and imbibe in our people the culture of integrity, honesty and good morals in every facet of life,” he explained. In June 2018, the ministry, which also oversees culture, hosted the 61st United Nation World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) Commission for Africa (CAF). It offered Nigeria the opportunity to showcase her culture and music to the world.

 

However, despite his best efforts at trying to project the positive sides of government the rising insecurity situation across the land has meant that government has suffered a lot of knocks over its perceived inability to decisively tackle the situation.

PART 2 NEXTWEEK

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Features

Tam David-West in final escape

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Tam David-West in final escape

N

ow, my introduction to Professor Tam David-West was on this wise: I was brought up by a very strict, educationist father, who would not allow his seven children travel during holidays, particularly the long vacation at the end of the session. He had his own way of keeping us busy.

 

My town, Ipetumodu, in Osun State, is about ten to fifteen minutes drive from the university town, Ile-Ife. During holidays, my father would drive us to the bookshop on campus, and we would leave the place laden with all kinds of books. That was our own holiday.

 

In 1980, we went on the annual visit to the bookshop. We bought our books, and my father bought one for himself. The title was Philosophical Essays, and the author was one Tam David-West.

 

I had just finished writing the secondary school leaving certificate examination, and shouldn’t have any taste for essays yet, whether philosophical or not. But because of the way we had been brought up, I read anything and everything. I started reading Philosophical Essays whenever my father was not busy with it, and eventually ‘borrowed’ the book. You know that kind of ‘borrowing,’ which you never return. The remnant of that book, with the front and back covers torn, is in my library till today.

 

I read Philosophical Essays from cover to cover, and noted very many profound quotations from it, which eventually became part of my writings in later years.

 

 

As a journalist with Concord Press, I wrote a piece in the early 1990s, and quoted from Philosophical Essays. A few weeks later, somebody came calling in our office. It was Professor Tam David-West. He said he read my piece, in which I had quoted him. That was the beginning of a friendship that lasted almost 30 years.

 

 

Over time, I quoted DavidWest profusely in my writings, and curiously, he, too, quoted me in his many essays. He read everything I wrote as a newspaper columnist, and I was instrumental to the publishing of his essays, first at Concord Press, and later at The Sun Newspapers.

 

One other thing endeared us to each other, apart from passion for writing. We both loved Muhammadu Buhari with an enduring love. David-West had served him as Petroleum and Energy Minister, and became a passionate Buharist, just like myself.

 

When Buhari joined partisan politics in 2002, he had two willing and enthusiastic soldiers of the pen behind him, among thousands of others. Prof David-West and myself. Between 2003 and 2015, when Buhari finally won, we wrote tons upon tons of articles. So committed was David-West that when he wrote what we considered too voluminous to publish free, he would procure pages of the newspaper, so that the articles could be run unedited.

 

Beyond writing, we became family. When my siblings, Foluke and Tayo, were named Professors at the Obafemi Awolowo University and University of Ibadan, respectively in 2012, Prof David-West was Chairman of the reception held for them, where we asked him to give a professorial charge. He did.

 

Also, when my mother passed on in 2013, and we held a commendation service for her in Lagos, the Professor drove all the way from Ibadan to attend. He sat at the same table with the then General Muhammadu Buhari, who had flown in from Kaduna to also be part of the event.

 

 

Every August 26 is Prof David-West’s birthday. But because he didn’t like celebrating, you know what the man would do? Travel abroad before the date. He jocularly called it ‘August Escape.’ When he was to turn 70, I impressed it on him that he deserved to be celebrated. Shortly before the date, he traveled to London. August Escape.

 

 

On Monday, at about 11 a.m, the erudite Professor of Virology made his final escape. An hour after it happened, I got a phone call from somebody who was with him in his final moments, telling me what had happened. Sad, sad. Yes, when you are 83, anything can happen, but I still felt quite sad to hear about the final escape of my senior friend.

 

 

Prof David-West, in the last few years of his life, became quite prayerful. He prayed at 9 a.m, 4 p.m, and 6 p.m. And because we were always talking , he would call me when prayer time was approaching, to tell me that he would switch off his phone for some time. Now, he’s gone to where phones can never reach. Oh, what a life!

 

He had been on admission at the University College Hospital (UCH) in Ibadan for a number of days, and was to be discharged to go home on Monday. But before the doctors allowed him to go, the Professor discharged himself. To eternity.

 

 

As a build-up to the 2011 presidential election, David-West sought to correct the malicious falsehood peddled for long about our common hero. So, he wrote a book titled ‘The 16 Sins of Muhammadu Buhari.’ It was all to debunk 16 allegations often leveled against the man from Daura. When the book was presented at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA) in Lagos, I was Master of Ceremonies. It was the first day I met Gen. Buhari in person, though we had spoken on phone many times, as he had always read my articles, and would call to discuss the content.

 

Prof David-West had sent me a number of times in recent years to give his goodwill message to President Buhari. And whenever I passed the word, the President would laugh, and say:”the indomitable David-West.”

 

 

One very gratifying thing the President did was in December last year. He wrote the Professor a personal letter of appreciation for his support, included a Christmas/New Year greeting card from State House, which I had the duty to deliver. The Professor appreciated it greatly.

 

 

My colleague and successor as Managing Director/ Editor-in-Chief of The Sun Newspapers, Eric Osage, is also a David-West person. When the man turned 80 three years ago, Osage did a piece, celebrating him. The Professor loved it so much, that he photocopied the article, marked out some sections, and sent to me. A couple of weeks ago, before he took ill , he had sent the same article to me again. And on hearing the news of his death on Monday, Osage sent me a text message:”David-West was a great man. We can never forget him. His memory will linger forever. Loyal to the end.”

 

 

True. He was loyal to the end. There were some people, who had tried to drive a wedge between President Buhari and the renowned virologist, through snide comments . But the man would call me, and say: “I believe in President Buhari. He has not changed, and won’t change.”

 

 

Every year, when he did his August Escape, David-West always came back with gifts for my wife. Lace fabric, and perfume. It was as constant as the Northern Star. When I broke the news of his passage on Monday, the first thing my wife said was “oh, he always bought me lace and perfume.” Well, we will only be remembered by what we have done, after we have faded away like the stars of the morning.

 

 

I remember an interview David-West granted to The Sun before the 2015 election. He was in Port Hacourt, and I had sent our Bureau Chief, Chris Anucha, to talk to him. During the dialogue, he had declared that even if his father ran against Buhari in an election, he would vote for Buhari. That was where I took the headline from.

 

Time, like an ever rolling stream, bears all its sons away, they fly forgotten as a dream dies at the opening day. Tamunoemi Sokari David-West, the essayist, academic, virologist, record keeper, anti-corruption crusader, a stickler for time, dyed-in-the wool Buharist, is gone. When I lost my sister in 2015, he was at the funeral service. As the coffin was being moved from the church to the cemetery, I broke down in tears. The Professor came, hugged me, and began to cry with me. Why shouldn’t I now cry for him?

I’m doing so.

 

 

Adesina is Special Adviser on Media and Publicity to President Muhammadu Buhari

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How a preacher sent gunmen into Burkina Faso’s schools

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How a preacher sent gunmen into Burkina Faso’s schools

When an Islamist preacher took up the fight in Burkina Faso’s northern borderlands almost a decade ago, his only weapon was a radio station. The words he spoke kindled the anger of a frustrated population, and helped turn their homes into a breeding ground for jihad.

Residents of this parched region in the Sahel – a vast band of thorny scrub beneath the Sahara Desert – remember applauding Ibrahim “Malam” Dicko as he denounced his country’s Western-backed government and racketeering police over the airwaves.

“We cheered,” said Adama Kone, a 32-year-old teacher from the town of Djibo near the frontier with Mali, who was one of those thrilled by Dicko’s words. “He understood our anger. He gave the Fulani youth a new confidence.”

Mostly herders, young men like Kone from the Fulani people were feeling hemmed in by more prosperous farmers, whom they felt the government in Ouagadougou favoured. The preacher successfully exploited their conflicts over dwindling land and water resources, and the frustrations of people angered by corrupt and ineffective government, to launch the country’s first indigenous jihadi movement. That cleared a path for groups affiliated with al Qaeda and Islamic State.

Since Dicko’s first broadcasts, Burkina Faso has become the focus of a determined jihadi campaign by three of West Africa’s most dangerous armed groups who have carved out influence in nearly a third of the country, while much of the world was focused on the crisis in neighbouring Mali. Militant Islamist fighters close schools, gun down Christians in their places of worship and booby-trap corpses to blow up first responders. At least 39 people died last week in an ambush on a convoy ferrying workers from a Canadian-owned mine in the country. There has been no claim for that ambush, but the modus operandi – a bomb attack on military escorts followed by gunmen unleashing bullets – was characteristic of Islamist groups.

Since 2016, the violence has killed more than 1,000 people and displaced nearly 500,000 – most of them this year.

In 2019, at least 755 people had died through October in violence involving jihadist groups across Burkina Faso, according to Reuters’ analysis of political violence events recorded by the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project, an NGO. Actual numbers are likely higher – researchers aren’t always able to identify who is involved in the violence.

The teacher Kone is one of many of Dicko’s former supporters who regret their earlier enthusiasm.

“We handed them the microphones in our mosques,” he said. “By the time we realised what they were up to, it was too late.”

He fled to Ouagadougou two years ago, after armed Islamists showed up at his school. More than 2,000 schools have closed due to the violence, the U.N. children’s fund UNICEF said in August.

A LOCAL CHANNEL

A lean, bespectacled Fulani from the north, Malam Dicko broadcast a message of equality and modesty. He reportedly died of an illness in late 2017, but his sermons channelled deep grievances in Burkina Faso’s north where impoverished people have long been frustrated by corrupt officials.

The province of northern Burkina Faso where Dicko lived scores 2.7 on the United Nations Human Development Index, compared with 6 for the area around the capital, Ouagadougou. About 40% of its children are stunted by malnutrition, against only 6% in the capital, according to U.S. AID.

From Ouagadougou to Djibo is a four-hour drive on a road which peters out into a sandy track. Sparse villages dot a landscape of sand and withered trees. Goats devour scrappy patches of grass.

Residents complain that their few interactions with the state tend to be predatory: Bureaucrats demand money to issue title deeds for houses, then never provide the papers; gendarmes charge up to $40 to take down a complaint; there are mysterious taxes and extortion at police roadblocks. Lieutenant Colonel Kanou Coulibaly, a military police squadron commander and head of training for Burkina Faso’s armed forces, acknowledged that northerners “feel marginalized and abandoned by the central government.”

In about 2010 preacher Dicko, who had studied in Saudi Arabia in the 1980s, began tapping this discontent, recalled Kone and other former Djibo residents. He denounced corruption by traditional religious leaders and practices that he deemed un-Islamic, including lavish wedding and naming ceremonies.

The movement he created, Ansarul Islam (Defenders of Islam), opened a path to militants from outside Burkina Faso — particularly Mali.

Early in 2013, French forces were pounding northern Mali to wrest control from al Qaeda-linked fighters who had seized the region the previous year. Dicko slipped over the border to join the militants, said Oumarou Ibrahim, a Sufi preacher who knew Dicko and was close to the No. 2 in his movement, Amadou Boly.

In Mali, Ibrahim said, Dicko linked up with Amadou Koufa, a fellow Fulani whose forces have unleashed turmoil on central Mali in recent years. French forces detained the pair near the border with Algeria; Dicko was released in 2015.

He set up his own training camp in a forest along the Mali-Burkina border, Kone, the teacher, and Ibrahim, the Sufi preacher, told Reuters.

Dicko forged ties with a group of Malian armed bandits who controlled drug and livestock trade routes.

On the radio that year, he urged youths to back him, “even at the cost of spilling blood.”

“WHITES AND COLONISERS”

For some years Burkina Faso’s President, Blaise Compaore, had managed to keep good relations with Mali’s Islamists. But in 2014, he tried to change the constitution to extend his 27-year-rule. Residents of the capital drove him from office.

Without Compaore, Burkina Faso became a target. Barely two weeks into a new presidency, in January 2016, an attack on the Splendid Hotel and a restaurant in Ouagadougou killed 30 people. It was claimed by al Qaeda-linked militants based in northern Mali.

Dicko became even more radical after that: He fell out with associates including his No. 2, Boly.

Ibrahim, the Sufi preacher, said Boly came to his house in Belhoro village in November 2016, agitated because Dicko had ordered him to raise cash to pay for AK-47 rifles and grenade launchers from Mali.

Boly refused. Dicko threatened him, Ibrahim said. Boly was either with him, “or with the whites and the colonisers.”

Two weeks later, gunmen assassinated Boly outside his Djibo home. Ibrahim said he fled his own village the next day.

The teacher Kone, whose house was down the street, said he heard the gunshots that day. A wave of killings followed. The militants assassinated civil servants, blew up security posts, executed school teachers.

One day in May 2017, Kone was running late for school when he got a phone call from a colleague. Armed men from Dicko’s movement had come and asked after him.

He shuttered the school and sped to Ouagadougou.

BOOBY TRAPS

Now headed by Dicko’s brother Jafar, Ansarul Islam was sanctioned by the United States in February 2018. None of its leaders could be reached.

It still controls much of Burkina Faso’s northern border areas but two other groups have also built a presence on the country’s borders, according to the European Council on Foreign Relations. Islamic State in the Greater Sahara dominates along the eastern frontier with Niger. And Koufa’s Macina Liberation Front, which is closely aligned to al Qaeda, is active on the western border with Mali.

These spheres of influence can be loose: Fighters for all three are believed to cooperate with each other and with bandit groups.

Their attacks – including the kidnap and killing of a Canadian citizen in January claimed by Islamic State – are becoming more brutal. In one instance in March, a Burkinabe security official told Reuters, militants stitched a bomb inside a corpse and dressed it up in an army uniform, killing two medics – a technique used by Malian fighters.

Recent attacks on churches have killed about 20 people, and a priest was kidnapped in March.

The European Union and member states have committed 8 billion euros ($9 billion) over six years to tackling poverty in the region but so far, responses from Ouagadougou and the West have been predominantly military.

The United Nations has spent a billion dollars a year since 2014 on a 15,000-strong peacekeeping force in Mali. Almost 200 members have been killed – its deadliest mission ever.

France has 4,500 troops stationed across the region. The United States has set up drone bases, held annual training exercises and sent 800 troops to the deserts of Niger. Led by France, Western powers have provided funding and training to a regional counter-terrorism force known as G5 Sahel made up of soldiers from Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, Chad and Mauritania.

Despite all this, Islamist violence has spread to places previously untouched by it, as tensions like those that first kindled support for Dicko intensify.

“You have a solution that is absolutely militarised to a problem that is absolutely political,” said Rinaldo Depagne, West Africa project director at International Crisis Group, an independent think tank. “The security response is not addressing these problems.”

CYCLE OF ABUSE

The fact that a large number of recruits are Fulani has triggered a backlash by other ethnic groups, and those who have fled northern Burkina Faso say they had scant protection.

One woman said gunmen on motorbikes attacked her village, Biguelel, last December. The gunmen accused her family of colluding with “terrorists” simply because they were Fulani. They torched her home and shot her husband and dozens of others dead, but she escaped.

The next day the woman, Mariam Dicko, and about 40 others went to a military police post in the nearby town of Yirgou. “They said it was over now, so they couldn’t help us,” said Dicko – a common surname in the country.

Kanou, the military police commander, acknowledged that troops were sometimes not present when needed. “But when patrols are being attacked, it’s more difficult,” he added. “We have to take measures to protect ourselves.”

As Western forces rely increasingly on their Sahel partners, rights groups and residents say they sometimes overlook abuses by locals. Four witnesses described to Reuters summary executions of suspected insurgents during search operations. These included an incident in the village of Belhoro on February 3, in which security forces ordered nine men out of their homes and shot them dead, according to two women who saw the killings.

New York-based Human Rights Watch documented 19 such incidents in a report in March, during which it says 116 men and boys were captured and killed by security forces. The government said the army is committed to human rights and is investigating the allegations. “In our struggle there will necessarily be innocent victims, not because we want to, but because we are in a tough zone,” Kanou said. U.S. Ambassador Andrew Young said America takes up any “mistakes” with the government.

In November 2018, Burkinabe forces raided the village home of a lab technician at a clinic in Djibo, accusing his 60-year-old father of being a terrorist, two friends of his told Reuters.

They killed the father in front of his son.

The following week, the technician, Jibril Dicko, didn’t show up for work. His phone went dead.

Neighbours said he had gone to join the jihad.

*Courtesy: Reuters

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I want my husband exonerated –Esther Barinem-Kiobel

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I want my husband exonerated –Esther Barinem-Kiobel

Gone down in history as one of humanity’s saddest days, November 10, 1995 remains a harbinger of ill tidings to the Ogonis, especially the families of the slain Ogoni Nine, among whom was a serving Commissioner, Dr. Barinem – Nubari Kiobel, who at the time of his execution, was one of the most learned Nigerians. His widow, Esther Barinem-Kiobel, who is in the International Court of Justice at the Hague seeking justice for her husband, relieves that painful moment in this interview

 

On Sunday, November 10, it will be 24 years since your husband, one of the Ogoni nine, was executed by General Sani Abacha’s regime. How have you and the family been coping?

 

 

Hmmmmmm! We live by the grace of God who has been our strength. It has not been easy living with the pains, trauma and the gruesome injustice that the execution engendered.

 

 

What exactly was your husband’s offence?

 

 

My husband’s offense was his refusal to betray his people. During an executive meeting at the Government House, Port Harcourt, they prevailed on him to betray his people and gain favour with the government and the Multinational oil firms that needed his people’s crude oil badly. Being the commissioner for commerce, Industry and Tourism, he was in a vantage position to sell his people and get all the favours, but he refused. So the authorities of the day then accused him falsely, forging charges that he, Barrister Ledum Mittee and Ken Saro- Wiwa conspired to kill the four prominent Ogonis who were having meeting at Giokoo, Gokana Local Government Area of Rivers State. The authorities raised the false allegation to get them killed for no just cause.

 

 

On the day of the incident, May 21, 1994, John Barika came and told my husband at Kpor, where he was in a community meeting with his people, of the news of the killing of the Ogoni four and that there was riot at Giokoo in Gokana Local Government Area, Rivers State. My husband decided to go to the Bori Police Station as a State Commissioner to seek for help. The Mobile Police Officers refused to go with him, but rather pleaded with him to use his position as a State Commissioner to go and calm his people down. The Late King Bagia, the Gberemene of Gokana was at Giokoo at his palace at the time my husband arrived. The King came to the Kangaroo Tribunal to testify that mu husband was in   nocent. The Mobile Police Officer who told him to go and calm his people down also came and testified in favour of my husband all to no avail.

 

 

On that fateful day, the then Governor of Rivers State, Dauda Komo, deceived my husband to go to the Naval Base   for safety under the pretext that the killers will also come after him. My husband obeyed the order only to discover, to his greatest surprise, when the case was filed that he was being charged along side others. This is a clear case of setting up my husband since he refused to betray his people.

 

Records have it that the Ogoni Nine were arrested and detained at the Military Barracks in Port Harcourt. What were your experiences during those detention months?

 

 

My family and I went through torture, assault, abuses, insults; detention, harassment and we were highly traumatized. The military in collaboration with Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC), killed and acidized my innocent husband. Like I said earlier, my husband never committed any offence.

 

He was innocent.

 

 

What steps have you taken to get justice for your slain husband?

 

We are still in court and we trust God will give us justice through the Judge handling the case.

 

What is your demand from the Nigerian Government which executed your husband?

 

I have said this before, and I will continue to say it, my demand from the Nigerian Government is to exonerate my husband killed on false charges he never committed. He was killed on false charges.

 

Given your experience, what would be your advice to those seeking justice?

 

 

Never, ever give up on what you stand for. Do not compromise in anyway. Some people are desperately wicked and will do anything to bring you down. Trust in God because He will always see you through in troubled times. No matter what, there is light at the end of the tunnel.

 

 

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Virgy Etiaba attains ‘perfect’ perfection at 77

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Virgy Etiaba attains ‘perfect’ perfection at 77

For Virginia Ngozika Etiaba known by all as Dame Virgy Etiaba it is that time of the year when to reflect on life and give thanks to God, as she clocks 77 Monday, November 11, 2019.

 

 

She has every reason to thank God. Some years back she came down with Cancer and God in his mercy healed her. To show her appreciation to God, she floated the Dame Virgy Etiaba Foundation which provides a platform for succor, training, workshops and seminars for the less privileged, the widows, lepers, prisoners and whatever handicapped there is in the world. This missionary work has taken her to 40 communities and groups even outside her native Anambra such as Uyo, Akwa Ibom State.

 

This she has been doing since she left Government House in 2016.

 

Dame Virgy Etiaba sees government as a means of serving the people. This she has been doing since her days as a teacher.

 

 

Born on 11th November 1942 at Nnewi in Nnewi North Local Government Area and married to late Barrister Bennett Etiaba, Dame Virgy Etiaba had her Primary and Secondary School Education in Kano State followed by her Teacher Training Education in Gombe State. Her Educational qualifications include; National Certificate of Education from the Abraka College of Education Delta State, Bachelors Degree in Education from the University of Nigeria Nsukka as well as a certificate in Information Technology from Goldsmith College, University of London.

 

Dame Etiaba worked as a Headmistress and Secondary School teacher for thirty five years at different parts of the state. She retired meritoriously in 1991 and established the Bennett Etiaba Memorial School, Nnewi.

 

 

Dame Etiaba’s Political life is quite impressive and remarkable. She became the governor of Anambra State in 2006 following the impeachment of former Governor Obi. It is on record that she declined being sworn in as according to her: “The Governor is my boss and he remains my boss”. Reports had it that it took some religious leaders, elders, stakeholders as well as her party leadership to persuade her to submit herself for the swearing in as there would not be a vacuum in the governance of the state.

 

Mama Anambra as she is fondly called governed the state for a brief but impactful period of little above three months. Despite having a short tenure, she made remarkable achievements. She flagged off and constructed several roads. Dame Virgy signed into law during her tenure “Anambra State Child Rights Bill”. Generally, she governed the state when there was a high political turmoil especially between the PDP controlled House of Assembly and APGA led state Government. She weathered the storm and brokered peace amongst the political actors. It was in appreciation of her good governance that Ndi Anambra gave her the name “Mama Anambra”.

 

Talking about her legacy, former Governor Dame Virgy Etiaba said “I have always held the belief that if you are kind to history, history will be kind to you. I would want to be remembered as a public officer who served responsibly, compassionately and competently. My training and background as a teacher mandates me to show good examples at all times. So, I would want to pass on, directly or indirectly, a legacy of principled leadership, hard work, commitment to the needs of the people, respect for the feelings of the people as well as the fear of God”.

 

Religiously, Dame Virgy Etiaba is a devout Christian of the Anglican Church denomination. She is a knight of Saint Mary and belongs to many religious organizations. She is a member of the Christian Association of Nigerian Schools. Dame Virgie has continued to render quality services to God and humanity. Dame Virgy Etiaba authored a book entitled “My Life, My Story” where she chronicled accounts of her life journey.

 

Former Governor Dame Virgy Etiaba could be described as a virtuous woman due largely to her sound moral and mentoring tendencies. She has remained a good example of motherhood and a source of inspiration to the entire womanhood. God as a perfect rewarder of good deeds has blessed “Mama Anambra” in all facets of life. She has six successful children of which two of them (Emeka Etiaba SAN and Echezona Etiaba SAN) are Senior Advocates of Nigeria and others are doing pretty well in their vocations.

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IRT arrests General Overseer, hospital owner for removing babies from mothers’ wombs to sell

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IRT arrests General Overseer, hospital owner for removing babies from mothers’ wombs to sell

GO takes prostitute to hospital for abortion

 

 

Policemen attached to the Inspector-General of Police Special Intelligence Response Team (IRT) have smashed a syndicate which specialised in removing babies from their mothers’ wombs before maturity in order to sell them. Police are working on the theory that the syndicate, which is located in Delta State, is running a baby factory and an illegal orphanage. Some of those arrested in connection with the crime are; the General Overseer of Liberation Ministry, Pastor Sunday Chinedu, Madam Isioma Uko, the Chief Medical Director and owner of Ndu Hospital and mortuary in Delta State, Mr Adagbo Samuel aka Baba. Others are Vera Emenike aka Vivian, Monday Joy, Faith Yusuf Desmond and Friday, a panel beater.

 

The syndicate was busted after IRT operatives, led by a Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP), Abba Kyari, received information on the illegal activities going in the hospital and embarked on surveillance that ran into weeks. When the policemen were sure that their information was correct, they stormed the hospital. The police said that Samuel specialised in carrying out surgeries on young girls once their pregnancies were six months old. When police stormed his hospital, they found two dead bodies in his dirty mortuary. One of the corpses was that of a pregnant young girl. Incidentally, Samuel is not a trained medical doctor, but has doctors and nurses working for him. They do whatever he orders them to do.

 

Police said: “The syndicate is using the hospital to engage in human trafficking and operation of illegal orphanage, otherwise known as baby factory. Police received information that Samuel has a criminal syndicate within and outside Agbor.

 

The Syndicate gets girls, mostly underage and pregnant. The girls would then be lured to the hospital, which has been turned into an illegal orphanage. “Samuel would reach an agreement with the girls. One of the agreements is that he would take extremely good care of them during the period of their pregnancies. After they give birth, he pays them N200, 000 and takes possession of their babies. Investigation has revealed that Samuel has a home at Ayangba in Kogi State, where he transports the children to for sale.

 

When police stormed the hospital, they discovered that Samuel had two bodies lying in the morgue, while all efforts made to trace families of the bodies had been futile. “The syndicate harvests babies when their young mothers are just six months gone.

 

Once the babies are brought out, they are put in incubators and then sold when they are nine months old. Samuel claimed that the babies were removed untimely from their mothers’ womb because the young mothers didn’t want people to know they were pregnant.”

 

One of the victims, who police said the syndicate harvested her baby, is Monday Joy. But Samuel explained that Joy was brought to him by a woman called Favour. Joy later told him that she was six months pregnant. Samuel said that Joy gave birth to a male child, who died after some hours. She would later return to Samuel’s hospital after she got pregnant the second time. Samuel said: “The second child, a baby girl, survived and was sold to a woman. I don’t know the woman’s whereabouts.

 

I never knew it was a criminal offence to sell children.” Samuel also recalled that there was a time Friday the panel beater once brought a politician identified simply as Honourable Francis, to him. The politician came with a pregnant lady, later identified as Favour. The girl later delivered a baby girl, but the new mother allegedly asked Samuel to sell the baby for her. The baby was sold for N300, 000.

 

Samuel recounted: “Immediately I collected the money from Francis, I gave it to Favour. She shared it into two. She took N150, 000, while she gave me N100, 000. That same day, Honourable Francis bought another six-month-old baby.

 

I can take police to Friday, who brought the politician. It is only through Friday that we can get to Honourable Francis. On that day, Francis, Friday came with one Igbo woman called Vivian Emenike. She’s also called Susana.

 

 

No, I’m not a medical doctor, but I am the proprietor of the clinic and maternity home. When I could no longer pay doctors and nurse, I suspended them and the patients. No, I am not a mortician. Mr Akpan is my mortician.” One of the suspects, Friday, explained how he got involved with the syndicate.

 

His words: “About 15 years ago, things were very tough for me and my wife was pregnant. When she went into labour, I took her to the general hospital at Agbor. My wife gave birth to a baby girl. I later told my wife that the baby died.

 

“Immediately we were discharged, I took the baby to Samuel and sold her for N30, 000. I didn’t know that selling my child was a crime. In 2018, Madam Vivian Emenike came to my shop to ask how she could get a baby, either boy or girl. I took her to Samuel, who sold a baby to her. I don’t know how the baby was sold and no money was given to me.” Another suspect, Isioma Uko, said: “Police arrested me for selling a child. I went to Doctor Samuel with one of my friends. We went there to adopt a baby.

 

We bought the baby for N600, 000. I bought two; one was sold for N600, 000 and the other for N730, 000. My friend took one, while a nurse took the second one. But I was the one who took them there. Out of the N730, 000, I took N20, 000, while out of the N600, 000 I was given N10, 000, making it a total of N30, 000. I went into this business because I wanted to help Vivian, who was childless and needed a baby.” Responding, Vivian said: “A woman, Onyeka Okon, introduced me to Samuel.

 

She called Baba on the telephone and   then he asked her to give the phone to me; he directed me to his house. When I got there, I asked him if he does abortion, he said yes. He asked me if I was ready to take a baby, but I told him that whatever we discussed, I would go and talk to the people who wanted to buy the baby.

 

 

“We agreed on a price and then I went to bring the lady who wanted to buy the baby. I gave the money to Baba and he handed over the baby to me. I gave the baby to the woman and we left. Some minutes after we left, the woman called, asking if the transaction was genuine, I replied yes. She said that she didn’t want a situation where there would be trouble in the future.” The General Overseer of Liberation Ministry, Sunday Chinedu, also has his own story to tell.

 

He said: “Police arrested me because I did business with Samuel, who we call Baba. The business involved buying of babies. I brought a girl from Edo State to Samuel. The girl is a prostitute, who got pregnant and wanted to get rid of it. The pregnancy was six months gone when she came to my church to ask if I knew where abortion could be carried out. I got to know her during my commercial motorcycling days.”

 

The pastor continued: “While she was talking to me and crying, a woman walked into my church. She asked why the girl was crying and I explained. She told me she would give me a man’s number, that the man was a doctor. I collected the man’s number, called him, and he directed me to his place.

 

When we got there, he gave her two options; either to abort the foetus or sell the baby after birth. The lady chose the second option. When the lady gave birth, the doctor called and showed me N300, 000. He took N50, 000, which he said was his share and then gave me N30, 000, while the rest of the money was given to the lady.

 

“Three months later, the lady brought her friend to Baba for the same solution. Yes, I’m a pastor of Liberation Ministry and I am the General Overseer.”

 

 

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I jumped into fire to salvage my N25m goods –Victim

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I jumped into fire to salvage my N25m goods –Victim

Balogun Market on Lagos Island, known for its wide selection of colorful Nigerian and imported fabrics and school bags, was on fire on Tuesday. It was speculated that the inferno was sparked by an electrical fault. People were said to be on the roof of the burning building at the time as firefighters battled the flames with little success. ISIOMA MADIKE and OLAMIDE SOLANA, who were at the scene a day after, captured the agonies of victims, who lost hundreds of millions to the unfortunate

 

 

Tuesday, November 5, was a day many, especially traders who lost all they had laboured for for years, won’t forget in a hurry. Balogun Market on Lagos Island, known for its wide selection of colourful Nigerian and imported fabrics and school bags, was on fire on that day. According to eyewitnesses, the inferno was sparked by an electrical fault on Brasas Plaza on its fifth floor. Incidentally, people were on the roof of the burning building at the time as firefighters battled the flames with little success. Yet, the traders were thankful to God that human losses were minimal.

 

Our correspents, who were at the scene of the incident a day after, captured the agonies of some of the victims, who lost hundreds of millions to the unfortunate inferno. Many of them were inconsolable as they count their losses. One of such people is Peter Chima, who had a huge stock of school bags before the incident.

 

 

The   36-year-old from Anambra State lost over N25 million worth of goods. He had received a trailer load of his merchandises a day before the incident. Chima had also taken a loan from one of the new generation banks, which he used as a bait to enable him to take more goods from his suppliers. This arrangement, according to him, was facilitated by his former boss, who he said, had a robust relationship with the suppliers he had done business with for years.

 

He lost not only his live savings but the loan as well as the overstock taken on trust from his suppliers. Chima and some of his friends were at the fifth floor when they heard a bang at the fourth floor. When they looked down, they noticed that a huge chunk of the wall had pulled in allowing the fire to pierce through the third floor. The building was a six-floor complex.

 

They were trying to salvage all they could as they were throwing down the bags to no one in particular. At that time there was huge smoke that was already choking them to the point of suffocating. Their efforts were too little, too late.

 

Chima said: “The fire started from the building next to ours. Initially, we didn’t realise the intensity of the inferno until people started yelling at us to rush down for our safety. Most of us were on the fifth floor where we had our warehouses. But as others hurried down, the thought of losing everything I had laboured for if the fire got to where we were crossed my mind and I became confused.

 

“In that confusion, I begged one of my friends and a Mallam with us at the time to help me to see what we could salvage from my warehouse. But, when we noticed that the fire had entered into the building we were from both the ground and third floor, my friend and Mallam left me and found a way to escape before it engulfed the entire building. “I was left alone as I was determined   to save my goods. When the fire got to the fourth floor the shout of ‘leave your goods and save your live’ became louder.

 

At that point I had to jump from the top of the building where I was but unfortunately I slammed my head against the wall on the second floor and managed to roll down.

 

 

“The injury was so severe that I passed out only to be resurrected from the nearby health centre I was rushed to after some hours. The Lagos State fire service officials on ground tried but their efforts came a bit late. However, death would have been a better option, as I do not know how to approach my bankers and suppliers? I’m finished; I need help urgently.”

 

Like Chima, his boss, who he was an apprentice to, Sylvester, is also said to have lost over N45 million worth of goods to the fire. His wife, who reluctantly spoke with one of our reporters, identified herself simply as Amarachi, from Anambra State. She told our reporter that theirs was a family business she ran with her husband

 

She said: “We have been here for years selling school bags. We supply others as well as retail to our numerous customers here in Balogun and from outside the state. The incident that just happened was terrible that I don’t even know where or how to tell this sordid story. It’s a total wreck on us and it will only take His grace to find our feet again. “We were not on ground at the time but when our sales boys called on the telephone to alert us, they said the fire   was in our neighbour’s building and had not got to ours. They assured us that everything was okay as the fire might not eventually escalate to engulf other buildings. As we were contemplating on what to do, the second call came and we could hear people crying at the background.

 

“As they were stammering to let us know what had just happened, a neighbour’s call came through breaking the news we were not prepared to hear. He simply said: ‘Madam, tell Oga that his goods are gone; your warehouse has been burnt down’. “Immediately, my husband collapsed. But for the quick intervention of those around, the story would have been different. Since the unfortunate incident, he has not summoned the courage to come to see things for himself. As you can see, those rubbles there (pointing to the huge debris), are our goods and those of others. We had goods on the third and fourth floor with our large warehouse on the fifth floor. Ours was a monumenta loss.” However, Chima and Amarachi, were not the only ones agonising.

 

Former chairman, Bag Sellers Association of Nigeria, Balogun Market branch, Ignatius Akunedoziobi, also had his shop on the burnt building. Like the two traders above, Akunedoziobi claimed to have lost goods worth N15 million in the inferno.

 

“The estimate of what I lost here can be put at N15 million, it could be more. Until we take stock of everything I may not be able to give the exact worth of what we lost here. It’s massive. Some of us had just been advanced loan facilities to restock for Christmas, which is our usual practice here. We had hoped, like we are used to, to liquidate those loans after the coming yuletide. The estimate of our total loss here runs into several millions, some of us may never recover from this shock.

 

“But, our greatest fear now, is for the government not to contemplate taking over the burnt buildings as being speculated. The governor was here but we don’t know his thinking for now. We have both Igbos and Yorubas selling different kinds of wares in this market.

 

Our plea now is for the government to come to our aid to ameliorate our sufferings; we can’t bear it all alone,” he said with tears rolling down his cheeks. Another trader, who gave his name as Onwan Uche, from Enugu State, equally lost about N10 million worth of his merchandise. A container full of wares offloaded into his warehouse three days before the fire incident. He occupied two big shops in the second floor in the building and sold school bags as well.

 

His loss was minimal because he was able to salvage some of his imports with the help of some Good Samaritans. His greatest regret was the loss of a Mobile Police officer, who was helping to make sure no one was hurt.

 

“He died trying to protect us from dying. I have not been able to sleep since the incident as the trauma and thought of death continue to create fear in me,” Uche said. Motunrayo Adeneye, who lost her three shops filled with fabrics, told Saturday Telegraph that the fire incident might not be ordinary as, according to her, it has become one incident too many.

 

This is not the first time we are experiencing fire outbreak here, she said. “It happened in 2007 and 2018. It is so painful that this vicinity is always going up in flames. “I sell clothes and drinks as well. Everything I had laboured for, for   so many years was gone just within a twinkle of an eye. The only way I think the government can help us is by reconstructing the place. A friend of mine, who also sells clothes, Mrs Ademola, received her stock two days ago (Monday).

 

Please tell the governor and others who matter in his government to come to our aid as we can’t bear this alone. If nothing is done urgently to help us, many might die by suicide soon. Another shop owner in the burnt building, Folasayo Adebanjo, was asleep when the fire started.

 

“But for God I would have been dead by now as I was deep at sleep at the time the commotion started. When my friends came to drag me out of the building I didn’t realise the enormity of what was happening. I thank God it’s only my wares that I lost; with my life, I can struggle to regain my balance by God’s grace. It’s painful but what can we do? It has happened; we just have to move on from here and not allow the incident to weigh us down. The struggle continues,” Adebanjo said.

 

Odunayo Adedoyin, who believed the incident to be spiritual, said it should be regarded as a temporary setback. “We shall rise again as far as our God lives.

 

My greatest happiness is that our Igbo friends in this plaza have taught us the rudiments of struggle; they never give up and we have taken a cue from them. “The building over here (pointing to the Great Nigeria House) got burnt last year and had been abandoned till now. This plaza first got burnt two months ago but was reconstructed. I won’t be surprised if this is reconstructed also.

 

My only worry is that this misfortune always happens between November and December,” he said. At the scene of the fire incident on Wednesday, emergency responders were still battling to extinguish the fire as Lagos State fire officials were seen with heavy trucks trying to clear the rubble. It was gathered that the section   of the razed building that collapsed killed a Mobile Policeman.

Counting her loss, Adedoyin said the structure had been similarly gutted in the past, adding that the cause of the recent inferno was speculated to have started from a faulty generator on the third floor. “I don’t know exactly how the fire started, but some our colleagues are pointing to a faulty generator on the third floor.

 

How true I can’t say for now. It started around 9am and the Lagos State Fire Service, Union Bank’s firefighters and other agencies rushed in trying to extinguish it but they were not successful. One of the buildings burnt and collapsed while the second was also heavily damaged. There is fear now that it might also go down. Two years ago, the same thing happened.”

 

 

Shop owners, who were around the vicinity, were seen mobilising sympathisers to assist with the evacuation of a few unburnt goods. One of them, who craved anonymity, said that hoodlums took advantage of the inferno to loot the goods belonging to traders affected by the incident. He however, pleaded that the state government should develop a more civilised way to respond to fire emergencies faster.

 

“When the fire started, there was no response from the fire service; we want the government to develop a quick way of extinguishing fire. We have lost a lot as a result of this incident. Some of our goods that were salvaged were eventually stolen by hoodlums,” he said. While the fire raged, some residents, according to eyewitnesses, could be seen throwing belongings from windows, while others tried to put out the fire with small buckets of water. Firefighters also tried to contain the flames with a fire truck spraying water onto the fire. Balogun is a busy market that spans over many blocks in Nigeria’s largest city.

 

 

It is one of the country’s largest markets for colourful Nigerian fabrics and other wares. In March, at least 20 people, mostly school children, died in a similar mishap on a Lagos Island neighbourhood when a building containing a school, shops, and apartments suddenly collapsed.

 

 

Meanwhile, the Lagos State governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, while on a visit to the scene of the incident on Wednesday, promised that the state government would support traders whose means of livelihood were destroyed in the incident. Although there was minimal human casualty in the fire incident, scores of clothing shops in the building were burnt down and traders lost goods worth millions of naira. Besides, he said, the government would be conducting integrity test on all buildings in the Central Business District on the Lagos Island, adding that his administration would re-visit the regeneration master plan already designed by previous administrations. He urged all families that own properties on the Lagos Island to support the move.

 

Also speaking on the fire incident, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, sympathised with traders and shop owners at the popular Balogun Market, over the fire outbreak that occurred a few day ago.

 

 

The Speaker said the fire incident, which affected two-storey buildings at No. 43 and 45 Martins Street, in the market where properties worth millions of naira were lost, were unfortunate. In a statement by his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Lanre Lasisi, the Speaker said it was painful that traders and shop owners, who were carrying out their lawful businesses, would wake up only to face such an incident. He called on relevant authorities to take measures that would forestall a recurrence of such an incident.

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One Chance thieves who robbed us had PoS machine –Victim

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One Chance thieves who robbed us had PoS machine –Victim

In Lagos, carpooling is now a very common mode of transportation, especially for people who do whitecollar jobs. Many people rely on ridesharing (as it is also called) as their preferred option when commuting within the metropolis. They join car owners who are going towards their place of work in the morning at a fare and at the close of work, they do same to get back home.

 

This mode of transportation which is also very common in the Nation’s capital, Abuja, usually comes at relatively cheaper fare when compared to public buses (also called Danfo), they are more comfortable, and it gets them to their destinations much faster.

 

“I would rather go in private cars because they are usually more comfortable than buses. Sometimes, you are lucky and find a car has a functional AC and it doesn’t change the price of the fare. Since I started working in Lagos, I’d have taken between 40 to 50 trips with private car owners and it has been very peaceful. There are times when I make friends with other passengers and we become good friends afterwards,” said Ose.

 

However, it is not always a tale of peace and tranquility when engaging in ride sharing. As with public transportation, commuting in private cars also comes with great danger. Criminallyminded people have exploited carpooling to carry out heinous crimes.

 

There have been cases where unsuspecting riders and drivers have been dispossessed of their belongings by people who pose as drivers. Like every other weekday, Mr. Samuel Adegoke had set out of his house in the Egbeda area of Lagos on a Wednesday about 5:30am to get to his office at Lekki. It wasn’t dawn yet but Adegoke prefers to leave home very early in order to beat the traffic in the city.

 

He had always preferred to share rides with car owners whenever he was going to work or returning home. According to him, it comes cheaper, and he gets to work earlier too. On the said day, he took a Toyota Sienna Bus from Egbeda to Victoria Island for an agreed fare of N200.

 

The same trip would have cost at least N300 if he were to board a Danfo. He needed to save money and he also had to get to work early and boarding a Danfo wouldn’t have helped him achieve that. On the bus were four other ‘passengers’ who were corporately dressed as though they were also heading to their respective places of work – but they were a gang of robbers. The air-condition of the vehicle, he recalled, was chilling and the windows – all tinted – were wound up.

 

There was nothing to suspect because it wasn’t his first time. According to him, he had barely finished his three-minute prayer in the car when the trouble started.

 

“All of them were fresh and clean. They wore shirts and tie. Some even had bags with them. You wouldn’t have known that they were robbers. They all looked like passengers that were also heading to their offices,” he said. “I was sitting in the middle of two guys. We hadn’t even covered up to a kilometer when one of them demanded my bag. I was confused.

 

I didn’t know what was going on. Then another person asked, ‘Where’s your wallet!” I was determined to fight through, but they subdued me. The two guys beside me pinned my hand down.

 

Before I knew was going on, they pulled out guns. That was when I knew that they meant business. They beat the hell out of me, and the vehicle was still in motion,” he added. As he recounted his ordeal, it was a tale of horror. He was putting on a very dark pair of glasses. His eyes were black and battered in a very bad shape.

 

“Be very careful when you need to enter a private car. Some of them are One Chance. If the glass is tinted, please don’t enter,” he cautioned this reporter. Adegoke’s experience was terrifying. He lost his laptop, phones, wedding and other valuables to the attack. “Those guys had no compassion in them. They kept hitting me with the butt of their guns on every part of my body.

 

The only thing I was saying was ‘Please don’t kill me.’ They had a POS Machine with them and cleaned out everything I had in my all my accounts; everything I’ve laboured for.

 

They had a field day on me,” he lamented. At the time the ‘passengers’ were done with him and wanted to release him, they rubbed Aboniki Balm in his eyes and dumped him at the road side. Save for providence, Mr. Adegoke would have lost his sight or his life; or both. He didn’t get to work on the said day and couldn’t go until after a week. He sought immediate help from an optician who helped save his sight. The passengers are not the only ones exposed to the dangers of carpooling.

 

Car owners are also at risk of picking up criminals who pose as passengers. Saturday Telegraph gathered that there are passengers who board private cars and go away with the driver’s phones or other valuables when alighting from the vehicle.

 

 

It was also learnt that motorists use their vehicle for commercial purposes in order to augment the fuel cost for the daily trips. A motorist who spoke to our correspondent and identified himself as Adetokunbo Fatokun Ishola disclosed that he had been in the business for nearly 15 years.

“My office is at Anthony but most times, I go to the Island for field work. So, I pick people who are going towards my direction for a cheap fare. I usually use the money I make to buy fuel, airtime and pay at the toll gate,” the Electrical Engineer who drives a Ford Ranger said. In his 15 years of carpooling, Ishola has never experienced any bad incident. According to him, he is always very vigilant and tries to assess the prospective passenger before pulling over for them.

 

 

“I look at people and how they are dressed before I can decide to stop. If they look suspicious, I won’t stop. There are passengers who even forget their phones or other belongings in my car and I return same to them,” he added.

 

In Nigeria, it is illegal for vehicles registered as private cars to be used for commercial purposes without obtaining the necessary documents, our correspondent gathered. According to a traffic official who spoke to our correspondent on the condition of anonymity, motorists are to obtain Hackney Permits before their vehicles can be used to pick passengers. He said: “Private cars are now competing with public buses and people prefer to board them because of the comfort.

 

However, many commuters are oblivious of the risks that come with it.

 

 

The commercial buses have Hackney Permits before they can operate on the roads but most of these private cars that you see here don’t have. How many of them can we apprehend?” Speaking further, the government official added: “Whenever there is a security incident in a public bus, we can easily trace them, but it may not be so easy with private cars, just because of the lack of Hackney Permit. It is not even enough to have a Hackney Permit; it must be displayed on your windscreen.

 

If you don’t have a Permit, the fine is N30,000. If you have but you don’t display it, the fine is also the same.

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Okorocha’s govt destroyed rice production in Imo –Ohia

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Okorocha’s govt destroyed rice production in Imo –Ohia

Dr. Uche Ohia is a lawyer, writer, historian and a prominent commercial farmer in the Ideato North rice belt area of Imo state. In this interview with STEVE UZOECHI in Owerri, he laments a decade of losses by farmers in Imo state. He holds back nothing as he conveys the true state of rice farming and agriculture in the state. Excerpts:

 

 

What are your views on farming?

There is no enterprise more ennobling than farming and agriculture in its full bloom. I love the peculiar kind of challenge and fulfillment farming brings with it – the task of ground breaking; the hope and expectations of seed time and of course, the joy of harvest – needless to mention the fact that farmers contribute to the food security of our immediate community and country. The values and principles that guide farming could make a man. To say the least, I love what I do.

What is the state of farming in Imo state?

There is no better way to say this, but there was almost no agriculture in Imo state for nearly one decade. The Okorocha Administration practically turned its back on farmers in Imo State generally and rice farmers particularly. First, there was no agricultural policy. There was no direction. Like everything else associated with that administration, it was the whims and caprices of the Chief Executive that determined what was said or done. Farmers made no input.

But there was a Ministry of Agriculture in Imo under Okorocha…?

(Cuts in) Yes there was but the questions are: what was their priorities and focus? Were they keen on increasing productivity in agricultural produce or in enhancing the capacity of the farmer?

Under the circumstance whatever the administration tried to do or pretended to do in agriculture was salutary and aimed at playing to the gallery. A government that failed to pay any counterpart fund – not to the Bank of Industry, not to the Bank of Agriculture, not to any international development agency – how can such a government make any positive impact on agriculture? How could it positively affect the life of farmers or boost productivity?

Clearly, because they could not control any of the available funding for agriculture or determine who gets what and how, they declined from fulfilling the obligations of the state government to banks and development agencies that assist farmers thus leaving Imo farmers in the lurch.

What about the stories of fertilizer subsidy and ‘Imo Rice’?

“The stories of fertilizer subsidy and the so-called ‘Imo rice’ were clearly farcical. Shamelessly, that administration imported rice from outside Imo state and subjected Imo State to public ridicule by naming their imported stuff ‘Imo Rice’ in a state that has been producing rice on a commercial scale for over 100 years.

Yes, fertilizer subsidy was a farce. The last administration cared nothing and was evidently not interested in supporting any form of farming or agricultural enterprise. Those of us that are commercial farmers that persevered lost a fortune. All Okorocha was interested in was land to acquire for his own personal interests and development, no more no less. To say the least, the Okorocha administration was a disaster as far as agriculture was concerned.

What about rice farming, with all the emphasis on local production?

The tale of rice farmers in Imo state  between 2011 and May 2019 was a tale of woes. The Rochas Okorocha administration practically killed rice farming. More than 90% of rice farming land in the rice belt of Imo State spread across Ideato North, Ihitte Uboma and Ehime Mbano are now locked up meaning that they have been taken over by bush. And this is largely due to the eight years of inactivity under the last administration.

What is the implication for your people in Ideato North?

The immediate implication is that over 100,000 hectares of natural swamp rice land is locked in, and in disuse in Arondizuogu, Ideato North council area alone, with heavy overgrowths. As it stands presently, we require heavy earth moving equipment to be able to clear the farmlands at this stage.

And the story may be same with Ihitte-Uboma and Ehime Mbano rice belts?

It could be worse, maybe. Ihitte Uboma used to be a major source of rice paddies. They were abandoned and did not have one single rice mill for a long time. And that is a major rice producing territory with ample rice lands. In fact, as I speak to you, Imo State does not have one single modern rice processing facility – not in Ihitte Uboma, not in Arondizuogu and definitely not in Ehime Mbano.

The mills we use to process rice in Imo state can only be seen in museums in Europe and Asia. It is that bad.

What are your expectations from the new government?

We are looking forward to an interface between farmers and government so that we can make our own inputs which, coming from those practically involved in the field in various agricultural value chains, will enable the state government to integrate theory and practice in its policy formulation and implementation.

In any country that has made a success of agriculture, one underlying factor is government subvention. Government must support farmers to enhance productivity so that food security can be achieved. Imo farmers are lagging behind in several indices because the agricultural revolution which the Federal Government has been fuelling and funding is yet to take place in Imo State. The present administration seems to appear committed to making it happen.

In clear terms, what do Imo farmers need?

We need agricultural subsidies: we need improved seedlings, we need fertilizers, we need farming equipment, we need herbicides, we need processing equipment, we need working capital, we need government assistance in marketing our products, we need access roads to our farms. Above all, we need water – water to drink and water for all-year-round farming.

In the entire rice producing belt in Arondizuogu, in Ideato North council area, there is not one borehole. There is not one irrigation system.

Can you imagine that we crop rice only once a year in Imo State? How do we crop rice three times a year without water, without irrigation, without any device for ensuring all year round water supply to our farms?

We expect much from the Ihedioha administration but first we need government to come and help us to unlock our farms overtaken by bushes and bulrushes.

To think that we could not receive common agro-extension services from the previous administration is an indication of what the Imo farmer went through under the Okorocha administration.

What about the ADP which handled extension services?

Imo ADP used to be our partner in progress but a mere visit to ADP in the last dispensation would leave anyone in no doubt about how handicapped they had become.

The place looked desolate and it was obvious that they were underfunded. They were practically grounded. I never saw one extension officer for all those years

No extension officer for eight years?

That’s right! It was only at the recent unveiling of Governor Emeka Ihedioha’s Agricultural Roadmap that I saw a semblance of the ADP of old with extension officers and engineers milling around and answering questions.

Parting words

The present administration has done well by unveiling a roadmap for agriculture. At least, now there is a draft policy, there is an articulated direction. We can see where the government is going. Even though farmers are yet to make an input into the document, we are satisfied that at least; government for the first time in a long time has farmers and citizens involved in agribusiness in its radar. It’s a good place to start.

Unlike the previous governor, who because he could not control any of the available funding for agriculture or determine who gets what and how, he declined from fulfilling the obligations of the state government to banks and development agencies that assist farmers thus leaving Imo farmers in the lurch.

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Leadership tussle: Monarch, PG deny receiving N1m bribe

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The leadership tussle over Amiyi Community , Ogbaru Local Government Area, Anambra State , got messier  Thursday, with allegations and counter allegations over an alleged  N1 million bribe  given to the Special Adviser  to the Governor on Chieftaincy Affairs  and Town Unions, Vera Okonkwo, in order to swing the election in favour of a candidate.

A factional President – General of the community, Comrade Chike Ugboma had alleged that the Traditional Ruler and the current President – General of the community offered the said bribe to be returned as president.

According to a release signed by the Traditional Ruler, Igwe Emmanuel Mbanefo and the President General – Prince Nwanze Afubera, the duo said: “It is also a blatant falsehood that the Special Adviser to the Governor on Chieftaincy and Town Union demanded and collected bribe of One Million Naira from Prince Afubera Nwanze Emmaunel for the said election. That publication is simply to blackmail this innocent, impeccable, honest and God fearing woman of high repute.

“Amiyi Community is peaceful as people go about their normal businesses. The people of Amiyi are very happy with the present executive committee that has put smiles on their faces.

“ I Prince Afubera Nwanze Emmanuel, the incumbent President –  General of Amiyi Town Union bluntly denied the false allegation made against my person of giving the sum of One Million Naira as an inducement to the Special Adviser to Governor on Chieftaincy and Town Unions (Barr Mrs. Veraqueen Okonkwo) for Amiyi Town Union election monitored by her office.

“The allegation of Mr. Chike Ugboma against Mrs. Veraqueen Okonkwo) and me is false, malicious, baseless and meant to tarnish our image.”

Afubera noted further:  “I am resident in my community and an honest farmer, so people who spent all their lives in the city without knowing what happens in our community should stop creating crisis where there is none.

“The Election of June 24, 2019, was the most credible and freest election ever conducted in Amiyi. On that day, Amiyi people trooped out en mass and voted for the workaholic President- General and his executives for the various laudable projects they have executed. Namely: Building of  Amiyi Town Hall, New Ultra Modern Market with thirty open shops, Forty Two lock up shops with toilets and borehole with two overhead Tanks”.

“The Amiyi Town Election was conducted on the 24 June, 2019 at Amiyi Town hall and not on 29 June at Amiyi Primary School.

There is only one Town Union Executive led by Prince Nwanze Afubera Emmanuel. There is no parallel Town Union Government in Amiyi. My Community is intact and peaceful. There is no division among the youths. There are equally no plans to set the Community ablaze,” he averred.

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Onitsha inferno:Traders recount huge losses

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Onitsha inferno:Traders recount huge losses

Barely three days after the first tanker explosion in Onitsha, Anambra State, on Wednesday more dead bodies are still being discovered at the Ochanja Market Plaza. Some of the bodies are burnt beyond recognition while others found in some lock up shops are already decomposing. With the recent discovery the death toll has now risen to over 25 people.

Traders in the market say the number of shops burnt at the market is over 800 while six buildings had already collapsed. But the police said only three people have died so far. The Police Public Relation Officer Anambra State, SP Harunna Mohammed, stated this in a press release in Awka, the state capital. Those mostly affected are the traders along Iweka Road and Zik Avenue. Others include the electronics section, plastic, rubbers, cosmetics, household utensils and general goods sections.

Narrating their experience one of the victims, Mr. Fabian Onah, said the fire came through the drainage channel at the Ochanja round about. According to him they were sitting in the front of their shops when suddenly the explosion occurred with a bang at one of the openings in front of their shop and immediately spread like a wide fire. Onah said: “I didn’t bring out a pin. I didn’t know what to do because I was confused and helpless. I quickly jumped over to the main road and was watching my shop and others as they went up in flames.

I didn’t believe what was happening until the fire subsided. I couldn’t even collect the N1.5m cash I had and all was burnt to ashes. The goods in my shop were over 1.6m. In fact, as it is now, I am finished. Another victim, Mr Emmanuel Abonyi Nwadiogo, a post graduate alumnus of the Nnamdi AZikiwe University who was the first victim of the disaster at Upper Iweka had his warehouse completely razed down. Mr. Nwadiogo who was flanked by sympathisers at the time Saturday Telegraph visited Upper Iweka said he lost about 12m worth of good and cash.

“I narrowly escaped death by the whiskers. I was inside the warehouse after my children had displayed wears when suddenly my boys started shouting and immediately I came out. I saw a thick black smoke as the tanker crashed. I didn’t know that the gas had caught fire and was flowing through the drainage channel which was covered with slabs and wood.

“Immediately the fire spread to my shop, it caught up with my wears and spread everywhere. And I took to my heels with my children with me. I thank God no life was lost otherwise it could have been a different story. Mr. Ezugwu Donatus said that his was shop no 7 along the line A1 and he lost N1.7m cash and N2m worth of goods. According to him he deals on electronics including TV, wrist watches, Jewellery among others. Another victim Mr. Nnamani Jude said he stayed at shop No 5 and was inside the packing store when he suddenly saw people scampering for safety. He said as he was running out, the thick black smoke covered the entire place and when he eventually found his way from the crowd, his shops was already reduced to ashes.

“All the money I wanted to use to stock goods for the Christmas season was gone, all my goods gone. I have lost all I have laboured for in life. I lost cash and goods worth N9m. For Mr. Agbo Remijus, another wrist watch dealer said he lost cash of N1.8m and over N2m worth of goods.

The 58-year-old man said the fire incident had sent him packing because he has no other means of livelihood. He said: “My children are all in school and I don’t do any other thing except this. I don’t have any other hope anywhere except by God’s miracle. Where will I start now at this age? I don’t know! I don’t know!

This is the first time in my life I’m seeing this type of fire outbreak, no fire service, no help;everybody was running for his or her dear life.” Other victims include Joseph, Agbo, Nzube and Chinedu who said they lost N12m, N2.7m and N2.8m respectively.

They recounted their experience during the incident, pointing out that they did not recover anything except that they are alive. On their part, Mr. Osita Ogudu, Emeka Anosike, Onyeabo Onyeanwusi stated at the scene of the incident that they were taken unawares and could not do anything.

They echoes: “We were helpless as we scampered for our lives. Nobody was near the flame of the fire as it increased in geometric proportion, minute by minute. Some people who were trapped at the plaza could not be rescued and most of them died there. Governor Willie Obiano is the only hope we have to assist us start life afresh no matter how small.” Following the incident, Ochanja market, which is the second largest market in the commercial city of Onitsha has been shut down for now.

One of the affected traders, Chief Godswell Anyanwu, former chief security officer, of the market also recounted how he lost over N12m worth of goods. Chief Anyanwu who deals on electronics noted with regret that it is painful that no fire fighting vehicles were seen from 1pm in the afternoon when the incident happened till 9pm in the night. He also said that the state government had provided fire fighting vehicles to markets in the commercial city and none was seen throughout the period the fire lasted. According to him it was the private water tanker drivers that helped to provide some assistance that reduced the spread of the fire.

He appealed to the state governor Chief Obiano to come to their aid. However, the chairman of the Anambra State Amalgamated Traders Association (ASMATA) Chief Ikechukwu Ekwegbalu, denied that the market was shut, instead he said the market was open and business was going on as usual.

He however condemned the attitude of some miscreants who throw stones and pebbles at government officials and agents when such incidents happen in the commercial city, pointing out that it is not the real traders but criminals among them who does that. When our reporter visited the market, traders affected by the inferno were seen clearing the derbies while sympathisers who thronged the market were seen along Iweka Road, Ziks Avenue and Ozomagala Street.

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