The recent report that listed Nigeria among the top five open defecation countries in the world is not surprising but lamentable. The worrying aspect remains the disclosure that the country is set to overtake India in this inglorious health index, ISIOMA MADIKE, reports
The campaign “Clean Nigeria, Use the Toilet,” is the latest effort of President Muhammadu Buhari to end open defecation in the country by 2025. The president is said to be prepared to launch the campaign at a date yet to be announced. This follows the disturbing report of Nigeria being listed among the top five open defecation countries in the world.
The country, according to the reports, rose from its 5th position in 2003 to 2nd place in 2015 behind India. Also worrisome is the disclosure by the Minister of Water Resources, Suleiman Adamu that Nigeria is set to overtake India in this inglorious index. Adamu, according to reports, said Nigeria is set to become world’s leader in open defecation.
The minister, who spoke at the 3rd Founder’s Day ceremony of Edo University, Iyamho, recently, observed that the country was unable to attain the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) targets for water supply and sanitation because of poor investments, low capacity and other challenges not limited to rural areas.
The President had in November 2018 launched National Action Plan for Revitalising the Water Supply, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH), where he also declared a state of emergency on water and sanitation sector in Nigeria. An important aspect of the plan is for Nigeria to be open defecation free.
The National Plan of Action is a significant political milestone towards achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 6 to reach everyone, everywhere with clean water and decent sanitation by 2030. Adamu said Nigeria has developed a road map, 2016-2025, to end open defecation.
He added that out of the 774 local government areas, only 10 are open defecation free. Adamu said: “10 out of 774 local governments is very dismal but it is work in progress. But we have also made some progress as 20 to 21,000 communities in the country today are open defecation free.
The problem is we still have 47 million people practicing open defecation and Nigeria has been moving up the ladder since 2012 from being number four or five in the world to having the ranking of number two. “India is number one but India has been working to end open defecation, in the last four years they have taken over 500 million out of open defecation. And India plans to declare itself open defecation free by October 2019. Once that happens, Nigeria will become the number one country in the world that practices open defecation. You will all agree with me that this is an honour we do not want to have.
“So council approved a number of measures including the fact that Mr. President will launch the Clean Nigeria Campaign on a day to be decided. So, our campaign is ‘clean Nigeria, use the toilet.’ The president and cabinet members are to become ambassadors of clean Nigeria campaign by providing the needed leadership and commitment for successful implementation of the campaign.
“We also hope to create a clean Nigeria movement and to harmonize ministerial activities so that we have a seamless approach regarding sanitisation in the country. We are also requesting for annual budget of N10.6 billion to be approved, this is not money that will be taken out of budget alone, we will also have contributions from development partners, corporate world including leveraging on corporate social responsibility, grants and to mobilise Nollywood, youths, children and women.
“It will come with an executive order to give effect to the clean Nigeria campaign. All ministries are to establish specific budget lines and work plans to implementing their sector specific activities to end open defecation and improve sanitation in the country. The campaign will also involve state governments and households. We intend to use community-led sanitation and hinging more on behavioural change rather than doling out money.”
The World Bank’s recent statistics, according to reports, show that regions with high rates of open defecation experience catastrophic waste management problems. Unfortunately, the warnings by the World Health Organisation (WHO) that open defecation can lead to cholera, typhoid, trachoma, diarrhea, stomach upsets and poor overall health, have not been heeded, according to experts. These opinions have also said that the environment suffers as a result of open defecation because it introduces toxins and bacteria into the ecosystem in amounts that it cannot handle at a time.
This, they said, leads to build-up of filth. The load of microbes, they also said, can become so much that, in the end, they end up in aquatic systems thereby causing harm to aquatic life. But there are known solutions to tackle the menace. To overcome this problem, the government needs to invest more in WASH.
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has said that about N95 billion will be needed per year to eliminate open defecation in Nigeria. It also advised that the country could achieve economic gains as high as N359.1 billion ($US 1.026 billion) annually from the N455 billion it loses due to lack of sanitation.
Besides, the government’s Open Defecation-Free Roadmap, experts said, should be more than a plan to eliminate the nuisance by 2025, it should, according to them, also put into consideration the N234 billion needed to attain open defecation-free status in its annual budget.
Moreover, the 774 local governments should be involved in the campaign to end open defecation in the country. And bills should equally be initiated to promote sanitation and take urgent action to implement Open Defecation-Free Roadmap. Available statistics revealed that access to sanitation has been on the decline from 30 per cent in 2010 to 28 per cent in 2015 while open defecation has been on the increase in Nigeria.
The 2018 National Outcome Mapping Report has also shown that 47 million Nigerians defecate in the open, while the country loses N455 billion (US$1.3b) annually due to poor sanitation. Last year, the findings by the Brookings Institute, based on a projection by the World Poverty Clock, indicated that Nigeria had overtaken India as the country with the largest number of people living in extreme poverty, with an estimated 87 million Nigerians believed to be living on less than $1.90 a day. The link between poverty and poor sanitation is very thin, intertwined and tenuous.
In reality, most Lagos outskirts, are known to be dangerous slums. Across Nigerian urban communities, the story is not different. And beneath the relentlessly slummy surfaces of these communities lie a kind of moral discomfort. The drainage ditches are frequently blocked with faeces, which often overflows during the rainy season into houses and streets, such that most paths are wholly composed of human waste. Some have also described it as a shame to find human faeces litter public places such as railways, motor parks, filling stations, footpaths, highways and playing grounds across the country.
Incidentally, lack of safe water and toilet system, have contributed to this menace in recent time. This may be the reason why experts continue to harp on improving access to potable water and toilet facilities which, they believe, will largely reduce open defecation.
Curbing this nuisance, they also noted, will check morbidity, avoidable diseases and improve the quality of life. Sadly, efforts by government to provide public toilets and enforce sanitation habits have been vitiated by ignorance and inability to adapt to change by some Nigerians. At the Kosofe-Ketu community recently, a young man dashed out of his room with clenched teeth, pulled open his zippers, took a quick look to his right and left, retired to a small bush by the school building, and dropped off lumps of smelly faeces.
His action surprised no one, for it is a tradition of sort in this part of the mega city. In virtually every open space in and around the neighbourhood, heaps of faeces literally jostle for space with human beings. From the homes, they are wrapped up in newspapers and launched from windows, scattering into a spatter mess.
It piles the streets as though they are articles of ornament. Yet, no one seems to bother about it. “This is how we do it here. You can hardly find a toilet in most homes and where you find one, it is untidy; not good for any decent use. Most times, what you find is a makeshift toilet in which wooden plank platform are constructed with buckets under it.
The sight of such is quite disgusting. For all these, we consider it convenient and comfortable doing it in the open, and since it suits us, it should not be anybody’s headache,” said an elderly man, who declined to give his name. He added: “This practice is common in this community, especially in places where toilet facilities are a luxury. When nature calls, everyone responds differently.” The old man’s excitement, many believe, is simply a collective adaptation to extreme hardship. He, like many others in the Kosofe community, were born and bred in that ghetto.
Though, he and his likes seem to have a fascination for defecating in public places and in bushes, they are not alone in this act and Kosofe is definitely not an isolated case. It is a common practice in the city of Lagos. But, such behaviour, according to some, clearly portrays the level of helplessness and frustration in most Nigerian communities. Just like Kosofe, the Island end of the mega city also presents an interesting twist. The bridges that connect it to the mainland are looping ribbon of concretes. Most of them were built in the 1970s.
Parts of a vast network of the bridges, cloverleaves, and expressways intertwined to them were intended to transform the districts and islands into an efficient modern metropolis. As the bridges snake over sunken piers just above the waters of Lagos Lagoon, they passes a floating slum: thousands of wooden houses, perched on stilts a few feet above their own bobbing refuse, with rust-coloured iron roofs wreathed in the haze from thousands of cooking fires. Fishermen and market women paddle dugout canoes on water as black and viscous as an oil slick.
The bridges then passes the sawmill district, where rain-forest logs sent across from the far shore, 30 miles to the east form a floating mass by the piers. Smouldering hills of sawdust landfill send white smoke across the bridges, which mix with diesel exhaust from the traffic. Beyond the sawmills, the old waterfront markets, the fishermen’s shanties, the blackened façades of high-rise housing projects, and the half-abandoned skyscrapers of downtown Lagos Island loom under a low, dirty sky. Around the city, faeces dumps steam with the combustion of natural gases, and auto yards glow with fires from fuel spills. All of these parts of the city seem to be burning and stinking.
For those, who are working on the Island or just visiting for the first time, the aquatic scenery of the lagoon ought to present an uncommon beauty to behold. But, it is not so for Christopher Awolo. His experience, according to him, is everything but pleasing. Driving through the Third Mainland Bridge en route for Obalende- CMS on Tuesday, Awolo saw several buttocks spewing shit into the lagoon; “it was quite disgusting,” he said, adding, “it’s awful seeing Lagosians defecate in the open as if they don’t have toilets in their homes.”
In a city with a population of over 21 million, the act could only be curbed by providing more public toilets for Lagosians, some have said. “There are adequate spaces in Lagos for people to have everything in their homes. No office or residential building should be without a good toilet.
Nigerian governments should provide more public modern toilets with the taxpayers’ money. In some countries, a good toilet is located for every five minutes’ walk. This is also possible in Lagos,” said Williams Appiah, a Ghanaian Urban and Town planning expert.
But Lagos is not alone in this disgusting act. In Ibadan, a public refuse dump site close to Yidi Agodi is also said to be packed always as early as 5am on a daily basis by individuals, who have found the area most convenient to defecate. This is in total disregard to a bold notice threatening ‘open defecators’ with arrest and huge fines.
What makes the site unique, according to those who use the place, is its closeness to a stream that empties into a major river. Flies around the area easily perched on uncovered foods; they fortify such meals with potentially harmful ingredients. This shameful act is replicated at major refuse dump sites across the city. In the other parts of the sprawling city, many, living in houses without identifiable toilets, are said to be compelled to defecate at open spaces such as dump sites and on the bank of slowly flowing streams and rivers.
This is partly because owners of such houses have come to believe that toilets would be an additional burden since money would be needed to keep it clean and usable. There are others in that neighbourhood, who also believe, though wrongly, that faecal material should incinerate or be allowed to decompose on such sites. Virtually all residents of the Federal Capital Territory suburbs suffer similar fate.
This, according to those who live there, has become a striking irony of Abuja. Behind the allure of expansive roads and rising buildings that make the Nigerian capital Africa’s most expensive and one of the world’s fastest growing cities, several poor communities in the suburb live without toilets.
“It’s bad; very terrible,” Ms. Augusta Nmakwe, one of the residents in Mararaba, said. Mararaba, a slump community of over 100,000 people is one of Abuja’s outskirt towns where residents struggle to find a space to build homes, much less toilets. For those without a toilet, the routine is simple: convert everything, from old sewage pipes to polythene bags, to one.
More than 60 per cent of the population living in other suburbs within the FCT is equally affected by shortage of toilets, making them to live with a very serious health challenge. At present, deaths from diseases such as cholera, dysentery, diarrhea, typhoid, as well as malaria, according to reports, are very rife within these communities. Sadly, women and children are the worst hit. Poor sanitary condition resulting from absence of proper human waste management facilities has haunted residents of many other communities around the country.
The low-cost settlement, a magnet for thousands of poor Nigerians and low-income earners, has all the compliments of a typical ghetto with most houses lacking toilets, water, electricity and other basic social amenities that make life worth living. It is, indeed, obvious that sanitation is a major challenge in the country. The evidence is everywhere.
Nigeria appears to be one huge field, where people defecate, without shame, and without putting into consideration the impact of their action on the health of others. Travellers are not left out of this “madness.” For anyone, who has travelled from Lagos to the East by road, knows that there are few rest areas with toilet facilities along the route. At stops in Ore or Benin City, pressed passengers hurry off into the bushes, gingerly skating around others’ faeces, in order to relieve themselves. Toileting in most villages are equally an awful experience.
In many rural communities, people still build houses without provision for toilets, or as the case may be, latrines where human waste can be emptied without others coming in contact with it. In many rural communities, people defecate in the bushes and other isolated places when they are pressed. They consider this a safer option to the city’s ‘Shot Put’ style where shameless people defecate in polythene bags or old newspapers and fling on the roadside and gutters. Yet, there are other villages where the act of defecating in the open has become almost a ritual and routine that some people indulge in at any time of the day.
At times, they do it, religiously as if it is a spiritual exercise. A report from a workshop in Jos that preceded the Water Supply and Sanitation Sector Reform Programme (WSSSRP) funded by the European Union in Nigeria in 2002, pointed to traditional belief also.
At that meeting, a representative of one the LGAs in Plateau State stated that his community believes it is a taboo to excrete on another person’s waste. This in effect, supposedly does away with the use of toilets. Each morning, the report said, one would watch as scores of people line up along the rail line doing their own thing.
The story is not significantly different in the nation’s tertiary institutions as some campus communities also spread intense odour as many students, in the absence of clean toilets in the hostels, use any available space as convenience. Experts have consistently warned that when large numbers of people are defecating outdoors, it is extremely difficult to avoid ingesting human waste, either because it enters the food or water supplies or because it has to be spread by flies and dust. Just recently, UNICEF reported that about 34 million people in the country use the open fields, forests and bushes as well as bodies of water as convenience.
But the cost of these unhealthy living conditions – of indiscriminately polluting the environment – is expensive. According to the joint UNICEF and the World Health Organisation report, lack of toilets remains one of the leading causes of illness and death among children. The report said that diarrhea, a disease often associated with poor sanitary condition, and respiratory infections resulting from poor hygiene, kills about 400,000 children, under the age of five, annually. “These are largely preventable with improvements in water, sanitation and hygiene,” said Geoffrey Njoku, UNICEF Communication Specialist (Media and External Rela-tions) in Nigeria.
This is why the revelation of Adamu that Nigeria is set to overtake India in open defecation index is worrying. The minister’s statement is evident that the country had not made any appreciable progress in this regard. Indeed, the figure is suggestive that more Nigerians now use the outdoors to ease themselves. According to an official of UNICEF, Dr. Suomi Sakai, the unwholesome practice leads to the depositing of about 1.7 million tonnes of faeces into the environment annually. This statistics from West Africa most populous country paints a general picture for the region with respect to this problem.
However, lack of sufficient infrastructure has been identified as a contributory factor to the problem with the failure of governments to effectively address these in rural and urban settlements. Add to this, is the behavioural attitudes across communities, which play a major role in promoting this menace. Concepts of hygiene, cleanliness, purity, and beliefs about sanitation and disease are also deeply ingrained through religious and cultural beliefs. The UNICEF report was amplified by Dr. Michael Ojo, onetime Country Representative of Water- Aid to Nigeria, who brought the shame to almost every home.
He said that every seven in 10 women in the country have no access to a safe toilet, and more than 50 million Nigerian women and girls lacked safe and adequate sanitation, while 17 million do not have access to toilets at all. “Every year, over 85,000 mothers in Nigeria lose a child to diarrhea diseases caused by a lack of adequate sanitation and clean water,” said Ojo.
“Women and girls living in Nigeria without toilet facilities spend 3.1 billion hours each year finding a place to go to toilet in the open,” he added. As a result, former Commissioner for the Environment and Secretary to Lagos State government, Tunji Bello, has suggested that governments at all levels in the country, should, as a matter of necessity, increase its investments in the area of provision of sanitation facilities, new policies and enlightenment campaigns to tackle the cultural and religious beliefs that continue to be a setback in achieving better sanitation.
The failure to do this, he said, would see a Nigeria that is more disease ridden in the future and consequently even more unproductive socio-economically. In like manner, Abimbola Fashola, wife of former Lagos State governor, also said that the local governments, in particular, must ensure that toilets are built in the markets, village squares and open spaces that serve as recreation centres.
For Mrs. Sherifat Aregbesola, the government should deploy massive and sustained public enlightenment campaigns in Pidgin English and indigenous languages in both print and electronic media as well as other indigenous forms of communication in remote rural areas.
They all agreed however, that the authorities should equally enact laws to checkmate open defecation practice, and ensure its diligent enforcement. Such a law, according to them, would go a long way to halt the shameful and unhealthy practice. Above all, members of the public, they said, should imbibe attitudinal changes that would help make open defecation a thing of the past.
HEPATITIS: A KILLER DISEASE WITHOUT CURE
Treated as opportunistic infection; attention not given as a public health concern –Doctors
Viral Hepatitis is an international public health challenge, comparable to other major communicable diseases, including HIV, tuberculosis and malaria. Despite the significant burden it places on communities across all global regions, the disease is said to have been largely ignored as a health and development priority until recently. Isioma Madike, in this report, examines the virus, which over 20 million Nigerians are said to be living with
Ndukwe’s body temperature suddenly became high and the mother, who wished to be identified only as Adaobi, panicked and rushed him to a nearby hospital. At the hospital, the doctor examined the boy and recommended a test to determine what the problem was. Unfortunately, the diagnosis was wrong, and a different ailment other than what it was, was discovered. The result wrongly indicated a malaria fever and treatment commenced immediately. Two days after, the doctor noticed the boy’s eyes had turned yellow, and this prompted him to ask for another test in a different laboratory.
When the second test was out, it turned out to be Hepatitis B infection. And a confirmation of that was done at the Nigerian Institute of Medical Research (NIMR), Yaba, Lagos. A drip laced with relevant drugs was given to flush his body system. But, it wasn’t just working.
Quite a number were given afterwards and the condition did not improve. So, the mother became worried. Adaobi said: “We became anxious because the nurses were just pumping water into his body system without any improvement. At some point, we became agitated; we knew something was wrong.
How could he be taking drips upon drips yet there was no improvement? “After five days in that condition, he stopped urinating and he couldn’t also defecate. The doctors had to force a pipe through his genital to force out urine but he didn’t seem to feel anything and we suspected he’d gone by then. By this time, his eyes had become completely yellow like one with jaundice. Unfortunately, we lost him on the sixth day at the hospital. At that time we didn’t understand what Hepatitis is and how deadly it was.”
Ibukun had a similar ailment about two years ago also. She was 14 years old then. She had gone out for a Ghanaian food to celebrate her friend’s birthday. Although she wasn’t particularly crazy about Ghanaian foods, she didn’t want to miss the party. So, in August, 2017, Ibukun and a dozen girls from her secondary school sat down to plates of Kenke, and dried fish at a restaurant somewhere in Ikorodu. Within a few weeks, one of Ibukun’s friends developed fever, stom achaches, muscle pain, weakness, nausea and vomiting.
Then her urine turned dark brown, her skin became yellow, and she couldn’t breathe without feeling like she was being stabbed in her abdomen, just below her rib cage. Frantic, the girl’s parents took her to the doctor where a blood test revealed the diagnosis: Hepatitis A virus.
Unfortunately, the girl died. Apart from Ndukwe and Ibukun, there are many more Nigerians, who may have been infected with the deadly virus without knowing it. Just recently, on October 2, to be precise, World Hepatitis Eradication Nigeria Commission raised the alarm over the looming health danger posed by the uncontrolled spread of Hepatitis in the country. The organisation noted that between 20 and 30 million Nigerians are already infected by the virus. President of the commission, Dr. Mike Omotosho, who made the revelation, said out of the 20 million Nigerians estimated to be chronically infected with the deadly Hepatitis B Virus (HBV), children were most infected. According to him, Hepatitis BV was 50-100 times more infectious than HIV with several modes of transmission.
Omotosho made this known while briefing newsmen in Abuja a few weeks ago. He lamented that though Hepatitis B, which presently has no cure, could be prevented with the use of a vaccine. Incidentally, it was not getting the needed attention as a public health concern, especially among the citizenry,” he further said.
He added: “Studies have shown that Hepatitis B is common among children in Nigeria while A and C are common among young people. Not many civil society organisations and government agencies make conscious effort to create awareness about Hepatitis as a standalone ailment. The awareness creation activities conducted during the celebration of World Hepatitis Day is not enough to bring about the desired result.” According to Omotosho, Hepatitis C, a blood borne virus, which was 10 times more infectious than HIV with no preventable vaccine or cure, and Hepatitis A, were more common in young adults.
He said: “Globally, it is estimated that two billion people have been infected with HBV of which approximately 240 million are chronically infected with HBV. Among those with chronic HBV, up to 30 per cent go on to develop liver disease. “The average prevalence rate for HBV in Nigeria ranges between 11 and 13.7 per cent with an estimated 20 million Nigerians chronically infected. There is no known virologic cure for HBV infection, however, antiviral treatment has
been shown to reduce the transmission risk, decrease the likelihood of developing liver complications resulting in death and improve prognosis. “Nigeria is estimated to have one of the highest cases of Hepatitis B in the world at 12.2 per cent, which translates to about 20 -30 million persons affected by the Hepatitis virus. The country is also bedeviled by the other forms of Hepatitis virus such as Hepatitis A and C and more recently Hepatitis E, especially in the Northeastern region as reported by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in 2017.”
Omotosho said that in Nigeria, Hepatitis was treated as an opportunistic infection common among HIV/AIDS patients and as such, it was not given the needed attention as a public health concern. He called for deliberate efforts by relevant stakeholders to eradicate Hepatitis and stressed on the need for an effective advocacy, awareness, provision of counselling, viral screening, vaccination, referrals and treatment in an equitable manner, in order to ensure zero transmission of Hepatitis cases in the country by 2030. The most common modes of transmission, he said, were through HCV- infected blood, unsafe medical procedures, and sharing of needles and sharps.
Less common modes of transmission, according to Omotosho, are sexual and perinatal transmission. He further said that the Hepatitis Zero Commission would focus on advocacy for its prevention and treatment to achieve zero cases in Nigeria as a contribution to the 2030 agenda for sustainable development, and the WHO June 2016 global health sector strategy, owing to the public health burden that hepatitis represent. The Executive Secretary, Nigerian Academy of Science (NAS), Dr. Doyin Odubanjo, refers to Hepatitis as an inflammatory condition of the liver. He said that the disease was commonly caused by a viral infection, but that there were other possible causes of Hepati tis.
These, according to Odubanjo, include autoimmune Hepatitis and Hepatitis that occurs as a secondary result of medications, drugs, toxins, and alcohol. Autoimmune Hepatitis, he further said, occurred when human body made antibodies against their liver tissue. The liver, he also said, is located in the right upper area of the abdomen and performs many critical functions that affect metabolism throughout the body, including: bile production, which is essential to digestion, filtering of toxins from the body, excretion of bilirubin (a product of broken-down red blood cells), cholesterol, hormones, and drugs.
It also breaks down carbohydrates, fats, and proteins and activation of enzymes, which are specialised proteins essential to body functions and acts as storage of glycogen (a form of sugar), minerals, and vitamins (A, D, E, and K), synthesis of blood proteins, such as albumin as well as synthesis of clotting factors. According to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), treatment options vary depending on the type of Hepatitis. One can prevent some forms of Hepatitis through immunisations and lifestyle precautions.
However, viral infections of the liv er that are classified as Hepatitis include Hepatitis A, B, C, D, and E. A different virus is responsible for each type of virally transmitted Hepatitis. Hepatitis A is always an acute, short-term disease, while Hepatitis B, C, and D are most likely to become ongoing and chronic. While Hepatitis E is usually acute but can be particularly dangerous in pregnant women. Hepatitis A is most commonly transmitted by consuming food or water contaminated by faeces from a person infected.
The virus is said to be one of the most common causes of infectious Hepatitis in the world. It enters the body through the mouth and spreads quickly from the intestine to the liver, where it destroys liver cells. The virus then enters the gall bladder, travels back to the intestine, and is excreted in large quantities in the stool. Some people, such as young children, never develop any symptoms when they are infected. Not so for others, such as adults older than 40, who become seriously ill. In Africa where there is inadequate separation of sewage from drinking water, almost everyone is infected.
Around the world, millions are also said to be infected and thousands die every year. Hepatitis B, on the other hand, is transmitted through contact with infectious body fluids, such as blood, vaginal secretions, or semen, containing the HBV. Injection drug use, having sex with an infected partner, or sharing razors with an infected person increase the risk of getting Hepatitis B. Hepatitis C is transmitted through direct contact with infected body fluids, typically through injection drug use and sexual contact.
HCV is among the most common blood borne viral infections. And Hepatitis D, according to medical experts, is contracted through direct contact with infected blood. Although it is a rare form of Hepatitis that only occurs in conjunction with Hepatitis B infection, the virus can’t multiply without the presence of Hepatitis B. And Hepatitis E, a waterborne disease, is mainly found in areas with sanitation and typically results from ingesting faecal matter that contaminates the water supply. Excessive alcohol consumption can cause liver damage and inflammation.
This is sometimes referred to as alcoholic Hepatitis. The alcohol directly injures the cells of the liver. Over time, it can cause permanent damage and leads to liver failure and cirrhosis, a thickening and scarring of the liver. Other toxic causes of Hepatitis include overuse or overdose of medications and exposure to poisons. In some cases, the immune system mistakes the liver as a harmful object and begins to attack it. It causes ongoing inflammation that can range from mild to severe, often hindering liver function. It’s three times more common in women than in men. If one has infectious forms of Hepatitis that are chronic, like Hepatitis B and C, it may not have symptoms in the beginning. Symptoms may not occur until the damage affects liver function.
However, signs and symptoms of acute Hepatitis appear quickly. They include: fatigue, flu-like symptoms, dark urine, pale stool, abdominal pain, loss of appetite, unexplained weight loss, and yellow skin and eyes, which may be signs of jaundice. Odubanjo said that chronic Hepatitis developed slowly that signs and symptoms might be too subtle to notice. To diagnose Hepatitis, he said, first the doctor would take the patients history to determine any risk factors that he or she may have for livinfectious or noninfectious Hepatitis.
He added: “During a physical examination, your doctor may press down gently on your abdomen to see if there’s pain or tenderness. He may also feel to see if your liver is enlarged. If your skin or eyes are yellow, your doctor will note this during the exam. “Liver function tests use blood samples to determine how efficiently your liver works.
Abnormal results of these tests may be the first indication that there is a problem, especially if you don’t show any signs on a physical exam of liver disease. High liver enzyme levels may indicate that your liver is stressed, damaged, or not functioning properly. “If your liver function tests are abnormal, your doctor will likely order other blood tests to detect the source of the problem. These tests can check for the viruses that cause hepatitis. They can also be used to check for antibodies that are common in conditions like autoimmune Hepatitis. There could also be an abdominal ultrasound waves to create an image of the organs within your abdomen. “This test allows your doctor to take a close look at your liver and nearby organs.
It can reveal: fluid in your abdomen, liver damage or enlargement, liver tumors and abnormalities of your gallbladder. Sometimes the pancreas shows up on ultrasound images as well. This can be a useful test in determining the cause of your abnormal liver function.
“There is equally a liver biopsy is an invasive procedure that involves your doctor taking a sample of tissue from your liver. It can be done through your skin with a needle and doesn’t require surgery. Typically, an ultrasound is used to guide your doctor when taking the biopsy sample. This test allows your doctor to determine how infection or inflammation has affected your liver. It can also be used to sample any areas in your liver that appear abnormal.” Treatment options are determined by which type of Hepatitis one has and whether the infection is acute or chronic. Hepatitis A, for instance, usually doesn’t require treatment because it’s a short-term illness. Bed rest may be recommended if symptoms cause a great deal of discomfort. “If you experience vomiting or diarrhea, follow your doctor’s orders for hydration and nutrition,” Dr. Nnamdi Okafor of the Glorious Hospital, Ketu, said. The Hepatitis A vaccine, according to him, is available to prevent the infection. Most children, he added, began vaccination between ages 12 and 18 months.
“It’s a series of two vaccines. Vaccination for Hepatitis A is also available for adults.” But acute Hepatitis B doesn’t require specific treatment. Chronic Hepatitis B is treated with antiviral medications. This form of treatment can be costly because it must be continued for several months or years. Treatment for chronic Hepatitis B also requires regular medical evaluations and monitoring to determine if the virus is responding to treatment. However, it can be prevented with vaccination. Vaccinations are recommended for all newborns. The series of three vaccines is typically completed over the first six months of childhood. And it is also recommended for all healthcare and medical personnel. Also, antiviral medications are used to treat both acute and chronic forms of Hepatitis C. People who develop chronic Hepatitis C are typically treated with a combination of antiviral drug therapies. But those who develop cirrhosis (scarring of the liver) or liver disease as a result of chronic Hepatitis C may be candidates for a liver transplant.
IKOSI/KETU FRUIT MARKET: A MARKET IN RUINS
The famed Ketu-Ikosi Fruit Market in the Ketu area of Lagos State was demolished on Friday, November 8, by mobile policemen allegedly on the orders of the chairman of Ikosi-Isheri Local Council Development Area (LCDA. ISIOMA MADIKE, who visited the market on Saturday, Tuesday and Wednesday, brought back touching stories of those who lost their all in the ruins
It is traumatising to see the elderly shed tears. The wrinkled face of an agonising old woman or man is one that many will not like to see. But, at the once beautiful but now destroyed famed Ikosi-Ketu Fruit Market, where many, including the elderly had earned a decent living, such looks now abound in abundance.
Alhaja Silifat from Osun State is one of such elderly women in pains at the market. She is 78 years of age. Silifat’s tears will melt the hardest of hearts. She did not only lose her means of livelihood but her dignity as a human being. Her small kiosk where she sold a variety of fruits now lies in ruins. Since Friday, November 8, when two bulldozers, escorted by policemen, allegedly from task force, demolished the market to shreds, Silifat has not been the same.
Speaking through an interpreter, she said: “They have succeeded in making me a beggar at an old age. What have I done to deserve this cruelty? This is the handiwork of AbdulFatai Ayodele Oyesanya, the chairman of Ikosi-Isheri Local Council Development Area (LCDA). Please tell him to leave our market for us. We are too old to be used and dumped.
“When they were campaigning, they begged and promised us every good things so we can vote for them. Now that they are in power, they want to turn us to their slaves. I have been in this market since 1976, and I can’t now imagine myself been turned into a beggar because of their selfish desires.
“He said he wanted to rebuild the market to make it more modern without telling us how it could benefit us. We know their plans; he only wants to take away our only means of livelihood. He would rather kill all of us here before he can actualise his wicked cravings.”
Another old woman, who identified herself simply as Mama Janet, also claimed to have been in the market for 35 years. She is from Ekiti State. She trained her children and feeds from the proceeds of the fruits she sold in the market. But, not anymore!
“This market is my life. Do they want me to learn how to steal at this age? We did not vote for hardship; we voted that life could be better. Oyesanya should pity us as we have no other place to go to. He said he wanted to rebuild the market; can someone like me be able to buy any shop after their re-modelling? God knows we are not obstinate; we are only pleading to them not to sell this market to their cronies,” she said.
Other traders, especially women, were seen wearing long faces when the Saturday Telegraph team visited the market on Tuesday. They looked confused about their fate after the demolition of the market. Some of them were however, seen doing their normal business, while others were salvaging their goods from the debris. Lorries carrying plantain and fruits, such as watermelon, oranges and pineapples could not offload, due to the untidy manner of the environment. And buyers who had come from different parts of the state were looking dejected as they appear stranded.
A man, who was identified himself only as Baba Ologede, said that different versions of the intentions of the LCDA concerning the market had been flying around since the demolition of the market. It’s hard to believe anything as it is now, he said.
“The point is that many people make their daily living from this market. Not only that, some micro-finance banks have given money to many traders to expand their businesses. I know someone, who has just collected N150,000 and has not paid back a dime.
“We have been here for the past 40 years and this is farmers’ market, not just any market. Farmers bring in their goods straight from the farms and we sell and return the money to them to do more farming. So, to just wake up one day and start demolishing such a place will not work. However, some of us still believe the reason for the demolition will be sorted out very soon,’’ he added.
Another, who pleaded anonymity, told one of our reporters that the demolition is for a particular section and would not extend to other parts of the market. According to him, the plan by the LCDA was to rehabilitate and expand the meat section of the market. He said that the roof of the meat section had been removed, while sand, cement and planks to be used for the expansion had also been procured.
He recalled that attempts were made in 2017 to move the market away from its present location, but that the LCD’s efforts were frustrated by the traders and market officials, who believed that the relocation of the market would not benefit the citizens. This, according to him, eventually led to the ongoing development of a new Mile 12 Market at Imota, after Ikorodu.
When contacted, the Babaloja (Leader) of the market, Lambe Dauda, said that the issues surrounding the market were simple but logical. He admitted that Oyesanya invited the former market executives to a meeting where he intimated them with the LCDA’s plan to rebuild the market, and invited them to meetings, but that in many of such meetings they never arrived on a compromise.
“Instead of finding a way to sell his ideas to us amicably, he initiated another meeting where he merely told us that the contract to rebuild the market had been awarded and all papers perfected. He told us that the contractor would soon start his work. We were surprised because we never agreed on the modalities; we didn’t agree with him on how he planned to go about it. Before we knew what was happening, he started bringing thugs to molest and intimidate us. He just wanted to cow us to submission but we resisted that.
“After that we saw one Chris, whom the LCDA chairman said he awarded the contract to. The first time he came to inspect the market he came with thugs and two armed riot policemen as if we were in a war situation. We never disagreed with the re-modelling of the market; we only insisted on transparency of the contract. To us, everything was muddled up. Besides, his tenure in the council is coming to an end. There is no way we can trust that he could finish the job before he leaves office.
“We suggested that more contractors should be invited and that the bidding should be transparent so that everyone will be on the same page. We just wanted to make sure that we are not cheated out at the end of the day. Government has the right to re-model any market in the state but we should be carried along. I don’t think that is too much for us to ask for. We told him that since we are mere traders, we would like our lawyers, theirs and that of the contractors to sit down, look at the issues and resolve the gray areas.
“The Kabiyesi, Olukosi of Ikosi, was even involved at some point. He summoned us for a meeting in his palace to discuss the issue. On getting there, we met this same developer in the palace. Kabiyesi told us in that meeting that he had prepared a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on behalf of us, the marketers. He said that he wanted the developers to rebuild the market in such a way that it won’t disturb anyone of us in our daily activities. At his palace, we also pleaded with him to allow our lawyers to see what was being prepared. At that point, he postponed the meeting to a later date.
“We were waiting for that meeting when we got information that the council had perfected plans to demolish the market. What we heard was that they were coming on that fateful Friday and that was exactly what happened. They stormed the market by 10 am and hell was let loose with the traders running for their lives as the riot policemen were shooting sporadically and teargasing us without provocation. You are here now and have seen the ruins of the once beautiful fruit market reputed to be the largest in Nigeria. We have made our intentions known to the Iyaloja-General of Lagos. We have no confidence in Oyesanya and his developer,” Dauda said.
His deputy, Salami Jimoh, also said that the late Babaloja, Taofeek Akande, whom the council chairman had meetings with, last year told them that what the council proposed would not be in the interest of the traders.
He said: “It was on that basis that he rejected their proposals and we sat down to take a decision we felt would be in our interest. We communicated that to Oyesanya but because he was bent on destroying the market, he never listened to us. One of the cardinal things our late Babaloja told us was that we must make sure we involved our lawyers in the discussions and that is what we still stand on.
“We are not saying no to their plans but let there be equity, justice and fairness. The man died in August and the market was destroyed in November. We sincerely did not bargain for this; this is inhuman to say the least. The council chairman is so petty to the extent that when our late Babaloja died, he couldn’t even send a condolence message to us because the man disagreed with his plans. That is the kind of person that is managing our local council.”
However, attempts to get Oyesanya to state the council’s position looked frustrating until Wednesday when one of our reporters ran into the LCDA’s Chief Press Secretary (CPS), Odufowokan Oluwaseyi, who handed a press release signed by the media team to Saturday Telegraph.
According to the release, the market has been in deplorable conditions for several years and efforts of the local council to convince the market leaders and their members of the need to transform the market into a modern, international edifice, was initially resisted.
“Perishable foods, which take the lion’s share of the market’s goods are always kept in unhygienic places, posing health hazards; there are flashpoints as den of miscreants, street urchins and armed robbers, who molest traders and buyers with dangerous weapons, thereby constituting public nuisance; drainages blocked with wastes and the inner roads: swampy, nauseating and in terrible state, especially during rainy season. The whole market is an eyesore and has degenerated into a slum and jungle.
“To stem the tide, the local government held series of meetings with stakeholders: the two Paramount rulers; Babaloja, Iyaloja, entire leadership, including the youth wing. Barely a few months ago, a mutually beneficial agreement was reached with all stakeholders, who in turn, promised to disseminate the information to the appropriate quarters. It is on record that these gory sights were some of the chief reasons the immediate past administration of the former governor of Lagos State, Akinwunmi Ambode, closed down the markets thrice.
“Surprisingly, the determination of the local government to ensure a hitch-free implementation of the agreement was thwarted on Friday, November 8, by the spontaneous mob attack on the contractors on site, by hoodlums, who, according to reliable reports, threatened to maintain the status quo ante.
“In an interview aired on a national television on that Friday, one of the trader fingered the market leaders for not sensitising their members on the agreed date the contractors would move to site. He also alleged that the market leaders recently collected N5,000 cash from each trader, purportedly to construct drainages in the market but there is nothing to show for it.
“The government of Ikosi-Isheri LCDA has fashioned out a plan of action in conjunction with an investor in a Private Public Partnership (PPP) agreement, to construct a modern market, to meet the international standards. Trading will continue during the operations and traders will be provided with temporary shelters to secure their goods.
“Based on enumeration of traders in the market, all the affected traders will be given priorities in allocation of new shops. The new market will be in storey building, with lock-up shops and modern facilities like toilets. The shops will be sold at affordable prices. Outright payment and/or installments are acceptable.
“The Engr. AbdulFatai Ayodele Oyesanya’s administration of Ikosi-Isheri LCDA is poised to upgrade the LCDA to the mega city status of Lagos State. No stone will be left unturned to put smiles on the faces of the good people of the LCDA. Construction of new modern markets, new administrative office complex and other infrastructure are some of the signposts of a developed economy.
“However, we are soliciting the support and cooperation of all concerned to ease the tasks ahead for the betterment of Ikosi-Isheri LCDA of today and future generations,” the statement stated.
Meanwhile, hundreds of traders on Tuesday stormed the Lagos State House of Assembly protesting the demolition of their market even as they continue to count their losses. They lamented colossal loss of their goods worth millions of naira during the sudden invasion. The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), which covered the protest, reported that the protesters, mostly women, arrived at the assembly en masse, chanting different songs and carrying placards with various inscriptions.
Among the inscriptions on their placards were: “Re-modelling is a politically coined language to sell our market, we say no to it’; ‘Nigerians of conscience should come to our help’. ‘Governor Sanwo-Olu please help us.”
Others were: ‘Our market is not to be sold in any form’. ‘We will explore all legal options to stop the satanic demolition of our market’. ‘OYESCO should be called to order; Ketu/Ikosi Market belongs to all, it must not be sold. ‘Our market is our DNA, is not for sale; It’s our lifeline’, ‘we will protect it with our lives’, Ketu/Ikosi market belongs to Yorubas, Hausas, and Igbos. It must not be sold.”
The leader of the protest, Mrs Adebukola Adejuwonbi, according to NAN report, said the market was being destroyed without proper notification from the appropriate body. Adejuwonbi indicted Oyesanya as the prime mover of the demolition of the market.
She said: “We came from Ikosi/Ketu fruit Market. I am one of the sellers at the market. On Friday morning, caterpillars came to demolish our market without any notice. They said that if we wait, they will kill all of us. We were told they have sold out the market to a contractor to build an estate where we are selling our produce.
“We cannot challenge them. They even fired guns at us. Some people died, while some people sustained serious injuries. Amidst all this, the Chairman of Ikosi/Isheri Local Council Development Area chairman, Fatai Oyesanya, was standing upstairs telling the caterpillars to move on.”
Adejuwonbi said that they had to run for dear lives since they did not have any weapon on them. “This is why we decided to come here to plead with the Lagos Assembly and the governor to come to our aid and deliver us,” he added.
Another trader, Mrs Yemisi Balogun, urged the government to come to their aid by helping them to get their market back. Balogun said that their livelihoods depended largely on the market to cater for the needs of their children and households.
She said: “Since they say the government is for the people, so, we are here to cry to them that they should come to our aid and deliver us from the destruction of our market. It is from the market we get money to send our children to school. By doing this to us, we are going to suffer. That is why we are here to plead for intervention on this issue.”
While responding to the demands of the traders, Speaker of the House of Assembly, Mudashiru Obasa, who was represented by the member representing Shomolu Constituency 1, Hon. Olowo Rotimi, said that the Chairman of the local government had been cautioned.
He, however, added that moving Lagos forward should be done wisely without causing pains on the people. “My colleague and I have called on the Local government chairman to stop his action for now and I know that Mr. Speaker and other colleagues will be interested in this case and they will call the chairman. We have told Mr. Fatai Oyesanya to stop forthwith and I am sure we are going to resolve it. I believe you will get justice,” Rotimi reportedly assured the protesters.
The popular fruit market in Ketu area of Lagos State recently succumbed to the cruel blades of bulldozers as the authorities of the local council in charge of the area allegedly ordered for its demolition to pave the way for a modern market. The development, however, witnessed cries by several market women, who thronged the site begging the policemen, who were stationed there to allow them to go in and salvage their wares.
They claimed their produce destroyed runs into millions of naira as most of them had just stocked their shops with various items. Many of the market women, who claimed to be widows, were, according to them, refused entry into the market by the police, who were shooting canisters of teargas as the demolition exercise continued.
The Ikosi-Isheri LCDA, according to sources, has awarded the contract for the reconstruction of the dilapidated market to Total Value Integrated Service Limited, which is committing about N2.8 billion for its modernisation. Around 10am last Friday, November 8, two bulldozers, escorted by policemen, allegedly from task force stormed the market to ensure that there was no resistance during the demolition.
According to reports, there was initial resistance from touts in the market, who hauled bottles at the police. The police responded by shooting sporadically in the air to scare away the touts and also shot several canisters of teargas to disperse traders unwilling to leave the market. Some of them, who were in the market earlier, were able to salvage some of their wares, but others were not as lucky as they were prevented from gaining access into the market by the policemen.
Some of the traders, reports said, lamented that they were informed sometimes ago about the demolition, but said they were not informed a day prior to the pulling down of their shops. One of the local Coordinators of the Oodua Peoples Congress (OPC), in the area, Adebowale Adetona, was quoted to have said they were informed some weeks ago that they were coming to demolish the market, but that they did not notify them of the latest development.
But Chris Onyekachi, Managing Director, Total Value Integrated Service Limited, reportedly told newsmen that the traders’ were giving adequate notice to vacate the market for redevelopment. He added that series of meetings were held with the traders union, traditional rulers and council members on the proposed reconstruction of the market. He said that the two traditional rulers in the area, the Alaketu of Ketu and the Onikosi of Ikosi, were aware of the market development plans.
“We gave them three weeks’ notice, which expired and we gave them another seven days’ notice to move their wares to other areas of the market. We held meetings with the Iyalojas, Babalojas and we agreed on the mode of demolition. Some people kicked against it and because we want peace to reign, we met with the obas and they saw reasons why the market should be reconstructed.
“Some miscreants don’t want the redevelopment. We are not interested in chasing people away from the market. Those who own shops earlier will be considered first in re-allocation at a discounted rate. We want to upgrade the market to meet the Lagos mega city standard and we are doing it in phases. We will not shut the whole market.
“The development will be in four phases and the market occupies 25 acres. We have 18 month duration to rebuild the market and we will invest about N2.8 billion in the reconstruction. The reconstruction of the first phase will begin in January,” he said.
Additional report by Okikiola Craig
Milk kitchen: The story of wet nursing
‘I felt so honoured to have given him his first decent feed as a new born
Wet-nursing, was, in recent past an essential practice that allowed for infant survival after many mothers died in childbirth. Some medical conditions also prevented a number of mothers from breastfeeding their babies at birth. In this report, ISIOMA MADIKE, takes a historical tour of this exercise that was the norm in many government hospitals in the past
Nigerians seldom hear about wet nursing these days — but it’s still happening around the world. Wet nursing (or milk sharing) became a talking point after a Queensland mother posted a photo of herself breastfeeding her nephew on the Facebook page for her blog, The Milk Meg, sometimes in 2016. “My gorgeous little nephew!” wrote mother of three, Meg Nagle, who is a lactation consultant. “While my sister was at work today I tried to give him a bottle of her expressed milk a few times (which he wouldn’t take). I could see he was tired so I popped him on the boob and voila, he was asleep in minutes.”
Her post triggered a discussion about breastfeeding someone else’s baby, and the response was overwhelmingly positive, with many women sharing their own wet nursing stories. With medical evidence pointing overwhelmingly to the health benefits of breast milk, wet nursing found a niche among women who, for medical reasons, can’t nurse. Back home in Nigeria, this reporter encountered a retired Matron, Mrs Abike Balogun, who claimed to have practiced as a wet nurse at some point in her over 30 years sojourn in nursing. It started informally, she told this reporter, before “I was co-opted into it professionally.” Balogun said: “My sister gave birth to my beautiful nephew at the time.
She was exhausted in hospital and he wasn’t quite lactating, and she actually asked me to ‘please feed him’. I felt so honoured to have given him his first decent feed as a new born and to help my poor sister get some much needed rest. It was a wonderful experience I’d not forget in a hurry.”
Balogun later nursed seven other kids, after she related her experience to some of her nursing colleagues. “While I was narrating my experience and how excited I was to have done that, little did I know that I was into something big. In what looked like a coincidence, there was a woman who just gave birth in the hospital I was working and was not lactating. So, when the Chief Medical Director heard of my story, he summoned me to his office and thereafter pleaded with me to help breastfeed the child whose mother was in distress.
“The woman in question also had a medical condition she was battling with and had to be kept in the hospital longer that she should have. Within the period I took over the duty of a mother as I breastfed the baby as if he was mine. Many who were in the hospital didn’t know what was happening. We had to do it in such a way that the woman would not feel humiliated.
“The baby was perfectly healthy, and the mother didn’t have milk but even if she had, she would not have been allowed to breastfeed him. I was weaning my daughter, Bola, but I still had a lot of milk that I was pumping, so I breastfed the baby like I would my own child. Although I wasn’t under any pressure as I could not imagine having to force my child to wean, and I wouldn’t advise any other mother to feel under pressure to do that. “I just needed to help out as I assumed the role of a professional wet nurse, even though I was not trained as one.
Till date I cannot say if people still train as wet nurses. My view of wet nursing is that it feels right and is a natural important thing for the child.” And because of the manner Balogun handled the assignment of helping to breastfeed that particular child, the CMD commissioned her to take up the assignment, with a remuneration attached to it whenever the need arose.
She had stopped child bearing at the time but still lactate unbelievably. She accepted the challenge without qualms. “I saw it as a special calling and I did it with joy. After my first experience, I went on to help breastfeed about seven other ‘unknown’ kids, of which I was paid handsomely.
As a trained nurse we see a lot of women with different challenges, most of them, with sever medical conditions. So, naturally, you are left with no option but to lend a helping hand at that point. However you feel about wet nursing, it’s difficult to argue against the benefits of feeding an infant in the most natural way possible,” Balogun said.
Incidentally, some of the younger women in the nursing profession in the country have confessed they have not come across a wet nurse before. For those who admitted the existence, they claimed it only happened in the past, but not anymore. One of such nurses at the General Hospital, Orile-Agege, Lagos, who identified herself simply as Mosun, told one of our reporters that it used to be a common feature in most big government maternity homes, especially the general hospitals in the cities. She said: “Yes, it existed here in Nigeria, but I doubt if we still have them in our hospitals again. You know things have changed and many of the old good practices have gone with the initiators. I can tell you that most of our young nurses we have around today may not have an idea what a wet nurse is all about.
“Those days, for one reason or the other, some mothers don’t lactate, especially young mothers. There are also those who may have some health challenges that could prevent them from breastfeeding their babies. In other instance, some nurses are seconded to breastfeed babies that their mothers died during childbirth. In such situations, these specially trained nurses, come in handy. Apart from the fact that they lactate easily, they are also helped with some drugs to enable them to do that effectively. “Of course they must have been screened to make sure they too have no diseases that could harm the newborns.
The government employed, paid and put them on a special scale to encourage people to take up the job. Even at that, most people do not know that such nurses exist in such hospitals. It’s only those in need that were aware of such special nurses. Breastfeeding someone else’s baby was unthinkable for mothers at the time. Incredibly, despite the health risks, it’s secretly making a comeback.”
“One reason why it’s no longer in vogue may be the fact that most mother nowadays prefer formulas despite the fact that government hospitals try to discourage that to promote exclusive breastfeeding for at least the first six months of birth. But how do you regulate those that patronise private hospitals?” Another nurse at the popular Ayinke maternity at the Lagos State Teaching Hospital (LASUTH), Ikeja, who only preferred to be addressed as Olawunmi, appears not to be aware of the existence of wet nursing in Nigeria. Although she has an idea of what wet nursing is but said that the country is yet to graduate to that level.
“I don’t think we have graduated to that level in Nigeria. The wet nurses help to breastfeed other people’s babies, especially if their mothers are dead or can’t produce milk on their own. It’s possible they are specially trained for that; I don’t think I’m sure of that; essentially their duty is to breastfeed babies that their mothers are dead or can’t lactate,” she said. Another Matron in County Hospital, Aguda-Ogba, Lagos, who equally plead-ed not to be identified, said: “We don’t have such training in nursing, mostly in Nigeria; you can only find such probably in other civilised climes.
What we do here is that once the woman dies the grandmother can wash her breast to feed the baby or if there is no one to feed the baby we suggest formulas and water in order to sustain the child. Though I have heard people refer to such practice as wet nursing abroad.” Also, the President, Nigerian Association of Nurses and Midwives, AbdulRafiu Adeniji, said: “It is only professional nurses that I know about in the country. I don’t know about wet nurses. The work of a professional nurse is all encompassing. But what we have that is related to that is paediatric nursing; wet nursing is not yet a registered profession in Nigeria. Although as a nurse, you are a surrogate mother; you take credit of infants and the elderly from nonage to the grave. “As a professional nurse you should be able to work in all areas but we have what we call paediatric nurses in Nigeria. They have their own specialty.
We have those who deal with infants and those who deal with the special cases like infants born with deformities or with cardiac arrest. “We also have people who are naturally gifted in tending to infants and elderly but in Nigeria the only recognised nursing dealing with infants is paediatric nursing which have a lot of sub-specialisation under them. Wet nursing is not a focus in Nigeria. We only have midwives and paediatric nurses.” Dr. Peter Ogunnubi, a consultant psychiatrist and Chief Executive Officer of Grace Cottage Clinic in Lagos, admitted he has little knowledge about wet nursing in this part of the world.
“Wet nursing is a practice that is popular in more civilised worlds. Though I would not say if they are specially trained but I know because of death of mothers while giving birth and for reasons that the woman is not lactating, that can suffice. “It’s also recommended when the woman has some kind of health challenge which could prevent her from breastfeeding her child.
There are also those who do that informally in which case relatives or grandmothers could be engaged to help breastfeed a child when the need arises. We have such here in Nigeria but it is not so pronounced,” he said. The acceptability or not of the concept of wet nursing may vary from one belief to the other. A professor of Islamic Eschatology, Muslim activist, social commentator and an advocate of dialogue, Ishaq Akintola, for instance, listed the condition under which it could be encouraged.
He said: “If the mother of a new baby suddenly dies, a wet nurse can assist in breastfeeding. They are even employed in Arab culture; it was part of their culture in the past to adopt somebody to breastfeed their children. Any area of humanitarian support is approved and supported by Islam.” Chief Olorunwa Ayekonilogbon, the priest of Ifa deity, also believes wet nursing to be to part of the African tradition. “This is not something new to us as Africans.
Whenever a mother dies while giving birth, the child will automatically be given to another woman to nurse, but it’s usually close relatives. I believe this is what is now being referred to as wet nursing,” Ayekonilogbon said. Wet-nursing, the practice of a woman feeding an infant that is not biologically her child her breast, was a practical way to provide nutrition for newborns. Research has shown that breastfed children enjoy lifelong health benefits – they have higher IQs, get sick less, are not likely to be obese and not likely to develop allergies, diabetes and heart disease in later life.
This may be the reason why pressure has mounted on new mothers to put down the bottle. Breastfeeding, according to medical experts, provides infants with protection from dehydration and minimised exposure to contaminated food and thus becomes essential for their survival.
The ideal wet nurse is one who is able to produce the best nutrition for an infant, based on specific characteristics. She must be unmarried, and should not have sexual intercourse and/or become pregnant (both of which will lower the qualities of her milk).
They should also only breastfeed one child at a time. Additionally, a wet nurse must be on a regulated diet so her milk will not become unsuitable for the child. However, doctors usually caution that such nurses should be in good health so there is no transmission of infection through breast milk.
To ensure the safety of the child, doctors advise screening mothers for viruses such as Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and Hepatitis C. Even at that, they have over time harped on the fact that lactation has a direct beneficial effect on the infant in that it promotes its growth and normal development and confers protection against various infantile diseases, especially infections.
In some civilisations wet nursing occurred mainly on a casual basis where lactating relatives or neighbours fed another child along with (tandem lactation), or after weaning their own infant. In others words it was a highly organised practice among certain classes of the population. Unlike the rich however, poor families are usually not able to afford the services of a wet nurse as it often does not come cheap. It was not until 1928 that the first unit for infants was opened with a milk kitchen and in-house wet nurses. Like infant mortality, maternal mortality was very high in ancient Egypt.
The subsequent reliance on wet nurses to provide nutrition for orphaned infants increased and wet nurses were promoted to the level of worship. A social distinction between classes, emphasised by the use of wet nurses, is first recorded in this time period, as royalty primarily used wet nurses to feed their infants.
Immediately after a queen gave birth, her infant was given to the wet nurse, who then breastfed the newborn. Royal wet nurses were carefully selected, highly respected and are shown on guest lists at events. During the Middle Ages also, wet nursing continued to serve as an indicator of social class, and many of them were slaves or ex-slaves.
In Western Europe, wealthy and noble families often employed wet nurses because breastfeeding was inconvenient and women could regain their fertility. The profession re-emerged as desirable in Europe in the 14th and 15th centuries when noble and upper-class women hired wet nurses to feed their infants.
They subsequently became highly respected, well paid and received both food and lodging for their services. Even at that, it only happened in rare cases, if the mother died in childbirth or was unable to breastfeed. However, defects in the child’s disposition were often attributed to the practice.
•Additional reports from Tosin Makanjuola, Olamide Solana and Okiki Craig
LAMENTATION OF FIREFIGHTERS
‘I shall be making a donation of three fire trucks to avert reccurrences’
It appears we are in a spell of fire despite the daily rains that have defied normal season. Within a short space of time, hell had let loose in major cities across the country, as incidents of fire outbreaks continued to wreck havocs. However these happenings have somewhat exposed the dearth of firefighting equipment in most fire service stations. ISIOMA MADIKE reports
The old-school rap song is famous for the chant, “The roof, the roof, the roof is on fire. We don’t need no water, let the mother f–ker burn.”
This chant has been used in movies, dance competitions and live shows by various funk or rap artistes. Of late, it has become the new anthem across the Nigerian landscape as news merchants struggle to outdo one another with screaming headlines of fire incidents.
A day after fire ignited by a fallen tanker killed at least three persons in Onitsha another fuel tanker also fell and caught fire in the commercial city of Anambra State.
The incident occurred on the Enugu-Onitsha Expressway around 3 a.m. according to eyewitnesses. In the two incidents, lives as well as property valued in billions of naira were report edly lost. There have been similar incidents around the popular Otedola Bridge on the Ibadan-Lagos Expressway where, on a number of times, tankers fully loaded with petroleum products fell, leaked and exploded. It’s been the same harrowing experience across the country with firefighters doing little, according to opinions, to salvage anything from the flames.
When the first Onitsha Market fire incident occurred, the Anambra State Fire Service reportedly failed to show up with their firefighting equipment. It took the gallantry of the Delta State Fire Service to lend a helping hand. The help however, came a little too late with what many had laboured for years gone with the flames.
However, the unfortunate incidents have continued to elicit reactions from across Nigeria. For instance, the senator representing Anambra North District, Stella Oduah, in a statement, reportedly said she would donate three fire trucks to help in firefighting in the state.
She had said: “Sequel to my earlier statement where I promised to look into ways of ameliorating the plight of victims in the fuel tanker inferno, I shall be making a donation of three fire trucks to the Federal Fire Service in Onitsha to ensure they are better equipped to avert a recurrence like this.”
Oduah’s pronouncement, according to opinions, only highlighted the dearth of firefighting equipment in most cities across Nigeria where they are most needed. Awka Determined to improve the performance of the fire service in the state, Anambra State government has said it will employ at least 120 personnel to beef up the staff strength in the service.
It also stated that the state fire service, which is currently under the Ministry of Public Utilities, would become a parastatal known as Anambra State Fire Agency, directly under the office of the governor.
According to the fire Chief/Director, Anambra Fire Service, Engineer Agbili Martins, who spoke to Saturday Telegraph, the body will no longer be answerable to the Ministry of Public Utilities but the office of the governor. “Before, we did not have direct link with the governor, but through the ministry of public utilities. “Now, we are under the governor’s office and this, according to the governor, is for efficiency and optimal productivity.
The governor has also approved the recruitment of at least 120 personnel who will be trained to become firefighters and they would after their training deployed to the various fire stations in the state.” Agbili noted that refreshers training would soon commence for staff of the agency in order to inject new impetus on service delivery and productivity in the department.
He said that some firefighting trucks in the agency that are in various states of disrepair were currently being refurbished for rapid responds to distress calls at any given time.
He however explained that the largest firefighting tanker that came to render service on that fateful day in Onitsha had problems, adding that even the staff of Delta State fire service that came to assist were attacked by the angry mob who also stoned men and officers of the Anambra fire Agency.
“They were attacking them and there was nothing we could do in that situation. When you look at the distance from Upper-Iweka to Ochanja Market you will agree with me that had it been that the mob allowed us to do our job the extent of damage would have been reduced greatly and it wouldn’t have got to Ochanja.
“Even when our colleagues from Asaba came to join us, the mob did not allow them to come in because they were chased away with stones.” Incidentally, the governor was silent on the dearth of the equipment, which many highlighted as the major reason why the Onitsha incident got out of hand. Abia The Zonal Commander, Aba Zone of Abia State Fire Service, Okezie Uche, has also said that the state fire service will not run away from its duties of extinguishing fire should such situation present itself.
Uche, who was reacting to question from one of our reporters, called for more support on the area of equipment and staff discipline. He said that Aba Zonal Command covered nine local government areas out of the 17 LGAs in Abia State. “I’ll say that if there’s fire outbreak, we’ll not just relax.
We’ll surely do our best because it’s our duty to do so. You can see what hap- pened in Anambra, I may say that lack of equipment inhibited the firefighters there from doing what was needful. “In my command, what we do most here is improvised method. Anywhere we go to and we notice situations that are technically beyond our control as a result of lack of equipment like Breathing Apparatus (BA), we’ll use our initiative. However, if we have fire outbreak in high rising buildings like in four-storey edifice, honestly, there’s nothing much we can do because we don’t have high rising turn table appliances like crane.
“In our station right now, there’s no electricity for over two years. We have hydrant which is our main source of water. Look at it there, but we don’t have light to pump anything here. The Electricity Distribution Company cut off our light because they said we owe them about N500, 000. “Here in this zone we have two fire engines. The bigger one is called Water Tender while the other one is called Fire Truck. The Fire Tender contains 24,000 gallons of water while the Fire Truck contains 1,000 gallons of water.
But if there’s a big fire outbreak and we turn out with the 1,000 gallons capacity fire truck, there’s nothing much we can do. The truth is that the big Fire Tender needs serious repair because it’s not functioning properly. If possible, a new one will help make things better. We are already entering the dry season and our work become more crucial. ”However, the state Assembly has passed a bill that will give us autonomy and make us function better. It will put everything about us including allowances in place.
Our staff strength is 17, we cover nine LGAs and it is weighing us down. Aside that there’s a big problem of sabotage within us here; as you can see, out of every normal staff that ought to be on morning duty, only one is here and do you know why?” Ibadan Meanwhile, the Deputy Director, Fire Service, Oyo State, Adewuyi Moshood, has admitted that the state fire service has acute shortage of equipment as well as acute shortage of manpower. He also acknowledged that fire service throughout the country, which is so significant, is poorly funded.
This was extensively discussed during our conference in Kwara State in August this year, he added. Moshood said: “The state governments are to care for the welfare of fire service across the country because it falls under Concurrent List. It is the state government that funds and legislates on fire service across the country. So, for that humble reason, these are some of the challenges we have.”
On the question of funding of the Service, he said: “Actually, there used to be budget allocation for fire service every year, but the funds are usually not accessible. This is one of the factors crippling the performances of the fire service generally, especially in Oyo State. A situation where an emergency responder does not have access to new equipment, what can he do? You can’t imagine the deplorable condition of our equipment now. Those we have now were purchased in 2009 or 2010.
“Also, if there is any other disaster apart from fire incident, it is still the firefighters that will be called. And there is special equipment for this, but I doubt if there is any state that can boast of the equipment to take care of such disaster like flooding. If this occurs or there are any related disasters, it is the fire service they would call on. This is forcing fire service personnel to be using initiatives and experience to carry out their performances. These are the conditions in which we find ourselves. “On the issue of welfare package, it is very pathetic.
This is because as I am talking to you, we are on it. But you know we have a new government in Oyo State. The new governor, Seyi Makinde, is adequately attending to our problems. “I can tell you and I can confirm categorically that in the last three dispensations, this will be the second time that a governor will visit the fire service office, because Makinde visited us recently to see things for himself. He was conducted round the premises, and he saw the deplorable condition our equipment are, and promised to find a lasting solution to it.” Lagos Unlike some of the above experiences, Lagos State, in the estimation of many had done fairly well in rapid response to fire incidents in recent times.
The state officials had been proactive also in many instances as they often go on enlightenment tour of various segments in the state to educate both individuals and corporate organisations. The state equally has 16 sub-stations across the state strategically positioned in highly risky areas and in places where many will be able to access the services whenever there is the need to do so.
Although officials of the state fire service were not forthcoming with necessary information when this reporter sought to speak with them on the issue, a senior official who pleaded not to be quoted told Saturday Telegraph that the state government had placed high premium to issues of safety. “You can see the equipment we have on ground here (head office), they are world class. We also have well trained personnel who perform their duties professionally.
Without sounding immodest, I can say that we are capable of competing with our counterparts anywhere in the world. “To make sure everyone is able to access our services, the government strategically positioned similar equipment in 16 other locations across the state.
When you go to those stations, you will be impressed with what you will find on ground. We also have enlightenment programmes to educate the populace because we do not only take delight in responding to fire incidents but to make sure we curtail the occurrence as it is cheaper to do so,” she said. At the Federal Fire Service centre at Ojuelegba, no official was equally willing to grant this reporter audience in spite of his repeated efforts to get them to speak on the issue.
However, this reporter sighted only one firefighting lorry parked in the vast compound, which did not look like it’s functional. In January, the state fire service had raised the alarm over the frequent fire outbreaks in the state, which it attributed to high level of unconsciousness in the handling of fire and other flammable materials as major causes.
The fire service said it recorded over 119 fire incidents across Lagos State. The then Acting Director, Lagos State Fire Service, Rasaki Musibau, who made this known at Alausa, Ikeja, lamented that valuables worth millions and preventable lives were been lost daily to avoidable fire outbreaks. The former fire chief recalled that the directorate received nothing less than 17 fire emergencies weekly, which he said called for concern as a responsible and responsive government that placed safety of its citizenry at premium.
According to him, 11 rescue and eight false calls were received accordingly. Rasaki said that if not for the act of professionalism and tactics employed by the firefighters at scenes of the incidents across the state, the so-called small fires would have escalated and become a disaster.
“Fire outbreaks in the state have become a perennial problem, with many reported cases, which in no doubt pose serious threat to national economy and further leave enormous material damage, injury to persons and disruption of economic and social life. “Some of the fire cases are mostly caused by negligence on the part of those who use it, hence the need to prioritise the management and prevention of fire in our environment in order to avoid destruction of lives and properties” Rasaki said.
He noted that the fire officers as first responder to emergency and incident management had been empowered and equipped to tackle any form of natural and man-made incident across the state and further appealed to Lagosians to get familiar with the emergency toll free numbers 767/112.
Owerri Imo State has also said there is no cause for alarm as it has the fire power to fight fire in the state. Before his 100 days in office, Governor Emeka Ihedioha, had overhauled and upgraded the fire service in the state. The Director, Imo State Fire Service, Japheth Okereafor, said: “What we have here now were not set up or acquired overnight because of the Onitsha fire incident but because the new governor came with a ready plan for the fire service in Imo State.”
Okereafor maintained that his men were now very motivated to tackle any fire emergency unlike what was obtainable in the past. He added that with the coming of the new administration, all the zones – Owerri, Orlu, and Okigwe – now have functional fire engines to combat any fire emergency in their region.
He said: “As you can see, here in the head office, I have three sound fire engines and one in the Government House; I also have one in Okigwe and one in Orlu with ready men on ground. I must also add that the fire service was literally grounded for the most part of the Rochas Okorocha administration and nobody cared about it. Sokoto In Sokoto, the state government has ensured that the state fire service is fully equipped and provided with all necessary arrangements and Information Technology materials required for effective disaster control. “Apart from 18 firefighting vehicles at the headquarters and numerous backup vans, 23 local governments in the state were provided with one firefighting vehicle each,” the DG said.
With the establishment of the Zonal Federal Fire office in the state recently, Governor Aminu Tambuwal allocated a land for the construction of the zonal office in Sokoto.
This, Saturday Telegraph gathered, will complement the state fire service, which has over 18 functional firefighting vehicles and 13 operational fire stations equipped with modern firefighting tools within state metropolis. The present administration also bought 10 new vehicles, refurbished the existing ones, and constructed eight fire stations in addition to drilling two boreholes and provided two water tankers as back-up to facilitate the agency’s activities. The government has equally maintained the prompt supply of chemicals used in putting out fires as well as the provision of rain boots and jackets. This is in addition to the over 142 workers whose salaries are being paid regularly even as they are made to enjoy shift and hazard allowances. But like the famed Oliver Twist, some employees are appealing to the state government to provide the organisation with an ambulance to complement its services to victims without waiting for responses from hospitals which usually delay emergency services. They also appealed to the organisation to embark on sending them to rigorous training that will bring them up-to-date with modern techniques of firefighting.
Asaba The firefighting response of the Delta State government has been adjudged as one of the best in Nigeria. While the state government had acquired modern day equipment to tackle the menace of fire outbreak, the firefighting facility at the budding Asaba International Airport, has greatly boosted prowess of the state. Governor Ifeanyi Okowa recently commissioned two firefighting trucks procured by Federal Fire Service for its ‘Zone K’ Headquarters that is based in Asaba, the state capital, which is expected to covers Delta, Edo and Bayelsa states, and complements the state’s fire service. Liman has hailed the strength and quality of firefighters in the state during the commissioning and harped on the preparedness status of firefighting mobile and fixed assets.
The state Commissioner for Information, Charles Aniagwu, said that fire outbreaks had been prevented, adding that goods and that property worth billions of naira had secured from being gutted by fire. This, he attributed to the improved welfare package, training and retraining of workers and the procurement of necessary equipment to boost their morale for prompt responses to distress calls. He said: “That explains why our neighbouring Anambra State sought assistance from Delta State when it was recently faced with the challenge of petrol tanker fire outbreak, which sympathetically consumed marketplaces in Onitsha before it was curtailed.” Yenagoa Also, the Bayelsa State Fire Service has stepped up its services to the people of the state with new firefighting equipment readily available at the office premises to curb any fire incident that may occur. A visit to the office on Thursday at the Ovom area of Yenagoa showed a lot of water tankers and other equipment displayed with some ready staff available.
According to the Director of state Fire Service, Koko Agbodo, the state government has continuously tried to improve on the challenges facing the fire service in the state. He said: “The zonal office for the Federal Fire Service is in Port Harcourt. I’m sure you have not come here before. “If you have, you will know that I don’t talk to press. As a civil servant, I have the constraint of speaking with the press. I refer them to my ministry; the Ministry of Local Government Administration. But at the same time if there is a fire outbreak and journalists get me there, I used to answer their questions like the cause of the fire and other questions.
“Besides, any other information, I refer them to the ministry, although there is tremendous improvement. We are trying.” Meanwhile, the Federal Fire Service said it had established six additional zonal offices to boost service delivery across the country. Liman Ibrahim, its Comptroller-General, announced this at a press briefing in Abuja in September, according to the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN). He had said: “The essence of the spread is to deliver quality firefighting services, improve the response time to emergencies and complement efforts of the state fire services. When I came, we had presence only in Abuja, Lagos and the six geo-political zones. We believe that the new zones will widen our reach and strengthen us to do more.”
He listed the zones to include Zone G, with headquarters in Minna, which is expected to cater for Niger, Kogi and Kwara, while Zone H, with headquarters in Sokoto, will cater for Sokoto, Zamfara and Kebbi. Others included Zone I with headquarters in Yola, to cater for Adamawa, Taraba and Gombe, while Zone J, with headquarters in Owerri, will cater for Abia and Imo. Zone K, expected to cover Delta, Edo and Bayelsa, with headquarters in Asaba, while Zone L, with headquarters in Osogbo, will cater for Osun, Ondo and Ekiti states. Ibrahim said that the zonal headquarters would be equipped with firefighting trucks while experienced firemen would be deployed to man them.
He said that the Federal Government was focused on strengthening the state fire services for effectiveness and efficiency, adding that the FFS was already reaching out to state governors to secure their support and encouragement. “I want to believe that a strengthened state fire service complemented by our presence in the zones will go a long way in addressing the gaps in fire service delivery across the country. We have also received approval for the establishment of additional five fire service training schools, which will soon take off. They are to be located in Maiduguri, Calabar, Ilorin, Katsina and Umuahia.” Additional reports from Steve Uzoechi (Owerri), Emmanuel Ifeanyi (Aba), Okey Maduforo (Awka), Danladi Umar (Sokoto), Sola Adeyemo (Ibadan), Dominic Adewole (Asaba) and Pauline Onyibe (Yenagoa).
DEPRESSION: THE IGNORANCE, THE STIGMA
It’s mental illness, nothing to be ashamed of – Gureje, professor of psychiatry
Many people, including medical experts, seem to agree on depression as the possible cause of most suicide incidents. Hopelessness, feelings of guilt, loss of interest, insomnia, and low self-esteem are some of the most popular symptoms of depression. And while effective prevention and treatment of such mood disorders have been known to reduce the scourge, however, ignorance and stigmatisation often prevents depressed patients from accessing needed treatment, especially in this part of the world. Yet, two renowned Ifa priests, perhaps unsurprisingly, maintain a different stance from the arguments canvassed by orthodox experts. ISIOMA MADIKE, in this report, aggregates these opinions.
Suicide seems to be rampant these days among Nigerians, especially students of higher institutions across the federation. It cuts across sex, religion and ethnicity. For instance, a student of the Department of Computer Science and Engineering, Faculty of Technology, Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile-Ife, identified simply as Kolapo was said to have ended his life abruptly on Sunday when many were celebrating Easter. According to a source, Kolapo took his life after he repeatedly failed some courses. Saturday Telegraph learnt that Kolapo had battled frustration and depression over courses he borrowed and failed from both the departments of Civil Engineering and Computer Science.
The source, who is a student of the institution, said some of his close friends claimed they had, on many occasions approached him for counseling anytime he was worried, but he usually hesitated to corporate with them. “They had always lent him a helping hand by telling him never to give up,” the source said, adding, “He was an executive in his department association. Kolapo was supposed to have graduated with the 2016/2017 session, but for the failed courses.”
Another, known only as Ige, a 400-level Law student of the same institution also committed suicide at his residence outside the campus of the university, according to reports, few days after his lover allegedly broke up with him. It was authoritatively gathered that Ige, said to be above average academically by his colleagues, was found dead in his apartment at Asherifa area, a stone’s throw from the campus, not too long ago. His suicide note, reads in part: “Father, while reading this message, I would have been gone” before he allegedly ingested some substance later discovered to be poison. He was said to be a member of the Christ Apostolic Church Fellowship on campus and had met the lady who was said to have financed his education for over eight months of their relationship before the bubble burst. The lady, also a member of the same fellowship, was said to have broken up with Ige because of his poor background and could no longer cope with him.
This development, according to reports, subjected him to emotional trauma. He was said to have threatened that he would commit suicide should his lover remain adamant on her decision before he finally took his life. Ige was described by some students as a person who lived a lonely life. Before then, a 16-year-old 100-level student of Microbiology at the same school, identified only as Mercy, had killed herself. According to Premium Times report, Mercy allegedly took ‘Sniper’ days after she wrote on Facebook that she wanted to see God’s face and speak with him face to face. Her fellow students and a neighbour, according to the report, revealed that Mercy killed herself due to poor grade. One of her neighbours, which the report quoted, said she died after she took “rat poison mixed with battery extract.”
She lived off-campus at Sabo area of Ile-Ife, at the time of her death. She was said to have died of “emotional pressure” after she had ‘E’ in CHM 101 (Chemistry for first year students), a reportedly dreaded course for year one students in the science and technology-related faculties. One of her friends said: “Mercy often isolated herself in class and looked depressed. She told me she had ‘E’ in CHM101 and was going around unhappy before the incident.” In what is fast becoming a fad among students of higher learning in Nigeria, Niyi, who was studying microbiology from the University of Lagos, allegedly committed suicide also because he had failed some of his courses in 2018. His was said to be the second time a student from the department of microbiology in UNILAG committed suicide in a space of three years. Niyi’s sudden death came some weeks after another final year B. Agric student of Michael Okpara University of Agriculture, Abia State, was found dead in his room.
He was said to have committed suicide by hanging. From Abia to Nsukka where another final year student killed himself in 2016, it’s been harvest of suicides for Nigerian students. The final year student of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, was studying Agric Economics before he took his life. But this time around, the young man reportedly killed himself over a debt. Some reports speculated that he may have lost some money to betting. There was also a student of the Niger Delta University in Bayelsa State, identified simply as Daniel, who was said to have died after reportedly drinking Sniper (a deadly insecticide) upon discovering that he had about four carryovers. Daniel was rushed to the Tantua Hospital, Amassoma, according to reports, where it was realised that he had drank the whole bottle.
At that point, all efforts to save him, proved ineffective. His sister, identified only as Deborah, later took to her Facebook page to pay tribute to her brother. She wrote: “What a painful exit. That you’re no longer here will always cause me pain but you’re forever in my heart.” Also in 2016, a young student decided to end his life after he reportedly failed the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME). The unidentified young man could not live with the fact that he could not make the cut off marks in the examinations and felt the only way out was to end it all. But students are not alone in this suicide missions.
Just recently, a University of Ibadan lecturer allegedly set self-ablaze after resignation. The Kaduna- born lecturer at the department of Mathematics, A.O Subair, reportedly set himself on fire at his resident, Phillipson Road, at the campus. The late lecturer, who tendered his resignation letter without any justifiable reason, had not evacuated his belongings from the staff quarters before deciding to kill himself. It was gathered that he had separated from his family and had challenges progressing in his career.
A member of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), UI chapter, described the incident as pathetic while urging others to always confide in one another. He added that isolation could deepen depression. In January, an unidentified middleaged man was equally found hanging from a tree on Catholic Mission Road, opposite the Court of Appeal on Lagos Island. The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), which reported the incident, said the man, clad in Ankara native attire, was found hanging on a rope which looked like a braided long scarf, tied to a fruit tree.
NAN correspondent, who was at the scene of the suspected suicide, reported that the episode drew the attention of a horde of people, who stood in groups chatting and wondering what could have pushed the man to hang himself. A popular Lagos Disc Jockey (DJ) had also committed suicide in the same January. The DJ was said to have deliberately wore white in the photos he attached to his suicide note instead of black because white was his favourite colour. He reportedly took sniper to end his life about six hours after he posted a suicide note on Instagram. He had apologised to his children and mother but did not state the reason for his action in the suicide note. Investigations however, suggested that the DJ had been having marital issues before his untimely death. “My Mum should forgive me for my action; it was a deliberate act,” he wrote.
He also called on his younger siblings to forgive him because he had to do what he did. A 22-year-old Chika similarly committed suicide in Ubaekwem community in Ihiala Local Government Area of Anambra State recently. The deceased of Umuanasa clan, reportedly hung on a family mango tree for yet-to-be ascertained reason. Chika, according to The Nation, was an active youth in the Umuezekwe political ward of Ihiala LGA.
A family member, who preferred anonymity, told The Nation reporter that the act might not be unconnected to spiritual liberation defect due to the recurring suicide incidents that plague the family. The source said: “He was a single unemployed young man who had completed his SSS exams, with the hope to excel in business after schooling. One of his uncles also committed suicide at youthful age decades ago. The family had to subject itself to spiritual cleansing to avert recurrence of the unfortunate incident.” But one suicide that shook the nation to its foundation a few years back was that of Allwell Chiawolamoke Oji.
His tragic death reverberated across Nigeria with many giving suggestions on why the young doctor, who was widely viewed as successful by Nigerian standard, did what he thought was best for him. Incidentally, there has not been any consensus on the possible cause of the act since the incident happened. However, in all the suicide occurrences highlighted above, there seems to be the connecting line of depression, which many are ignorant of and as such lack the needed knowledge to deal with it.
Most people feel sad or depressed at times, according to medical experts, but believe it’s a normal reaction to loss or life’s struggles. Yet, experts said that when intense sadness — including feeling helpless, hopeless, and worthless — lasts for many days to weeks and keeps you from living your life, it may be something more than sadness, at that point, they said, one could have clinical depression –a treatable medical condition.
According to the DSM-5, a manual doctors use to diagnose mental disorders, one have depression when five or more of these symptoms last for at least two weeks: A depressed mood during most of the day, especially in the morning, feeling tired or having a lack of energy almost every day, feeling worthless or guilty almost every day and a hard time focusing, remembering details, and making decisions. Others are sleeplessness or sleeping too much almost every day, having almost no interest or pleasure in many activities nearly every day, thinking often about death or suicide (not just a fear of death), feeling restless or slowed down, lost or gained weight. WebMD also shows that sadness, sleeping problems, irritability, and more may be signs to seek help for depression.
It could equally occur when one feels irritable and restless, overeat or stop feeling hungry, have aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems that don’t go away or get better with treatment, feeling sad, anxious, or “empty” feelings. While these symptoms are common, not everyone with depression will have the same ones, said Oye Gureje, a Professor of Psychiatry and Director, WHO Collaborating Centre for Research and Training in Mental Health, Neuroscience, Drug and Alcohol Abuse, University of Ibadan. How severe they are, how often they happen, and how long they last, he said, can vary.
He also said that symptoms may happen in patterns. For example, depression, Gureje said, may come with a change in seasons (a condition formerly called seasonal affective disorder). However, it’s not uncommon for people with depression to have physical signs of the condition, he added. They may include, according to him, joint pain, back pain, digestive problems, sleep trouble, and appetite changes. One might have slowed speech and movements, too.
The reason, the experts said, is that brain chemicals linked to depression, specifically serotonin and norepinephrine, play a role in both mood and pain. He said: “Depression may have other specific features, such as anxious distress. That is worrying a lot about things that might happen or about losing control. Another typical feature is when one can feel good after happy events, but also feel hungrier, need to sleep a lot, and are sensitive to rejection. It could also be psychotic in which one believes things that aren’t true, or see and hear things that aren’t there.”
Other experts in the field of psychiatry have listed the symptoms to include sadness, feeling down, having a loss of interest or pleasure in daily activities. These, they said, are familiar to everyone but that only a few people would see it as mental issue that would require the attention of those trained to deal with such challenges. These, they believe, could affect life substantially, if they persist. In contrast, some Ifa priests, have diffused such insinuations when they said that suicide is mostly caused by evil manipulations and because people often live in denial, solutions have somewhat become essential community with many dying at the times they were not supposed to die.
Yet, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), has said that 7.6 per cent of people over the age of 12 have depression in any twoweek period. This, according to CDC, is substantial and shows the scale of the issue. To the World Health Organisation (WHO), depression is the most common illness worldwide, and the leading cause of disability. They estimate that 350 million people are affected by depression, globally. Gureje said that depression is mental illness, which no one should be ashamed of. He believes that ignorance and stigma attached to mental health are the drivers of the scourge which often leads to suicide. He said: “We live in denial in this part of the world. When people are going through depression, they usually would first want to reject such suggestion, some may even take to prayers instead of seeking medical attention. But again, we attach stigma to mental issues in this clime.
“Imagine seeing someone around where people refer to as ‘Yaba left’, immediately such a person would be termed ‘mad’. Yet, this is one issue that could easily be nipped in the bud if professionals trained to handle such are called in on time. It’s something therapy or medication could solve.” Gureje, who said that depression seems to be more common among women than men, listed other symptoms to include lack of joy and reduced interest in things that used to bring person happiness. He though said that life events, such as bereavement, produce mood changes that can usually be distinguished from the features of depression.
The causes of depression, he further said, are not fully understood but are likely to be a complex combination of genetic, biological, environmental, and psychosocial factors. Another professor of psychiatry, College of Medicine, University of Ibadan, Olayinka Omigbodun, said that diagnosis for depression should start with a consultation from a mental health expert. She defined it as a mood disorder characterised by persistently low mood and a feeling of sadness and loss of interest. “It is a persistent problem, not a passing one, lasting on average 6 to 8 months. Diagnosis of depression starts with a consultation with a doctor or mental health specialist.
It is important to seek the help of a health professional to rule out different causes of depression, ensure an accurate differential diagnosis, and secure safe and effective treatment. “As for most visits to the doctor, there may be a physical examination to check for physical causes and coexisting conditions. Questions will also be asked – ‘taking a history’ – to establish the symptoms, their time course, and so on. Some questionnaires help doctors to assess the severity of depression,” Omigbodun said. The experts however, pointed out that depression is different from the fluctuations in mood that people experience as a part of normal life. “Temporary emotional responses to the challenges of everyday life do not constitute depression.
“Likewise, even the feeling of grief resulting from the death of someone close is not itself depression if it does not persist. Depression can, however, be related to bereavement – when it follows a loss, psychologists call it a ‘complicated bereavement.’ There are other signs and symptoms. For instance, “delayed psychomotor skills, for example, slowed movement and speech fatigue or loss of energy, feelings of worthlessness or guilt impaired ability to think, concentrate, or make decision, recurrent thoughts of death or suicide, or attempt at suicide are others,” Gureje added. He said that depression is likely to be due to a complex combination of factors that include: Genetics, biological, which are changes in neurotransmitter levels, environmental, psychological and social (psychosocial). Some people, he said, are at higher risk of depression than others with risk factors such as life events: These include bereavement, divorce, work issues, relationships with friends and family, financial problems, medical concerns, or acute stress. It could also be personality in which case those with less successful coping strategies or previous life trauma are more susceptible.
For genetic factors, having firstdegree relatives with depression increases the risk; childhood trauma also. Some prescription drugs, including corticosteroids, beta-blockers, interferon, and other prescription drugs could cause one to be depressed. Also, abuse of recreational drugs, abuse of alcohol, amphetamines, are strongly linked to depression. A past head injury or having had one episode of major depression could also increase the risk of a subsequent one, while chronic pain syndromes and other chronic conditions, such as diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and cardiovascular disease make depression more likely.
Counseling or therapy may help a person manage the symptoms of depression. It is a treatable mental illness, experts insist. There are three components to the management of depression: Support, ranging from discussing practical solutions and contributing stresses, to educating family members. There is psychotherapy, also known as talking therapies, such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). Another is drug treatment, specifically antidepressants. Suicide, experts said, is among the top 20 leading causes of death globally for all ages. Unfortunately, it is difficult to prevent, in large part because the prevalence of risk factors is high among the general population.
This may be the reason Chief Omo-Oba Olorunwa Ayekonilogbon, the priest of Ifa deity, thinks science may never have solution to the issue of suicide. To the Ifa priest, such a theory could just be a smokescreen. Traditionally speaking, he said, only one theory could suffice in this case. Ayekonilogbon said: “It is simple; people are being controlled using an African traditional technique. This is Africa where a lot of happenings cannot be explained by science. There is African science which people use to manipulate the destinies of others. Some use it for good while others use it to cause harm and change destinies. It is called African remote control.
So, when issues like this are in focus, it can only be unlocked through the traditional means. Anything short of that is mere waste of time.” Also, Chief Yemi Elebuibon, another well-known Ifa priest, spoke in a manner that suggests that people could actually be programmed (hypnotized) to do what they were asked to do. Eedi, he explained, is a bad omen in Yoruba land. “It is a great offence for a person to commit suicide; an abomination.
Whoever does that is considered to have brought dishonour to his/her family. Yet, the traditional belief behind suicide is that some people do not just commit the act on their own, but for some mystical interventions.
“However, some people could find themselves in critical and unpleasant situations, and opt for suicide as the last resort instead of living to face the problem. Whenever it happens, proper inquiry is set up, and an Ifa priest is mostly called upon to prescribe atonement to cleanse the city,” he said. Elebuibon nevertheless agreed that it is possible for a person to harm himself or herself without any diabolical undertone. “We live in a world where we all have personal battles. We tend to overcome them each time they arise as a result of our mental strength but sometimes they conquer us. When this happens, a person may consider suicide as his/ her last resort,” the priest told Saturday Telegraph. He said it could be diagnosed through a session of Ifa consultation. When a person consults Ifa, according to him, the past, present and future will be revealed.
“Ifa gives warning about incoming dangers and the priest analyses the root cause of a certain predicament. Signs of hypnotism can range from change in attitude, manner of speaking and so on and only people close to the person can discover this. “However, a person suspected or confirmed to be under hypnotism should seek help immediately as failure will wreak havoc and may eventually lead to awful death of the particular person and many others. Without proper spiritual care, sometimes, the repercussions of some actions can influence a person’s life negatively. Such a person will begin to act under the control of mystical forces,” Elebuibon added. The renowned traditionalist also said there is history of suicide in Ifa mythology and that hypnotism can only be prevented through constant consultation with Ifa for spiritual fortification.
IRT WIDOWS: LIFE WITHOUT OUR HUSBANDS
‘Painful to see my husband’s corpse, less than two hours we spoke’
Operatives of the Inspector-General of Police (IGP) Special Intelligence Response Team (IRT) are part of an elite squad of the Nigeria Police. Sadly, some of these gallant officers have been killed in the line of duty. Their widows share their challenges with JULIANA FRANCIS.
Mrs. Eniola Sanusi (38), a mother of five children, was braiding a customer’s hair when our reporter got to her residence. Since the demise of her husband, Eniola has taken to plaiting of hair to feed her children. She is a widow of late Inspector Lanre Sanusi, member of the elite IRT Unit. She lives in Muta, Ogun State, where her late husband built a bungalow. Lanre died, leaving two girls and three boys to his young widow.
The first child is a 15-year-old girl. Others are nine, seven, four and five respectively. It’s been over a year that Lanre died, but Eniola is yet to come to terms with the harsh reality of his death.
Her narration of her experience was characterised by bout of tears. She said: “The last time I saw him was on November 5, 2017. It’s been a year and three months now since he died. I vividly recollect sending him a text message on November 8, 2017.
He then called about 6:35am. He told me that some of the criminals, whom he and his colleagues went to pursue, had been arrested. He said that two were still at large. He said that immediately they arrest the fleeing two, he would return home.”
Eniola disclosed that since the death of Lanre, she had come to realise the importance of saving money. She explained that before, she used to work and save, but her husband was always fond of borrowing her savings. He usually promised to refund, but never did. At a point, Lanre asked her to stop working and concentrate on caring for their children. According to Eniola, several times, she and Lanre had discussed about his establishing a business for her, but they had often felt there was enough time to do that. But fate later decreed otherwise.
She said: “The children were growing and I needed to start doing something to support the family. Sometimes, Lanre would leave home, without leaving money; I would then have to start sourcing for what the children would eat. That was why I asked him to establish a business for me. He promised to do that when he returns from that fateful last operation.” Eniola began to suspect something had gone wrong, after she sent series of text messages to Lanre without receiving any response.
She said: “I called his phone, but it was switched off. Whenever he went for operation, he didn’t switch off his phone. I was confused; this was a man I used to call at 12 midnight and he would pick his calls. Most times, I used to call just to tell him to take care of himself, and to be careful. I also used to tell him not to take any reckless chances, and to remember that he has children. I told him that I did not have anyone except him.” Eniola said that right from beginning, she had always been scared of the type of job Lanre did. She had urged him to go back to school to further his studies, so that he could quit police job and get another job. Eniola said: “I don’t like the police job; I don’t like this entire operation thing. Now, can you see me with five children? Only me? I don’t know what to do. “On the day my husband died, our last child was just four-monthold. The child started crying incessantly at 12 midnight. I was restless, I called his phone to tell him that his baby was crying, but it was not reachable.
The following day, I called his father; I asked if his son called him, he said no. His father asked me to get any of his friend’s phone number. “I have the phone number of one of his friends, Babalawo. I sent it to my father-in-law. Babalawo’s number was also not reachable. On Friday, I tried Babalawo’s number again, and it went through. I asked about my husband, he said that my husband had an accident. I asked what sort of accident? Why couldn’t Lanre call to tell me that he had an accident?”
Eniola decided to go to her fatherin- law’s house. When she got there, she was shocked to see crowd of people. Among the crowd were police personnel. A policewoman sighted Eniola and ran to hold her hands in a comforting manner. It was there that she heard the shattering news: “I heard that my husband was dead. Till date, nobody told me how Lanre died. Nothing,” she said weeping. “You know that on issues that have to do with in-laws, you have to be careful. My father-in-law is old.
The money he has is what he uses for feeding himself. It was my husband that used to take care of him. In fact, most members of the family depended on Lanre. Whenever Lanre had money, he thought of his siblings and father first before any other person,” she said. After Lanre died, his children stopped going to school. Eniola could not continue with the payment of the children’s school fees. But Mr Abba Kyari, a Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP), Lanre’s boss and colleagues came to her rescue. He and other colleagues contributed money and gave it to her. “They assisted me in paying my
children’s school fees. They paid for first and second terms,” recalled Eniola. She said that when Lanre was alive, he bought her a car, which she uses to take the children to school. Lanre bought the car after he realised they were spending too much on school bus. After Lanre died, Eniola’s said in-laws took the car meant for school run and that of Lanre. She said: “I didn’t want trouble. I allowed things to be. In most cases, when a husband dies, the wife becomes the prime suspect, especially if she starts fighting to take possession of his property. I didn’t want that. I kept quiet.” According to Eniola, Lanre’s father sold the two cars and gave some of the proceeds to her and the children for their upkeep. With several mouths to feed and fees to pay, Eniola soon ran out of money. She recounted that sometimes, her father-in-law would send her and the children N1,000 for a month.
And sometimes, he would send N5,000 for three months. In an attempt to make ends meet, she changed the children’s school. “If not for Kyari and his men, I honestly don’t know what my children and I would have done. I have started plaiting of hair. Plaiting of hair was my hobby before Lanre asked me to stop. But now, I have no choice than to go back to it.” Lanre used a member of his family as his next of kin in his police pension scheme documents. Another widow our reporter was able to track down is Mary Agbasan (29).
She lives at the Alausa Police Barracks, Lagos State, with her three children. Mary and her children will soon be kicked out of the barracks according to the tradition of the Force. The law is what it is. Once a policeman dies, his family has to vacate the quarters for a serving policeman. A sad smile of reminisces flits across the face of Mary as she remembers how she met Felix. Mary, who is an Ordinary National Diploma Holder (OND), met Felix in her mum’s canteen. Mary’s mom was a food vendor close to the police headquarters. Felix was her customer. Mary, although then a student, helped out in the canteen. It was during one of her occasional visits to her mum’s canteen that she met Felix in 2012. This was how their love story started. That was where he saw her and a love story developed. The year was 2012. Mary said: “Felix was simply perfect. He was every woman’s dream of a husband.
His job always takes him away from home, but the times he spent with us were magical. They are memories we would treasure forever.” Mary remembered the last time she was with her husband and their last discussion. She said: “He was returning to Abuja, which was his base. I assisted him in packing his luggage. Sometimes, for two or three months, we wouldn’t see him. That last time, he had a case he was working on. He was called to come earlier to the office. I was pregnant then.”
“He was in a pensive mood. He said that he didn’t want to go. But we were hopeful that he would return to us within two months. Some weeks before he was supposed to return home, he called and asked how I was. He started fretting after I told him I wasn’t feeling well. “He asked if the baby was kicking, I said yes. Something was troubling me, but I couldn’t explain it. He told me that he wanted to tell me something. He asked who was with me, I said our first child. He said he didn’t want me to scream, that I should calm down. He asked me to call my younger sister, Mercy, who stays with us to be with me. I called my sister; when he was sure Mercy was with me, he told me that he had been shot.
“I screamed. I shouted that ‘this man has killed me’. I warned him not to go to that Abuja. I cried that night. He said that he was shot in the leg. I thanked God that it was only a leg wound. I told him that I would be coming to Abuja the following day. He said that I shouldn’t, that his colleagues were taking care of him. I couldn’t sleep that night. I kept asking God why he allowed such a thing to happen.” Surgery was carried out on the leg and Mary decided to go to Abuja to see Felix. She said: “I didn’t tell Felix I was coming. I just needed to see him. My family said I should not travel by road. I had to run from pillar to post to raise money for the airfare. I was at the airport when he called me.
He asked me where I was, that the place was noisy; I said I was in church. “He said that I should pray for him, I told him not to worry, I was praying for him. When I got to Abuja, one of my brothers living in Abuja took me straight to the hospital. “I opened the door of the ward he was admitted and when he saw me, he said: ‘Darling, what are you doing here?’ I told him that I came to see him.
He was happy to see me. He said that he had wanted me to come, but didn’t want to stress me because of my condition. He asked about the children, I told him they were with my mum and my sister was also with them. I stayed with him for 10 days before the hospital started complaining. They said I couldn’t continue to stay there because of my condition.
Moreover, the children were already calling, complaining that daddy and mummy were not around. “We had to do a video call, where we both spoke with the children. Our first child was just four years old. He asked his dad what happened to his leg, he told him he was injured. The son told him to get well soon and return home. When I was about to leave for Lagos, he asked me to pray for him. I held his hands and started crying; he cried along with me.
“On November 30, at about 4am, my second son began to breathe too fast. He would turn, look at me and said, ‘mummy see, mummy see.’ He climbed on my chest; I told him to be careful because of my stomach. He couldn’t talk, he was just shouting, ‘mummy see, mummy see.’ I tried to pet him, and then he wanted to leave the room, he wanted to go to the sitting room. I called my sister to take him to the sitting room. I could no longer go to bed. I started fiddling with my phone. “I decided to check if my husband was online. He was online last around 12am. I thought he would call by 5am, but he didn’t. That was the hour he used to call.
I played games on my phone and waited. I decided to call his line; but it rang out. I called until 12noon. “I called the boy in the hospital that was taking care of him. He said my husband was sleeping. I asked what sort of sleep; that I had been calling his line for hours.
The boy said he was given injection because he was complaining of pains. When it was 6:30pm, I called again; they said he was still sleeping. I called by 7pm, his phone still rang out. I called the boy again; he said he was still sleeping. I wasn’t settled. I was shivering. I couldn’t understand why my hands were trembling. “I tried to call his brother, Bode; his phone rang out too, I went to see him. He said that I shouldn’t worry; he asked me if I was going to church, I told him that I wasn’t going to church. I wanted to speak with my husband before going to church. Bode gave me some money.
He said that the children and I should use it to buy something for the weekend. “I just collected the money and tried to call my husband again. Yet, his phone rang out again. I went back to Bode; I told him that I was worried; I didn’t know what was going on. He said that he had called and that they told him Felix was sleeping.
Bode already knew my husband was dead, but he didn’t know how to break the news to me. “He just kept going up and down. He asked me to go home; I told him that I couldn’t. He asked if I had eaten, and I said I had not eaten. He said he was going out when I came in. “I was in his brother’s home when my sister came to call me. She said that another brother of Felix, Ade, was waiting for me. Ade came with his wife and two other people. I asked myself why Ade would come looking for me on such a day. I tried to get up, but I suddenly couldn’t walk; my legs were weak. Just as I was about to climb the stairs to our flat, I met Ade, he asked me the whereabouts of my husband, and I told him he was in Abuja. I asked him what happened; he said he only came to ask after me. “I was already crying. I kept asking him what happened. We went upstairs.
When I entered our apartment, I saw people. It was a day I’ll never forget. I just fell on the ground crying, I started asking everyone, ‘where is my husband?’ They tried to drag me up, telling me to mind my condition, that I would injure the baby. I asked what they were all doing in my house that morning. They said I should sit down, a woman held my hands. Ade said that what has happened has happened. I glanced out of the door net and saw Bode crying. I screamed; I got the news of my husband death in a very bad way. I couldn’t question God.”
Felix died on November 30, 2016. After his death, just like in the case of Eniola, members of the IRT Unit had to contribute money to assist Mary and the children. “I must confess that his boss Kyari, and his colleagues are Godsent. They really assisted the children and I. But I haven’t been sitting idle; I have been doing every petty business just to keep body and soul together. I sell drinks and distribute eggs. I’m still trying to gather all the necessary documents to get his pension scheme. I’m still looking for documents. I wish it’s just simple to wake him up and ask him darling where are those documents? But it’s not simple.” Collecting the pension is an herculean task.
Once the documents are not completed, the pension may be forfeited. In most cases, the documents are never completed. Asked how she had been coping with payment of school fees, Mary said: “It has been God all the way. The IRT men have been helpful and I thank them for it. They are really trying.” She added: “My husband got shot in the course of duty and died a hero. I must confess that since Felix died, it has not been easy.
No matter what people say, I know my husband died a hero. Till date, people stop me on the road to ask, ‘so you’re Felix’s wife, he was a good man.’ Nobody had ever spoken ill of him. That alone makes me proud of him. As people are remembering him for his good works and sacrifice to the nation, let them also remember that he has children that need help.” Mrs. Funmilayo Odubanjo is also a widow of an IRT operative.
Late Inspector Christopher Odubanjo died on July 22, 2018. When Christopher called Funmilayo on the phone that he needed to rush to office because he was needed there, she didn’t know that would be the last time she would be with him. Funmilayo, a mother of one, said: “He said that he was instructed to come down to the office. He was the team leader of his unit. He left that night, saying that he needed to go and see what was happening at the office. About 2am, we spoke. When it was at about 4am, his son woke up, asking for his daddy, I told him he had gone to work.
“I called and told him that his son was asking for him. He said that I should tell his son that he would be returning around 7am. At about 4:30am, I received a phone call from my husband’s line. The caller was not my husband. The caller asked if I knew the owner of the phone, I said ‘yes’, it was my husband’s phone. “The caller said that the owner of the phone just had an accident. He said they were taking him to general hospital.
Before I could ask further questions, the caller cut off the conversation. I called his elder sister and told her what the caller said. She said someone just called her too, and told her the same thing. en I got to the General hospi- tal, I called his phone number. It was switched off. I started asking for my husband at the hospital. They said he was alright. I didn’t know they were deceiving me. The hospital workers told me they were doing check-up on him. I begged them to just allow me to see him, just a glimpse to reassure myself, but they kept manoeuring me. “When I saw his elder sister and her husband, I asked them where my husband was, they said that he had been taken to the ward. The husband went outside. I didn’t know when I started shouting, ‘where is my husband, where is my husband.’ One of the doctors came to tell me that he was alright, that I should follow him to see Christopher. He took me to an ambulance. They dragged out a stretcher and Christopher was lying there; he was dead.” Funmilayo would later hear that Christopher had an accident at Awolowo area of Ikeja, but nobody told her how the accident occurred.
“It’s only God that knows how the accident happened. I still don’t understand what happened. I spoke with him just two hours before I was called that he had an accident,” said Funmilayo. She added: “I don’t know much about his death, but I know that it was too painful to see his corpse, less than two hours after speaking with him.” Funmilayo, who is also a policewoman, said that since Christopher’s death, only God had been helping her. And like Eniola and Mary, she disclosed that the IRT operatives had been caring and supportive. She added: “I can never forget his death; it was so shocking. In fact, up till now, it was like he travelled to Abuja for work and would soon return to us as usual.
I’m feeling like he would return, call and ask me to open the door for him. I miss him so much; he was a brother and father to me. He was my world.” The IRT Unit has prevented/ foiled hundreds of crimes across the nation and brought thousands of criminals to justice. Sadly, in the course of the numerous fights against deadly and notorious criminals across the country, the unit had lost 10 officers directly in the line of duty during gun battles with deadly armed robbers/kidnappers/terrorists. Just recently, three IRT operatives: Inspector Mark Edaile, Sergeant Usman Danzumi and Sergeant Dahiru Musa, were killed in Taraba State, after an army captain, ordered soldiers to open fire on them. Nigerians were outraged by the senseless killings.
e-Registration: Nigeria, foreigners in a dilemma
A few weeks ago, the Federal Government announced its plans to electronically register migrants in the country. The essence, according to the government, is to use it to establish a database of immigrants in Nigeria, which could help to check the growing insecurity occasioned by terrorism, drug trafficking and other trans-border crimes. While the directive is generating controversy among Nigerians, some of the foreigners say they are not aware of it. TOSIN MAKANJUOLA reports
The recent pronouncement by the Federal Government to profile immigrants in the country appears not have seated well with some Nigerians. One of such skeptics is a former presidential adviser, Echefuna Onyebeadi, who was quoted by The Guardian newspaper, to have faulted the move in his letter of July 13, “From Ruga to e-Registration of Immigrants: What Next?”. He was said to have accused the government of trying to “confer unsolicited and unlawful citizenship on illegal immigrants.”
The Guardian further quoted him to have also said that the government only wanted the exercise as a means to populating the already pauperised country with aliens. “They just want to confer citizenship through the backdoor on aliens under whatever guise to the detriment of Nigerian citizens,” Onyebeadi had said. For Yusuf Ali, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), the government ought to have perfected the National Identity card scheme as it was done by all serious countries of the world.
That, according to the lawyer, does not only allow the government to know the numbers of its citizens, but will have reduced immigration by foreigners into the country. Ali said: “The starting point is to see to the proper registration of everyone in Nigeria in the data of National Identity Card Management Commission (NIMC). To all serious country in the world, that is the best way foreigners do not come and implicate your country. Of course, every country can take bigger step to ensure that foreigners are properly documented, but my take is for the government to first of all document Nigerians.” In his own reaction, the National Chairman of African Democratic Congress (ADC), Chief Ralph Nwosu, believes that if the country is working well, any form of censoring is good.
To him, both foreigners and Nigerians, everybody should have a national registration number but for some reasons the political leadership was slow and they were not taking that seriously. He said: “There is need to know how many we are in order to know who are Nigerians and how many foreigners have joined us and where they are coming from? What the government is trying to do now is a good development but they are not showing sincerity in most of the things they do. This may be the reason why their actions usually appear suspect. “Doing a census in a country is proper. However, our political leaders have not shown enough commitment and sincerity to do what is right. So, because of the agenda motive in most of the things they do, people tend to criticise what they do.”
“We do not expect the ruling party to use presidential fiat to grant illegal immigrants citizenship of this country just because of their selfish, parochial and political agenda. This programme is definitely going to have dire consequences in the future. Nigeria is still struggling to address the issue of its diversity, yet someone is talking of add-ing more illegal immigrants? I doubt if it will be of any advantage to us,” Nwosu added. Yinka Odumakin, the spokesman for Afenifere, a Yoruba socio-cultural group, also asked: “Are we are talking about the herdsmen, who are coming from the border side like chad and the rest, who is going to register them? Where will they take them to? What the government has to do is to ensure that our borders are well policed in all those places like Chad, Niger that are borderless. People are moving at will. So, when they have moved in and run around, who will go and minister to them there? “Those who are coming in through the airports are properly documented. But we don’t know what that means in reality, what they want to achieve, we don’t know.
The larger agenda we see in this is that what is the status of those who are registered? If they register them will they become citizens or what will they become? Will it just be an attempt to confirm an illegal migrant into the country who are troubling us and most responsible for some of the atrocities perpetrated in Nigeria? Can this exercise be a ploy to give them cover after their registration? Except government comes out to tell Nigerians what they mean by these programmes and what they want to achieve with it, it will be unconvincing to align with the motive behind it.
“Truth is the registration of migrants will not force the government to enforce the law against criminal herdsmen/terrorists, which it is not doing at the moment. There is no level of registration that will make Nigeria a safe place if the government is not out to protect all citizens as against special interests.” However statements credited to the Presidency and the Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS) on the initiative may have fueled the seeming controversy on the exercise as the reports appeared to have conflicted.
While President Muhammadu Buhari had declared that the exercise is “for illegal migrants already in the country”, Sunday James, NIS spokesman and a Deputy Comptroller of Immigration (DCI), told The Guardian: “It is not illegal migrants; it is irregular migrants across the country we are registering. What we are doing now is to register every non-Nigerian.
“People are trying to misconstrue this directive by Mr. President. People should stop giving ethnic colouration to good plans by the government. It is good for Nigeria. At least, it would help in our security situation, governance and planning.” James quoted Section 22 (1 & 2) of the Immigration Regulation 2017, which he said empowered the service to maintain a register of all immigrants.
“It equally empowers the CGI to keep in the registry, information and particulars of an Immigrant as he may from time to time direct,” he further said. The government had also reacted by saying that the e-registration exercise was an attempt at obtaining a database of all irregular migrants residing in the country so as to halt the growing insecurity in the country, occasioned by terrorism, drug trafficking and other transborder crimes. The Comptroller-General of Immigration (CGI), Mohammed Babandede, who flagged-off the exercise, had called on all irregular migrants, who had stayed in the country for a period exceeding 90 days, to present themselves for registration.
Babandede said the data created would be forwarded to the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC), to generate what he referred to as, migrants’ identification number (MIN). He, however, warned that migrants, who failed to present themselves for registration within the stipulated period in line with the presidential directive, would be “removed”.
Babandede said: “It is our duty as stipulated in the immigration regulations to register any person who is not a citizen of Nigeria and the law says if you are going to stay or you have stayed for a period of 90 days.” Individuals that are eligible for this exercise are non-citizens of Nigeria who have attained the age of 18 years and resident in Nigeria or visitors who intend to stay in Nigeria for a period exceeding 90 days.
For the purpose of the e-Registration, NIS has categorised migrants into five categories – Employed Migrants, Students, Self Employed, Spouse of a Nigerian, and Dependants. Requirements for each migrant’s registration depend on if they are Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) nationals, nationals of other African countries or expatriate employees.
The exemption from this mandatory e-migrant registration, according to the NIS, is granted to individuals who are under the age of 18, those enjoying diplomatic immunity and visitors who intend to stay in Nigeria for less than 90 days. Apart from those, all regular and irregular migrants are required to register for free within the 6-month grace period of the commencement of the programme.
Having accurate data about the country’s citizens and foreigners living in Nigeria, according to the NIS, is critical for national planning and fighting insecurity. It also said that the guide of the current exercise provided the necessary information and requirements for migrants residing in Nigeria to be properly documented in line with global best practices.
The e-Registration is a two-part process which includes the enrolment and biometrics data capture and the receipt of an acknowledgement slip. This process is as follows: Migrant walks into any designated Migrant Registration Office in the migrant’s state of residence. He or she provides supporting documents (original International Passport and Residence Permit, for sighting while copies will be submitted) and other required information.
The registration officer enrolls the migrant using information provided and the officer captures the biometrics of the migrant while he crosschecks enrolled data and the registration officer confirms submitted documents. After completing the registration, the migrant is issued an acknowledgement slip showing registration details.
The e-Registration process, the NIS further said, was expected to ease the update of migrants’ status and provide a means of identification, alongside the Residence Permit. An additional motivation for the exercise is to curb the spate of insecurity, which is believed to be partly due to some undocumented immigrants from neighbouring countries, especially in the North-East region of the country. Incidentally, not all immigrants seem to be aware of the registration exercise. For instance, a middle-aged Togolese national, who identified herself simply as Shefiu, said she had been in the country for over 20 years, but was unaware of the e-Registration of foreigners in Nigeria as directed by the government. According to her, she has not faced any problem that will warrant her to go for any registration.
“It’s the registration you are talking about for every foreigner in Nigeria?” she asked ignorantly but adding, “Nobody told me about that but if I know how and where it’s done, I’d summit myself for such registration since I am not a criminal and has never been engaged in any underhand activities all along.” Another, from Cotonou, Benin Republic, also claimed ignorance about the e-Registration currently going on in Nigeria.
The Beninoise, who refused to be identified, told one of our reporters that she was not an illegal immigrant and as such would have nothing to do with any type of registration. “Is Nigerian planning to give us the South African treatments? They should concentrate on their problems with South Africa and leave us alone. We are from Benin and we are neither criminals nor trouble makers,” she said. Meanwhile, the Federal Government had extended the e-Registration when it handed down a six-month grace to enable all migrants across the country to register.
The President announced the period of “amnesty” for the free registration at the commissioning of the Migrant e-Registration, and Passport Application Processing Centre, at the Nigeria Immigration Service’s headquarters in Abuja. The President, who was represented by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Mr. Boss Mustapha, said that the establishment of the centres would enhance national security, while ensuring national development.
The migrants’ e-Registration, he added, would enable government to access statistics of migrants across the country, even as the Passport Application Processing Centre, aims to harness accurate data of citizens. “While the Migrant e-Registration Centre will collate and store data of non-Nigerians within our shore, the Passport Application Processing Centre, on the other hand will provide improved issuance of passport and eliminate touting as well as corruption in line with this government’s policy on ‘Ease of Doing Business.’ “It is on this note therefore that I am declaring a six-month amnesty period for irregular migrants already in the country to submit themselves to the Nigeria Immigration Service for the purpose of this registration, which will be carried out without any payment or penalties,” the President added.
However, artisans who decry preference for foreign counterparts seem to be reading the e-Registration differently. To many of them, it’s a payback time as government may have wanted to use the exercise to send them packing. Ouvidah Lucien, an artisan working at a site in Lagos complained that Nigerians did not appreciate works done by their own people. He said that the attitude was largely responsible for the demand of artisans from neighbouring countries like Ghana, Togo and Republic of Benin among several others. He alleged that some contractors mostly engaged the services of foreign artisans to perpetrate fraud and inflate contract cost. He said: “Some contractors pay these artisans far higher than us because they bargain with them on what they will actually pay them and what they will get in return.
We have seen many of them disagree with these foreigners while working on building sites and those that brought them over monetary issues. “Many of them are good but not in all aspects. While some of them are good in roofing, others appear to be experts in the designing of wardrobes, tiles, PoP, and bricklaying. Unfortunately, a majority of them don’t appear to be sincere and are not usually consistent in their work; they bid lower prices to enable them to corner the jobs.
“Well, it’s not all the time that we make use of them, although many who use them are those who prefer substandard jobs because they come cheap unlike the Nigerian professionals.” Yet, a site engineer, who declined to give his name, said that there was nothing wrong in using foreigners at site work. He believes that such transfer of knowledge will be of mutual benefit to all site workers. “There is nothing wrong in it, it is all about sharing and transferring of knowledge. We can learn some techniques which we do not know from them and they can also learn from us. So, I don’t see any reason they should not be engage by anybody that requires their services.
“There is no nation that can do these things all alone. Besides, we supervise them to make sure they conform to the Nigerian standard. We are accommodating in Nigeria and that is the reason why they like coming to work here. It also shows that our economy is good and attractive enough to even foreigners who also contribute to the physical development of the country no matter how we look at it.” However, there are those who believe that foreign artisans are better and even more committed to their jobs. One of such people is Nnamdi Akabunma, a civil engineer. He told one of our reporters that he had had an opportunity of working alongside some of these foreign artisans from Ghana and Togo. He said: “I learnt a lot from them. We worked together at a building site at Sango Ota in Ogun State. One thing about them is that they took their time to learn the job and are very diligent. I don’t blame our local contractors for engaging them because as they always said one of such people on site could, in all sincerity, be equal to about five Nigerian artisans. “I must also tell you that they work with time and always strive to meet up with what is expected of them. The Nigerians will think more of what they are going to be paid instead of focusing on the job target. Our people hardly work to meet up with a specific time.”
Additional reports from Olamide Solana and Isaac Godspower
EDUCATION: Why many are left behind
‘Gender discrimination, a big
issue as girls face unique set of barriers’
Education offers children a ladder out of poverty and a path to a promising future. This is why quality education is a right for all children as it remains the key to opportunities. But, as ISIOMA MADIKE finds out in this report, poor and inequitable access to former learning is still an issue of urgent national importance
Education, it is said, is a great driver of social, economic and political progress. As people learn to read, count and reason critically, their prospects for health and prosperity expand exponentially. But advances in education have not benefited everyone equally—and primary school enrollment rates tell only part of the regrettable story.
Thousands of children who start primary school are unable to finish and still more miss out on secondary school. A recent media dialogue to promote equity for children in some parts of the North facilitated by the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) in collaboration with Child Right Information Bureau, Federal Ministry of Information and Culture, Abuja, revealed sometime unpleasant. A boy, who identified himself simply as Salisu, was found begging other pupils for something to eat at one of the primary schools in the region. Salisu, 10, was barely five years old when he left for a journey of the unknown.
He appeared too young to remember his surname when he landed on the streets to start fending for himself. He could not remember exactly what happened to his parents but said he lived with his uncle for about six months before he was beaten and sent out of the home for allegedly stealing two pieces of meat.
This sent him to the streets to start a life defined by extreme hardship. “That was how I ended up on the streets,” he said with the help of an interpreter. Wondering up and down the streets with no place to call his home has become the lifestyle of this homeless street kid since then.
He survives with little or no food in his belly with no hope of what the future holds for him. Being awakened by the morning breeze to go into the streets, guarding people’s vehicles, jostling for a few naira to buy food has become his daily activity. He struggles to find a safe place to sleep and proper blankets has become a major cause for concern for him as he usually resort to cardboards to warm his tiny body. Such is the life of other streets kids in most urban centres in Nigeria. They have been left out of all forms of education in Nigeria.
They said even though they were struggling and suffering, they are not worried about what comes along their way as long they are alive. With a fast-paced lifestyle becoming normal, everyone seeks the comforts of their house at the end of the day. But many take things for granted.
The truth is many are never thankful to God for making them fortunate enough to live and relish the successes of life. The day breaks and they get into motion. Either trying to do some chores or just pretending to, everyone seems busy. Even then everything seems so usual and complete, in a way. Life moves at its regular pace for most people.
But deserts do exist beyond their green pastures. It’s just that they are overlooked by their moneyblinded eyes. A child, maybe a couple of years old, was wandering on the streets, walking bare feet and in rags. He mopped cars with a filthy piece of cloth but no one seems to notice him.
However, only a few could clearly see those countless dreams brewing in Salisu’s hopeful eyes, his innocent smiles complemented by an easy-going expression on his face. He literally captured many minds for a while. As some moved closer, they saw an innocent soul in search of a few coins, which meant the world to him. Many of these young children on the streets would protest unnecessarily to slide down the windows, their little fingers got stuck in the gaps, gasping to be released, but nobody bothered. What an irony of life. A single coin, which holds no value for many, meant a meal to them.
Their starving eyes got stuck at a fortunate kid, almost their age, gulping a beverage and munching chips in his father’s air-conditioned car. Probably, they want a taste of the same. But then who is going to buy them all these? That’s the fate they were born with. They died every moment! Caught in the vicious circle of poverty and misfortunes, their chances at a normal life were snatched away mercilessly. Hardship killed their every little desire. It was quite obvious that life was a struggle for them. Fighting every moment for their survival, they begged for money or food.
Disregarded as lifeless rascals by the fortunate ones, they were born in a ruined shack and nurtured by poverty. Their only sources of entertainment were the used or discarded toys. On a daily basis, people rush towards their respective ways, paying no attention to these little children on the streets.
Standing unfriendly under no shade, they waited for no one in particular. From nowhere, some kindhearted people slipped a few wads in their tiny hands. They said nothing and left with a cold blank stare. The nights are often penetratingly cold and without any form of shelter, the cold can make a night seem excruciatingly long. Sometime, they are three, huddled up on a piece of cardboard and cover themselves with a sack and a piece of plastic on top of their frail thin bodies. Any unfamiliar noise awakens them; the constant fear of attack, robbery or what might be worse: a threat of Sodomy alarmingly lurks at every night-fall!
The boys and girls live a seminomadic life, constantly haunted by thugs, watchmen and even the police; their entire existence consists of surviving through the starkest poverty, relentlessly forced to move from one place to the next, seeking shelter in abandoned buildings or empty half-roof shops in the market place during the cold nights. The tens would lie close together, keeping each other warm and comforted throughout the night. Before long, dawn breaks and their day begins.
Their clothes are damp and dirty, smothered with mud, ash and feces; the stench from each of them is enough to make one’s stomach churn! And they bath in ponds. After bathing, they often come away smelling even worse than before. Once they have bathed and washed their clothes they let the morning sun dry them off and lay for the wind to dry their clothes. The bath made them unsteady and they laugh and tell jokes, like any other boy or girl their age would do. A bath makes them feel “brand new” and for a moment they forget their horrific existence, with conditions that more resemble ones of animals, than of human beings. Finally hunger sets in and gets the best of them; they hurry to a nearby junction where the traffic-jams consistently bring the cars to a slow stop. The kids spread out and wander from car to car begging for money. Hardly anyone gives them any; most people despise them and call them names or hurriedly close their windows and lock their doors at the mere sight of them. “It was so much easier to earn money this way a few years ago” Salisu said.
”Now we are often forced to steal or starve or find scraps of food in the garbage dumps.” Noon approaches and the children have only managed to get a few naira between them. As they head back, they decide to hide the money somewhere, out of fear of being robbed by older “street-boys and girls” who, every day demand money in exchange for protection. “A few naira is enough to lose your life over, if you put up a fight” one of the young chaps told Saturday Telegraph. The signs of starvation are inherent; the children’s bodies are frail, sickly and malnourished and their eyes blank and distant. They throw themselves down on the floor and fall asleep. Most of them have stories so dark they delivered them to the hands of the streets. Stories they never want to revisit but which they forever are unable to forget.
The early evening is spent stalking the large garbage piles on the nearby dump; relentlessly searching for something to fill their aching bellies with. As the darkness of night approaches and the traffic slowly dies down, the boys light a fire to stay warm by sitting there, their voices, their unheard dreams; dreams of a good life, of going to school, getting a job and a home – and in their hearts, the silent untold dream of being loved. These summed the pathetic life of street children sewn in abject poverty. It is a major barrier to school enrolment and completion. Many have said that it is the greatest barrier to high-quality education. Even when primary school is technically free, additional charges for uniforms, textbooks, teacher salaries and school maintenance create financial barriers for many families.
Parents consistently say these indirect costs keep them from sending their children to school. In such instances, the kids may never get the opportunity to go to school like their mates, even though they would have loved to. But they are not alone in this seeming cross road. A mother, who declined to be identified, told this reporter a story of her 17-year-old son, who had never been to school because he is deaf and has never had the opportunity to learn sign language. The child was put on a waiting list for a special school when he was eight years old but at 12 he was rejected for being too old. For 17 years, Musa has been sitting at home unable to communicate with anyone aside from pointing, despite being perfectly intellectually capable of learning and contributing to society.
A lot of African countries have been working hard to improve children’s access to basic education, but there’s still a lot left to be done. 32.6 million children of primary-school age and 25.7 million adolescents are still not going to school in sub-Saharan Africa. But worse, at over 10.5 million, Nigeria has the highest number of children out of school in the world, recent reports said.
According to UNICEF, Nigeria’s population growth has put pressure on the country’s resources, public services and infrastructure. With children under the age of 15 accounting for 45 per cent of about 180 million population, the burden on education has become overwhelming. And while primary school enrolment has increased in recent years, net attendance is only about 70 per cent, which translates to Nigeria having over 10.5 million out-ofschool children. 60 per cent of those children are said to come from the northern part of Nigeria. The increased enrolment rates have also created challenges in ensuring quality education as resources are spread more thinly. It is not rare to see cases where there are 100 pupils for one teacher, or where students learn under trees or seat on bare floors because of lack of classrooms and chairs.
The Minister of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu, in January, claimed that the number of outof- school kids in Nigeria dropped from 10.5 million to 8.6 million in the last three years: “When President Muhammadu Buhari came into power in 2015, UNICEF said out-of-school children in Nigeria was about 10.5 million. “But I want to tell Nigerians that with the effort of this government, especially with the school feeding programme, it dropped from 10.5 million to 8.6 million as at last year.” While applauding the efforts of government in the feeding programme, many are not taking in by what Adamu said. Some have contested the assertion.
“That’s untrue. And we need to face the fact that the Nigerian education system has undoubtedly failed millions of children. In northeastern Nigeria, conflict has deprived many children of access to education. Teachers have been killed, and schools burned down or closed for security reasons,” one of the commentators, who craved anonymity, said.
Also, Save the Children Nigeria, a humanitarian organisation that promotes child rights, has said that more than six in 10 Nigerian children have no early childhood education. The organisation made this known in a campaign that focuses on reaching excluded children.
According to it, more children in the North than in the South face a daunting life, have no access to education and are more affected by poverty. “Sadly, Children deprived of basic primary education are largely located in the North with 15 states,” the group tweeted.
The statistics, according to the organisation, are worse for females. “Malnutrition is higher in the North than in the South and is far more among female children than males in Nigeria.” Recent reports by the UNICEF revealed a startling rise in child brides, occasioned by the incessant kidnaps of young girls by Boko Haram insurgents. The girls are often sexually abused and used as domestic slave, UNICEF had said. Save the Children Nigeria agrees with UNICEF as it said that early marriage is a serious issue and is more preponderant in the North. It said that Nigeria must end the practice of child marriage and the perpetuation of poverty through the practice, as early marriage shows how children are left behind in education as a result protection deprivation.
The organisation also asked the government to “fast-track the implementation of the Universal Basic Education Act with emphasis on education for girls”. But this issue is not limited to the North alone. For instance, the Anambra State Commissioner for Education, Professor Kate Omenugha, once said that the stereotype over the years in the East had been that the region is noted for the high rate of boy-child drop-out because of the commercial activities in cities like Onitsha and Nnewi. Surprisingly, she admitted, Anambra State has had its share of girl-child drop-out in the riverine areas were girls are married off at the age of 12 and less. The commissioner painted a gloomy picture of those riverine communities, which she said are mostly farmers and place little value to education.
She, however, said the state government is working assiduously to reverse the trend as several policies have been formulated to get the drop-outs enrolled in schools and provide lifelong skills that will equip the state to become one of the three top states with the lowest illiteracy rate. Another is shortage of classrooms. Largely rural and marginalised areas lack classrooms to accommodate those who are not in school. More classrooms will alleviate overcrowding, cut class sizes and reduce the long travel distances.
Children in rural areas sometimes trek two to three hours to attend school. Dilapidated classrooms also need refurbishing or upgrading to acceptable minimum standards for learning. There is also the need to fulfill the right to education in humanitarian crises. Many out-of school children live in conflict-affected areas. But in emergency situations, education can save and sustain lives.
A safe school environment can give children a sense of normalcy during a crisis. Schools can also aid in post-conflict reconstruction. Yet only two per cent of all humanitarian aid goes into education, according to reports. Gender discrimination is equally a big issue. Girls face a unique set of barriers to education, such as child marriage, early pregnancy, and expectations related to domestic labour, not to mention unsafe travel and a lack of sanitary facilities. Many in the North under-value girls’ education, with the result that fewer girls enroll and those who do, are more likely to drop out.
Some 34 million adolescent girls are out of school around the world, and women make up nearly two thirds (almost 500 million) of the world’s illiterate adults. The gender gap is said to have significantly narrowed in primary education but there has been limited progress at the secondary level. Child labour equally contributes handsomely to the nagging problem of education in Nigeria. Poverty and vulnerability are pushing far too many young children out of school and into the world of work. Some children remain in school, but are disadvantaged doubling up studies with work. For households living in poverty, children may be pulled out of school and into work in the face of external shocks such as rising costs, or a parent’s sickness or unemployment.
By leaving school to enter the labour market prematurely, children miss a chance to lift themselves, their families, and their communities out of a cycle of poverty. Sometimes these children are exposed to the worst forms of labour that is damaging to their physical, mental and emotional well-being. Nutrition has also been identified as one of the most important factors for brain development of babies in the womb, and children from birth until about five. Mothers, who eat food rich in proteins, certain fats, iodine, and others, tend to pass these on to their babies, either in the womb or via breast milk.
These nutrients aid the brain development of babies and set the stage for their cognitive ability, or their capacity to learn. The nutritional requirements for brain development persist until children are about five years.
At this point, the stage is set for life. Children who get to the age of five in “peak” condition are set to learn more and do more for the rest of their lives, compared to children who do not get there in “peak” condition. To put this differently, children who get proper nutrition from the womb until their early childhood are going to be smarter and learn better than children who don’t get proper nutrition. This stage is set even before the child walks into a primary school. What this means is, even before they get to primary school, even before they get to the hands of the poor-quality teachers, even before they get to the dilapidated structures, they are already at a disadvantage; a disadvantage that stays with them for life.
The problems unfortunately do not end there. They continue into primary school too. However, the head teacher of Army Children Special Primary School in Tofa Local Government Area, Hajia Harira Ahmed, confirmed to this reporter that the government’s free feeding programme had achieved far-reaching success. This development, she said, had brought huge relief and has improved enrollment in schools within Kano State.
“Nutrition is a major issue in the rural areas and because our pupils can now access free food in school, the attraction has kept increasing. The free school fee is also a major motivation for indigent pupils and we are trying our best to make representation to government on the need to provide more free books than we are having at the moment,” Ahmed said. Infrastructure has remained a major issue in schools in Nigeria, as pupils still take lessons squeezed in a few chairs and desks available. The recent visit to some schools scattered across the country revealed a lot; the major stain being the steady decline of the buildings. It is obvious most of them are living in the glory of their past. The decay, however, is most visible in the classrooms and lavatories.
The World Bank Group had warned that the education sector in Nigeria is in crisis and currently widening the social inclusion gaps in the country. The group said this in its World Development Report for 2018 titled “Learning to Realise Education’s Promise” which was presented in Abuja in March this year. It called, in its report, for greater action and coordination of the education sector to achieve the objectives of poverty reduction.
It said millions of young students in low and middle-income brackets face the prospect of lost opportunities and lower wages in the future because their primary and secondary schools were failing to educate them to succeed in life. It further warned of a ‘learning crises as it believes that not only to be a wasted development opportunity but also a great injustice to children and young people everywhere.
Without learning, it said, education would fail to deliver on its promise to eliminate extreme poverty and create shared opportunity and prosperity for all. The report observed that even after several years in school, millions of children could not read, write or do basic mathematics. This learning crisis, according to the report, is widening social gaps instead of narrowing them. It added that young students disadvantaged by poverty, conflict, gender or disability got to adulthood without even the most basic skills of life.
The schools, in the early days of Nigeria’s formation, were what one could wish for. But, not any more as many have degenerated and become eyesores. There is no longer any sign of their status as planned schools right from their entrances, particularly the primary and secondary schools.
Most of these school buildings have been bastardised over the years, while those wearing rainbow new looks have only paints applied without extensive repair work. Many of them lack access to water and sewage disposals. Roads leading to some of them are not easily accessible and are in terrible states of disrepair with heap of refuse that become worse whenever it rains. The once beautiful and attractive schools have today become environmental blights not only to people in their neighbourhood but also to the government, which built them. The schools are, indeed, becoming slums. Dirt, debris, acute shortage of basic amenities and infrastructural decay has crept in on the once vibrant institutions.
INSIDE STORY OF SOUTH AFRICA DRUG CARTELS
A growing drug epidemic appears to be silently taking over cities and towns in South Africa. The country seems to have become a key player in global drug distribution with many alleging that Nigerian dealers dominate the trade in recent times. ISIOMA MADIKE, in this report, looks at the booming drug cartel which, over time, has fueled the dangerous xenophobic attacks against other nationals
South Africa is gradually but steadily assuming the status of a xenophobic state, which is evil in the eyes of civilised world. The killings and destructions that are associated with it are unimaginable. Little wonder Nigerians are wailing with nationals of other countries agonising too.
However, the recent “madness”, which started on Tuesday, seemed to have united Nigerians, whom, on a normal day, enjoys touting ethnicity and religion to further crate a gorge among the populace.
Yet, some Nigerians do not see the need for the deluge of verbal retaliatory attacks on South Africa in this instance. Chinedum Agwaramgbo, one of such persons, alleged in his Facebook post, that Nigerians in that country actually engineered the hatred visited on them. He claimed that those living in South Africa deliberately and consistently contrive the drug war raging in that country and have “systematically destroyed the very fabric of the people, morally, culturally, economically and socially”.
He further alleged that Nigerians who immigrated to South Africa turned it to one of the major capital city of drugs in the world. The drug cartels, according to Agwaramgbo, began with the Yorubas and increasingly overtaken by the Igbos.
He said: “The Igbos in the drug business have effectively run the Yorubas out of S.A. to other southern African countries like Mozambique. The Nigerians have presently turned the country into a drug-war zone, killings galore with Igbos killing Igbos.
“Do you know that every day in S.A., a Nigerian, precisely an Igbo man, is killed in a drug-related case? I said every day not once a week or once in three days, every day. In fact the Igbo boys running the shows in S. A. have dominated areas they control and all these to the chagrin of the law enforcement agencies.
“Let me tell you a secret that is not so a secret. Do you know that every week at the Akanu Ibiam International Airport here in Enugu, corpses of Igbos slain in “drug battles” in different streets of S.A. are flown into the country? I have personally witnessed the receiving of seven corpses in three weeks in one instance.
“At one of those occasions (normally the corpses arrive on cargo flights of Ethiopian Airlines) I was present when three different families were in the manager’s office to receive their slain sons, two of those families were represented by the aged biological fathers to the dead boys. The third family represented by a younger man in age, an uncle to the third corpse. One of them asked the other elder, which city his son was in. He answered Jo’burg.
“Did the South Africans begin to hate us all of a sudden or they had always hated us all these while? Would you close your eyes to the evil we Nigerians have unleashed in South Africa simply because we saved them from apartheid era? So, because we assisted them that now gives us the gumption to destroy their society like we’ve persistently done ours?”
The post, as should be expected elicited stern reactions, with many pouring out their venoms on Agwaramgbo. To most people, drug issues are as old as the South African nationhood. It has always been a mushrooming trade in that part of the world.
The country, according to investigations, has been facing a growing epidemic with drugs said to have been quietly taking over major cities and small towns in the former apartheid enclave. This much was revealed at the policy briefing by Enact Project, a group, which comprises INTERPOL, in April, based on its research and on-the-ground interviews with drug users and dealers across South Africa.
“The drug route that crosses South Africa has created a regional heroin economy, with severe social and political repercussions. To a significant degree, heroin is a key commodity underpinning the criminal economy in South Africa and has facilitated the expansion of the criminal economy by pulling in new players as traffickers, dealers and users,” the group was quoted to have said.
Enact is a three-year project (2017-2019), which works to mitigate the impact of transnational organised crime on development, governance, security and the rule of law in Africa.
During the latter months of 2018, Enact conducted interviews with drug dealers, users, health professionals, outreach workers, law enforcement and gang members, to better understand the growing heroin epidemic in the country. It found that the trade in South Africa was far larger and more lucrative than previously thought – with the situation receiving “surprisingly little attention as a national issue”.
Names like nyaope, unga and sugars, are what those involved in the illicit trade call heroin. The dealers are said to maintain a low profile, and are largely non-violent so as not to draw attention. Cape Town, Nelson Mandela Bay, Johannesburg and Tshwane largely control heroin trade, which is sold widely even in villages from taxi parks, train stations, and other fixed spots. It outsells many other drugs, and rivals tik (crystal meth).
A mid-level dealer (in a large gang controlling a fixed dealing point), according to findings, can make up to 200 sales a day from about 50 customers. With “good quality” heroin, they can make between R3,000 and R4,000 a day. Enact though said research into heroin use in South Africa had been lacking, it nonetheless pointed out the difficulty in pining down the exact number of use in the country.
“In Cape Town, dealers in gang-controlled neighbourhoods say that patrol vans treat their selling points as ATMs – a place to visit for small injections of cash. They claim there is no set price for bribes paid to police, but R50 to R100 was an average bribe payment for a low-level police officer in a patrol van. Police officers are said to visit a few times a week,” the group had said.
In January, a R700 million consignment of uncut cocaine from Brazil en route to Singapore and India, which was seized by authorities at Coega harbour outside Port Elizabeth, prompted a call from one of South Africa’s top cops for communities to disempower drug lords.
“By confiscating this cargo, we have severed the supply chain,” Lieutenant-General Godfrey Lebeya, the national head of the Hawks, said of the massive bust.
The Hawks are South Africa’s Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (DPCI), which targets organised and economic crime, corruption, and other serious criminality. The consignment of 706 cocaine bricks, each weighing 1kg, was found concealed at the bottom of the ship – below more than 3,669 containers.
When the ship docked to offload some of its cargo, a team from multiple law enforcement units pounced. A drug bust at the Port of Ngqura on the outskirts of Port Elizabeth that afternoon netted over R700 million in cocaine. The discovery was made after almost two weeks of tracking the cargo as a result of a tip-off by Interpol.
“Since December 27, 2018, the vessel was observed with the assistance of Interpol from both local and abroad. It had already been established that the vessel was going to dock at Coega harbour and continue to Singapore before going to its final destination in India with the illegal cargo. The crime was not only committed in the country where the cargo was harvested and produced; it was also committed in Brazil, where the cargo was clandestinely loaded into the ship. The crime continued in high seas and in South African waters,” said the Hawks in a statement.
The bust, according to a local newspaper, Herald in Port Elizabeth, was the latest in a number of busts involving drugs loaded onto ships from Brazil and then sent through South African ports. Lebeya had urged communities to stop empowering drug syndicates.
While applauding the bust, he acknowledged: “The war on drugs has neither been lost nor won. We are still going to put more efforts in targeting the supply of these dangerous, dependence-producing substances. We will not be allowing these substances to go and ruin the lives of innocent people, who are being turned into drug addicts.
“We are making a call to all communities not to do drugs. Do not demand drugs. Do not apply for a criminal record by doing drugs. If you stop demanding drugs, cartels will not be producing or delivering them. The empires of the cartels will fall. Sever the demand chain. The power to stop this is in your hands.”
Before the January bust, two suspects had been arrested in June 2018, in Namibia after a container with 412kg of cocaine was seized. It is alleged that the container was dispatched from Brazil via Cape Town and then to its final destination in Walvis Bay. A month later, the Hawks found a state-of-the-art underground mandrax-manufacturing laboratory in Harding, KwaZulu-Natal. Police minister, Bheki Cele, who confirmed that, said the mandrax and lab equipment valued at nearly R250 million were also seized.
The January bust was similar to one that took place in 2010, when R400 million worth of cocaine was found sealed inside the frame of a shipping container. That operation also followed a tip-off from Interpol and saw the container seized at Coega, also known as the Port of Ngqura. In the 2010 bust, a Cuban was arrested at home in his Hyde Park, Johannesburg. But, charges against him were later withdrawn following numerous delays in the case.
There had equally been accusations of collusion with criminals by the police to transport drugs while on duty. Bribes taking and falsifying information also led to the arrest of five Vredenburg police officers. The five officials were apprehended after a protracted undercover operation by the Western Cape Anti-Corruption Investigating Unit with Crime Intelligence, South African Police Service (SAPS), said.
“The suspects‚ between the ages of 31 and 38‚ faced an array of charges ranging from unauthorised disclosure of information and fraud to dealing in drugs as well as corruption. The suspects are alleged to have committed illicit activities while deployed to perform court and crime prevention duties. By virtue of the arrests, the suspects‚ two sergeants and two constables are automatically suspended.”
However, there have been other nationals, especially from neighbouring South African countries as well as from Eastern Africa who converge on South Africa that have made her a key player in the global distribution of drugs, according to a multinational research report. The Mpumalanga coal-mining towns of eMalahleni and Middelburg are said to have been “decimated” by the trade, as they are a popular stop for truckers ferrying the deadly drug along the Mozambique ports to Johannesburg.
Children as young as eight in these towns are alleged to be peddling heroin in schools, with one rehab reporting that they have treated 48 children for heroin addiction over a few past years. The report by the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organised Crime (GIATOC) and Interpol said corrupt police and customs officials have allowed international drug traffickers to swarm into South Africa.
It names Gauteng’s City Deep container depot as a heroin smugglers’ haven, and claimed that 75,000 South Africans inject heroin daily, the highest number in Africa.
In spite of this, fingers have always been pointed to Nigeria as the arrow head of the drug cartels. According to a report by the Pretoria-based Institute for Security Studies, Nigerian dealers dominate the cocaine trade, which, it stated, had exploded in South Africa since the end of apartheid in 1994.
“Cocaine and crack cocaine were not commonly available in South Africa (prior to 1994). This market vacuum was filled when Nigerian nationals arrived in Johannesburg just as democracy was dawning,” it said.
The report was released at the time the African Union known then as Organisation of African Unity (OAU) held a conference in Ivory Coast on drug trafficking networks throughout Africa. “This conference is very significant for our country … desperate and unemployed South Africans are being lured by international syndicates with promises of easy money into becoming couriers,” said the then South Africa’s representative, Social Development Minister, Zola Skweyiya, before her departure.
According to the report, Nigerians settled next door to prostitutes, who were central to the demand for crack cocaine and its distribution. “Nigerian nationals had long been involved in the transnational trade in cocaine, heroin and addicted sex workers would rather smoke drugs with their clients than have sex with them, and so have a strong incentive to spread the drug,” it further said.
There are also unconfirmed reports that Nigerians camouflage with genuine businesses to conceal their illicit drug trade.
South Africa’s first arrest for crack cocaine in 1995 was a decade after the drug’s peak in the United States. But by 2001, some eight to 10 per cent of addicts admitted to treatment centres in South Africa were using cocaine, said researcher Andreas Pluddemann.
One reason for the Nigerian dealers’ success, the report said, is the fact that they do not consume their own drugs. In general, the Nigerians, it added, are not as violent as local dealers. The report’s editor, Ted Leggett, said that the Nigerian dealers organised themselves in residential hotels in Hillbrow, a seedy and dangerous inner-city neighbourhood of run-down apartment buildings in Johannesburg.
While this organisation could imply a syndicate structure, it is an organic network where the removal of a “top man” is futile, he said.
The report also advocated the decriminalisation of prostitution as “another way of removing power from the drug lords”. Findings revealed that emaciated prostitutes, trawling for their next fix, haunt the bars and corridors of these dingy hotels.
However, the incident of 2017 appears to have given credence to the allegation of drug cartels in South Africa. The fight for control of the lucrative South African market, more than 6,000 kilometres (3,700 miles) away came to St Philip’s Parish in Ozubulu, a village in the South-East Nigerian State of Anambra. Thirteen people were shot dead in an apparent reprisal attack between Nigerian drug barons operating in Johannesburg.
Piles of trash line the dirt road leading to Ozubulu, where an endless stream of people hawks everything from adulterated fuel to plastic flip-flops. But among the grinding poverty are huge villas with grand columns and intricate wrought iron gates – glaring anomalies in a region with epileptic power and disintegrating roads.
In August of that year, unknown gunmen interrupted the 6 a.m Sunday mass in the town, hoping to kill Aloysius Nnamdi Ikegwuonu, an alleged Johannesburg drugs kingpin known as “The Bishop”. He wasn’t there but his father and a one-year-old child were in the church and were among those gunned down. “What we had were gunshots, sporadic and reckless shootings,” said Jude Onwuaso, the parish priest.
Police had stated that about 11 people were killed in the church massacre with over 18 other worshippers wounded. But, there were conflicting reports over whether the attack was carried out by a lone gunman or a group of attackers. Although police said the shooting was the result of a feud between Nigerians from Ozubulu who were living abroad.
Anambra State Police Commissioner at the time, Garba Umar, had hinted that the violence could be linked to drug war. He said that the gunman had been hired to kill a local man who was believed to be in St Philip’s Catholic Church built by one of the Nigerian expatriates involved in the feud.
Pastor Linus Akpunonu, father of Chinedu Akpunonu (aka Obrocho), one of the alleged dramatis personae in the Ozubulu Church attack, had said God would have revealed to him if his son was involved in the criminal activity.
He had said: “I am ready for war… I see vision myself and I know that my son has no hand in the killing of innocent citizens at St. Philips Ozubulu. I want to challenge the Anambra State Government, the Ozubulu community and all those involved to invite, if they like, all the seers, to tell Nigerians what happened to the worshippers at St Phillips.”
Akpunonum, in an interview with one of our correspondents then had said that his son had nothing to do with the killing, rather with one Ginika from Mbaise in Imo State, who served him in South Africa. “They had problem in South Africa and all the members of Ozubulu Development Union in South Africa came home in 2014 with their minutes of meetings’ book and the matter was decided at Obi’s palace and Alloysius was told to leave my son alone.
“My son owns a supermarket in South Africa,” the pastor further said, adding, “They told us that one Ginika from Mbaise, who served Alloysius, had a problem with him and left him to join my son and that was also part of the problem they brought home because the boy sued him at the Ozubulu Development Union in South Africa. The boy later died mysteriously with other of his colleagues from the same Umuezekwe Village.”
Meanwhile, families of the dead, who were suspected to belong to drug gangs, licked their pains in solitude as many of them were said not to have approved the vocation their slain sons went into in foreign lands. Most people interviewed on the identity of the South Africa-based business tycoons by our correspondents declined comment while those who spoke did not want their names in print. One of them however, said they were not happy at the turn of events in Ozubulu.
The anonymous source had said: “These young men are evil. See the road leading to where one of them built his mansion. Does it look like the road to the house of somebody who is as rich?
“Many of them in South Africa have formed a drug cartel and that is the reason why they don’t last to enjoy their wealth. Theirs is drug money; evil money. It is sad that all we now do in this town is to burry young men who knew nothing more than drug. This is shameful and we are not happy about what is happening here. May God save us from evil people.”
There was an unconfirmed allegation that pointed to the burial of about three young Ozubulu sons, which sparked suspicion that “Bishop” may have been around to witness the burial. “The people that carried out the shooting and killing of innocent souls on that fateful day were rival drug groups. We heard they wanted to take revenge but missed their target. Instead of retreating, they decided to snuff life out of blameless individuals,” another source, who declined to give his name, had said.
Ozubulu had made headlines for drugs before then. In 2015, for instance, the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) had busted a meth lab allegedly belonging to Ikejiaku Sylvester Chukwunwendu, also known as “Blessed Benita”. He was charged with meth production and trafficking in the village.
“He’s one of the biggest kingpins we’ve got,” said state prosecutor, Lambert Nor, who claimed that some of Chukwunwendu’s couriers had been executed in China for drug trafficking. Security experts had their fear that as production increases, meth will find a domestic market like in South Africa, where “tik” — as it’s known on the street — has been described as an “epidemic” and is the most abused drug in the South African Western Cape Province.
But, while speaking on the current xenophobic crisis in South Africa, an unidentified Somali, who claimed to be the Chairman of a board in Somalia, said: “MTN is everywhere, ShopRite is everywhere, and MultiChoice. We are not attacking them, why are they now attacking us? Not all Nigerians are drug dealers, not all Mozambique are bad, not all Zimbabweans are cars hijackers but every day there is constant intimidation, interference and harassment of their business.”
Nigerians have also been reacting. For instance, former Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, advised the Federal Government to suspend diplomatic ties with South Africa. He condemned the incessant attacks on Nigerians and other African nationals in South Africa, describing it as “unAfrican, barbaric, and unparalleled acts of in gratitude”.
The former speaker of the parliament of Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) regretted that the government of South Africa had failed to wield the big stick to end the assaults.
And in what appears to be the government’s alignment with the populace, the presidency announced the pulling out of Nigeria from the ongoing World Economic Forum in Cape Town, South Africa. Before the government’s action, notable Nigerian entertainers, spearheaded by Tiwa Savage, have cancelled their engagements in that country to protest the attacks on fellow citizens.
MENINGITIS: The disease, the cure
Meningococcal meningitis, commonly referred to as cerebrospinal meningitis, is a serious infection of the meninges that affects the brain membrane. The country has been witnessing its outbreaks with the 2017 epidemic earmarked as one of the worst with high mortality. Recently the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA) alerted that about 26.7 million Nigerian children are at risk of contracting this disease. ISIOMA MADIKE, in this report, attempts to find out how this could be tamed from medical experts
- Kissing, sneezing or living in close contacts with a carrier facilitates its spread –Medical experts
A Consultant Public Health Physician, Bayo Onajole, has disclosed that meningococcal meningitis, a bacterial form of meningitis, is a serious infection of the meninges that affects the brain membrane. According to the professor of Community Medicine, it can cause severe brain damage even as it is fatal in 50 per cent of cases if untreated. Several different bacteria, he said, can cause meningitis. But, Neisseria meningitidis, he further said, is the one with the potential to cause large epidemics.
“There are 12 serogroups of Neisseria meningitidis that have been identified, six of which (A, B, C, W, X and Y) can cause epidemics. Geographic distribution and epidemic potential differ according to serogroup,” the Consultant Public Health Physician at the College of Medicine, Uni-versity of Lagos / Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), said. Onajole said that the bacteria are transmitted from person-to-person through droplets of respiratory or throat secretions from carriers.
He said: “Close and prolonged contact – such as kissing, sneezing or coughing on someone, or living in close quarters (such as a dormitory, sharing eating or drinking utensils) with an infected person (a carrier) – facilitates the spread of the disease.
“The average incubation period is four days, but can range between two and 10 days. Neisseria meningitidis only infects humans; there is no animal reservoir. The bacteria can be carried in the throat and sometimes, for reasons not fully understood, can overwhelm the body’s defenses allowing infection to spread through the bloodstream to the brain.
“It is believed that 10 per cent to 20 per cent of the population carries Neisseria meningitidis in their throat at any given time. However, the carriage rate may be higher in epidemic situations.” Waheed Abayomi, another medical doctor and managing director of Crest Hospital, Egan-Igando, while agreeing with Onajole, said that the most common symptoms are a stiff neck, high fever, sensitivity to light, confusion, headaches and vomiting.
He said: “Even when the disease is diagnosed early and adequate treatment is started, five to 10 per cent of patients die, typically within 24 to 48 hours after the onset of symptoms. Bacterial meningitis may result in brain damage, hearing loss or a learning disability in 10 to 20 per cent of survivors.
“A less common but even more severe (often fatal) form of meningococcal disease is meningococcal septicaemia, which is characterised by a haemorrhagic rash and rapid circulatory collapse.” According to the doctor, initial diagnosis of meningococcal meningitis can be made by clinical examination followed by a lumbar puncture, showing a purulent spinal fluid. The bacteria, he said, can sometimes be seen in microscopic examinations of the spinal fluid.
“The diagnosis is supported or confirmed by growing the bacteria from specimens of spinal fluid or blood, by agglutination tests or by polymerase chain reaction (PCR). The identification of the serogroups and susceptibility testing to antibiotics are important to define control measures,” Abayomi said. For Onajole, meningococcal disease is potentially fatal and should always be viewed as a medical emergency. Admission to a hospital or health centre, he said, is necessary, although isolation of the patient, according to him, is not essential.
“Appropriate antibiotic treatment must be started as soon as possible, ideally after the lumbar puncture has been carried out, if such a puncture can be performed immediately. If treatment is started prior to the lumbar puncture it may be difficult to grow the bacteria from the spinal fluid and confirm the diagnosis.
“A range of antibiotics can treat the infection, including penicillin, ampicillin, chloramphenicol and ceftriaxone. Under epidemic conditions in Africa in areas with limited health infrastructure and resources, ceftriaxone is the drug of choice,” he said.
To prevent the disease, according to the consultant, three types of vaccines available. He however, said that polysaccharide vaccines have been available to prevent the disease for over 30 years. “Meningococcal polysaccharide vaccines are available in either bivalent (groups A and C), trivalent (groups A, C and W), or tetravalent (groups A, C, Y and W) forms to control the disease. “For group B, polysaccharide vaccines cannot be developed, due to antigenic mimicry with polysaccharide in human neurologic tissues.
The first vaccine against NmB, made from a combination of four protein components, was released in 2014. “Since 1999, meningococcal conjugate vaccines against group C have been available and widely used. Tetravalent A, C, Y and W conjugate vaccines have also been licensed since 2005 for use in children and adults in some countries like Canada, the United States of America, and Europe,” he further said. Abayomi however, said that Cerebrospinal Meningitis (CSM) is a disease characterised by inflammation of the meninges (protective membrane covering the brain and the spinal cord).
He said it can be caused by a variety of microbial pathogens including viral and bacterial organisms, noting that the main etiological agents in bacterial meningitis are Neisseria meningitidis, Streptococcus pneumoniae and Haemophilus Influenzae. Just like Onajole, Abayomi agreed that Neisseria meningitidis (Meningococcus) is a leading cause of bacterial meningitis. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), Meningococcal meningitis occurs in small clusters throughout the world with seasonal variation, and accounts for a variable proportion of epidemic bacterial meningitis.
The largest burden of meningococcal disease, the world health body said, occurs in an area of sub-Saharan Africa known as the meningitis belt, which stretches from Senegal in the west to Ethiopia in the east. WHO further said that during the dry season between December to June, dust winds, cold nights and upper respiratory tract infections combine to damage the nasopharyngeal mucosa, increasing the risk of meningococcal disease. At the same time, transmission of Neisseria meningitidis, it also said, may be facilitated by overcrowded housing and by large population displacements at the regional level due to pilgrimages and traditional markets. WHO said: “This combination of factors explains the large epidemics which occur during the dry season in the meningitis belt. Following the successful roll-out of the MenA conjugate vaccine, epidemics due to Neisseria meningitidis serogroup A are disappearing, but other meningococcal serogroups such as NmW, NmX and NmC still cause epidemics albeit at a lower frequency and smaller size.”
The experts are in agreement with WHO when they noted that Meningococcal meningitis occurs in small clusters but stated that the outbreaks can occur in any part of the world, the largest of these usually occur mainly in the semi-arid areas of sub-Saharan Africa, designated the ‘African meningitis belt’.
Nigeria, according to them, is one of the countries situated within the meningitis belt with almost entire northern sphere of the country embedded in the belt geographically. This, they said, might be the reason the country has been witnessing outbreaks of meningitis, with the 2017 outbreak earmarked as one of the worst with high mortality.
Several guideline documents exist globally, which address specific compoinnents of meningitis response but there is none that is specific to the Nigerian context, leading to response efforts being uncoordinated and unstructured.
The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) which is a parastatal of the Federal Ministry of Health (FMoH) has the responsibility of protecting the health of Nigerians through prevention, detection, and control of communicable and non-communicable diseases. Consequently, the NCDC developed a document as a “National Preparedness and Response Guideline for Cerebrospinal Meningitis Outbreak” in response to the growing need by stakeholders to streamline coordination efforts to prevent and respond to outbreaks of meningitis in Nigeria.
The purpose of the practical guideline was to provide guidance on the prevention, detection and response to cerebrospinal meningitis outbreaks in Nigeria through specific measures. These include prevention, early detection of suspected cases and prompt reporting of these cases from health facilities to higher levels, activation of response coordination structures at national and sub-national levels during outbreaks. It is equally saddled with the responsibility to strengthening surveillance and laboratory confirmation data at all levels and use of such information for immediate public health control response.
The document is the first of its kind in Nigeria that integrates all aspects of control such as Prevention, Surveillance, and Laboratory diagnosis. Others are Case Management, Risk Communication with Social Mobilisation, Vaccines/Logistics and Incident ForewordF8 Management Coordination for meningitis outbreaks with sample details of some useful practical annexes. Compliance with this guideline will improve the country’s response capacity in any subsequent outbreak of meningitis in Nigeria. Little wonder, the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA), a few weeks ago alerted the nation that about 26.7 million Nigerian children between ages one to seven years are at risk of contracting meningitis.
The Executive Director, NPHCDA, Dr Faisal Shuaib, revealed this recently in Calabar, according to the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN),in a message during the introduction of “Men A” vaccine into routine immunisation in Cross River. In the signed message, made available to journalists at the occasion, Shuaib said that Nigeria had 25 states and the FCT that fell within the meningitis belt. He said that the use of vaccines was the only way to prevent meningitis for now. Shuaib said: “The introduction of “MenA” vaccine into the EPI schedule will provide protection against Neisseria Meningitis Serotype A.” In his speech, Professor Ivara Esu, Deputy Governor of Cross River, said the state had trained hundreds of health workers to ensure the success of the exercise.
Esu said that since Cross River was among the 25 states that fell within the belt, the government would do everything possible to ensure that every eligible child was immunised. “Immunisation remains the protection against meningitis. Meningitis is a devastating disease that affects children. We will ensure that every eligible child in the state is immunised,” he said, while urging the women to take their children within 15 months of birth to the nearest government health facility for immunisation.
He expressed appreciation to all the partners in the fight against meningitis, including the WHO, United Nation’s Children Education Fund and the NPHCDA. Also, Rilwan Raji, the State Coordinator of WHO in Cross River, appealed to the state government to ensure the vaccines were well protected. Raji said there was a need for periodic review of routine immunisation in the state. He appealed to traditional rulers, religious and opinion leaders to sensitise their subjects and followers on the need to take advantage of the exercise to immunize their children. NPHCDA however, had earlier introduced meningitis vaccine into the national routine immunisation schedule to tackle this menace, according to reports. With the support of development partners, the Agency in August, 2019, introduced the meningitis A (MenA) vaccine into Nigeria’s routine immunisation (RI) programme.
The introduction of MenA vaccine into the RI schedule was effective nationwide as it provided protection against Neisseria meningitidis Serotype A, the microorganism responsible for meningitis A. This update was obtained from a thread of tweets from NPHCDA’s official twitter account @NphcdaNG. The MenA vaccine was administered free of charge as a single dose injection to children nine months of age, alongside measles and yellow fever vaccines. NPHCDA assured the public of the safety, potency and efficacy of the MenA vaccine and all other vaccines administered under national RI schedule.
WHO is said to be providing supportive guidance to intensify routine immunisation (RI) strategies in lowperforming Local Government Areas in selected priority states in Nigeria. One of such supportive guidance is the engagements with local government area teams during the Optimised Integrated Routine Immunisation Sessions (OIRIS). During these engagements, the local government area teams were taken through problem solving tools to identify root causes and develop strategies to resolving the problems.
In addition, there were face-to-face sessions where the local government area teams were able to share sensitive details about barriers to implementation of their plans for which national interventions are required. The Routine Immunisation Lots Quality Assurance Sampling (RILQAS), which started in the fourth quarter of 2017, has also been adopted by the country to assess the quality of RI service at the local government level. Meningitis is an inflammation of the membranes (meninges) surrounding the brain and spinal cord.
The swelling from meningitis typically triggers symptoms such sudden high fever, stiff neck, severe headache that seems different than normal, headache with nausea or vomiting, confusion or difficulty concentrating, seizures, sleepiness or difficulty waking, sensitivity to light, no appetite or thirst, skin rash (sometimes, such as in meningococcal meningitis). For the newborns and infants, the signs are high fever, constant crying, excessive sleepiness or irritability, inactivity or sluggishness, poor feeding, a bulge in the soft spot on top of a baby’s head (fontanel) and stiffness in a baby’s body and neck. However, early meningitis symptoms may mimic the flu (influenza) and may develop over several hours or over a few days and the infectious agent is virus while risk factors are alcoholism, diabetes, and Human Immuno Virus and Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (HIV/AIDS).
Most cases of meningitis are caused by a viral infection, but bacterial, parasitic and fungal infections are other causes. Some cases of meningitis improve without treatment in a few weeks while others can be life-threatening and require emergency antibiotic treatment. Suspected persons with these sign are advised to see a doctor and seek immediate medical care.
Initial diagnosis of meningococcal meningitis can be made by clinical examination followed by a lumbar puncture showing a purulent spinal fluid. The bacteria can sometimes be seen in microscopic examinations of the spinal fluid. The diagnosis is supported or confirmed by growing the bacteria from specimens of spinal fluid or blood, by agglutination tests or by polymerase chain reaction (PCR). The identification of the serogroups and susceptibility testing to antibiotics are important to define control measures.
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