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Detained, abandoned, languishing for debt (1)

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Detained, abandoned, languishing for debt (1)

In Ebonyi State, hospitals have resorted to detaining patients for their inability to clear bills. Twins, triplets, quadruplets’ mothers and other patients are presently languishing at Awaiting Bill Settlement (ABS) detention camps of the hospitals with pathetic conditions, reports UCHENNA INYA

 

Fourteen years ago, Mrs. Martina Nwofoke of Ogbala Ishieke in Ebonyi Local Government Area of Ebonyi State gave birth to sextuplets in her first pregnancy, four males and two females. All of them are alive.
On May 18, 2019, she gave birth to quadruplets; two males and two females bringing the total number of her children to 10 from two pregnancies. Nwofoke gave birth to the quadruplets at home.
She started bleeding after the delivery and was immediately rushed to the Federal Teaching Hospital Abakaliki (FETHA 1) where she was treated, discharged but could not pay the hospital bills.
She was transferred from her hospital bed to the ABS unit where she slept on bare floor with her quadruplets and other mothers who were in her similar situation.
The conditions of the detainees in the ABS camp have continued to generate public outcry and the State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA) had to donate a few mattresses and mosquito insecticide treated nets to them. Some of the detainees who couldn’t get the mattresses are still sleeping on bare floor.
Nwofoke was among the over 30 women dumped in the ABS camp. Life in the camp is extremely difficult. It is a very dirty environment and the detainees are packed like iced fish in a large hall and small rooms that are inside a building housing the camp. There is no electricity, no kitchen to prepare edibles. In the night, mosquitoes feast on the mothers and their babies.
Nwofoke said an odour emanating from a decomposing body, made them uncomfortable until it was evacuated.
The hospital gave the woman a bill of N200,000 for the medical treatment but she not could clear the bill as her husband paid only N80,000, leaving a debt of N120,000. The hospital had to take her to ABS, a camp where those who can’t afford their hospital bills after treatment and discharged are dumped, pending when they pay up.
Nwofoke said: “We are suffering a lot in this ABS; no food to eat, no assistance, no good amenities to make life better. As you can see, this environment exposes our babies to health problems because it is not conducive. We experience a lot of heat, mosquitoes bite and other things we are passing through here. Our babies no longer sleep in the night because of mosquitos. It was just a few days ago that a dead body here whose odour was disturbing was evacuated.”
The woman explained that she was in the ABS as her husband, a farmer, had tried all he could to clear the hospital bill and called for assistance from all quarters to enable her go home.
She added: “I have given birth to six children before; four girls and two boys before I gave birth to these quadruplets, two boys and two girls.
“The hospital management gave us high bill to clear –N200,000 and my husband has paid N80,000. We can’t afford the remaining N120,000 and that is why we were brought to this unit of the hospital by the management. I am not comfortable here and that is why I want to go home but money is not coming to clear the bills so that we can go home.
“I am a farmer and my husband is also a farmer; we have no money to clear the hospital bill. We don’t know when we will get money; we are therefore calling for assistance from all quarters; government, public-spirited individuals, Non-Governmental organisations (NGOs), corporate bodies to come to our aid. Life is very difficult in this ABS unit; we are no longer being taken care of because they said they have finished with us, that we have to clear our bills and go home. We were sleeping on bare floor until when government brought some mattresses and mosquito treated nets.”
Shortly after Nwofoke spoke with our correspondent and the public outcry, she and her children were freed by the Chief Medical Director (CMD) of FETHA 1, Dr. Emeka Onwe Ogah.
But while she was still in the hospital, behind Nwofoke was Mrs. Patience Ogonnaya from Amanator Umueze, Onicha Igboeze in Onicha Local Government Area of the state.
She did not also give birth in FETHA but in another hospital in the state. She was referred to FETHA 1 for proper medical attention. She gave birth to twins – girls – on May 24, 2019 through caesarean section.
Ogonnaya was sent to the ABS for inability to clear her hospital bill amounting to N102,210. She was billed the amount for her twins while her own bill is N40,000 which she has cleared remaining that of her twins.
She said: “I was brought to this ABS because of the debt I owe to the hospital; it is N102,210. This amount is for my twins while I have cleared my own bill. I paid over N40,000 for my own. I gave birth in a different hospital and was brought to this hospital because I was having issues after delivery, so I was rushed to this hospital where I was treated. I gave birth to a single child before these twins. I want help to enable me to go home.”
Susana Igwe, a native of Onunweke Isioffia in Ezza North Local Government Area of the state also gave birth to twins at seven months. She was bleeding seriously at Mile 4 Hospital, Abakaliki, where she was delivered of the babies. The bleeding persisted and she was referred to FETHA where her twins were put in an incubator for some weeks where they stayed and matured.
The hospital gave her two bills; one for the twins and the other for her own. The twins’ bill of N68,750 has not been cleared while her own has been cleared. She was remanded in the ABS. her husband is dead; he died before she was delivered of the babies.

The mother of six said life had not been easy for her as she depended on donations from public-spirited individuals to feed.
She said: “No one cares about me here. I find it difficult to feed. I am seeking assistance from everywhere so that I can go home. My husband is no more alive. I am the one carrying every responsibility in my family; no one is feeding my children. I took them to my father and I don’t have any money with me to continue feeding them. I am still in ABS because I have not cleared the bill the hospital gave me.”
On her part, Mrs. Onyinyechi Nweke, a native of Agubia in Ikwo Local Government Area of the state who also gave birth to twins at seven months – two females – said the hospital gave her a bill of N95,000 out of which she had paid N20,000. She was taken to ABS for her inability to complete the payment.
She said her husband, a motorcycle operator, had been hustling to clear the bill and has not succeeded. Nweke called on government, corporate bodies and public-spirited individuals to come to her aid.
About 16 women from Ezza North/Ishielu federal constituency in the state were remanded in the ABS by the hospital management for their inability to pay their bills.
Succour, however, came their way when their representative in the National Assembly, Hon. Anayo Edwin Nwonu, cleared their bills amounting to over N1.5 million.
The women and their bills are Mrs. Peace Chukwuma (N98,520), Mrs. Chinyere Aleke (N150,000), Mrs. Princess Nwosu (N170,380), Mrs. Salome Orji (N58,040), Mrs. Rachel Ugochukwu (N156,730), Mrs. Onyekachi Onyeazi (N107,490), Mrs. Nneka Uche (N95,91), Mrs. Udochukwu Eze (N119,280), Mrs. Annastecia Okwor (N135,040) and Mrs. Chineme Izzi (N168,660).
Others are Mrs. Miracle Elom (N26,650), Mrs. Maria Ogodo (N90,590), Mrs. Grace Nweke (N64,370), Mrs. Ugochukwu Igwe (N97,905) and Mrs. Ugoeze Adaeze (N43,690). The money was N1.583 million.
One of them, Aleke, from Okposi Umuoghara in Ezza North Local Government Area, said they resorted to prayers as their condition in the hospital was getting worse.
She said: “The hospital management chased us out of the hospital beds and took us to where they call ABS where we are staying without light and other amenities because of our inability to pay our hospital bills. We sleep there on bare floor with our belongings.
“We stayed in the ABS for months and we decided to examine our condition and discovered that it is getting worse. We then went into serious prayer asking God to come to our rescue.
“I led the prayer session and I told them that it is not only our governor and Rev. Fr. Abraham Nwali, Senior Special Adviser (SSA), to the governor on Religion and Welfare, that we have who always assist the needy, that we have some other public-spirited individuals that can assist us and we must pray God to touch their hearts to come and rescue us.
“About 4p.m. on that day, Hon. Anayo Edwin Nwonu sent his brother and one of his aides to come and ascertain patients from Ezza North/Ishielu federal constituency. They compiled our names and left.
“Today, he has visited us himself to clear our bills and we are grateful to him and pray God to replenish him. I have stayed in this hospital for two months and my bill is N150,000.”
On her part, Nwosu, who hails from Ikwuato Idembia in Ezza South Local Government Area, said they had been discharged by the hospital management but they could not afford the hospital bills.
She said: “We were removed from our hospital beds because we cannot pay the bills and the hospital management said we must pay the bills before they will release us.
“We sleep on bare floors and we are not properly taken care of after we were taken out of post-natal ward to the ABS ward. We have suffered in the hospital.”
The CMD , Ogah, who addressed the women during the payment of their bills by Nwonu, said “it pains a woman to come out of labour having the child and sleeping outside the comfort of her home”.
He said: “The best is what we do for the patients. Rather than sending them home because they don’t have money, we give them treatment to save their lives first. It is when they are alive that we talk of who will come and pay but if you push them out to go and die because they don’t have money for treatment, I think it is the greatest undoing, it is heartless and that is what we try not to encourage.
“We have not lost somebody because such a person does not have money.
“After treating them, some of them run away which is not good. But we don’t stop, we give them treatment.
“In 2017, victims of gas explosion from Ogoja were brought here for treatment and none of them came with one naira but we managed to treat them. At the end, they had a total bill of close to N20 million and up till today, that bill has not been paid. We are lucky that up to five of them survived and you know what it means for a burnt patient to survive, especially gas burns. We are employed to save lives, not to kill. So, people should come and clear the bills of these indigent patients so that they can go home.”
On her part, the Head of Department (HOD), Medical Social Work of the hospital, Dr. Felicia Otu, said the hospital management took proper care of all patients.
Otu explained that some patients were taken to the ABS ward to avoid occupying spaces of patients whose cases were very critical.
She said: “We see these women as their own cases settled and we see the ones in emergency – the ones we call the ‘unbooked’ from the rural villages who do not go to the hospitals but to the Traditional Birth Attendants (TBAs). When their cases are critical, that is the time they are rushed to the hospital and you cannot tell such people to be on the floor. Thank God we have a place we can say okay these ones that have been resuscitated, you have to be here.”
In Mile 4 Hospital, Abakaliki, some mothers were also waiting for their bills to be settled to enable them to unite with their families.
One of them, Eze Grace Ogala of Okpshi Ngbo in Ohaukwu Local Government Area who was delivered of twins, said she had been in pains since the delivery because of her inability to meet the financial requirements by the hospital for drugs which supposed to stop the pains and make her strong.
The 39-year-old women, who had two children before the twins, said she was a farmer.
She said: “I gave birth to two children before these twins. One of the twins has eye problem. Since I gave birth to the twins, I have not been taking drugs. I don’t have money to buy drugs prescribed for me and I have been having pains in my stomach since I gave birth. I want assistance to enable me to buy the drugs and pay my hospital bills. I want to go home.”
Another woman, Mrs. Franca Ogechi Achulike, said she was delivered of a baby through caesarean section.
She said: “I gave birth to twins – a boy and a girl. It has not been easy for me since I put to bed because you will buy this one, they will demand this one, they will request this one, and all these things involve money. So, it has not been easy at all. I feed them through breastfeeding and artificial milk. One of them, the baby girl, is not feeling fine. But I feel so happy to have these babies, they are blessings from God.
“I am still in the hospital because of the bill they gave us, which is not affordable. The bill is over N120,000 and I don’t know the amount they will charge for the baby girl of the twins who is not feeling fine. I want the governor and other public spirited-individuals to come to our aid.
“We have been running around to get money but we have not succeeded. My husband is not doing anything, he is just working in rice mill and he has been running around to see if he can raise the money but he is not succeeding, nobody agrees to give him money. I finished at Akanu Ibiam Federal Polytechnic, Unwanna. I have not got any job. I have ND there.”
On her part, Mrs. Ngozi Una, said she ran to the hospital to save her life.
She said: “I gave birth to two children before these twins. I am still in the hospital because I have not paid my hospital bills. I am suffering, I am not being taken care of and I want to go home. But the hospital management is insisting I must pay the bills before going. I am stranded here and I don’t know what to do.”
One of the nurses in the hospital, Patience Njoku, who is in charge of post-natal ward, admitted that some of the women were still undergoing pains after delivery because of their inability to procure drugs that would stop the pains, owing to lack of money.
She disclosed that eight of the women, who supposed to have gone home, were still in the hospital because of their inability to pay the hospital bills.
Njoku called on government at all levels, NGOs and public-spirited individuals to come to their aid.
She said: “Actually, some of the women are complaining of pains because they are unable to procure their drugs. We have done what we can and we have been given them drugs for sometimes. There are some drugs they supposed to be on but they didn’t buy it and that is why they are still having pains till now after the delivery.
“Most of the women cannot pay for their drugs and once you didn’t pay for your drugs especially within 48 hours of operation, you will keep on having the pains. But if you get your drugs, the way you supposed, within 72 hours, you see the woman being stronger.
“Most women, when they are being operated on, they may not procure their drugs due to financial constraints and some of them, their husbands will leave them, abandon them and go.
“We have up to eight of them who are unable to pay for their drugs and hospital bills and they are under Awaiting Bill Settlements (ABS). In these postnatal wards 1 and 2, we have two women unable to pay their bills making a total number of them to 10. We always try our best possible to make sure they are healthy and give them the drugs that we have around. We always wait for NGOs to come and offset their bills, sometime government officials do come.”
Meanwhile, an NGO, Twins and Multiple Births Care Initiative, has called for establishment of trust fund for twins and multiple births to reduce their suffering.
The group’s Secretary, Comrade Godwin Ezaka, told our correspondent that a combination of advocacy and direct interventions would tackle the phenomenon to a standstill.
Ezaka explained that the group had begun collection of signatures for submission of a petition to the state House of Assembly for a bill seeking establishment of trust fund for families of twins and multiple births in the country.
He said: “We have begun collecting signatures for the process of submitting a petition to the Ebonyi State House of Assembly for a bill, which when passed into law, will be known as Twins and Multiple Births Care Act. This bill is seeking for the establishment of a trust fund for families of twins and multiple births in Ebonyi State, nay Nigeria.
“When passed into law, it will help alleviate the suffering of parents and families blessed with twins and births. The family remains the bedrock of the society.
“We are out to ameliorate the human condition of twins and multiple births through the provision of financial support to enhance their daily upkeep. Your intervention for multiple births and their parents/families apart from cash and medical assistance is a panacea.
“It should be complemented with a forum for public awareness on multiple births, nutrition, health and child care.
“A trust fund for twins and multiple births will reduce the suffering of these folks. A combination of advocacy and direct interventions will tackle this phenomenon to a standstill. Social empowerment programme will safeguard the individual destiny of unborn generations.
“Let us collectively rewrite the sad stories of unprotected and homeless twins and multiples into success stories of living in abundance/freedom.
“We can recreate in them the happiness of life with compassion, humanitarian love and unparalled generosity for the less-privileged and the needy in our society. On the part of Twins and Multiple Births Care Foundation, we will continue to raise public awareness of the unique challenges that come with twins and multiple births.”
The state Coordinator of Legal Aid Council, Okwuegbu Egenti, told our correspondent that the Council would enforce the right of any patient whose right to free movement was restricted.
Egenti, however, called on government, corporate bodies, NGOs and public-spirited individuals to intervene in conditions of indigent patients by assisting them.
He said: “The Council can only come in when their rights are being infringed upon. Like in the issue you just presented, it is mainly financial but on the issue of restraining them that they can’t move out, that will amount to enforcement of their fundamental human rights on their right to free movement.
“When we enforce that right, the hospital will raise issue and say that it is because they are owing them and that is why they are detaining them but it amounts to unlawful detention if you say this type of person shouldn’t move out because he is still owing some money. On the other way round, the NGOs, government, individuals and general public should intervene in assisting the general patients.”

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Insight

Deformed at birth, raped by pastor, abandoned by society

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Deformed at birth, raped by pastor, abandoned by society

…the moving story of Kemi Osaigbakhome

 

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MOTHER

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

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

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

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

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

IN-LAW

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

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

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

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

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Kambari: Left by modernism, held by mores

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Kambari: Left by modernism, held by mores

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Budget: Doing little to lift education (2)

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Budget: Doing little to lift education (2)

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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Budget: Doing little to lift education (1)

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Budget: Doing little to lift education  (1)

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Doctors’ brain drain draining Nigeria’s health sector

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Doctors’ brain drain draining Nigeria’s health sector

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Intra-brain drain

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

Reasons for exodus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Consequences of brain drain on Nigeria

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

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

Exploring solutions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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From Olympics Games spotlight to Agbero: The touching story of para-sports athletes

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From Olympics Games spotlight to Agbero: The touching story of para-sports athletes

In this piece, LUKMAN OLOGUNRO chronicles the challenges of some Nigerian special athletes who have to go as far as damaging their reputation to meet their needs

 

 

It was a wet Monday morning in Lagos following a light shower, the atmosphere was peaceful. The maddening traffic synonymous with the metropolis was amiss but as you alight from the Bus Rapid Transport (BRT), the state’s transport system, at the popular Stadium bus stop in Surulere, you burst into a crowd; two men have just been separated from a fisticuff.

It involved a full-grown man in his forties and the other, who is relatively younger and should be in his mid-thirties. The latter is physically-challenged and was on crutches. As a result of their fight, both sustained minor wounds, but it was the former who presented a pitiable sight as blood was gushing from his nose. He has been hit with the crutch by another disabled athlete who defended his colleague.

Expletives kept flying as passers-by-turned peacemakers try to put an end to the early morning brouhaha. Onlookers, some of whom were divided in their opinion as to why the able-bodied man, who was driving a commercial bus, could not restrain himself knowing that his rival would always draw sympathy from the neutrals, faulted him for attacking a vulnerable person.

A few of the onlookers, who claimed to witness the genesis of the skirmish, faulted the disabled man for his aggressiveness.

Peace was eventually restored after some riot policemen stationed at the entrance gate of the National Stadium, who surprisingly had gone on a ‘break,’ stepped in to end the melee which lasted about 20 minutes.

Just about the time that peace returned, one of the top executives of the transport union, having got a call came in on a tricycle.

“What they cannot try in Ojuelegba, they will be rubbing it on us here,” he yelled as he moved towards the armoured tank to thank the officers for their intervention.

Ojuelegba, in the heart of Surulere, is as popular in Lagos and as the Legendary Afrobeat Star, late Fela Anikulapo-Kuti and the hip-hop sensation, Whizkid, had in their songs.

The executive, also physically-challenged, had just been briefed by a few of the scores of the disabled victim and fuming with rage, he painted a picture that the fight would have been much fierce had he been around, stated that the man involved was to pay twice as much as what he was supposed to pay had he made a U-turn at Ojuelegba but he opted to come and turn at Stadium under bridge.

“We are in total control of this place and even some of the disabled transporters comply by paying for turning, discharge and loading passengers here or making u turn.

“It is what is obtainable all over the state and nobody can intimidate us here at this Stadium bus stop,” he added with emphasis.

The effect of the fight saw traffic building up for motorists who were coming from the Island who now avoided passing through the Stadium gate but drove through the fly over.

Taking a closer look, some of the physically-challenged men and women lurking around under the bridge were putting on track suits of Team Nigeria and one of them was making jest of the injured man.

“We have competed against other nationalities at international events and we showed them that we are made of steel because the kind of challenges that a disabled person faces in Lagos is not what their counterparts face abroad,” he said jokingly.

Luckily, Wasiu Yusuf, a top Nigerian wheelchair tennis player, was among the few familiar faces among the physically-challenged men and women.

“This country always treats us like thrash; most people just feel they can ride us because of our condition but it’s not their fault. We had options of changing nationalities but we didn’t take the chance,” Yusuf said as he lamented that the tough living condition forced some of them to go into transport business cum transport unionism popularly known as “agbero”.

Yusuf was a former African champion and had represented Nigeria at the 2012 Olympics in London, the United Kingdom and the 2016 version in Rio, Brazil.

Yusuf, who plays wheelchair table-tennis and wheelchair basketball, lamented the plight of disabled sportsmen, saying that joining the transport union was like adopting the cliché: “If you can’t beat them, you join them.”

“I never thought I can be involved in this (agbero) because I’m well exposed. As a national athlete, I have travelled to Europe, Asia and to about eight countries in Africa. I have a tricycle but it is not enough to sustain my family.

“Some of the money I made though the tricycle is what I used to train myself at least four days in a week but it’s like wasting of money because there are no tournaments to complement our commitment to the sport we are into.

“I have a wife and kids who are going to school. Most of us are the breadwinners of our families. Our families rely on us to survive.

“In order to have more time to train, I gave out my tricycle for someone to work and deliver to me weekly while I get more money from being among the union.

“One thing that most of you seem not to know is that, because of our condition, we need more money to survive than a normal person. But since we don’t want to be a burden on anyone, we decided to take our destiny into our hands and that is why we are into unionism, despite the dangers that are associated with it,” Yusuf said.

Asked if he was not ashamed to be associated with transport union, whose members are viewed as rascals by the society, he replied; “what could bring about shame in me being a union member? If I have got the kind of treatment that is desirable having defended the country’s pride at international events, I would have loved to face sports squarely but there is little or no hope that we can survive through participation in sports only. Some of us are artisans like tailors, welders, painters, etc, but there is no one to help. We can’t live by relying on others’ assistance.

Yusuf’s lamentation was echoed by Lateef Shodipo, one of the top executives of the transport union at the Stadium unit.

Shodipo is the current captain of the Nigeria’s Wheelchair Tennis team.

He said: “We formed the union here to protect the interest of the disabled sportsmen who come to train here daily.  Most of the able-bodied transporters are so insensitive and discriminate against us and that led to our members coming together.

“It is the training that we have here at this Stadium that we have been using to bring honour to Nigeria at international competitions like the Olympics, Commonwealth Games, All Africa Games and many other international events.

“Most of our members live in places like Ikorodu and other far places and at times when you seek assistance to transport them, you won’t find it.

“In the past, there are lots of challenges being faced by disabled sportsmen some of who have won medals at international events but such challenges are very few nowadays.

“Even some of us can decide to leave home with little or no money and they know they will get to their home with the assistance of disabled people that are into transport union here.”

Alex Adewale is another Olympian that keeps lamenting the ill-treatment of disabled sportsmen.

Though he is not a member of the transport union, he defended his colleagues resorting to “agbero” despite the ‘disgusting’ nature of the job.

Adewale is a former Africa’s top-ranked player in wheelchair but his place has been taken as a result of inactivity.

He said: “Our leaders lack focus. Just like it has been stressed that sports can be used to curb crime and youth restiveness, it (sports) can also be used to end street begging by the disabled men and women. But unlike what is obtained in some developed countries where there is high welfare placed on physically-challenged men and women, the rich and powerful not only treat us with disdain but go as far as taking advantage of us to their own interest.”

The Ekiti State-born Adewale lamented how the dearth of tournaments led to him losing a huge amount of money after the London 2012 Olympics.

He said: “When we returned from the London 2012 Games, the Federal Government received us at Aso Rock and then President Goodluck Jonathan gave us some money. I got N500,000 despite not winning any medal but in order to develop myself, I used all the money to feature in a tournament in the United States in order to develop myself because I wanted to be among the top 100 players in the world which would make me qualify automatically for tournaments across the world. But since I came back, there is only the CBN Open which winning prize of N200,000 you can only manage to attend two tournaments in West Africa.”

Adewale cited the instances of the New Era Foundation (NEF), as a prime case of how disabled athletes are frustrated and are being maltreated by the society.

The NEF is the humanitarian project of Mrs. Oluremi Tinubu and in her bid for a senatorial seat in the 2007 elections, she organised a national wheelchair tennis tournament but the event was held twice.

“We felt being used and dumped because that tournament was to help make her appealing to the voters.

“They used the tournament as part of her campaign and luckily she won. We thought the tournament is guaranteed but it took us by surprise that the tournament was stopped thereafter and since then it has not been held,” Adewale said.

He added that letters were written to the NEF but they never got any feedback.

The athletes, he said, had at one time or the other sought audience with Tinubu whenever they got wind of her presence in Lagos but they hardly got her audience.

He said: “The only thing we know is that every year, the New Era Tennis is listed among the programme of activities of the Tennis Federation but it does not hold.”

Like every other politician, Tinubu has been involved in programmes aimed at aiding the masses and one would thought the disabled sportsmen would be among the beneficiaries.

“We have not been benefitting from her poverty alleviating programmes. It is her political associates that compile the lists and they share it among their families and friends,” one of the disabled athletes, who gave his name as Mohammed, said as he interrupted the interview.

Efforts to get an official of the NEF to react to the allegation and why the tennis championship was put off were futile as phone calls and text messages sent to Mr. Kunle, said to be one of the senator’s aides, were not responded to.

And when New Telegraph put a call through to the Secretary General of the NTF, Maryam Akande, she said she could not say categorically if the tournament would take place.

Akande, who became the NTF scribe two years ago, hinted that she spoke to an official of the New Era Foundation as a correspondent to a file she met in office.

She said: “Last year, the NTF president stressed the need to reach out to all the sponsors that have left the sport and we talked to an official of the New Era Tennis who promised that they would soon be back. And since then, we have been talking to them and the feedback was encouraging.

“In fact they said they will be back after the election and that is why we still list them in our programmes for the year. Hopefully, they will get back to us so that we can finalise how the tournament will run.”

Less than six months after coming into office, the NTF President, Dayo Akindoju, was also accused by the wheelchair tennis players of neglecting them, having convinced them to vote for him in the poll of June 2017.

A few of the players had gone to the press under anonymity and cast aspersions on the NTF boss as they lamented they were faced with hardship due to the dearth of tournaments.

They cited the fact that the Dayak ITF Futures, a $25,000 prize-money event being bankrolled by Akindoju, had continued without interruption for some years and his excuse not to hold a national tournament was unjustified.

“I have them in mind but it’s just that they don’t have enough patience,” Akindoju told New Telegraph as he disclosed that he would be solely bankrolling a national tournament  tagged Vemp Open Wheelchair Tennis in Abuja in July. The tournament is tailored to complement the Central Bank of Nigeria Open, the only national tournament in the country.

Akindoju added that about the time the players had granted interview to the press that he tricked them into getting their votes, he was in discussion with a number of corporate bodies and individuals but his effort to get sponsors was not yielding results.

The immediate past NTF President, Sani Ndanusa, told New Telegraph that plans were in the top gear to have the players go through so many activities.

Ndanusa, who is the president of Africa Wheelchair Tennis, said there were plans to reposition the game in Nigeria as well as the continent at large.

He stated:  “Currently in Africa, wheelchair players have the opportunity to strut their stuff in three different ITF tournaments with Nigeria, Kenya and Ghana putting up tournament that has helped in the development of the game.

“In 2018, two ITF Futures tournaments were held in Africa; Puma Engineering Wheelchair Open took place in Nigeria and the Dan Devan Open also debuted in Ghana. Also, the Nairobi Open in Kenya, which served as a qualifying event for the World Team Cup, was also held this year.

Ndanusa, a former minister of Sports in Nigeria, sees the current development as a pointer to the growth of the sport in Africa. “The wheelchair tennis is growing but the growth is rather slow, but we are working very hard,” he said.

Ndanusa stressed that in Nigeria, the Vemp Open, which held in July, served as consolidation to the CBN Open which has been on since 2013.

He added:  “We have one of the biggest wheelchair tennis teams in Africa, they are very well-tested. However, there is more work to be done.

“Just recently, Alex Adewale and Wasiu Yusuf won the doubles title of the Nairobi Open in Nairobi, Kenya, in February this year while Kafayat Omisore (a female) is among the big stars of the game. I am excited that Nigerians are among the notable names in Africa. We need to consolidate on this.”

Nigeria is undoubtedly the best nation in power powerlifting and the head coach, Are Feyisetan, was once among those controlling the union in their formative years.

While Feyisetan is now a national icon as far as disabled sports is concerned in the country, he pleaded with government to help alleviate the plight of special athletes.

He said: “I have never seen disabled athletes that are as dedicated and loyal as Nigerians.

“They leave their homes and wheel their chairs from 5a.m. because we start training by 6a.m. every Monday, Tuesday and Friday. That is commitment.”

Feyisetan recalled that disabled athletes have always been the country’s saving grace at the Olympics where in 2016 Nigeria bagged eight gold, two silver and two bronze medals as against the able-bodied athletes who have just a bronze medal won in football in London 2012 Olympics where Nigeria got 13 medals with the able-bodied athletes having no medal to show despite the country budgeting almost N2 billion for the games.

He added: “People expect a disabled person to beg on the streets but they are breaking those stereotypes. Many people forget that some of these guys had a normal life before accidents crippled them – so they turn to powerlifting to begin another life.”

Feyisetan lamented the discrimination by companies who only commit their funds to football.

He said: “If we are not careful, some of these athletes celebrating gold medals today could turn to begging in the next few years – they grow older and feel used and abandoned. We need to stop that trend.”

A job and housing policy reward for athletes, he said, would help in suppressing the emotional torture that goes with disabilities.

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Enugu Free Trade Zone: Dashing hope of economic prosperity

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Enugu Free Trade Zone: Dashing hope of economic prosperity

The Enpower Free Trade, the brainchild of former President Goodluck Jonathan, is yet to attain its potential six years on, reports KENNETH OFOMA

 

 

The birth of Enugu Free Trade zone, otherwise known as Enpower Free Trade Zone, in May 2013, was heralded with much hope and enthusiasm even though it was relatively young, compared to other free trade zones that are yet to be operational.

Being the first in the region and with the rising profile of the state as a budding industrial hub, it was hoped that the development of the trade zone would be accelerated. That has not been the case.

The free zone was expected to boost foreign direct investment and increase socio-economic activities in the state and region.

From what the promoters said, Enpower-FTZ offers investors the benefits of huge business opportunities from a potential market of 1.033 billion people on the African continent, the second-largest and second most populous continent on earth with 54 recognised sovereign states and countries, nine territories and two de-facto independent states.

Also, Enpower-FTZ gives access to markets covered by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the thriving Nigerian market, (the largest economy in Africa) and a direct unparalleled connection to the untapped industrial heartland of South-Eastern Nigeria, home to the Onitsha, Nnewi and Aba industrial centres.

The Enpower Free Trade Zone in Enugu State is expected to attract up to $500 million (N240 billion) worth of foreign direct investments from leading global manufacturing companies. Also, the activities of the industrial clusters hosted in the free zone are expected to create over 20,000 jobs across three major regions in the country.

But all that hope and great expectations had long gone cold as the new free trade zone seemingly became a lame dock. And nobody had envisaged that it would take that long to operationalise the zone.

The free trade zone became entangled in bureaucratic bottlenecks just as its fate became intertwined with the capricious and not-so impressive stories surrounding the development of Akanu Ibiam International Airport. Incidentally, it was during the visit of former President Goodluck Jonathan to perform the foundation laying ceremony for the terminal building/runway of the airport in 2013 that he announced the approval for the free trade zone.

“The opening of this airport is one of the key requests I received from my brothers and sisters from the South-East during my campaign for the election as President in 2011,” Jonathan had said.

The former President, who noted that a free trade zone would only be operational where there was an international airport or a functional seaport, said the facility had been over-due in the zone.

The then Governor, Sullivan Chime, commended Jonathan for his transformation agenda and called on the Ministry of Aviation not to relent until the Akanu Ibiam International Airport became fully operational.

Also speaking on the occasion, the then Minister of Aviation, Princess Stella Oduah, said the airport terminal would be completed within 15 months.

However, just as the development of the international wing of the airport has suffered many ups and downs with the project yet to be realised more than six years after the turning of the sod,  the free trade zone which is complementary and an integral part of the airport has also been mired in controversy.

On August 25, 2013 the first international commercial passenger flight touched down at the Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu. The historic flight was made by the Ethiopian Airlines which became the first international carrier to operate from Enugu. However, flight to the airport has continued to operate on the domestic wing which itself has not been in the best state and cannot operate night flight owing to lack of landing lights among other things.

To worsen the situation, even the operational domestic wing of the airport being used for domestic and international operations has come under constant threat of closure by the Federal Government. First, it was on May 17, that the Federal Government announced plans to downgrade the Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu or shut it down for runway rehabilitation.

The then Minister of State for Aviation, who has now been elevated to substantive Minister, Hadi Sirika, who issued the threat at the 2019 Stakeholders’ Forum, in Lagos, said the decision was taken to enable the Federal Government to work on the airport runway to avoid any major incident.

Sirika had listed the terrible runway, a nearby market and abattoir, presence of free trade zone and a radio mask close by as reasons for the intended closure.

He said: “At the end of the runway, you have the government establishing a free trade zone at the centre. Enugu is to the East what Kaduna is to the North. When the government wanted to expand the runway to 60 metres long and 71 metres wide, there were few houses there and we were promised that they would be demolished and the owners compensated so we can have the improvement but now they have built more houses. Enugu would have to be closed down; that is the honest truth.”

A temporary reprieve was secured by the state Governor, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, as he swung into action and within days took care of the concerns raised by the minister.

Following the safety concerns raised by Sirika and the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), the Enugu State government issued a statement the same day, detailing steps it had taken to address all the issues raised.

The governor directed immediate closure of Orie Emene Market (abattoir inclusive). The relocation of the state Broadcast Mast on the approach of the runway to Okpatu Hill (Ugwu Rerenkwu) in Udi Local Government Area was also given accelerated attention. All these made the Federal Government to change her mind on the closure of the airport then.

Like a bad dream and postponement of the evil day, the Federal Government again on August 17 issued fresh threat to shut down the airport for runway maintenance. According to the General Manager, Corporate Affairs of FAAN, Henrietta Yakubu, the FAAN announced its intention to close down the runway of Akanu Ibiam International Airport runway on Saturday, August 24, to effect maintenance that will enhance safety operations. 

She said: “This move is aimed at resolving the existing safety/security concerns to flight operations.”

Yakubu added that the date of the re-opening would be communicated in due course.

Again like before, this latest move by FAAN sparked off gale of protests. The South-East governors sent a letter to President Muhammadu Buhari urging him to delay the closure of the airport, and act against insecurity in the region.

The letter was signed by the Chairman of the South-East Governors Forum and Ebonyi State Governor, David Umahi.

The letter said the postponement of the closure of the Enugu airport would allow adequate arrangements to be made for travellers.

But the governors said the closure was prompt and would not give them any time to make security arrangement for the convenience of the people, and visitors to the region who would be travelling long distances to alternative airports where flights would be diverted to.

The governors called on the President to direct aviation authorities to provide immediate palliatives in form of transportation with armed escorts and helicopter services to prospective passengers from alternative airports that connect the zone.

The governors said the Federal Ministry of Works in collaboration with the South-East Governors’ Forum should carry out repairs on major roads leading to the alternative airports as well as clear all the bushes along the routes for better view of road users.

They asked that 24-hour joint security patrol be provided for the safety of the people and visitors to the South-East who will be using the roads day and night through the alternative airports.

Again, with the fate of the airport hanging in the balance, the ray of hope which seemed to be emerging at the end of the tunnel with regard to the development of the Free Trade Zone has been dashed.

The Chairman, Enpower Free Trade Zone, Enugu, Emeka Ene, who spoke to New Telegraph when the earlier threat to downgrade or shut down the airport was lifted, had expressed the hope that the zone would begin operation without much further delay. He had expressed enthusiasm that the cog in FTZ’s wheel of progress had been removed.

Like other export processing zones in the country, Enpower processing zone is under the supervision and management of Nigeria Export Processing Zone Authority (NEPZA).

NEPZA establishes, licenses, regulates and operates the free zones by providing a highly competitive incentive scheme, excellent support facilities and service for the purpose of creating an enabling environment for export manufacturing and other commercial activities.

“Enpower is a free trade zone in the South-East, the first and only because there is no other one. There are 35 free trade zones in Nigeria and Lagos has something like 12 or even 17 free zones; we have free zones in Port Harcourt, we have free zones in Kano, everywhere but in the South-East, and I mean the five states of the South-East, there is only one free trade zone which is Enpower Free Trade Zone. It was licensed by the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in 2015.

“So now, it is designed to encourage manufacturing of products for export into the region. And it has attracted companies from India, companies from Germany, companies from Canada, a Nigerian company trying to export to China; these are companies we have attracted. It has also attracted a Swiss-Italian Company involved in aviation parts and maintenance.

“Unfortunately there was a bureaucratic hitch between FAAN and Enpower and the (Enugu) State government over encroachment on land, conflict over where boundary starts and where boundary stops.

“So this caused a lot of delay. The resolution of these problems caused a lot of delay and that is why most of these companies did not start; we have to call them off. Now this was only resolved two weeks ago by the governor’s intervention which the new MD of FAAN, Enpower and then NEPZA, Ministry of Investment; everybody came to the airport and resolved it finally,” Ene said.

The presence of the free trade zone was listed by Sirika then as factors militating against the development and safety status of the Akanu Ibiam International Airport. The minister had cited the closeness of the free trade zone to the airport as a threat.

But the chairman of Enpower free trade zone Enugu said that dragging the zone into the mix was misplaced and showed that the minister was not fully briefed.

“Let me say that he (Sirika) was not properly briefed. There was an assumption that was made. However, I think that we have been in touch; like I said, this zone was approved by the President it has nothing to do with the state as alluded by the minister. The state has nothing to do with this; the state has already handed over the piece of land to the Federal Government. The President (Muhammadu Buhari) himself, not anybody else, the President himself signed the approval for that free zone, it’s a PPP arrangement,” Ene said.

Giving further insight into the creation of the free trade zone, Ene said, “Former President Jonathan gave the initial approval, but the President (Buhari) ratified it around December 2015. We started the processing of this zone in the dying tenure of former President Olusegun Obasanjo; it took seven and half years, so it has nothing to do with individual president. It started with Obasanjo, it went through Ya’Adua, from Ya’Adua it went to Jonathan and then finally to President Buhari.

“There was elaborate process that went on, so obviously the minister was not fully briefed, he just assumed that it was a state government thing, but it was not. Anyway, we have been working with FAAN for the last two years, obviously because free zones at the airport are essential for the stimulation of the growth of the airports.

“One of the largest free zones in the world is the Dubai Airport Free Zone Authority. If you arrive at the Lagos Airport, NAHCO (Nigerian Aviation Handling Company) has a free zone at the Lagos Airport, Johannesburg Airport has a free zone, so this is not new; Shannon free zone is world’s first free zone in Ireland, opened up in the ’50s, right at the airport.            

“What is important is that Enpower complied with all the aviation regulations which is what the minister was harping about and we have been in touch and discussing with FAAN for the last two years and NCAA (Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority) team has gone there to inspect it and make sure that we have provided enough clearance, so there is no way there is any safety issue, which has been verified independently. And the MD of FAAN in front of the governor confirmed it, it was in the news.

“That was when the (minister) gave the clearance that the state government has met with all the demands, and he specifically mentioned the free zone and talked about it, even when the governor’s people were completely surprised and they were telling him ‘are you sure, are you sure?’

“They have discussed with Enpower, we have looked at the safety, we have all agreed, we have an agreement and everybody is okay; they went to the site, they looked at it and it’s in compliance, we have even exceeded the requirement by International Civil Aviation Authority (ICAO), so on that basis we can now move forward.”

The Enpower chairman also spoke on encroachment to the free trade zone by private developers and acknowledged that Enpower had had challenges in that regard.

He said: “That has been a very big challenge because while we were trying to resolve the issue with FAAN, of course it means that development can’t take place, if people don’t see development, they will come there and start selling the land. So we have had to deal with that on several occasions, trying to manage the process.

“However, now that we have the full clearance, we are not wasting any time in being able to secure the place properly and have the projects kicked off.”

Ene disclosed that while some foreign companies that had earlier indicated interest to invest in the free zone had left due to the delay, many others had been waiting patiently.

He added: “The zone has two parts; one part at 9th Mile Corner, at Nsude; and then the other one is right at the airport which is causing the controversy.

“The free zone is going to give life to the airport because right now people just import things, nothing is being exported; zero is being exported. But now as a free zone, as planes are coming in, cargo planes will be coming in too, both import and export products into West African markets, into sub-Saharan African markets and even one of the people that want to export to the EU and South Africa once they meet the requirement.

“The bottom line is that Enpower provides an enabling environment for industrialisation of Enugu and Nigeria.”

Asked whether it will be right to raise so much hope about the free zone coming into operation soon whereas the construction of the  international terminal/ runway of the airport is being inexplicably delayed, Ene stated that there has been an assurance from the relevant quarters that the airport would soon be completed.

He said: “The MD of FAAN reiterated the importance of free zone at the airport; I think that’s something that has been missing in all the dialogue so far – that fact that the free zone was seen as an impediment to the development of the airport.

“In fact, the opposite is the case, it’s actually complementary, the zone is a stimulus to the development of an airport and that is how it should have been seen by all well-meaning Nigerians. And we believe that at this point in time there is an alignment; it’s a Federal Government supported project, it’s a Federal Government programme.”

Meanwhile, with the persistent hiccups in the development of the international wing of the airport as well as poor facilities at the domestic wing (necessitating closure), the hope of early take off of Enugu Free Trade Zone appears further deemed.

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‘Foreign’ cyclists: Ticking security time bomb in Lagos (2)

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‘Foreign’ cyclists: Ticking security time bomb in Lagos (2)

CONTINUED FROM LAST WEEK

 

Some of the cyclists in Lagos sometimes come from Mowe area of Ogun State. Mowe is closer to the state. Most of the cyclists also operate in Ogun State; their behaviour and actions are not too different. Our correspondent went to Ogun State to speak with some of them.
One of the riders, Abubakar Halidu (26), admitted that some of them were often armed with machetes and knives. He explained that the weapons were for their protection against thieves who might want to snatch their motorcycles.
“We are not violent as people think. We only use the machetes and knives for protection,” Halidu said.
When asked why many northerners are coming into Lagos and Ogun states, he said: “We only have population in the North, but no money. We come to South-West to work. The majority of us don’t stay long in the South; that was why we don’t come with our family members. We only come to work and invest our proceeds in farming. When it starts raining, we are all likely going to be in our villages. It’s also true that there are criminals among us, you can’t rule that out.
“There is something people don’t know about those of us from the northern part of the country. We have people from Mali, Niger, Chad and Cameroon in Nigeria and they are mostly cyclists. Some of these foreigners can speak Hausa language, but that doesn’t mean they are from Kano or Jigawa. Take me for instance, I’m from Gaya Local Government Area of Kano State and I have been in Mowe for five years. When I got to Mowe, stealing of motorcycle was rampant. In fact, that was one of the reasons I started using machete for protection. When I was coming to South-West, my father warned me to be of good conduct. The words of my father have been guiding me against crime.”
Another cyclist, Seidu Muhammadu, from Kebbi State, said it was not easy working in South-West. He disclosed that the first motorcycle given to him on hire purchase was stolen. He added that after the incident, the owner of the motorcycle got police to arrest and to detain him for days. It took the intervention of the Seriki of Hausa community in Mowe to facilitate his bail.
The owner of the motorcycle was asked to exercise patience and to give Muhammadu a year to refund the money for the stolen motorbike.
He said: “I worked for a year before I could travel home. When I came back, I was advised to start using machete for protection. Since then, I have deliberately limited the routes I plied at night just to avoid my motorcycle being stolen again. We are law-abiding citizens and anyone among us who is violent or behaves violently is always punished by the Seriki. But sometimes, some of our colleagues go beyond their boundaries.”
Mr. Adeniyi Bayo, also a cyclist, said that five years ago, cyclists from North were not many. He added that currently, they were now more in number than the Yoruba and other tribes put together.
He added: “Some of these northern cyclists are aggressive. Language is a major barrier between them and their passengers. When you don’t understand them and they don’t understand you, they get angry. Whenever they have issues with their passengers, their colleagues would park to support them. We the Yoruba cyclists, avoid them whenever it come to argument, because they claimed they have police, Navy, Air Force, Army and other security agencies who are northern extraction in their clique.
“It is because of our closeness to expressway that we see many Hausa people coming from the North in trucks. They bring cows and their motorcycles are tied to these trucks. Personally, I see the influx of the northerners into South-West as a dangerous. I want to urge traditional rulers in South-West and other social groups to wake up from their slumber and begin to see the dangers some of us are seeing.”
Another cyclist, Mr. Yusuf Alabi, didn’t see any danger in northern cyclists coming into South-West in large numbers.
He said: “Some of the northern motorcycle riders are also used as security guards. After working in the day as cyclists, they become guards at night. If they are a security threat as most people fear, landlords wouldn’t be hiring them as guards.”
A man, who works closely with the leadership of commercial motorcyclists and tricycle riders in Lagos and Ogun States, said: “The northern cyclists, plying Lagos-Ibadan Expressway are feared by all, including policemen. Once any member is arrested, they will block the highway, and caused traffic jam. And no matter how many times policemen shoot into the air to scare them, they stay put on the highway. They stay there until their colleague is released. They operate with impunity and act like they are ready to die. I sense danger in the next coming years. Security agents should start checking under the seats of most of these cyclists. That is where most of them hide their arms and ammunition. I also know that almost every one of them is on drug.”
A senior policeman, who once works at FESTAC Police Station, recalled in detail, his encounter with the northern cyclists.
He said: “It was a real challenge; unfortunately for me, they were so many and had a place like a camp where they sleep. If you go there to arrest them, it becomes a problem. We discovered that one of their major problems, which was also problem for the police, was that they were always on tramadol. Another problem is that they don’t have houses. They sleep wherever they park their motorcycles. If they commit crime and run, you can’t trace them to their houses to arrest them.
“Even when you come for an arrest, they gather together to attack. You can’t rule out the fact that they were armed. I didn’t see guns, but they had daggers beneath the seats of their motorcycles. We also discovered that a lot of them were former Boko Haram members. When people don’t have homes, the temptation to commit crime is high.”
Another police officer said: “While working at FESTAC, I had encounter with them. I suspected that many of them were members of militia groups. I, however, didn’t find Boko Haram members among them. Many of them were running away from the Boko Haram problem in the North-East. They are members of volunteer task force. They had a lot of bad experiences. They had encounters with Boko Haram members. Members of their families were attacked and their homes lost. Many of them became destitute. They came to Lagos to make money to support their families back home.
“They have seen more actions and are more rugged. They are not the average cyclists and they fear nobody. A policeman armed with AK47 rifle doesn’t bother them. These are men that had seen bombs.”
The officer recalled that when he first got to FESTAC division, he heard that four policemen were killed by cyclists. When policemen tried to make arrest, they were attacked, injured and their rifles taken.
He said: “Although I didn’t see weapons with them, I know they are armed. These weapons are creatively concealed and could be used to stab. They attack bank customers; it was common then to hear that someone coming out of a bank was attacked by a cyclist and money taken. We started raiding them. There was a day we raided up to 100 motorcycles. They sent emissaries to negotiate with us. While this was going on, we prayed that there wouldn’t be casualty from their side or ours. I knew if one of them was killed in the process, they would attack the station.
“When the emissaries came, I asked them to sit down, so that we could talk. I told them that cyclists were robbing bank customers. I asked them that we should agree on a truce. We agreed that if any strange cyclist enters the community or a cyclist robs someone coming out from the bank, we would commence raiding again. They accepted. Since that truce, whenever someone robs, they would bring the cyclist to our station themselves.”
A senior officer with the Department of State Services (DSS) disclosed that the department once raided cyclists based on intelligence gathering. He said that they were shocked at the number of Boko Haram members they arrested.
Our reporter called the Comptroller General, Nigeria Immigration Service, Mohammed Babadede, to find out the number of people from other African countries, who have entered Nigeria since January 2018 till date, he insisted that the information was on their website. Our reporter checked the website but nothing of such was there.
Mr. Frank Oshanugur, member of the Association of Industrial Security and Safety Operator of Nigeria (AISSON), said the cyclists posed a threat to Lagos State.
He said: “The threat might not be immediate, but they are a threat. Lagos is becoming over-populated by large number of foreigners from Niger Republic, Benin Republic, Ghana and Chad. They are mostly unemployed youths from these countries. When the majority of them get to Nigeria, they engage in different things to make a living that is aside from motorcycle riding. Many of these people have no reason to be in Lagos or Nigeria, if not because of our porous borders.
“There is so much fear in the land and among those coming into Lagos are mostly men of Fulani extraction. They come from other African countries. If any of their members is attack, they gang up against the attacker. They are aggressive. The people of Anioma in Aniocha Local Government Area of Delta State have given the herdsmen seven-day ultimatum to leave their community. This is part of the threat we are talking about. As you can see, it is not peculiar to Lagos alone. Everyone is afraid.”
Oshanugur said that a lasting solution to the issue of the invasion of cyclists into Nigeria was for the government to have stiff penalty for foreigners who come into the country illegally.
According to him, the borders should also be better secured.
He said: “The Federal Government should provide job opportunity and other African countries too should provide for their teeming youths, who are coming into Nigeria for survival. Security agency saddled with the responsibility of manning our borders should be vigilant and properly vet those migrating into the country.”
A veteran crime editor, Mr. Christopher Oji, said that the influx of northern and foreign cyclists in Nigeria, especially Lagos State, was worrisome.
He said: “They are now everywhere! The influx of foreign cyclists has a lot of security implications for Lagos. We are sitting on a keg of gunpowder. Government and security agencies should act fast, because the situation is ready to explode. The reason I said we are sitting on a keg of gunpowder was because these foreign cyclists, have taken laws into their hands.”
Oji argued that officials of Nigeria Customs Service and Nigeria Immigration Services, working at border routes, believed the foreigners entering Nigeria were northerners.
He said: “Our Customs and Immigration officers couldn’t stop them; they claimed to be northerners. What our Immigration and other security agencies do at the border is to collect money from whoever is coming into the country. They allow them to enter freely without properly checking them. I believe our security agencies are afraid to touch these cyclists because they are always violent.
“Recently, one of the foreigners stabbed someone dead at Mile 2 areas, and ran out of the country. He was nowhere to be found. You can imagine what will happen if the cyclists decide to overrun the country. That will be a disaster!”
Oji suggested that security agencies should be diligent in checking African foreigners migrating into Nigeria on a daily basis.
He added: “I want to let the security agencies to know, that if they don’t know that those coming into the country are foreigners, they should know now that they are foreigners. They should get their data in case if they commit crime, so that they could be traced and arrested for prosecution. Most of these people living in our midst know our weaknesses. Landlords and landladies, who let out houses to them, should take their details and report to the nearest police station in case of crisis. Landlords should also not give them houses anymore. Landlords and communities, who employ them as guards, should be conscious. They should also know that they are at risk; government should take decisive action against the foreign cyclists.”

 

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‘Foreign’ cyclists: Ticking security time bomb in Lagos (1)

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‘Foreign’ cyclists: Ticking security time bomb in Lagos (1)

The Lagos metropolis is now full of northern and foreign motorcyclists. Many of them are believed to be fleeing members of Boko Haram, herdsmen and foreigners. In this report, JULIANA FRANCIS looks at the menace of these ‘strangers,’ highlighting lurking dangers

 

 

Mr. Timothy Oluwafemi works with a media outfit in Lagos State. Part of his duties is to go out every night to a printing press to ensure his company’s materials are printed.

It was a routine duty, with the greatest challenge ever encountered being traffic snarls along routes to the printing press.

But on February 6, 2019, everything changed for Oluwafemi, as he received his baptism of fire in the hands of commercial cyclists, otherwise known as Okada riders.

He was beaten within an inch of his life; a plank was used repeatedly to slam his face. No matter the number of times he tells the story, Oluwafemi always ends it with, “if not for God, I wouldn’t be alive today. Till date, I can’t hear with my left ear. Those Hausa cyclists wanted to kill me.”

On that day, Oluwafemi and his colleague, Oriade, left their office at Ikeja, headed for Kirikiri area of the metropolis. It was supposed to be a straight forward journey, but before the night was over, they were fighting to escape from some cyclists with their lives.

Oluwafemi said: “On that day, I was driving to the Kirikiri area, where we do our printing when we encountered the cyclists. My colleague, Mr. Oriade, was in the vehicle with me. When we got to Apple Junction, a cyclist in front of us suddenly fell down. Nobody or vehicle touched him; he fell because of his rough-riding. He hit a vehicle ahead of me. I stopped to avoid hitting him and his passenger. The car, which he hit, sped off.

“The guy got up and accused me of hitting him. I told him I had nothing to do with his falling. As we were arguing, his colleagues started coming one after the other. Before we knew it, they had surrounded us. I drove off. I thought I had escaped them. We had not driven more than five minutes when we suddenly heard a sound at the back of our vehicle. I looked at the side mirror and saw many cyclists, chasing us, and hitting the body of our van.

“Mr. Oriade asked me to stop; immediately I did, they rushed at our van and tried to forcibly open the doors. They were screaming that they would kill us.  The time was about 8.45p.m. Mr. Oriade said I should drive off to the nearest police check point. I continued to drive until we got to Maza-Maza, Festac area. I saw two policemen and started shouting for help. I stopped the van. But the cyclists pursued, got close and forced us to stop by blocking us. They started vandalising our van right in the presence of the policemen.

“It was a frightful sight. The policemen ran away. The cyclists attacked us, Mr. Oriade and I. They carried a plank and slammed on my face through the open window. I had already locked the doors, so they couldn’t open them. In fact, in the process of trying to force the door open, they broke the handles. They shattered the front windscreen and side mirrors. It was at that point that Mr. Oriade opened his side of the door and fled. They used the stick to hit my ear, while I was still in the van. Just as they had appeared, they left. One of them said I should thank my God; that they were supposed to kill me.”

Oluwafemi said that a few minutes after the cyclists left, the fleeing policemen returned to the scene, screaming at him to quickly leave, fearful that the cyclists had gone to re-enforce.

He added: “The policemen said that was how the cyclists operated. They advised that I drive to the nearest police station, which was Festac Police Station.

“Everyone passing bye told me that I was lucky to be alive, that those cyclists used to kill people. At a point, I no longer knew what was happening because I was too scared and was in shock. I thought I would be killed. The policemen told me that the cyclists were wicked and whenever there was crisis, they used to kill policemen.”

Oluwafemi’s encounter with the cyclists is what most residents of Lagos go through. Lagos State has become flooded by foreign cyclists and those from northern part of the country. They are hostile, belligerent and confrontational. They often carry out mob attacks.

According to investigations, a good number of people have been killed, maimed or injured by these violent cyclists. A security source disclosed that many of these cyclists are armed with guns, daggers and machetes. It is also believed that many of them are militia group fleeing North-East. Security agents see them as contributing to the growing insecurity in Lagos.

“Some are from northern part of Nigeria, but the majority are foreigners. Many of them are from Mali, Chad, Benin Republic, Niger Republic, Ghana, Sudan, among others. But you wouldn’t know by looking at them. People just assumed they are all Nigerians from the North. You will need to get close to them to know,” the security source added.

It’s not a crime for other nationals to come into Lagos to seek greener pastures, but it becomes a problem when many are believed to be militia groups, posing security concerns.

The number of cyclists coming into Lagos and those coming from other countries continue to swell, with nobody checking the influx or taking note of the security implication.

Lagos, being a cosmopolitan state, had never witnessed such influx of northerners and foreigners like it has today. The fact that it is a cosmopolitan state also means there are usually breakouts of ethnic violence.  Ethnic violence, breaking out in today’s Lagos, is better imagined than seen.

Cyclists, since former Governor Babatunde Fashola left the throne of Lagos State, have taken over the state transportation system. They are now prevalent in every nook and cranny of the mega city.  In fact, the question should be which part of Lagos are they not prevalent? Commercial cycling is a ready market in Lagos, no thanks to the bad roads and constant traffic jams.

There are no checks on the influx of foreigners into state. A new arrival in Lagos, who didn’t have motorcycle, is taken to Seriki (leader) of the community he finds himself. A motorcycle is given to him on hire purchase and commercial cycling starts the following day. Many do not even know how to ride motorcycle, leading to accidents and deaths on roads. Many of them do not have accommodation so they sleep inside uncompleted buildings.

Lagos State has become a safe haven for every fleeing criminal, either from the North or other African countries. In the next five years, Lagos State may have to pay bitterly for harbouring these cyclists. Security experts alleged that these cyclists are also into armed robbery and kidnapping.

Aside from cycling, there is an increase in the number of northerners and foreigners working as guards in Lagos communities and erecting street kiosks. Security experts on different platforms have openly asked what would happen today or in the next five years, if these cyclists decide to take up arm. Do the police in Lagos have enough manpower to counter such security eventualities?

Chief Ukadike Uzoma (60), who has been living in FESTAC for over 30 years, lamented the influx of the cyclists.

He said: “We were used to taxi and Lagos State Transport Corporation (LSTC) buses, but today, cyclists have taken over everywhere. In fact, 90 per cent of security guards in Festac today are from the Nnorth. They live in makeshift houses, sell suya (barbeque), and are truck pushers. One of them is very close to me. I asked him why this sudden influx of cyclists into Lagos, he replied that they make more money here than any other state.

“However, many of these cyclists are reckless and if there are 10 accidents on the road, eight would be motorcycle accidents. In cases of stealing, robbery and snatching, cyclists are behind these crimes.”

Uzoma noted that many of these cyclists do not have number plates and because of that, they are difficult to track after commission of crimes.

He said: “If you have problem with one, more than 20 will surround you. They beat and attack as a mob. At least 80 per cent of these cyclists are from the North. They carry weapons like it’s natural to them. Many of them boast that they are in charge in Nigeria and that whatever they do, nothing will happen. Among the cyclists are people from Niger, Chad, Mali and other African countries.

“I was shocked to discover that most of these cyclists have their complete immigration’s documents. One of them told me that they got their papers from Immigration officials and it’s usually within a week. A syndicate must be involved. Many of them from foreign countries get their papers within a week and start bearing Nigerian names.

“Many of them are displaced terrorists. If not checked, terrorism will soon take over Lagos. The ferociousness with which many of them challenge people, tells you that they had received some sort of paramilitary training.”

Another FESTAC resident, Mr. Odafe Bossa, explained that he discovered that most of the violent cyclists, strangely believe they have the constitutional rights to behave violently. 

“They move in groups and people now avoid them. If you hit them or they hit you, you’re in trouble. If you argue with them over money, they will stab you. They act with impunity.

“If they take one-way and run into you, and you caution them, they call you stupid. One of them killed a young man in my community. The young man was his passenger. He and the cyclist were arguing over money. The cyclist brought out a dagger and stabbed the passenger in the chest. He died on the spot. They have a lot of venom in them, and are seeking to let it out. They intimidate people everywhere and when you go to the police to lodge complaint against them, police are reluctant to act. Policemen are also afraid of them.”

Although the Lagos State government appears not to be too keen in taking a decisive step in checking the influx of cyclists, policemen at FESTAC have started building profiles on the activities of these violence-exhibiting cyclists.

A police officer said: “The influx of the foreign motorcycle operators is a very big challenge, which if not checked, could cause harm. This year alone, we have recorded several issues with these cyclists. They are always ready to maim and kill. They operate as a pack. If you hit them, trouble, if they hit you, trouble. In fact, they would scream at you, shouting that if they kill you, nothing would happen. They will tell you that their brother is in charge of Nigeria.”

“One day, a naval officer made a distress call that he was in danger. If not that we got there on time, the motorcycle operators would have killed him. We asked him what happened; he said that he was driving, when one of the motorcycle riders fell.  He said that his car didn’t even touch the rider. And before he knew what was happening, many cyclists descended on him like bees; they destroyed his car. He barely managed to make the distress call.

“The naval officer’s experience was nothing compared to what they did to a transport company’s bus. They destroyed a brand new bus and nearly killed the driver, who managed to escape from them. When some of them were arrested, they didn’t waste time in detention. They were released. They behave like animals in human skin. Some of those guys are from countries like Chad, Mail, Niger,” the officer added.

The violence in these cyclists was witnessed early this year at Ejigbo area of the Lagos metropolis, where they attempted to burn down a police station. They damaged seven cars parked in front of the station.

The cyclists attacked Ejigbo Police Station and would have burnt it, but for the Divisional Police Officer (DPO), a Chief Superintendent of Police (CSP), Mrs. Olabisi Okuwobi, and her vigilant policemen.

The vehicles destroyed by the suspects included a police operational van and Response Rapid Squad (RRS) pick up van.

Trouble started after some cyclists plying Ikotun-Egbe, Isolo and Cele Express, chased RRS operatives, attempting to attack the policemen. The cyclists claimed that the RRS operatives knocked down one of their colleagues. The time was about 11p.m.

A police officer, working at Ejigbo station, said: “We were handing over reports to the next shift, when three operatives of RRS ran into the station, screaming for help. They didn’t have enough time to warn or tell us who was chasing them. We started hearing sounds of vehicles being smashed. The vehicles were parked outside the police station. We were able to mobilise policemen, who prevented the suspects from further attacks and gaining entry into the station. They destroyed many vehicles, including police vans.

“The DPO mobilised officers and went after the suspects. We were able to contact the Ejigbo Seriki, who assisted the police to make some arrests. The cyclist, who was alleged to have been hit by RRS van, was arrested too. Earlier, the cyclists had claimed that their colleague, who was knocked down by RRS operatives was in the hospital. When the cyclist was finally located and arrested, he was in a mechanical workshop in Ejigbo.”

The RRS operatives denied getting close to the cyclist. The operatives explained that the cyclist, who was riding one-way, tried to reverse and bolt when he sighted the police van, but fell in the process of trying to make a fast reverse.

Another police officer said: “The RRS operatives were still driving, heading to their destination, when they noticed that many cyclists were chasing them. Knowing the attitude of the Hausa cyclists, the RRS operatives decided to drive into the nearest police station, which was Ejigbo Police Station. Although the cyclists saw that the RRS men drove into the station, they still pursued them. They tried to force their way into the station, but the policemen on duty repelled them. Angry, they started attacking vehicles parked in front of the station. They repeatedly hurled stones into the station.”

The Seriki of Hausa community in Ejigbo, Alhaji Mohammed Ibrahim, promised that such a situation would not happen again. He disclosed that he and other leaders had warned the cyclists from taking laws into their hands. Ibrahim threatened that any of their members who takes the law into his hands, would be sent home.

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Blind, dumped, struggling in academic pursuits

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Blind, dumped, struggling in academic pursuits

Virtually impaired students ought to be properly taken care of to enable them excel in their academic pursuits, but at Special School for the blind in Opefia, Ebonyi State,  it is a tale of woes, reports UCHENNA INYA

 

Special School for the blind, Opefia, Izzi Local Government Area of Ebonyi State, otherwise known as State Special Secondary School, was established in 2002 for the virtually impaired who desire to acquire holistic education to change his/her fortune in the society.

Since that year, the school has continued to grow from strength to strength with six sets of students graduating from the 17-year-old institution in their SSS3 classes.

Some of the students that passed through the school have also graduated from various universities in their desire to acquire complete education.

In infrastructure, the school has witnessed high level of development but lacking seriously in some other aspects that make teaching and learning desirable.

The school has produced many graduates most who have gone to the labour market to look for white Collar jobs but were rejected as a result of their sight status.

Some of the graduates have  taken up teaching jobs in the institution and are the ones teaching the blind students to keep body and soul together. They are being paid paltry sum of N10,000 at the end of every term as salaries and N3,000  as transport fare to their various homes at the end of the term. The school however feed them.

Uguru Emmanuel and Oyibe Friday are some students that passed through the school but could not secure jobs in the labour market, leading to their return to the school as classroom teachers. They are among those receiving the sum on N10,000 and N3,000 as salaries and transport fares at the end of every month.

Uguru,  a  graduate of University of Nigeria Nsukka(UNN) said though the token he is receiving as a classroom is too small, he is happy for teaching his blind colleagues.

He urged government to provide studying equipment like brain machine, typewriting machine and other teaching materials. He also called for payment of the students tuition and feeding fees, lamenting that many students who supposed to enroll into  the school are at home following their parents  inability  to pay their fees.

“I studied Sociology and Anthropology. I discovered there is need to help my fellow blind students and that is why I decided to return to this school to help them out. I have the same issues with them and I know how to handle them.

“The school management pay me small token to manage myself. Government should assist this school by providing studying equipment like brain machine, typewriting machine and providing their school fees because those are the areas the students find it difficult in their studies.

“Many people supposed to be schooling here as blind students but they are at home because of lack of money for school fees and feeding,” Uguru said.

On his part, Oyibe Friday lamented that he could not further his education because of lack of fund.

He explained that he finished his secondary education in the school and wrote to the government for assistance to further his education but was not given attention.

“I just finished my secondary education here in this school and I don’t have money to go further. I wrote letter to the government for assistance but they did not do anything for me. so, I decided to be teaching with my O’ level in this school and I teach Igbo Language to the students of this school. I desire to further my education”.

The school management and students said they are lacking seriously in the area of  welfare and called for urgent attention to ameliorate their  suffering.

The students said they are starving and that some of them have dropped out of the school following inability of their parents to pay for their school fees and feeding fees. They lamented that they don’t have enough teaching and learning materials.

One of them, Onele Favour told New Telegraph in the school that the institution don’t also have clinic where  the students can access medical care.

“Some of the challenges we face in this school is our feeding fees, we are paying for feeding and our parents don’t easily afford them because it is too high. Some of us dropped out of school because of the feeding fees. We have one of them, Lawrence from Izzi here who just dropped because his parents couldn’t afford his feeding fees.

Some of us that are still in the school are owing huge amount of money and would have been sent home or dropped out if not the kind-heartedness of our Principal.

“We don’t have clinic and adequate medical attention. If you are suffering from any health challenge, you must move down to small market in this community and it is not conducive for us. They only give drugs without examining the health condition of the patient before giving the drugs,” she said.

Another virtually impaired student, Ogharu Ikechukwu,  lamented that lack of mobility, food, educational aid and health clinic have remained a stumbling block to their studies.

He said some of them trek long distance to school and town during major events which he noted have exposed them to many dangers including accident and diseases.

He regretted that blind persons are begging in the streets because nobody can bring them to the blind school for study and appealed for regular visitation of people and government as well as NGOs to the school to make them feel sense of belonging to the society and encourage them to work header for success.

“We have been forgotten, we are just living on the mercy of God. No one cares to know whether we exist’’, Ogharu  lamented.

On his part, the senior prefect of  Special  school for the blind Opefia,  Maduabuchi Igboke, appealed to the state government to offer them free education and provide all the necessary support to them to excel in their studies.

He expressed  dismay that the school library has not been upgraded since the inception of the school and that they have been using school syllabus made in 1980s .

He said people living with disabilities desire much attention from government and appealed that their rights be included in the constitution so that if any of them is insulted or maltreated because of his or her condition, such person can seek redress in court.

According to him, the rights of persons with disabilities, as a matter of necessity, should be entrenched in the constitutional framework of Nigeria to reflect the UN universal declaration of human rights since Nigeria is signatory to that treaty.

Igboke called on government to fence the school premises to avoid external attack from hoodlums, provide school bus for the students to ease their academic difficulties. He also called for  scholarships of the students  to university.

The President Nigeria Association of the Blind, Ebonyi State Mr. Nwabueze  Igwe said ‘’it is not as if we take pleasure in begging. We are suffering a lot and want to survive. We have no one asking us how we are doing, so this is why we engage in legitimate activities to survive’’.

He called for adequate security in the two special schools for the blind in the state and expressed the hope that before the end of next year, virtually impaired people would not be seen in the streets of Abakaliki and other parts of the state.

Igwe called on the government to assist them in provision of raw materials, recorders and other materials that would enhance their learning.

Despite all these challenges, more students of the school have passed out successfully from the institution.

Last week, three of them; two females and one male were among those that did their graduation with their sighted students colleagues in the school.

One of them,  Okwuegbu Cherechi Joel, 21,  from Agbaja in  Izzi Local Government Area of the state corroborated other students arguments that the school was lacking in things that make teaching and learning conducive and attractive

He said: “One of the major challenges we face is that the school is not fenced. We are always afraid of attack by external forces whenever we are in classrooms learning, we don’t also feel comfortable during break time. We are calling on government to fence the school for us so that we can always feel relax whenever we are in the school.

“We need well equipped library. Our library is not well equipped and our school is a special school which supposed to have well equipped library. We don’t also have electricity; we only have power generating set which doesn’t power our computers and other equipment. We need serious assistance in this electricity issues because computers are very important to us, we use computers for learning. There is what is called talks in the computers and when it is being downloaded in the computer, we can operate the keys through the talk. When we are operating the computers with the keys, we will be listening to the talks and the talks will be telling us the place that we are moving to; if we are making mistakes or doing the right thing.

“I want to further my education and I want to study political science education. I love politics and I want to go into it so that I can lead people. I like leadership and I want to go into it, I want to go into it so that whenever I am elected into any position, I will make sure I do well. I will threat everybody equally and deliver good governance to the people if I find myself in any position of authority.”

Another,  Eke Virginia Oluchukwu, said: “The school is okay and the teachers are all trying. They make sure that we the virtual impaired are properly taken care of.  We have challenges especially in terms of recording notes because we do use recorder to record our notes.

“After teaching in the class, the sighted students will now copy their notes and then we borrow from them and record. Sometimes, for us to get the notes to record is usually very difficult. I am very happy for graduating successfully and I want to further my education. I want to study Mass Communication, I so much love the course. I want to major in broadcasting in the profession.”

Principal of the school, a Reverend Sister, Rose Oguegbe called on the state government to make boarding system of the school free.

She also called for the removal of students tuition fees saying that education should be made free for the students. The principal of special school for the blind Opefia, Rev. Sister Rose Oguegbe who acknowledged the  plights of the students while speaking with our correspondent, said hunger has become order of the day in the school.

“We have challenges but the most important one is the feeding of the students so that the school will be totally free.

She explained that the students school fees is not enough for their up keep and because the school is out of town people always forget to bring succor  to them.

According to her, the school depends on near -by Catholic Church at Iboko which donates food to them through weekly contribution.

She maintained that mobility has made the students not to mix up with their counterparts in other parts of the state.

She suggested that some national and state assembly members can adopt the students  and offer them scholarship as part of their constituency projects.

The Reverend Sister called on the people to show love and care to the physically challenged to give them a sense of belonging in the society.

Rev.  Oguegbe called for the inclusion of persons with disabilities in government policies to enhance their potentials.

“Disability is not contagious, but impediment. Therefore, government should not just support the victims education, but also appoint them in political positions, seek for their contributions in policy making in the government.’’

“I have been in this school since 2002. I started with Primary and we graduated to Junior Secondary, from Junior Secondary to Senior Secondary now. We have graduated 6 sets of SS3. So, the school has been doing well with the help of government also.

“The school belongs to specially UBEB, they are the ones providing amenities in the school. All the structures here, teaching aids and all other things were provided by UBEB.

“It is not easy for the virtually impaired because some of their parents say they have not even finished taken care of those who see let alone training the blind ones. But we have been helping them, many of the blind students who pass through here are in UNN, Awka, LASU, colleges of Education. So, they are doing well

“But the problem is that some of them who graduated from the university went to government to be assisted and government always tell them “if I give you an office, what will you be doing”?

So, many who have graduated from the university have nothing doing, they still come to us. Some of them, we engage them here to teach others and we give them just stipends. At the end of the term, we give them N10,000  at the end of the term that is after three months, we also give them N3,000  for transportation to their homes after each term but they feed here. At the end of the term we just give them the N10,000 to go for the three months.

“Many students don’t pay, so we source for money to feed them, keep them and make them happy here. The government is trying in the area of infrastructure but they should pay special attention to the welfare of

the students.  Government should look into the issue of mobility for the primary, they should provide their needs in the boarding system.

UBEB used to supply typewriters and other educational materials but since 2010 till date, they have not given us anything in for the classroom but structures, they are giving. So, we are begging the government to come to our assistance in the boarding system.

“Many of the virtually impaired are in their houses. When they come here, you tell them bring some money for us to help they will go and will not come back to start their studies because they can’t afford feeding fees.

“About three of them came last September to be enrolled into our school and we told them that boarding system is not free, ‘you have to bring something’. We thought they went back to look for money and till date, we have not seen them. So, if the school is free; no payment of feeding and others, you will see the school filled to its capacity.

Many of them in the villages will come out and start their studies if education in this school is free. So, we are begging government to make the school free at least the boarding system so that many of them in the villages will come out and join their colleagues in this school for their studies.

“Most of the virtually impaired students are very brilliant, they come first, second  and third before the other ones come in. The last results of our students studying at various universities across the country, one of the had second class honours at UNN. All our students are doing very well outside and here.

“The sighted ones do help them, they read for them because we  get tape recorder for them. The sighted students dictate notes and literatures  for them. The virtually impaired students listen to tapes and that is how they read because we cannot provide brown papers again for them  because it is very expensive. So, what we do is to give them tape recorder to tape and they tape and use it and read.

“In primary session, we have about 28 virtually impaired students. in secondary session, they are 29 and all together, they are 49 in number,” she said.

Earlier during a workshop organized for the students, Chief of Staff Government House, Abakaliki  Dr. Emmanuel Offor, noted that the state government was working assiduously to ensure that physically  challenged in the state were given scholarships and other incentives.

“It is not as if you have been forgotten. This government is doing everything possible to support your students and improve your conditions and that is why it is holding this programme to be able to get your problems,’’ he said.

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