Henry Bakare is the former National Coordinator of the National Union of Nigerian Associations in Italy (NUNAI) and now the President of Nigerian Community in Lodi/Pavia. He spoke with ANDREW IRO OKUNGBOWA on the recent arrest of 19 Nigerians by Italian police, among other issues. Excerpts…
What was your reaction to the news of the Italian police busting and arresting 19 Nigerians in connection with mafia operation (MAPHITE) last week?
I was not surprised. This is a regular occurrence in the community of Nigerians in Italy. I only thank God that the police helped us with our work, the work we would have not be able to do without them. The story is true.
Was is your first time of hearing about the group or Nigerians being linked to mafia group in Europe?
No, absolutely no. This had been in existence since Nigerians started living of in Italy. Perhaps the most recent is the cartel of human trafficking. These were mainly women who were trading with Nigerian girls, assisted by their ‘Pure Boys’, who live with their girlfriends and do nothing other than to watch over the activities of ‘slave’ girls. Before now we were able to dismantle some of these groups before the mass exodus of the ‘Libya Mongo Park’ or Lampedusa passengers, who came in with another and more dangerous advanced cultism. However, they were not as dangerous as the ones we have now. These guys are so dangerous that people are scared of them and avoid confrontation with any of the member.
What had been the general reactions of Nigerians in Italy over the arrest?
It’s mixed reactions, depending on the social class you belong to. Those of us that had been fighting this problem are only disappointed that no matter the gospel of integration and obeying the law of the land as written and interpreted, these people refused to listen to us. For example, when I was the national coordinator of the National Union of Nigerian Associations in Italy (NUNAI), I communicated with all zonal leaders regularly to know the situation of their communities. I get reports from them and if there was an area where we need to step in somebody is sent to assist the community or sometimes we tell them what to do. Usually, we send a delegate or representative from NUNAI to assist if case the issue is beyond the regional leader. That I can attest to because I did most of the trips. Another reaction is that most Nigerians are ashamed that some miscreants are soiling the name of our country that has already been registered in the criminal book of Italy.
Has your organisation been receiving any enquiries from the Italian government over this matter?
Yes, we have been receiving enquiries and the new leadership of NUNAI is doing their best to help the law enforcement agents and the authority to see what can be done to curb this menace. Nigerian communities in the local levels are doing more to fix these people up by introducing them to different vocational courses, and that is really helping today in some areas like Milan, Verona, Rome and some other states where we have the Associations of Nigerian Communities.
Has there been any reaction from the Nigerian government or the embassy in Rome?
Nigerian embassy in Rome is doing its best to be available when contacted by the authority and NUNAI
How convinced are you of the true identity of these people as being truly Nigerians?
Though not every raid or the arrest of criminals involves only Nigerians. We know and identify them by their names published in the media or names sent to us for identification. So, the police cannot make a mistake when the people arrested have one document or the other with them. Remember that most of these people came in through the Mediterranean Sea, and took asylum with their presumed names and nationalities. So there would be little or no mistake about their identities.
Why would Nigerians get involved in mafia operation or form a mafia group in a foreign land?
That is the question I am not able to provide an answer to. My investigation revealed that these cultists or criminal cartels were hardened criminals back in Nigeria, and as we speak now some of them are wanted for one crime or another. I was also made to know that some of them were forced to join the deadly cults in Libya. The reason why Nigerians get involved in mafia operation or form a mafia group I do not know, but the Nigerian government should be able to answer that question better than me.
Is your organisation playing any role in this unfolding scenery in terms of assisting the Italian government get to the root of this matter?
Yes. We are doing our best only that the Nigeria embassy in Rome is not helping us to realise this. During the service years of Oba of Benin, Oba Ewuare II as the ambassador in Italy, a proposal to have a database of Nigerians in Italy was floated and as it was about to kick-off, there was a change of ambassador, and since then nothing about the database was realised. All the same, the local Association of Nigerian Communities, including cultural and tribal associations are doing their best to identify Nigerians in their respective places.
But what role do you expect the embassy in Rome or the Nigerian government play in this case?
I would suggest that the Nigerian government through the embassy in Rome make a deal with the Italian government to return anyone found guilty of any crime by a competent court of law back to Nigeria. That was the agreement Obasanjo signed with the Italian government years ago, and that Italian government should try and rescue anyone on the high sea and return them back to Nigeria instead of allowing them to die on board or drown. I said this because of some of the dead Nigerians had the possibilities of arriving at the shore of Italy alive, but because of the delay or the unwillingness of the authority to rescue them, most of them ended up drowning and dying, resulting to the mass burial of our brothers and sisters.
Do you see the Italian government taking measures against Nigerians in the country in terms of security checks and other measures?
That is a possibility but I cannot confirm that.
What is the implication of this development generally for Nigerians in Italy?
The implication is that some of the Italians who are probably ignorant and hardcore populist nationalists who believe all Nigerians are the same, especially with the killings in Nigeria today by Boko Haram and Fulani herdsmen, will take a hardline position on Nigerian immigrants calling for restrict rules and mass deportation of Nigerians.
Would this in any way also have an effect on tightening visa requirements for Nigerians coming to Italy?
That is a diplomatic issue between Nigeria and the Italian government. In the real sense, that is not supposed to be. That I have not really thought of asking, but I think I should do that to avoid wrong information being passed out.
What steps have been put in place before now by your organisation to forestall the occurrence of this nature?
We are doing our best, but it might not be good enough. Italian government knows best what to do and how to do it. We cannot do their work for them. They have to protect their territory against all social odds and vices. The Italian government should do the needful in order to ride their territory of criminalities. By fully engaging in constant check of the visitors they are taking in through the sea. They should also actively engaged them to ensure that they don’t have time to commit crime. If they have something to do at the beginning of the day, at the end of the day they would be tired and would have no time to hold meetings where they plan these criminal activities.
What was the image of Nigerians in Italy before now and do you think this will greatly affect the image and perception of every Nigerians in Italy?
It was getting to between 60 and 70% before the inflow of the Libya passengers but now is between 30 and 40%. Good Nigerians are enjoying their full privileges without any problem. It is he who brings home firewood full of insects that would invite the lizard for a visit. No one would be after you if you do not have any bad record.
What is your advice to Nigerians living in Italy on how they should conduct themselves and relate with other Nigerians?
They should respect the law of the land, the Italian constitution and the Nigerian constitution as written, amended and interpreted. Some of us refused to know that being in another country is a part of knowledge. Somebody bound by the laws of two countries should be able to have selfrespect.
Heritage Club committed to restoring African cultural values –Ted Ojukwu
Sir Ted Ojukwu is the outgoing president of the Heritage Advancement Club of Nigeria. In this interview with VICTORIA PASCHAL, he talks on the Club’s annual end of the year award ceremonies, it’s ideals and commitment to restoring the country to sane society
Who is Sir Ted Ojukwu?
I am a lawyer, an entrepreneur and the President of Heritage Advancement Club of Nigeria. It is a club that has worldwide spread; we have members in Canada, America, London, South Africa and Europe. Our membership is for adults of 25 years of age and above who are business owners, or professionals and public servants. We have two organs; the General Assembly and the Executive Council; and a Board of Trustees.
Could you let us in on the objectives and aims of the club?
The Heritage Advancement Club of Nigeria was established to curb moral decadence in the society. As the word heritage connotes, you will agree with me that the virtues we inherited from our forefathers are dying gradually. There is a high level of moral decadence in the society today. Our club is committed to fighting moral decadence. We are working and also ensuring that we spread the message on the dangers of drug abuse and other vices prevalent in our society.
In addition, we patronize and promote businesses of members. The welfare of members is very important to us. We have over 30 members residing in Nigeria and outside the country. The club is three years old. Though officially registered in 2017, Heritage Club was founded in 2016. We had an interim President in the person of Mr. Osasume Ogie, for a period of time. I was his Vice President. I later became the first elected President.
What activities has your club been involved in, especially, in line with your aims?
We’ve had a Healthcare Outreach and the Say NO to Drug Campaign at Ilasan Estate, Jakande, on the Lekki axis. We discovered that the classes of people who live around that neighbourhood are deeply involved in drug abuse. So we went there, sometime last year and we treated over 800 people who came that day to receive medications. Our Welfare Unit was also able to do some follow up on those whose cases were very serious.
Recently, we had another medical outreach. The professionals amongst us and in the medical profession organised a medical outreach to Ikoyi Prisons. We ran free medical tests for 150 inmates, gave them drugs and followed up on those inmates who have extreme cases.
Did you notice any peculiar or common health challenge suffered amongst the inmates?
We found out that many of the inmates have scabies, infections and coughs. They have bugs within the area, because the environment is not tidy. Our next project will focus on how we can help the prison environment, have it fumigated regularly; we will commit the club to see to that matter because that is a major area that needs to be looked into. We are not sure that the authorities are looking into all of that, because we find that the inmates burn robber/plastics to keep bugs away. I also think our club needs to provide beddings, mattresses, blankets. All of that will be essential aspects of our next prison outreach.
Do you have any programme for the year ending?
Of course, we will be having our end of year party on December 15. We have also conducted an election because my time as President has come to an end. Hence, we will be handing over to the new Executive Committee on that day. Also that day, we will induct 10 new members. We will also give awards to distinguished dignitaries within the society.
Besides, we have our back to school project. We try to take few children, as many as we can manage, off the streets. We started the programme with five pupils. This time around, five pupils will be recipients of certain cash awards, at least N250, 000 each, that day. Again, we will be visiting about six motherless babies’ homes with gifts, cash and essential items.
How does the club fund these programmes?
Our members provide the sponsorship. Heritage Advancement Forum is where everyone comes in to put in their little resources for the interest and betterment of indigent people in the society. Our members have been very generous; they’ve been very committed to what we are doing.
We will also give a special award to the most committed member of our club. Only one member except the president will be so decorated. Because we are so committed to impacting on the less privileged in society, we are establishing relationships with our agencies so that we can go into other areas of need.
How much do you put into one outreach for instance?
Each of our outreaches cost about half a million naira; and we plan to organise more outreaches next year. We have already done our budget. The Board of Trustees is looking into our 2020 budget. We hope that we get a quick passage between now and the take-off of the next administration.
What does it take to become a member of Heritage Club?
One simply needs to pick up a membership form, fill it up, pay the registration fees and that’s it. There is a membership committee that screens, get information regarding the characters and other necessary requirements of an intending member, because we want to be sure of who you are. We make sure that we take very good people, who have good characters and who will be able to represent our aims and objectives. The membership committee looks into that and passes it on to the President for approval. The president and his Executive Committee members give approval before a person is admitted. There is a probation period before the person is inducted; we usually have inductions twice in a year.
Are there any benefits for members?
Part of the welfare package we have is N5million life insurance and health insurance policy for each member. We have other welfare programmes, like benefits that accrue to any member in case of death of family members. The clubs does that to help them throughout that period. We also have the birth benefits, marriage and the rest of them. So the welfare unit handles this; and it’s compulsory that everybody attends these ceremonies with the exception of those who live abroad. We have found out that those who live abroad fly in to participate in these programmes. Because we have very committed people, we schedule the programmes properly, so that people have time to come.
The welfare of our organisation is very dear to us. We believe that our members should be OK and this compels them to be able to do more.
You didn’t tell me how much the membership cost. Is that a secret?
Membership fee is not a secret but I believe if you want to be a member, we will give you a prospectus, a form. And in that form it is appended. I know now that it is about a 132,000; including yearly dues, induction fee and all of that. The finance committee handles that.
What level do you envisage Heritage Club to be in the next five years?
He intends to consolidate on our advocate against moral decadence in the society, criminality, dishonesty, drug abuse and other vices. It hasn’t really been encouraging, with what we see on social media. It really calls for concern. What we are trying to do is to promote African cultural heritage, where a woman will dress properly as a woman and a man will dress properly as a man without exposing certain parts of their body. These are the things that bring about rape and the rest of them. It’s a bad situation but we are trying to help the government and the society to deal with it. We plan to extend our membership to university and secondary schools students so that we catch them young, at that level. All though they will not be financial members, they will get all the benefits of members. Next year, plans to have not less than 1,000 memberships. We need more hands, we can’t do this alone. We are going all out now, to catch them young. So we will be able to form branches almost every place in the country.
We produced grenades on the go, during Civil War –Biafran Engineer
Bethram Ike Onyenechere is a trained engineer and one of the surviving veterans of the Research and Production (RAP) unit of the defunct Biafran Army. Trained by Europeans at the Government Technical College (GTC), Enugu, between 1955 and 1959, Onyenechere is a specialist Turner Fitter and machinist. He was known to have his way with machines and able to reproduce any component of an engine or machine. In this interview with STEVE UZOECHI in Owerri, he speaks on the legendary RAP unit of the Biafran Army. Excerpts:
How did you get into the Biafran Army?
After my training at the Government Technical College (GTC), Enugu in 1959, I worked briefly with UAC (United African Company), Burutu, Mid-West from January 1960 to December 1960. I joined the P&T Enugu the same December 1960 and in 1964, I joined the Ministry of Education. I got my first military experience in 1965 when I went for the recruitment training into the Nigerian Airforce. I was trained for three months and when they started talking about travelling overseas for further exposure, I left and returned to the Ministry of Education.
In 1966 when the drums of war was becoming louder and inevitable, young Biafrans were signing up or being conscripted to build an army.
In my case, there was a call for people with technical education to identify. Mr. C. Anizor from Ibuzo in Delta state and Mr. M. Ugwuegede from Nsukka, Enugu State, mobilised and encouraged us to join the Biafra militia.
When did you join RAP?
In the Biafran militia, they called for credentials and found that some of us had engineering experience in technical education. At that point, we were then asked to join Research and Production (RAP). RAP personnel were camped at GTC, Enugu. In those early days, before a clear mandate was handed down to RAP, there were no weapons anywhere and our government then, will bring heaps of knives for us to sharpen. Later, when things started taking shape, we started producing double barrel cartridges. But the GTC Enugu camp did not last long.
What happened to the camp?
At the time, there was an air raid by a B-26 enemy plane. The plane bombed Ekwulu Layout and also bombed GTC Enugu where we were camped.
How did they discover your camp so soon?
No, they did not discover us. They did not know the camp was there or what we were doing. It was just a random raid to intimidate and harass the young Biafran nation, without any military might at the time. It was not strategic; they bombed anywhere that appealed to them or caught their attention.
But that raid affected the RAP unit?
Yes, we were momentarily in disarray; some of us fled to Port Harcourt while I headed to Owerri. At Owerri, we were accommodated at the Advanced Teachers Training College (ATTC) now Alvan Ikoku College of Education. At the time, the Industrial Development Company (IDC) was located at the College (ATTC) and they had a very well equipped laboratory for Engineering and Chemical purposes.
When PortHarcourt was collapsing to enemy forces, those of us in PortHarcourt returned to Owerri and merged with us. From ATTC, we moved to Ejiogu Comprehensive Technical College, Egbu. Not too long after that, Owerri came under pressure, our RAP department moved again and went to Ahiara Technical College, Lude, in Mbaise.
With all these movements, how were you helpful to the Biafran Army?
We were really working hard; producing firearms and different levels of explosives on the go. We started producing grenades at Lude and from there, no matter where we went, we were working and producing even in motion because of the urgency of the time.
We were masters of disguise and travelled in about eight 911 Lorries, with each of the trucks containing a power generating set which powered our mobile bomb workshops and machines. We were producing grenades and other armaments on the go.
Following intelligence of impending attack on Owerri and the attendant uncertainties, we again moved and headed to Umuanu, Amigbo in Nwangele council area of Imo State. At Umuanu, the lorries were parked and lined up along the river bank and thickly covered and camouflaged with palm frond, shrubs and leaves so it was difficult to detect by enemy planes.
How did you deliver the weapons produced to the warfront?
RAP had a complex network of intricate branches such that it was difficult to know all the branches and structures of RAP. A lot of its activities were shrouded in secrecy. You only got to know what you needed to know per time. But what I knew for certain was that my unit was among other things, mainly producing the grenades used to prosecute the war.
As for delivering the weapons to the battlefield, we had one Major Ohaya, who was also from Umuanu, Amigbo. Major Ohaya would usually come around at a determined time with his men and gather all that we had produced and haul them to the leader of RAP, Prof. Gordian Ezekwe, a renowned chemist. Professor Ezekwe would incorporate the explosive components and detonators to the grenades and explosives we had produced and ferry them to the soldiers in the fronts through well-guarded supply routes. Ezekwe was a master in his craft. His two hands were burnt white by chemicals. He was the brain behind the RAP operations and was highly revered.
Were other branches of RAP also producing weapons at the time?
Of course, there were lots of other ingenious weapons produced by RAP. We were just one of many branches. To say the least, RAP was the backbone of the Biafran Army. It would have been tough to prosecute the war without the sacrifice and innovative ingenuity of the men of the RAP unit of the Biafran Army.
For instance, during the failed invasion of Owerri by Nigerian forces, it was one of such ingenuity that aided the defeat of the Nigerian troops.
There was a remarkable incendiary weapon that was deployed by the Biafran army during that invasion that stunned the invading federal forces. It was not produced by my branch of RAP.
It was just like a line laid across the road as the convoy of the federal forces were heading towards Owerri. This episode played out along Onitsha-Owerri Road. Immediately the first truck crossed the line, a massive conflagration erupted that burnt not just the first truck, but more than six trucks in quick succession. The shock alone demobilized the invaders and the Biafran Army routed and put the federal troops to flight.
From Umuanu, where else did you move to?
We settled at Umuanu because our camp was a perfect hideout that would be tough to access from the ground or from the sky. We worked undisturbed by enemy forces and produced and supplied streams of armaments to the Biafran troops until the end of the war. We worked with materials at our disposal. We converted, recreated, fabricated, re-configured and resourcefully made use of whatever was available. We had men for every technical challenge and they were competent and passionate. Our leader, Ezekwe, had linked PRODA Enugu to RAP and all the railway workers who were mainly trained in technical education, were all part of the Biafran RAP unit.
What happened to your trucks, equipment and mobile bomb factory after the war?
To the best of my knowledge, all our production machines, trucks and some armaments were left at Umuanu in trucks while we all dispersed to our various homes. At the end of the war, while leaving the Umuanu Camp, we did not leave in groups. We left individually and in disguise mainly. Some disguised as mad men to get to their home
s to avoid Nigerian soldiers who were all over the place. I went home to my village, which was nearby, in tattered clothes, we were masters of disguise. Circumstances and the war had honed us well. So no one took a second look at me until I got home.
Why was your team camping from one Technical College to another?
It is good you noticed and it should be instructive to current Nigerian leaders and education policy makers. Our department in RAP was largely driven by technical education. So, technical colleges offered us the best kind of camp, as we were always certain to find raw materials and relevant equipment for our various productions. Most of us were taught by Europeans who left during the war and we were very well taught. A total of 12 trades were manned and taught by Europeans in our technical colleges then. I was trained as a turner, fitter and machinist. As a turner, I can reproduce any component of any engine or machine including motor vehicles. Most of my colleagues were also well trained in other fields so we had men for everything. After the war, I was further trained in Bulgaria in Engineering.
I had also been an instructor at GTC, Enugu and Boys Technical College (BTC), Aba and the Federal Polytechnic, Nekede. In some cases I have seen students who have all the right answers but if you bring them face to face with the same machines they have been talking about, they would not even be able to identify them what more operating them. My counsel to young students has always been to aspire for higher certificates and credentials, but focus on practical knowledge. Technical education gave the Biafran army great mileage, given the massive odds against us.
What was life like immediately after the war?
After the war, I came back and later got employed at the Federal Polytechnic, Nekede. I was employed as Lecturer 2. I rose to Senior Lecturer in 1984. From 1991 to 1993, I became the Head of Department of Mechanical Engineering at the Polytechnic. I retired in the year 2000. Sometime around 2003, I was re-engaged by the Federal Polytechnic, Nekede into the department of Mechanical Engineering on contract basis. The contract was renewed every two years until the year 2010 when I finally left the polytechnic. As you can see, I’m retired now.
Balogun: Border closure good for Nigeria
Chairman/CEO, MOMAS Electricity Meter Manufacturing Company (MEMMCOL), Kola Balogun, in this interview with Adeola Yusuf, speaks on pitfalls in the Meter Assets Provider (MAP) scheme and other challenges identified in the power industry
There are so many issues in the power sector and these have not made the sector move as expected. As a stakeholder, what do you think the challenges facing the sector are?
The power sector is faced with lots of various challenges that have to do with lack of ownership of the entire power sector value chain. In taking ownership, somebody must define a proper roadmap. So, to define what are the goals of the power sector reform and to my own observation, it is to ensure that power are made available to the general populace of Nigeria at a reasonable tariff but today what we have is inter-agencies rivalries, arrogance within the sectors stakeholders. One sector would want to make itself over others and it is important that one of the supervising ministries to take ownership of the entire power value chain. The problems with the power sector are more than class-room exercise, it is meant for the people who are on ground and who know where the shoe pitches. We are promoting a technology that does not belong to us, we are supposed to promote a technology that is created in the country to promote Nigerian conditionality. Every nation encourages its peculiarities and then domesticates the technology capability our technology has the capability to address the power sector issues. Thank God that the Federal Government, recently, increased the tariff on imported meters, I am telling you today that none of the Meter Assets Providers (MAPs) has ever contacted me for the 30 per cent local content meter manufacturing involvement, they go ahead to pay Chinese company 70 per cent of meter importation order but to pay for local company to supply meter is a problem and they don’t come for contracts. So, how would you encourage employment in the country and also address the deficiencies in the sector.
How are we going to develop our technology capability?
Let me explain some of the things that can improve power sector. Today, we need to enhance our infrastructure on the distribution value chain, power generation is increasing tremendously, Federal Government is trying to spend more money on transmission, the distribution network needs to be improved and we are providing a way forward to be able to improve distribution infrastructures. We are doing so by ensuring that all the substations and all technical and commercial losses are reduced significantly to barest minimum in order to deliver power to the consumers. If you have meter in all customers’ premises and the network/ infrastructures cannot support to deliver power to them, it is a wasteful investment. Let me also tell you what is happening in the metering sector, we are promoting a technology that does not belong to us, whereas we have our own developed technology, purely designed and made in Nigeria and that can solve all our problems but they don’t listened. There are some ideological frameworks being imposed on us but which is not supposed to be so. They are supposed to listen to us all and know our technical capability. They should promote local content in order to pass the massage to domestic need and that power sector need to grow, the ministry needs to do more by calling all the stakeholders to define new road maps in achieving the optimization of delivering stable electricity to consumers at a fairly minimum tariff. I’m not against tariff review but then the power must be available to consumers and the meters must also be available. If you install1one per cent of smart meters in a substation that has 90 per cent, you can’t do energy reconciliation with them. What we are saying under MAPs is that we want to install smart meters where the rest are not smart, how do you do energy reconciliation? That’s why we are saying that the most important value chain in the distribution sector, is to do infrastructural and substations enhancement so that our substations will be stable and be devoid of technical and commercial losses, so that power can be made available to consumers premises. We have some many ideals that can improve the up grid and mini grid system that we make available areas in Nigeria to have 24/7 power supply by proving some local design infrastructural improvement that we have done. We have done the P.O.C that will prove that to the system. What government needs to do is to call all stakeholders and look at the new road map of achieving optimization in our power sector dream. We cannot solve the problem of Nigeria power sector by academy exercise, it is important that all the stakeholders has one thing in mind – i.e our power sector must work, we must have reference cases where we can boast of success story. We need to start create success stories by ensuring uninterrupted power supply. That should be the new next level agenda for government There is need for government to jail somebody for contravening of Local Content Act, people need to be punished for contriving the local content act. It is when the violators of local content act are punished that they we know the important of creating the local content in power sector. If people contravened the Executive Order 5 of the local content, such should be punished because until some people are punished, everyone will not sit up and embrace the act. There is need for us to create employment and the opportunity in the power sector can take jobless people on the street because there are some many items coming into the country but which can be produced locally. So, until government insist on local content enhancement in power sector, we need to take our destiny on our hands, It is in the collaboration agencies and ministries that can address the challenges in the power sector, enough of deceit in the sector. We should not depend on outside to clean our power sector. We can do it ourselves, the power sector degradation is as a result of we, Nigerians and we can fix it ourselves.
The MAP scheme that was launched since May doesn’t seem to be working. Also, it was alleged that some power equipment imported into the country are still at the port due to high custom tariff. How do you see this?
I am of the opinion that meter imported in to the country is a total contravention of the Local Content Act, if regulation said you must patronized 30 per cent local content, you did not fulfilled it, you are now fulfilling 70 per cent foreign importation of meters. What do you cLl that? I am confirming to you that none of the MAP licensee has approached me to buy meter of 30 per cent provided by regulation despite singing an MOU. So, the 35 per cent level by Federal government is a welcome development to increase local capability, it is a serious issue which is a contravention of local content for them to even import meter without fulfilling the 30 per cent initial order from the local factory, and I’m telling you that local manufactured meters have passed all the tests required, validated and confirmed for consumption by all agencies responsible for the testing. That is mandated by metering code, they should pay for their negligence for importing meter without patronising locally, the local content act must be respected. I don’t have problem with importing component and raw materials which I still pay five per cent. Why would someone go and import meters without patronizing 30 per cent local mandatory specification by government? I can table my capacity if I’m encouraged and same goes to other local meter manufacturers. So, we need to sit down and find out on how to address the anomalies in the system. We need to develop our technological capability to address our power problem. Everybody should come and manufacture in Nigeria, we have what it takes in Nigeria to produce locally. The regulation says that when you are to import 1,000 meter into the country, 300 must be purchased locally while 700 be imported but on the condition that if local factories cannot meet up the 300 meters. Fortunately, we have the supply. Then, you must keep patronizing local company but our MAPs licensee would rather prefer to send money to China and neglect the local manufacturers. Meanwhile, if they want to deal with local company, they will be asking for credit. I have never seen this kind of people in my life. I have never seen where people will disrespect your local company at the expense of foreign companies, it is absurd.
How do you think government can enhance the local content in power sector just as it has been done in the oil and gas industry?
That is the responsibility of all the power sector agencies, the ministries of power and it should endeavor to call all the agencies including the manufacturers, Discos and sound it emphatically the importance of local content. The ministry also needs to chart a new road map in the sector on what we need to achieve on a timely bases, the improvement is required in the sector. How do you ensure that each Discos has a feeder that we can say yes this feeder has a cost reflective, uninterrupted power supply and also ensure that feeder by feeder keeps improving themselves. tThat’s should be the new target. They should ensure each disco within a quarter, they should ensure feeders are totally cleans. It is better we solve a problem out of a thousand than solving half problem out of a thousand or ignoring it because it is from the feeder their meter consumers. So, if one feeder is cost recovery, it means the disco will pay market operators their money and consumers we also pay bills. The minister should order that each Disco should improve its feeders and give quarterly reports on their performance. There must be a centralized data based system by the regulators to know the exactly volume of consumers we have. It’s not by request but as one stock point where they can see all consumers of power sector, not just what the Disco gives. They should have supervisory council that will supervise the entire discos anr if course, which we have the technology to do. The world is a global community which is growing significantly in IT compliance and this means we should trend with them because we have all the intellectual that can do it. We need one single spot data base to monitor the entire discos effectively with their performance and it should be pluggable and done locally because we have the strength and manpower. We should not trade ourselves off by bringing foreigners to our local company fo what IT can instrument. The ministry should champion new road map of where to go, the road map should be target driven, this is what will change the power sector. This is what we should be taking, defaulters should be punished and local content should be respected and target to all the discos performance should be defined. The Nigerian Electricity Management Services Agency (MEMSA) would have to effectively play its role especially on how many networks they supervise. Also, the regulator, how often are they checking their regulation compliance? These are things that every agencies need to do. And Disco should ensure their improvement on quality bases i.e how many feeders were they able to clean, how many consumers have stable supply, which by end of the administration to have a stable and working administration.
Meter manufacturers are lamenting of low patronage, which negate the agenda of government in setting up MAP, in your own views, how would you assess the patronage level?
It’s part of my earlier submission that our people do not respect local content, that is why the emphasis on defaulters of local content should be made to face the rot of the law, they should not allow anybody who contravene the Executive 4 Order 5 of the local content to go scot free. Often time, people contravene the law without facing the consequences which affects the implementation but such should not be encouraged. We need to define the slogan, that anybody who contravenes local content act should be punished because if all the MAP licensee respected the local content act, the factory will be busy and perhaps there will be more expansion. Now that there is levies towards imported meters that can force any other Chinese companies to come and set up their factory. If these kinds of levies are imposed in virtually all houses and equipment, we would have built up other factories that produce television, decoder and other in Nigeria. If we don’t address the failure of the past, we cannot sustain the tomorrow we want to build. It is very important that we address what makes the oil factories failed and be able to manage and maintain the new one we plan to build. We need to ensure local content remains and to improve on the power sector, everybody should respect local content, everything produce in Nigeria must be consumed herein and anybody who default must be punished until somebody is jailed for contravening local content nobody will see Nigeria being serious for us to meet forward
Do the local meter manufacturers have the capacity to meet the market demand?
The same question was what some foreign investors who want to set up factories in Nigeria asked me, they say that the few factories set up in Nigeria hav not been optimized to full capacity. First and foremost, we must prove that these people are not fulfilling the local requirements. Let me tell you the procedure of ordering a meter, if you want to order a meter from China today, you will be asked to pay 30 per cent, before the shipments, you will be asked to make the balance of 70 per cent and that period will take minimum of three months but if they want to buy from the local companies, they will not give notice. What you have is that they want to pay money and collect immediately, as we speak, I have over 20,000 meters manufactured in my factory which is over five million naira. To borrow five million from bank was not easy, I cannot continue to produce when am not sure of patronage or nothing from the Map licensee, these are the issue we need to address. We must ensure everybody respect the sanity of local content because we have the capacity to produce more than what we have presently and we can grow it but the capacity has not been stated. The ministry of power needs to investigate if truly we cannot set the target just as they are doing to foreign factory. We are under-utilized, we need the intervention of all the agencies in ensuring they drive local content because that’s the only way to solve the problem of power sector. The solutions are here, we need to be given the opportunity to implement it.
Do we assume that the importation of foreign meter is affecting local meter manufacturer?
Absolutely, the importation of foreign made meters is destroying local factory development or sustainability in Nigeria. Therefore, we should commend the effort of government for increasing the tariff of imported meters, the effect of closing the border is yielding good results in the country. How it has increased the production of rice farmers is the same thing we need in the power sector. We need to take a bold step to show that that tariff on imported meters remains, it does not change and we have one of the best facility to produce electrical meters in entire West Africa which anybody can attest to. I can boldly attest to you that the meter can solve energy theft in Nigeria, be it bye-pass, revenue leakages, technical losses, the meter is enrich and designed locally to solve the problem.
Understanding the advertising profession: Agenda for the 2019 National Advertising Conference
Practitioners of Advertising in Nigeria are gearing up for what promises to be the most eventful and momentous gathering of Advertising professionals in the history of the profession.
They are converging on Abuja, from Monday, November 25, to Wednesday, November 27, 2019 for the National Advertising Conference holding at the Transcorp Hilton Hotel. Advertising practice was conferred the status of a profession in Nigeria through an Act of Parliament, originally enacted as Decree number 55 of 1988, (cited as Advertising Practitioners, registration, etc. Act).
Under the regulatory purview of the Advertising Practitioners Council of Nigeria – APCON, established by the Act, the profession has grown significantly over the years and impacted Nigeria’s social and economic affairs in remarkable ways. Membership of the profession has increased exponentially as hundreds of qualified and certificated practitioners are inducted into the profession every year.
The 2019 edition of the Register of Advertising Practitioners lists over Eight thousand practitioners in the various professional categories of Student, Associate, Full Membership and Fellows of the profession.
The advertising profession is composed of practitioners in the different areas of socializations. These include: strategy and creative agencies/consultancies, media planning and buying agencies, platform owners and managers who provide and manage mass media outlets used to expose advertisements to desired audiences, activation and experiential agencies whose forte is creating and managing opportunities for brand direct/physical experience with prospects, among other specializations.
There are also practitioners in the communications, marketing and brand management functions of public and private organisations who occasionally or frequently employ advertising in their public and customer engagements and in the process, often engage the services of advertising professionals in the other aforementioned specializations.
Practitioners in all of these professional specializations have a common interest in the effectiveness of advertising in serving their respective communication objectives. They are however, sometimes in conflict among themselves. The conflicts usually arise from less than satisfactory delivery on expectations and default in fulfilment of contractual obligations.
One recurring area of conflict is the granting of credit on transactions and the burden of indebtedness arising from prolonged payment defaults. There is also the issue of huge volume of advertising briefs going to non-advertising professionals and foreign agencies and consultants.
Many public sector organisations do not appear to appreciate that advertising is a professional practice, reserved for persons who are qualified and registered as Advertising Professionals. There has been, therefore, a large incidence of patronage of contractors by public sector organisations resulting in very poor and unprofessional execution of huge-budget campaigns and consequential stultification of growth of the Nigerian advertising profession. There has also been issues around the regulation of advertising practice in Nigeria.
While the role of regulation in stabilizing and raising the professional status and public perception of advertising has been largely applauded, the processes and framework of the regulation have sometimes been subject of arguments and conflicts.
This is understandable, given that public-interest regulation sometimes does not conduce to the market share and profit objectives of business organisations. One lingering challenge of the professional regulation of advertising is the long absence of the governing Council of APCON. The 2019 National Advertising Conference presents a good opportunity to discuss all of these issues and conflicts in an atmosphere that engenders honest appreciation of the viewpoints of all the stakeholders.
The discussions will be guided by the theme, “Advertising in the post-digital age: the profession, the business and Nigeria’s socio-economic development”.
The conference is the first of such event, bringing together professionals from the various specializations of the marketing communications practice and scholarship to share perspectives on the sustained development of the profession as well as chart common grounds in confronting some of the challenges facing the profession as it continues to evolve.
The conference is an initiative by APCON whose current management has successfully rallied leaders and members of the profession across sectoral affiliations and very significantly, Advertising scholars in tertiary institutions, to join hands in organizing the conference.
Because of the level of consultations and organization preceding the conference and perhaps, because it is the first time the profession is hosting a national professional conference of a world-class standard, there has been an overwhelming expression and demonstration of passion, enthusiasm and excitement by Advertising practitioners as well as individuals and organisations who have been associated with advertising, to participate in the conference.
At the moment, the Conference Planning Committee and the Local Organising Committee are upbeat and making necessary contacts and arrangements to satisfy the huge expectations of the members of the profession and the larger public, whose marketing communications needs have been so creatively satiated by Advertising professionals, over the years.
Going by the wide range of consultations across the marketing communications industry preceding the conference and the painstaking planning of the conference, there is every reason to expect that the National Advertising Conference will be an event to remember for a long time after.
•Onuorah is Deputy Director, Registration and Professional Development, APCON
FG must adopt Niger Delta approach to address insecurity –Erekosima
Comrade Onengiya Erekosima is the President, Foundation for Peace and Non Violence in Nigeria. He spoke with EMMANUEL MASHA on the crisis in the Niger Delta, among other issues. Excerpts:
It seems your campaign against violence has failed, judging by the spate of killings across the country. Don’t you think so?
My campaign has not failed; it is yielding fruit. My campaign was a test case for the Niger Delta. If Nigeria will learn, Nigeria has not seen what the Niger Delta saw and went through. Today, we all can see that Nigeria is also seeing a little of what we saw in the Niger Delta. Every part of Nigeria is today witnessing kidnapping, killings, armed robbery, insurgency, herdsmen/ farmers crisis, cultism etc.
These are the kind of things that we saw in the Niger Delta in the days of militancy when my campaign started to address the Niger Delta issues. It succeeded in the Niger Delta without the use of force and I make bold to say that militancy cannot return to the Niger Delta creeks again as long as I live. If Nigeria is willing to listen to me, the Nigeria issue is a child’s play.
Non-violent approach that I preach will end this crisis. I have mentioned that without the use of force, these violent crises can be stopped. The question is, is the government willing to use the non-violent approach? And if I should answer that question, sorry, the government is not yet ready, but if the government will be willing to use the non-violent approach, Nigeria will be one of the safest place in less than a year from the day they listen. In 2005, during former Governor Peter Odili’s tenure, we had the first reconciliation and training of warlords and their boys at Jos, at time a warring groups from Ateke camp, Asari Dokubo’s camp and the bush boys from Okrika do not see themselves eye to eye.
Asari begged me to be part of those that would go with the different groups for reconciliation and rehabilitation; this was when the different groups were feared in Rivers State. Dr. Peter Odoli also called me through the SSS Director that I should help him to reconcile all the warring groups and those that are not happy with him. Peter Odili also called for several meetings but Asari’s group would not go for the meetings because Asari would tell his followers that they are not cultist and that the meetings called by the governor was not for his group.
That is one of the reasons why Odili could not bring peace to the state because all the groups did not attend the meetings. Eventually I joined those different groups to Jos, Plateau State. Some of these boys believed that the government brought them to Jos to kill them and there was different kind of impression about the movement to Jos. But with close follow up, we were able to reconcile all the groups. The moment they came back from Jos, Rivers became peaceful.
Was there truly peace?
Suddenly, after the Jos reconciliation in 2005, Asari was arrested by the Federal Government, but at this time, I had made Asari to surrender all his arms to the Government that was why I became Asari’s spokesman. When he was arrested, he called me from the Police headquarters at Moscow Road, that it was not just an invitation but that the government was arresting him and when I got there he handed over all his phones to me that I should tell the press what is happening. I made sure that none of Asari’s boys took to violence with the help of the S.O.S Commander then, H.H. Karma who believed in my approach. He also asked all the Police in the state to follow my instructions by not carrying arms during that time and this they did, I was able to convert 80 per cent of his boys in to the non-violent approach.
Asari was released not because some of his people took to violence but because the Government did not listen to me on time that Asari should be released, other warlords were then created. By the time Asari was released, these warlords were no longer under Asari’s command, so another phase of militancy started. So, other forms of violence like kidnapping, cultism, killings and other violent acts emerged. When I met people in government, they refused to listen to me. Rather, the government made things worse when they promised that any cultist that repented would be given N500, 000 each.
That was what took Rivers State into darkness. Everybody started claiming to be cultists. They did not only promise money, they also promised buying them taxis for transportation as apart of empowerment programme. So, young men who were not cultist started approaching the cult leaders that were in possession of illegal firearms, begging them to put their names in their list. The cult leaders would say to them: go and kidnap so person then I will put your names in my list. That was how cultism took over Rivers State.
What exactly do you think the authorities should do to address the country’s security challenges?
My idea about how militancy ended in the Niger Delta is in the proposal I submitted to the late President Umaru Musa Yar’adua. If the government can tap from that idea, there would be peace, employment, because investors will also have the confidence to invest. Yes, it takes a strong man with a strong will to apply the nonviolent approach like Yar’Adua did. Unfortunately, our leaders today feel that it is only through force that the country’s security challenges can be addressed because they benefit from the so-called security votes. I only hope that they will know that if there is peace they will gain more than they are gaining from the security vote that is killing our people. I am still willing to help Nigeria to get peace.
You played a key role in the amnesty the Yar’Adua administration granted Niger Delta agitators; do you think the programme was a success?
The Amnesty programme was successful, and that is why militancy cannot return to the Niger Delta. The success was not because Amnesty was granted but because I was able to reconcile all the militants with themselves through t h e non-violent approach. On the 1st of January, 2008 Borokiri Police Station, and Hotel Presidential were attacked.
A journalist at a radio station called me on the 2nd January, 2008 and I condemned the attack. I made it clear that attacking any Police Station is like stripping the society naked. On the 3rd January, 2008 Ateke sent a message to me that he wants to see me. I said I want to see him too; I was talking to him through one of his brother.
He said to me in one of his camps in the creek that I must refute what I had said on the radio and I told him no because I heard that he was organizing humanitarian programmes in his Okirika Community and helping people in his village, that the two actions cannot go together (attacking Police Station and Humanitarian activities).
Ateke told me that in December, 2007, the then Government of Rotimi Amaechi attacked his community with JTF and a lot of people died and they carted away his money and valuables. He also told me that nobody has ever told him about the nonviolent approach, that anybody that comes to him said that if he does not fight back the government would say he is a coward and that they have defeated him.
Ateke said that was why he did what he did, that he didn’t wrong the government. I begged him that I would like to call the CP. He then asked his boys to bring my phone and I called the then CP, Felix Ogbaudu, telling him that at this time Ateke Tom was declared wanted. I now told him to please talk with Ateke Tom.
Was there a conversation between them?
I gave Ateke Tom the phone to talk to the CP and I heard the commissioner said to him; why did your boys attack my Police Station? Ateke replied; ‘your boys attacked my community and killed my people’. The Commissioner of Police said he was not aware of the operation by his boys. At the end I reconciled Ateke with the Commissioner of Police.
That was my first victory of reconciliation in this whole crisis. On that same day Ateke asked me to tell his boys what I have told him, he assembled them, for me to address them. After I addressed them, they agreed to allow peace to reign. I later went to the Presidency to see the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua) through a friend of mine who took me to the O.C. SSS, from the O.C. SSS I was taken to the President. I told him the Niger Delta issues, that the struggle of the Niger Delta has been hijacked.
A panel was now set up to hear me at Civil Defence H e a d – quarters Zone 5, Abuja. That was w h e r e we discussed and I c a l l e d m o s t of the militant l e a d e r s on phone to get their views to confirm that what I was saying was true. Even the then Vice Pres-ident Goodluck Jonathan never knew that such discussion was going on.
I told them not to tell him because his Special Adviser on Niger Delta frustrated my effort in trying to see the then Vice President. He said he has a proposal for 60 years to solve the Niger Delta issue; asking why must I come with a proposal for six months. Though the panel had already concluded the discussion and the panel report sent to Mr President.
Which of the militant leaders did you reconcile that you fondly remember?
The toughest and easiest was Ateke Tom and Soboma George. It was filled with suspense because none of us knew if would work out. I took Soboma George through the creeks, meeting several loyalist of Ateke Tom, hoping and praying for true reconciliation and lasting peace.
All through my experience in the creeks, I had never experienced the combined security forces like the one I saw on that day. I took Soboma George to Ateke Tom. In all of this fear, nothing happened and I saw heaven opened for peace. The joy I felt cannot be expressed. On that day, the 7th of July 2008 peace returned to the Niger Delta. It was easy for me because I believed in God’s strength and guidance through Non-violent approach.
At what point in your life did you realise that your life work revolves on non-violence struggle?
Ann Kio Brigs called me on phone in 2005 or thereabout that our brother Asari Dokubo has come back from Abuja after the invitation from former President Olusegun Obasanjo with Ateke Tom. She said that I should come and do what I know how to do best (to cover the event as a photographer). That was how I got involved, not knowing that God was exposing all the truth to me. I started videoing and snapping Asari Dokubo free of charge. I was happy to be part of something that can challenge a system to his face and say this is not right. I have never been a militant and hope not to be one. Since then I couldn’t go back knowing that the way to Peace is not with the use of force.
Which of the former presidents really understood your mission and keyed into it?
The late President Yar’ Adua did not only believe in my proposal for non-violent approach, he also granted my request for amnesty. Former Lagos State Governor, Asiwaju Ahmed Tinubu was the only person who supported me with cash of Two Million, Five Hundred Thousand Naira (N2.5m). He believed in my vision, that I will bring peace to the Niger Delta.
I called Ateke Tom from Tinubu’s house in Lagos in 2008 when Ateke and others were still declared wanted by the then River State Governor to assure him that he will support me to achieve Amnesty for them and he did. Rt. Hon. Austin Opara, a former Deputy Speaker, Federal House of Representatives also encouraged me. These are the only persons that practically supported me financially.
I believe these persons have the right to say they know about how the amnesty came, may God bless them. The former Vice President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Dr. Alex Ekwueme also appreciated my efforts, he told me that when he heard the name Erekosima, he wanted to confirm if I was the son to the late I.D. Erekosima who was the first black Principal of Government College Umuahia. He said he was glad and that he was not surprised because my grandfather Late Dr. I.D. Erekosima was his friend, that he was proud to honour me with an award under the ZIC African Ideology Legacy Award.
Balogun: Internet cost’ll reduce by 50% if…
Mr Lekan Balogun is the Chief Executive Officer of Bitflux Communications Limited, a wholesale Internet service provider company. In this interview with SAMSON AKINTARO, he speaks on factors affecting cost of Internet in Nigeria and how government policies can change the situation. Excerpts:
Heralding the era of broadband, Bitflux was issued license by Nigerian Communications Commission in 2014 to provide wholesale services, how has the journey been?
It’s been good. We were actually licensed to provide wholesale wireless access service using 2.3 gigahertz spectrum. So it’s been pretty good. Of course, we are about to expand our footprint within the city by deploying more base stations. At the moment, we are almost covering major parts of Lagos and we plan to go to other cities within the shortest period. It’s been challenging, but we give thanks to God.
Certainly, operators in the industry are facing many challenges, which continue to impede their capacity to expand and improve on their service delivery, can you specifically tell us some of those challenges as it affect your operations?
The challenges are many but I think I like to talk about what is changeable by the government the major part is regulation. There is need for the government to create the enabling environment for corporate organisations to be able to operate smoothly. There’s always the issue of multiple taxation; you get charged by local governments, you get charged by state governments and also the federal government. All these charges add up to the operating costs and make it so high. So, I think government has to work out collaborations between regulators and agencies responsible for taxes and all tiers of government. For example, something as simple as Right of Way can shut down your project for many months and even years and you know what that does to your cash flow projections. So, those are the areas we are looking forward to a better collaboration and cooperation between government and the private sector to create the enabling environment for all of us, because if that environment is conducive, government will get more money and private sector will also get more money. At the end of the day, the economy is going to boom and all of us are going to benefit from it. So, that’s one of the challenges.
Second major one will be of course, power, which we all know. Without power from the grid, you have to make your own provision for power. And the kind of business we run, you need 24/7 power. So you have to improvise and look at different sources you can generate power from to keep the system running. So, those are the two major challenges that must be addressed to move the industry forward.
You mentioned the issue of Right of Way, is it that the charges are too high or governments are slow in granting the permit?
It is a reflection of both, because if you are supposed to get permit and the cost is high, even though you need it, you have to think about it again and ask yourself: Is it worth the cost? This is because somebody is going to pay for that cost. Again, for you to get it, the processes are too long and by the time you get it, you have already lost your market share. So, the problem we are having is a reflection of both the price and the process of getting the permit. At times, that process can take forever, particularly depending on the states. Some states are faster, but some just have to take the time and because the land belongs to the government, you really have to wait and follow the process.
Several recent reports have established that cost of internet in Nigeria is still very high compared to other countries, as a company at the centre of this service provisioning, is there anything you are doing that can drive down cost of internet access in the nearest future?
Well, it’s not just about us as a company because the price that you see in the market is made up of several things. I just mentioned to you the issue of power. You see, if 60 per cent of your operating costs is going to power, that cost is going to go to someone, otherwise, you will not be able to provide service after you have spent the initial money you have. So, you need to recover that cost so that you can put it back to the business and sustain the next move. So, power is one of the biggest contributing factors into why the price of Internet is high in Nigeria. If power is fixed in this country, you can be sure that there will be, at least, 35 to 40 per cent reduction in the cost of internet access in the country. This is because a lot of costs that you need to buy generators, buy diesel, maintain generators and all that will no longer be there. In fact, I think the cost of internet is going to go down much more than 40 per cent if power is fixed; I can assure you that at least 50 per cent of the cost would go down right away because if you have good, stable and reliable power supply, every other cost is minimal. And this thing is not difficult to do, but for whatever reasons, we are just not getting it done as a country.
How does availability of spectrum come into play in all these?
Well, of course, I’m taking it for granted that you’ve acquired your entire infrastructure, and now you are running the infrastructure. Of course, the cost of setting up infrastructure is also a major part of the cost because you pay a lot for getting the spectrum but if you compare that globally, it’s neither here nor there, it’s a bit fair. But then, you are still going to import your equipment and as you pass through the border, anything telecoms attracts high rate, which shouldn’t be. Government should be encouraging importation of the equipment because they are national assets; that is the way government should look at it. They are assets for national development and they are very essential. Look at it this way, if all networks and internet are shut down today, this country would be in a mess because our lives are now so dependent on these things. There are people who have not stepped into banks for the past two years, you see. So, imagine shutting down that whole process of getting your money at your convenience. So, there should be more understanding from government, particularly the agencies that are responsible for many of these things, to ensure that they create an environment that can make people bring in those equipments at a very good rate. Once that is done, you can be sure that every other thing will take shape.
Talking about infrastructure, there is currently a wide digital gap in the country today as network operators focus more on cities at the expense of rural communities. For instance, the current 33 per cent broadband penetration in country is said to be concentrated in three major cities, what do you think can be done to bridge this gap?
You are very correct, but also remember that majority of the population are also in the cities. So what’s left in the remote locations is not a large number, but we also need to have a national coverage, because as a government, you want to be able to provide for every citizen, you know, and also the same thing, where you have a national licence, you’re supposed to at least have it touch point in majority of places. So, terms of bridging the gap, there is a need for synergy between the private sector and the public sector. The private sector is not set up to go and roll out fibre free of charge, you know, in every remote location, somebody has to bear that cost and that is government’s responsibility, because the taxes are paid to government. Government is supposed to come to the table and put in the necessary framework that will enable the private sector to collaboratively work with government to put those things in place. So, if I, for example, go and roll out fibre in, let’s say, 17 local governments in Sokoto State, what returns am I going to get from that? It will definitely not give me a good return apart from maybe some popular local governments there. But if I have to cover the whole state, it means I have to spend some money that will never be recovered. So, government can prioritise to say, well, of all the 25 local governments we have, you can put something for us in 15 local governments and through that, you link all the local governments, then you find government to government and government to citizen relationship and collaboration becomes automated. So, at the end of the day, government will be the biggest beneficiary of that kind of project because they would now be able to provide services to the people in a very seamless way. So, infrastructure is a factor in bridging the digital divide, however, the private sector will not be able to answer that call, it has to be the government.
But do you think the Infrastructure Companies (InfraCos) licensed by the Nigerian Communications Commission to deploy infrastructure across the country with subsidies from government would be able to address this?
Absolutely, that is going to helpquite a lot. But remember, that doesn’t solve the last mile connectivity challenge. The InfraCos will drop the fibre just like I mentioned earlier about local governments, but that doesn’t get to your house. So, a synergy of the InfraCos with a company like Bitflux that happen, remember I told you earlier that we have wireless access license. When the InfraCo is dropping the fibre maybe at the last terminal, we take it and wirelessly make that signal available to people in different houses and homes. So, that kind of infrastructure development being supported by the government is very, very essential.
For the InfraCos, the government is certainly supporting them and we are saying that even for the wireless access providers, you need to do the same. Otherwise, the fibre can just land, let’s say for example, at TBS, how do I take it to my house? You will not be able to run fibre everywhere, it’s never a strategy anywhere in the world to run fibre to every doorstep in a country, it doesn’t happen that way, but you run it to the streets, and strategic places and you can then spread the signal with wireless devices.
You company was recently honoured with some industry awards, what does this mean to the organisation?
Thank you very much. It’s about what we do; it’s about excellence in broadband. One of the things that we do as Bitflux is to build and operate networks, then make that available in the wholesale model to the retailers so that they can sell to the end users. So, we’ve been able to build a network with high availability. So, when you see people commending us for excellence services, it is based on what we have over the years, because when the network is available and the network is good, people will certainly appreciate what you do and they will patronise you more. That is also good for our retail partners, because now they can also good customer service to their customers. So that’s basically what the awards means; it’s a reflection of the operational process we’ve put in place and also the continuous monitoring and continuous improvement that we go through regularly. So, for us, it’s a sign that we’re heading in the right direction. We are not yet there, so we also have to continue to improve more and more on a daily basis.
In the next five years, where do you see Bitflux?
Oh! In the next five years, I think Bitflux will have been able to cover quite a lot of the states in Nigeria. We will have been able to contribute massively to broadband penetration growth for the next five years, which is expected to be about 70 per cent. As we expand more, we’re very mindful of that. And then, we will have been able to contribute to change in lifestyles of the people, because the next five years, this same Nigeria is going to be a different country, not necessarily because all the streets will be tarred, but because technology will have changed things. Where we were five years ago is different from where we are now, so in the next five years, technology will force a lot of improvements in the country because by then, people are just going to be demanding for excellent services because they have seen that online.
Going by the expected advancement in technology and current trends, do you see Nigeria deploying 5G anytime soon?
Well, in Nigeria of today, we have not even deployed 3G in some places, even in other countries of the world where 5G is being deployed, most are not on commercial scale yet. 5G is going to come in Nigeria at the right time, but I don’t think anybody is going to deploy it in the next two to three years. Even if you deploy the technology today, do we have 5G handsets? Most of the mobile devices we have are not 5G-enabled. The market has to be ready for it before an operator deploys it. It is good to talk about it; it is good to be aware of it, but business-wise, I don’t think any telco in Nigeria will be looking at that now.
ADR key to tackling congestion of cases in courts – Imhanze
Mr. Ituah Imhanze is an Arbitrator. In this interview with AKEEM NAFIU, he speaks on AGF’s plea for better funding of justice ministry, Kogi Deputy Governor’s impeachment, delay in justice system and sundry issues
What is your take on the demand by the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF), Abubakar Malami (SAN), for the allocation of 2.5 percent of recovered looted funds to his Ministry to service logistics, operational costs as well as payment to private lawyers and consultants?
Firstly, a plea with very valid reasons and not a demand was made by the Attorney General of the Federation. As long as due process is followed, the allocation would be helpful to offset the judgement debts of the Federal Government of Nigeria which already stands to the tune of N150 billion. The operational costs of hiring private consultants and lawyers also need to be settled as these legal practitioners and/or consultants need to be reimbursed for cost incurred and legal advisory or representative services rendered to the Federal Governemnt through the Ministry of Justice.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) claimed to have recovered about N939 billion since 2015. However, many Nigerians believed these funds only appeared on paper. How do we make the anti-graft agency accountable for these recovered funds?
Firstly, we must give credit to the EFCC. There is no doubt that they are doing a good work within the resources available to them. Having said that, agencies of government are by their enabling Acts and extanct laws made accountable for their acts whilst in office and out of office.
There must be clear cut reporting lines and the need for a periodic publications of recovered loots and their status. Accountability is key in the discharge of this onerous assignment. All organs of government must be seen to be providing checks and balances as and when necessary. The Legislature must as a matter of policy carry out their oversight functions. There is an absolute need for transparency in the actions of an institution like the EFCC.
It is suggested that there should be a collaboration between the EFCC and the office of the Attorney General of the Federation in establishing a Committee or an inter-governmental agency charged solely with the management of recovered assets. This will no doubt ensure accountability and transparency.
Do you share the sentiments that the Kogi State House of Assembly has violated Section 188 (8) of the Constitution by going ahead to impeach the Deputy Governor, Elder Simon Achuba, despite the fact that he was cleared of any wrongdoing by the 7-man panel set up by the State’s Chief Judge?
In the removal of a Deputy Governor of a State, the proper procedure is clearly outlined in Section 188 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (As amended).
Section 188 (8) clearly provides that “Where the panel reports to the House of Assembly that the allegation has not been proved, no further proceedings shall be taken in respect of the matter”. It is settled law that any act or procedure done in contravention of the Constitution (the ground norm and the foremost legislation of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is to the extent of its inconsistency null and void.
Trial delay is a major problem in the Nigerian judicial system. Cases often spend years before they are concluded. How do you think judicial proceedings can be hastened up?
Nigeria is a highly litigious country. There are so many cases pending before different judges of different courts. There are not enough judges to handle these cases that increase by the day. Overhaul of the system, constant feedback, and equipping the judiciary with modern technology and tools will help in no small way. It is about time that judges stopped taking notes in long hands. Stenographers should be provided to all courts and judges should be trained and retrained in the use of these modern technologies.
Furthermore, arbitration and mediation should be encouraged in the resolution of disputes. Every disputes should not be taking to court. The Lagos Multi Door Court House is a good example that should be emulated by all. Reforms and innovations should be encouraged to meet with the demands of modernisation. New technology should be leveraged, and not just technology for data collection.
Artificial Intelligence is fast maturing and with further advances in machine learning, standardised data collection can assist judges in forming judgements. The use of information technology during court proceedings for transcribing proceedings, e-filing, e-service, use of computers and mass storage devices for keeping records of cases in court must also be embraced.
Lawyers should also be enlightened on the need to save the time of court by encouraging them to advice their clients against filing frivolous and time wasting applications to delay the progress of suit, and waste the precious time of the court as well as the need to be diligent and well prepared in prosecuting their matters.
Lawyers, who charge per video conferencing is statutorily provided but rarely available in practice and infrequently used even if available. Accountability needs to be fixed on individuals causing repeated and needless delays in dispensing justice. Adoption of the fast track procedure, summary judgment, proper case management conferencing under the respective states Civil Procedure Rules in other states in Nigeria are highly recommended.
What is your advice to the Federal Government on how to tackle the growing spate of insecurity in the country?
Economic instability, poverty, unemployment rates are recurrent factors which encourage vices in the society. There should be continuous efforts in making the Nigerian clime conducive and the creation of an enabling environment for its citizenry in engaging in trade, business or occupation. The government must continue to engage all stakeholders in finding lasting solutions to the conflict between the herders and farmers in the country. There should be capacity building and the creation of competitive incentives for officers and men of the Nigerian army and other security agencies. There must be collaborative efforts of all security agencies in area of intelligence gathering.
How do you think the Judiciary can help in the fight against corruption?
According to Justice Akinila Aguda (of blessed memory), “It is almost axiomatic that the judiciary plays a preeminent role in any democratic dispensation. Indeed, a political system can be considered as on the basis of the extent to which the judicial arm is permitted to hold the scale of justice over and above the other arms of government. The source of authority of the judiciary for exercising this critical function is of course, the Constitution…”
A judicial officer is expected to be a recluse of a kind, sparingly seen outside of the courtrooms; they have a closed circle of friends and deliberately avoid the camera and limelight. This no doubt would minimize the incidence of personal or pecuniary interest when adjudicating in corruption-centered suits. The judiciary must be seen to be truly independent without any form of interference by both the Legislature and Executive save in the area of constitutionally recognised checks and balances. Better funding is also advocated.
The judiciary’s duty is to interpret the law, and in doing so they should decide cases brought before them in accordance with the provisions of the law and award deserving and appropriate sanctions where necessary regardless of whose ox is gored.
The National Judicial Council, The Federal Judicial Service Commission and other State Judicial Service Commissions must continue to be strict in melting out appropriate sanctions against all erring judicial officers.
Why I’m gunning for PhD at 87 – Olola Ogunlan
Born as far back as 1932, Olola Olabode Ogunlana stands tall today as the Doyen of Insurance in Nigeria. A graciously aging patriot who has continued to give himself to the country after serving Nigerian for decades, he is currently studying for his PhD at 87 years old. With publications including Quest for the Rare Leaf and Other stories, Yoruba Love Stories and Out of the black pot, the chairman of SCIB, who started his career at Inland Revenue Department and later Royal Exchange Assurance Group before the old Western Nigerian Government appointed him General Manager and Director, Great Nigeria Insurance Company Limited and later Managing Director of National Insurance Corporation of Nigeria (NICON), spoke to ADEDAYO ODULAJA.
How many of your peers do you still get to call upon or meet with regularly?
I still relate with many of them. Days ago, I spoke to one of my classmates who is now 88. This morning, I have talked to one who turned 90 years old back in July, a few of us are still around although many of us are dead. So we still get to meet once in a while.
As a trail-blazer in the insurance subsector in Nigeria but who can you say influenced your choice of career?
That is a mighty question. I was not planning to be in insurance; I was studying to be an architect with a passion in fine art, technical drawing and all such but my boss, a friend of my father. Both of them had attended St Andrew’s College between 19 and …, he was my boss and he said I should take the exams for fun. I did and although it was for fun, I passed. And the western government wanted to give scholarships for insurance.
In those days, it was a great thing to go abroad so I applied and was given a scholarship.
Before then, I was a civil servant, working at the Inland Revenue which was until sometime in 1951 but since 1st of April, 1952 I got into insurance and I became stuck since then. I was in royal exchange for 17 years, then I took over the management of the western Nigeria government insurance company in those days called Great Nigeria where I served for five years. Then I went into the national insurance corporation of Nigeria, became the first managing director and later started a company of my own.
That company became 41 or 42 years old this year so I have been in insurance now for about 67 or 68 years.
Which moments can you recall now as some of your greatest moments in this storied career you just mentioned in a few minutes?
Frankly, everyday in my life is an important moment. In addition to everything else, i am a lay preacher and I got licence from 1966. So when a man goes to bed and wakes up in the morning, it is by the grace of god. And if you believe in god, anything that you put your hand in, is a great moment. Recently, we had an event that was called celebration of our heroes in the insurance industry and I was honoured as the doyen of the insurance industry.
It was a joy for me seeing all the big men who were either my students or worked under me, some of them using walking sticks and i felt really great and thank god.
So, honestly, everyday is a great moment but many don’t think about god. If i may compare to when I was young, Nigeria has become a god-less nation. Because people say ‘I’m a Chris tian’ and when you ask them which church they attend, they don’t have any. How can someone say ‘I belong to the Armed Forces when you are not in the Army, Navy or the others?
Although I have lived for just about 87 years, I have seen great changes but Nigeria is not on the right path. Apart from the great impact you made in the insurance sector, you are also a great reader and author. What informed your love for books and reading? My father was a teacher and from the age of 10 in our home, you had to read two novels a month. By the time you were 13, you graduate to six novels a month. So that made me love reading, writing and poetry.
It all goes with my love for nature, I am a child of nature. I love the environment and joined the boy’s scout in 1942 and I am still there. In scouting, you tell stories, you dramatise stories and it is a way of life.
I was chief commissioner for the scout in Nigeria, I was their president in Africa and their vice president for the whole world. I go to Germany and other places for scouting events and all of them entail storytelling. In the Boy’s Scout, I was known as Olabode opitan (storyteller). You must tell stories and I ask questions. I asked questions of my grandfather who died in august 1939 and he used to tell us stories he heard from his father and grandfather.
That is nature of the Oral culture which is now dying. This background would easily explain your love for the preservation of culture?
Yes, for instance since 1975 when I left service, I stopped wearing suits and I dress not just in native dresses but with a cloth wrapped around it like this. That is the way my grandfather dressed and I belong to Egbe Ijinle Yoruba where we teach children Yoruba culture, about our food, our folksongs and show the value of indigenous ways that have been undervalued during the colonial period.
Most tribes are doing it now, I am happy to say, Igbos, Hausas, Efiks and we should all value our own traditional ways because it is the sum total of them that make a nation.
Unfortunately we have not been able to weld all of them into one and we cannot discuss in one language and with one purpose. You said the western regional government put the scheme in place that aided your scholarship and later bringing you on board to manage the region’s insurance company. It means those in charge must have seen the value in insurance at the time.
That fervour seems to have waned over the years? In the past, we had visionary leaders. Chief Obafemi Awolowo was responsible for starting Great Nigeria Insurance Company, the instrument he used was the Western Nigeria Finance Corporation.
He got his B.Com as a private student here and he knew the importance of invisible income to Britain, insurance, shipping, banking, accounting, transportation. So he decided to start the western region production development board and the area of specialty of that board was to give scholarships for all those subjects that would give invisible income. That was why he started the board around 1955, all of them are doing very well, that was how Great Nigeria was started.
The first manager was an American but then the politicians started to interfere and after seven years, they were making losses and they wanted to know why. So I was asked to come and take over management of the company, we got good managers, put our acts together and within three years, we broke even and we started building the Great Nigeria House. Leadership counts, visionary leadership is what Nigeria lacks. And in those days, we had that through a personality like Chief Awolowo.
Who do we blame for the lack of visionary leadership we have today, with generations locked in the debate about which did better? Nation building is like a relay race. My grandfather ran his race, his sons were the sources of wealth, they all went to farm but when the missionaries asked him to give up one of his sons, that was his contribution. He passed the baton to my father who was trained by St. Andrew’s College as a teacher. He contributed his bit, after sometime, he resigned and went to the civil service.
He was the first manager of the law courts at Tafawa Balewa Square and in those days, when that place was built and my father was the manager, everything was spick and span. I was there recently, it was in shambles. Now I went into insurance, I am enjoying it, I built the Insurance Training Centre to build insurance managers and I can count no less than 50 managers I trained. It is like that, every generation should try and do it better than the one before it but there is a breakdown in Nigeria today.
That is why we have the issue about leadership. Education is like a triangle, this is home training. Many of our children today lack home training. In my time, we went to neighbourhood schools, my mother was a full housewife and she would walk me to door of St. Paul’s Breadfood School and at the close of school, she will be there to pick me up back home.
She would insist that I do my homework before i go and play ball with my friends so education starts from the home. Today, you don’t have that, the average father or mother would leave home so early because of traffic when the children are still in bed and also come back very late, again because of traffic when the children have gone to bed. And during the weekend when there should be children-parent bonding, they will be going for weddings and other ceremonies. So the base of education has been eroded.
And what they teach in schools nowadays is like the knowledge some people have put in a test tube, you just pinch it out and drum it into the heads of the children and when they are able to regurgitate them, they say they have passed and they are released into the school of life to start intermingling with other people. To produce visionary leaders, all the three must mix well together and that is not happening today.
I will give you an example, when we became independent in 1960, America, through the auspices of the ford foundation, gave Nigeria a present. They didn’t build a fountain like the funny thing you have as Tinubu Square, what was there before was a magnificent supreme court building.
It was knocked down to build that funny fountain. Instead, the Americans brought about 32 young Nigerians together drawn from different parts of Nigeria and we interacted for six weeks at the federal palace hotel.
And all of them without exception, went to the top. I will give you some examples, Prince Solomon Akenzua became the Oba of Benin, Dr Michael Omolayole became the chairman of Lever Brothers, late Olaku became the boss of SCOA, McEwen became the chairman of the Nigerian Ports Authority, I got on in insurance, among others.
The selection was very good and it was not a matter of who knew who; they wanted the best from the private and public sectors and got them. That is the way things should be done, do we do that in Nigeria of today, that is why things are like this.
Beyond what you just said, how do you see the educational terrain today?
We have millions of graduates today who are not employed, and some of them are unemployable because the system they went through, bought question papers, were dashed first class, they would not be able to perform.
Shouldn’t our leaders sit down and take a fresh look and redesign the educational system?
Sometime ago, i tried to put in place a school for the training of artisans. I got a parcel of land and applied for the c of o from the state government nine years ago. I am yet to get the c of o today but in the meantime I had interviewed teachers and lecturers in South Africa, Ghana, all over the place. I just wasted my money, $100,000 just went down the drain because I wouldn’t pay bribe.
Many are not doing things right because they are not patriots.
You went back barely 8 years ago to bag another B.A and a Masters and now you are gunning for a PhD at 87?
We are all students of life. Education is an aggression of knowledge. I am better able to do that now because I have lived for this long span and I have been tracing the history of the Yoruba since 1955 when I listened to the first in the series of the Lugard Lectures by Dr S.O Biobaku, he wasn’t even a professor then. And I told myself I must find out more about my background.
Buhari’s order to close border to check rice smuggling, good move –RIFAN President, Goronyo
Aminu Muhammad Goronyo is the President, Rice Farmers Association of Nigeria (RIFAN). In an interview with ABDULWAHAB ISA in Abuja, Goronyo said Nigerians consuming India, Thailand and other foreign sourced rice are consuming diseases. He commended President Muhammadu Buhari for ordering partial closure of Benin Republic border, reputed for the smuggling of foreign rice into Nigeria. Excerpts…
The President has ordered partial closure of Nigeria’s border to control smuggling of certain food items among which is rice into Nigeria. What is the position of RIFAN on this measure?
I don’t think it is a new thing. The issue of border closure to check rice import has been on board since 2015. There isn’t need for Nigeria to allow foreign rice to come into Nigeria. The president has instructed the Central Bank not to issue forex for rice importation into the country since 2015. We consume minimum of 8 million metric tons per annum. All the rice we have been consuming since 2015 , if there was no forex granted to import foreign rice, it then means that all the rice we have been consuming 2015 are grown locally. On the issue of border closure, it’s not a new thing. I don’t think Nigeria should bother about that, particularly with the issue of rice.
Does Nigeria have a capacity to produce tonnes of rice to feed her population?
What is our rice production strength? Which capacity are you talking about? Nigeria has enough land to cultivate rice. We have over 6 million hectares of land in the country for rice cultivation. We have enough farmers cultivating the rice, and we cultivate rice a minimum of twice in a year. There are areas where rice is cultivated thrice a year. We have the manpower, we have the land, we have the water, and efforts are being made to ensure we are sufficient in rice production in the country.
What is the role of CBN Anchor Borrower Programme (ABP) in rice value chain?
All success recorded with respect to enhance rice production in Nigeria is tied to CBN intervention with assistance of ABP as intervening vehicle. Number one, and this very important, Anchor Borrower Programme has successfully moved Nigeria into a global player of rice production. Today we produce locally, mill locally and farmers obtain support of government through the CBN. The bank has successfully helped Nigeria to achieve self sufficiency in rice. The bank has supported both the president and his administration to achieve rice sufficiency.
Which areas would you suggest to CBN to effect change for efficient administration of ABP?
Personally, I will say the bank has tremendously improved with its handling of the programme compared to 2015 when it kicked off with ABP. That time, in 2015, it was a government to government Programme, a conventional exercise. That has changed today. It has graduated to a private sector driven ABP where farmers,participating banks and input suppliers come together to transact the business with the support of CBN. It’s like from grass to grace. They started by identifying farmers who want to participate in ABP, but today commodity association identifies farmers that are currently participating in the programme. So it’s a tremendous success and progress.
Apart from Rice Farmers Association which you lead as its president, there is also the Rice Processors Association of Nigeria, RIPAN. What sort of relationship exists between the two associations?
We have a cordial relationship with RIPAN. They invite us for meetings from time to time; we also invite them for meetings. We share information so that we can synergize on rice production value chain. Our relationship is a very cordial one.
Input suppliers allege not long ago that they made supplies to your members and were denied payment by the CBN. What is the true position?
We have addressed that. We called the media to this office to address it. CBN doesn’t engage any input suppliers; it’s commodity association that engages input suppliers. For any input supplier to go on air or in pages of a newspaper to say CBN doesn’t pay them, I think he is not doing justice to CBN because the bank has no relationship with input suppliers. We have addressed you guys on the issue; we have intimated you that it was RIFAN that engaged input suppliers and we ensure everybody is paid. As I’m taking to you now, all input suppliers have been paid. The lady sitting close to you is one of the input suppliers, she has been paid. There is no input supplier struggling to be paid for input supplied to RIFAN.
RIFAN executives held crucial meeting yesterday. Some decisions were adopted, Could you share some of them?
We met here to reaffirm our support to Buhari’s declaration stopping all agric produce that are being imported into Nigeria. That’s was why met here in a nutshell. More importantly, we also, re- strategized to make sure we can produce more and more rice so that the country can get rice at affordable price. The slogan, grow Nigeria, eat Nigeria is a dominant slogan of this administration and we have keyed in to it.
As a strategic stakeholder in rice production, what would be Nigeria production strength in 25 years?
In the next twenty five, I can’t tell you what level of production we would have attained. I can confidently say and declare that before the end of this current four years’ tenure, Nigeria will be among the major key players in rice in the world. And, we are almost there. Today, CBN has successfully keyed Nigeria into all chains of agriculture where farmers would just walk into a commercial bank, get support without encountering difficulties like before. Farmers are now being identified electronically. No more analogue; no manual as was the case before. All our participating farmers are participating electronically and CBN initiated all of these. Before the end of the tenure of this government, like I said, Nigeria will be among the critical stakeholders of rice production in the world.
The high preference for foreign rice, India and Thailand, according to some Nigerians is due to their good taste which locally produced rice lacks. Is this true?
Which taste is better than other? May be you didn’t hear them clearly. Rice consumers in the country prefer locally produced and milled rice to foreign ones. The foreign rice is tasteless. We don’t call it foreign rice; we call it foreign disease because it is rice kept in silos for over six, seven years and transported to Nigeria. You’re eating foreign disease ignorantly. Every quarter they preserve the rice with a chemical. You can see the danger surrounding the rice you call foreign. Nigerian rice is more delicious, the taste is 100 percent better than foreign rice. In addition, you’re eating fresh rice compared to rice kept for seven years.
Affordability is another factor. Foreign rice is by far cheaper, affordable. Why is price of locally produced rice on the high side?
It appears you are not conversant with price of rice. Recently, RIPAN met and took a decision. We are selling Nigerian rice N13, 500; no foreign rice can be that cheap. Ours is cheaper, healthier and fresher.
The banks are still not well disposed to lending massively to agriculture sector. What is your advice?
I would want to advise banks to quickly key into massive lending to agriculture sector of the economy. Because, if they refuse to accord lending priority to agriculture, in the next two to three years they will try to be part of it and they will not have that opportunity. Agric sector is now booming. Next three, four years, it will be like the NNPC of 70s and 80s. The commercial banks should quickly join the queue and make agriculture lending their top priority.
Seven years every Sunday, my husband produced Village Headmaster –Bimbo Oloyede
Mrs. Bimbo Oloyede is the widow of the former producer/director of the foremost and longest drama series- on Nigeria Television Authority (NTA) – The Village Headmaster, Mr. Tunde Oloyede. As the members of the crew and cast of the popular sitcom prepare for the 50th anniversary next month, she told FLORA ONWUDIWE her commitment for the anniversary, her husband’s role and how they worked
The late Tunde Oloyede was one of the crew of the longest running drama series on television – The Village Headmaster (VHM). What do you know of his role as the producer/director, before he left the NTA?
I believe that he made major impact on the programme. He created new characters like Chief Eleyinmi and Okoro, who became firm favourites in the progamme. I also know that for 7 years plus he held rehearsals twice a week and spent every Sunday at the station, because VHM was aired on Sunday evenings and in the early days it was broadcast live.
He sought for sponsorships with some cast to ensure that the VHM comes back on the nation’s airwaves, what went wrong?
It is difficult to say but I know he made a huge effort on several occasions to bring it back on air. Maybe there was a marketing formula that the project did not get right or maybe it just was not the right time. Sometimes it takes years for an idea to click but when the time comes, no one can stop it.
And you were also instrumental in trying to resuscitate the drama series too?
As his wife, I had no choice but to be part of some of the strategy sessions and I recall going with him to make a presentation to a would-be sponsor. However, it was not to be. I also recall a weekend several years ago, when we hosted about five actors and producers of the VHM in Iyin Ekiti – my late husband’s home town. It happened that these men had become traditional rulers in their various towns and they were also interested in bringing back the programme. They spent three days looking at script ideas, coming up with new characters etc. It was quite a weekend.
We learnt that Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) would be celebrating VHM at 50?
Yes, since it was one of their flagship programmes and apparently many people still ask about VHM, the NTA and VHM cast/crew are partnering to commemorate the programme at 50. Quite a lot of activity is on-going to make it a befitting ceremony.
What is your level of involvement for the commemoration, because this was one of the programmes that your husband was passionate about?
I am very much involved actually. I am a member of the Planning Committee and though I cannot fill his shoes, I am trying to do things he would have done to make sure the commemoration is a successful one. He was very familiar with everyone involved, having worked with them for several years. I only know some of the cast who featured in the mid-1970s, when I worked as a floor manager on the programme, before being deployed to the News Department. I recently met newer cast members.
As some cast have joined their ancestors, who are the surviving legends, the audience would meet live during the celebrations?
Thank God that some of these actors are still with us. The people who played the parts of Amebo, Teacher Fadele, Okoro, Chief Eleyinmi’s wife, Chief Dagbolu, Garuba’s wife, Babalawo and Doctor will be part of the commemoration. I know there are other actors but I can’t remember their names right now and some of our crew members will also be there but as behind-the-scene people their faces are not usually recognized.
Former producers like Rev. Bayo Awala, Jimi Odumosu, Tade Ogidan are members of the VHM family and some people who were producers who are now traditional rulers in their towns, will also see be there to celebrate.
What are the activities lined up for the golden Jubilee celebrations?
There are three main activities. We are holding a round table discussion on Drama – the tool for national development. There will be a live Command Performance of the Village Headmaster and we are also going to have a gala night where NTA will give out awards and the Village Headmaster Family Foundation will be launched. These will take place within the second week of October.
After the commemoration, would the drama series hit the air waves?
Honestly, I cannot say. I know many would like that to happen but I think it depends on the NTA and the possibility of raising funds to produce the programme.
Production is quite different these days from the time when I worked on the set of VHM. It would take a lot of planning but I know it can be done if the decision is taken.
Would you say studying Theatre Arts was accidental or a wrong decision, you ever took in life?
When you say Theatre Arts it sounds as if I studied to be an actor. Actually my course was in Stage Management, which focused on lighting, sound, costume etc., the physical side of theatre.
Does this pay your bills?
In a way, it contributes towards paying my bills, although it is just part of what I do. However, if you consider that I was employed by the then NBC/TV as an assistant producer, based on my course on study, you could say that was my entry point into broadcasting, which has and still does pay my bills.
Could you tell us, what were your experiences like as a foreign student in the United Kingdom?
It was a very interesting experience and one that I am very grateful for, because it paved the way for my career in broadcasting. Living with strangers in a boarding school setting from a very young age, taught me to be independent and self-reliant. It also helped me to be adaptable to most situations and tolerant of most people. Since I also had elocution lessons from a young age, it paved the way for me to eventually become a News Anchor.
What were your major challenges?
Children adjust quite easily and I did not lack the basic things of life but it was difficult sometimes thinking about family back home and there were times when we had school programmes that I would miss not having my parents around to watch the things I was doing.
What would you recall as major productions that you participated in the UK?
I took part in fringe productions while I was a student but actually, after leaving school, I did not stay in the UK long enough to participate in any major productions. I returned to Nigeria quite quickly and was fortunate not to have to wait too long, before getting a job I was happy with.
What makes the VHM differ from other drama series that people are yearning for the programme to come back?
I think it was its simplicity, its characters, its humour and the messages it shared. Each episode had a message that could not be ignored and the characters were amazing too. Their language was insane. You never knew how else the English language was going to be destroyed. All these features added to its popularity and acceptance. Of course it also featured characters who represented major parts of the nation, so it was a mirror for viewers who could all relate to the situations and characters. After all, we all know our village schools, our local palace, the village square, the local beer parlours etc. These were perspectives that resonated with everybody.
In what way has your course of study helped you in other areas of life?
Production and presentation, whether in the theater or on television takes a lot of discipline. You cannot work haphazardly in either field and expect a reasonable result. It does not happen. So my background and work have taught me how to be disciplined, how to work within certain time frames and also how to be time conscious.
Could you tell us some major drama programmes that you featured in Nigeria either stage or television?
I only spent one year in the drama department working as a floor manager on the Village Headmaster and an assistant producer on On Stage. On Stage featured local drama groups, whose productions were in various Nigerian languages. Then I was deployed to the News Department. Many decades later I had a minor role in a TV soap opera called Heaven’s Gate.
Your husband was a graduate of Theatre Arts and so are you and that made the union a perfect one, do you agree?
He actually majored in Sociology before studying drama and my area was originally in stage management so we definitely had common interests. We understood each other’s jobs and accommodated each other’s schedules, which were sometimes hectic, to say the least.
We learnt that your husband was dreaded by the cast of the VHM because he inculcated some levels of discipline among the cast and was professional, how do you explain that?
I told you that there has to be discipline in the theatre and that was where he trained before being employed in television. There was no way he was going to run a production on sentiment. You either shaped up or were shipped out or edited out if you like. Since he was also a writer, he was ready to re-write scenes on the spot to exclude those who did not attend rehearsals or who disrupted his production. Don’t forget, in those days VHM was broadcast live from the studio, although it was recorded during transmission.
What would you take away from your husband professionally?
He was focused, disciplined and creative.
The cast of VHM were people from different walks of life, but they took to acting as a hobby with passion, is there anything that was not done professionally that you can recall as a floor manager?
I think there were times when some people would come late for rehearsals, until they realized that whoever they were, they were not indispensable.
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