The Lagos metropolis is now full of northern and foreign motorcyclists. Many of them are believed to be fleeing members of Boko Haram, herdsmen and foreigners. In this report, JULIANA FRANCIS looks at the menace of these ‘strangers,’ highlighting lurking dangers
Mr. Timothy Oluwafemi works with a media outfit in Lagos State. Part of his duties is to go out every night to a printing press to ensure his company’s materials are printed.
It was a routine duty, with the greatest challenge ever encountered being traffic snarls along routes to the printing press.
But on February 6, 2019, everything changed for Oluwafemi, as he received his baptism of fire in the hands of commercial cyclists, otherwise known as Okada riders.
He was beaten within an inch of his life; a plank was used repeatedly to slam his face. No matter the number of times he tells the story, Oluwafemi always ends it with, “if not for God, I wouldn’t be alive today. Till date, I can’t hear with my left ear. Those Hausa cyclists wanted to kill me.”
On that day, Oluwafemi and his colleague, Oriade, left their office at Ikeja, headed for Kirikiri area of the metropolis. It was supposed to be a straight forward journey, but before the night was over, they were fighting to escape from some cyclists with their lives.
Oluwafemi said: “On that day, I was driving to the Kirikiri area, where we do our printing when we encountered the cyclists. My colleague, Mr. Oriade, was in the vehicle with me. When we got to Apple Junction, a cyclist in front of us suddenly fell down. Nobody or vehicle touched him; he fell because of his rough-riding. He hit a vehicle ahead of me. I stopped to avoid hitting him and his passenger. The car, which he hit, sped off.
“The guy got up and accused me of hitting him. I told him I had nothing to do with his falling. As we were arguing, his colleagues started coming one after the other. Before we knew it, they had surrounded us. I drove off. I thought I had escaped them. We had not driven more than five minutes when we suddenly heard a sound at the back of our vehicle. I looked at the side mirror and saw many cyclists, chasing us, and hitting the body of our van.
“Mr. Oriade asked me to stop; immediately I did, they rushed at our van and tried to forcibly open the doors. They were screaming that they would kill us. The time was about 8.45p.m. Mr. Oriade said I should drive off to the nearest police check point. I continued to drive until we got to Maza-Maza, Festac area. I saw two policemen and started shouting for help. I stopped the van. But the cyclists pursued, got close and forced us to stop by blocking us. They started vandalising our van right in the presence of the policemen.
“It was a frightful sight. The policemen ran away. The cyclists attacked us, Mr. Oriade and I. They carried a plank and slammed on my face through the open window. I had already locked the doors, so they couldn’t open them. In fact, in the process of trying to force the door open, they broke the handles. They shattered the front windscreen and side mirrors. It was at that point that Mr. Oriade opened his side of the door and fled. They used the stick to hit my ear, while I was still in the van. Just as they had appeared, they left. One of them said I should thank my God; that they were supposed to kill me.”
Oluwafemi said that a few minutes after the cyclists left, the fleeing policemen returned to the scene, screaming at him to quickly leave, fearful that the cyclists had gone to re-enforce.
He added: “The policemen said that was how the cyclists operated. They advised that I drive to the nearest police station, which was Festac Police Station.
“Everyone passing bye told me that I was lucky to be alive, that those cyclists used to kill people. At a point, I no longer knew what was happening because I was too scared and was in shock. I thought I would be killed. The policemen told me that the cyclists were wicked and whenever there was crisis, they used to kill policemen.”
Oluwafemi’s encounter with the cyclists is what most residents of Lagos go through. Lagos State has become flooded by foreign cyclists and those from northern part of the country. They are hostile, belligerent and confrontational. They often carry out mob attacks.
According to investigations, a good number of people have been killed, maimed or injured by these violent cyclists. A security source disclosed that many of these cyclists are armed with guns, daggers and machetes. It is also believed that many of them are militia group fleeing North-East. Security agents see them as contributing to the growing insecurity in Lagos.
“Some are from northern part of Nigeria, but the majority are foreigners. Many of them are from Mali, Chad, Benin Republic, Niger Republic, Ghana, Sudan, among others. But you wouldn’t know by looking at them. People just assumed they are all Nigerians from the North. You will need to get close to them to know,” the security source added.
It’s not a crime for other nationals to come into Lagos to seek greener pastures, but it becomes a problem when many are believed to be militia groups, posing security concerns.
The number of cyclists coming into Lagos and those coming from other countries continue to swell, with nobody checking the influx or taking note of the security implication.
Lagos, being a cosmopolitan state, had never witnessed such influx of northerners and foreigners like it has today. The fact that it is a cosmopolitan state also means there are usually breakouts of ethnic violence. Ethnic violence, breaking out in today’s Lagos, is better imagined than seen.
Cyclists, since former Governor Babatunde Fashola left the throne of Lagos State, have taken over the state transportation system. They are now prevalent in every nook and cranny of the mega city. In fact, the question should be which part of Lagos are they not prevalent? Commercial cycling is a ready market in Lagos, no thanks to the bad roads and constant traffic jams.
There are no checks on the influx of foreigners into state. A new arrival in Lagos, who didn’t have motorcycle, is taken to Seriki (leader) of the community he finds himself. A motorcycle is given to him on hire purchase and commercial cycling starts the following day. Many do not even know how to ride motorcycle, leading to accidents and deaths on roads. Many of them do not have accommodation so they sleep inside uncompleted buildings.
Lagos State has become a safe haven for every fleeing criminal, either from the North or other African countries. In the next five years, Lagos State may have to pay bitterly for harbouring these cyclists. Security experts alleged that these cyclists are also into armed robbery and kidnapping.
Aside from cycling, there is an increase in the number of northerners and foreigners working as guards in Lagos communities and erecting street kiosks. Security experts on different platforms have openly asked what would happen today or in the next five years, if these cyclists decide to take up arm. Do the police in Lagos have enough manpower to counter such security eventualities?
Chief Ukadike Uzoma (60), who has been living in FESTAC for over 30 years, lamented the influx of the cyclists.
He said: “We were used to taxi and Lagos State Transport Corporation (LSTC) buses, but today, cyclists have taken over everywhere. In fact, 90 per cent of security guards in Festac today are from the Nnorth. They live in makeshift houses, sell suya (barbeque), and are truck pushers. One of them is very close to me. I asked him why this sudden influx of cyclists into Lagos, he replied that they make more money here than any other state.
“However, many of these cyclists are reckless and if there are 10 accidents on the road, eight would be motorcycle accidents. In cases of stealing, robbery and snatching, cyclists are behind these crimes.”
Uzoma noted that many of these cyclists do not have number plates and because of that, they are difficult to track after commission of crimes.
He said: “If you have problem with one, more than 20 will surround you. They beat and attack as a mob. At least 80 per cent of these cyclists are from the North. They carry weapons like it’s natural to them. Many of them boast that they are in charge in Nigeria and that whatever they do, nothing will happen. Among the cyclists are people from Niger, Chad, Mali and other African countries.
“I was shocked to discover that most of these cyclists have their complete immigration’s documents. One of them told me that they got their papers from Immigration officials and it’s usually within a week. A syndicate must be involved. Many of them from foreign countries get their papers within a week and start bearing Nigerian names.
“Many of them are displaced terrorists. If not checked, terrorism will soon take over Lagos. The ferociousness with which many of them challenge people, tells you that they had received some sort of paramilitary training.”
Another FESTAC resident, Mr. Odafe Bossa, explained that he discovered that most of the violent cyclists, strangely believe they have the constitutional rights to behave violently.
“They move in groups and people now avoid them. If you hit them or they hit you, you’re in trouble. If you argue with them over money, they will stab you. They act with impunity.
“If they take one-way and run into you, and you caution them, they call you stupid. One of them killed a young man in my community. The young man was his passenger. He and the cyclist were arguing over money. The cyclist brought out a dagger and stabbed the passenger in the chest. He died on the spot. They have a lot of venom in them, and are seeking to let it out. They intimidate people everywhere and when you go to the police to lodge complaint against them, police are reluctant to act. Policemen are also afraid of them.”
Although the Lagos State government appears not to be too keen in taking a decisive step in checking the influx of cyclists, policemen at FESTAC have started building profiles on the activities of these violence-exhibiting cyclists.
A police officer said: “The influx of the foreign motorcycle operators is a very big challenge, which if not checked, could cause harm. This year alone, we have recorded several issues with these cyclists. They are always ready to maim and kill. They operate as a pack. If you hit them, trouble, if they hit you, trouble. In fact, they would scream at you, shouting that if they kill you, nothing would happen. They will tell you that their brother is in charge of Nigeria.”
“One day, a naval officer made a distress call that he was in danger. If not that we got there on time, the motorcycle operators would have killed him. We asked him what happened; he said that he was driving, when one of the motorcycle riders fell. He said that his car didn’t even touch the rider. And before he knew what was happening, many cyclists descended on him like bees; they destroyed his car. He barely managed to make the distress call.
“The naval officer’s experience was nothing compared to what they did to a transport company’s bus. They destroyed a brand new bus and nearly killed the driver, who managed to escape from them. When some of them were arrested, they didn’t waste time in detention. They were released. They behave like animals in human skin. Some of those guys are from countries like Chad, Mail, Niger,” the officer added.
The violence in these cyclists was witnessed early this year at Ejigbo area of the Lagos metropolis, where they attempted to burn down a police station. They damaged seven cars parked in front of the station.
The cyclists attacked Ejigbo Police Station and would have burnt it, but for the Divisional Police Officer (DPO), a Chief Superintendent of Police (CSP), Mrs. Olabisi Okuwobi, and her vigilant policemen.
The vehicles destroyed by the suspects included a police operational van and Response Rapid Squad (RRS) pick up van.
Trouble started after some cyclists plying Ikotun-Egbe, Isolo and Cele Express, chased RRS operatives, attempting to attack the policemen. The cyclists claimed that the RRS operatives knocked down one of their colleagues. The time was about 11p.m.
A police officer, working at Ejigbo station, said: “We were handing over reports to the next shift, when three operatives of RRS ran into the station, screaming for help. They didn’t have enough time to warn or tell us who was chasing them. We started hearing sounds of vehicles being smashed. The vehicles were parked outside the police station. We were able to mobilise policemen, who prevented the suspects from further attacks and gaining entry into the station. They destroyed many vehicles, including police vans.
“The DPO mobilised officers and went after the suspects. We were able to contact the Ejigbo Seriki, who assisted the police to make some arrests. The cyclist, who was alleged to have been hit by RRS van, was arrested too. Earlier, the cyclists had claimed that their colleague, who was knocked down by RRS operatives was in the hospital. When the cyclist was finally located and arrested, he was in a mechanical workshop in Ejigbo.”
The RRS operatives denied getting close to the cyclist. The operatives explained that the cyclist, who was riding one-way, tried to reverse and bolt when he sighted the police van, but fell in the process of trying to make a fast reverse.
Another police officer said: “The RRS operatives were still driving, heading to their destination, when they noticed that many cyclists were chasing them. Knowing the attitude of the Hausa cyclists, the RRS operatives decided to drive into the nearest police station, which was Ejigbo Police Station. Although the cyclists saw that the RRS men drove into the station, they still pursued them. They tried to force their way into the station, but the policemen on duty repelled them. Angry, they started attacking vehicles parked in front of the station. They repeatedly hurled stones into the station.”
The Seriki of Hausa community in Ejigbo, Alhaji Mohammed Ibrahim, promised that such a situation would not happen again. He disclosed that he and other leaders had warned the cyclists from taking laws into their hands. Ibrahim threatened that any of their members who takes the law into his hands, would be sent home.
Doctors’ brain drain draining Nigeria’s health sector
Nigeria loses at least 12 doctors to other countries on a weekly basis while 88 per cent of doctors currently practising in the country are planning to relocate to developed nations. APPOLONIA ADEYEMI and REGINA OTOKPA highlight factors driving the trend and ways to stop it
In the middle of the night, Aisha Ibrahim developed high temperature and shortly after, she was vomiting non-stop.
As early as 7.30a.m., the next morning, she was rushed to the hospital but couldn’t see the doctor until past 11a.m. owing to the large crowd at the reception. They were all waiting to see the doctor.
After joining another queue to run a scan and other tests requested by the doctor, Aisha returned home still in pains as late as past 2p.m. with no drugs prescribed, as the doctor had closed for the day by the time she was done running the scan.
“I wanted to give him the result from the scan at least while we wait for results from the swab tests that should be ready in two days, but I couldn’t meet him. I might just visit a pharmacy and lay my complaints. There is no need going back to the hospital tomorrow; I will just wait for all the results so I can pass through all this stress just one more time,” she lamented.
Another patient in another hospital, Vivian Okala, said she was going to the health facility twice every month.
She said: “Most times, I am referred to strange faces and different doctors. I am always told that the medical doctor that attended to me the last time I was in the hospital has left the country. As a patient I feel heartbroken anytime my doctors leave, but what can I do when the system treats them poorly? The truth is that most of these doctors leave for better working conditions and you can’t blame them.”
The cases of Aisha and Vivian are two out of the millions of complaints when one visits the Out- Patient-Department (OPD) of public hospitals in the country. Currently, hundreds of Nigerian doctors including those resident in the country as well as some that studied medicine in the Diaspora, are preparing to write the Professional and Linguistic Assessments Board test, known as the PLAB test, which could qualify them to practice medicine in the United Kingdom (UK).
Many doctors in the country presently have registered to participate in the next PLAB test, which is scheduled to hold in Nigeria in November. Some Nigerian doctors currently in service and some that are unemployed are preparing to participate in this test. Sometime in May, hundreds of Nigerian doctors participated in another examination, which held at the Ladi Kwali Hall of Sheraton Hotel, Abuja, a recruitment exercise organised by the Saudi Arabian Ministry of Health. The ministry sought the employment of medical consultants, specialists and medical officers in various fields with priority areas such as anaesthesia, paediatrics, surgery, emergency and internal medicine, as well as ophthalmology.
One of the Nigerian doctors, Abubakar, who participated in that examination was working in a university teaching hospital where he earned “around N600,000,” a month as a consultant but the Saudi health ministry actually proposes between $3,000 (equivalent of N1 million) and $8,333 (equivalent of N3 million) as monthly salary.
A similar recruitment exercise was held in Lagos and the number of doctors who participated was about five times higher than the approximately 300, that attended the two sessions in Abuja. “The whole place (in Lagos) was full that people had to stay outside; more than 700 came that day,” a doctor told his colleague, according to a report.
Based on the trend by medical doctors to migrate abroad to practice medicine, the PLAB test, the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE), among others, have become special attractions for Nigerian doctors due to the better welfare package attached to practising medicine in developed countries including the U.S., Canada, Switzerland, UK, etc. No wonder the media, local and international, is inundated with tales of the emergence of Nigerian doctors as some of the best hands in advanced countries.
One of such is Dr. Oluyinka O. Olutoye, who was appointed Surgeon-In-Chief at the Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus Ohio in the U.S., with effect from August 1. In his role, he currently leads one of the largest children’s hospital surgery departments in the world, comprising 11 surgical departments. In a similar vein, another Nigerian genius, Dr. Olurotimi Badero, an interventional cardiologist and interventional nephrologist, has been recognised as the world’s first and only fully trained cardio-nephrologist (heart and kidney specialist combined).
Badero, who practices in Jackson, Mississippi in the U.S., and is affiliated with multiple hospitals in the area, including Merit Health Central and Merit Health River Oaks. Both Olutoye and Badero received their medical degrees in Nigeria before travelling abroad. These are just two of the numerous Nigerian doctors who have distinguished themselves in their medical practice abroad.
As the migration of the local doctors have continued unabated, the shortage of medical personnel in Nigeria is therefore not surprising. Those who remain and work in Nigeria struggle on a daily basis to offer care to as many patients in need of care services that visit the hospitals. As a result, these doctors are over-stretched and as such, fail to function optimally to provide adequate health care due to the heavy workload of attending to a large number of patients.
Although a good number of doctors take the Hippocratic oath to serve, the quality of healthcare delivery to patients in need of health services in the country is under threat, as the doctor to patient ratio presently stands at one doctor to 5,000 patients as against one to 600 patients as recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
By implication, the Nigeria health sector has been struggling to address the daunting public health challenges that has continued to weaken the system; maternal and child health indices have continued to remain dismal, there have been back to back outbreak of various infectious diseases in the last couple of years and universal access to quality health care is still at the lowest ebb.
One of the reasons is the consistent exodus of Nigeria-trained medical doctors to the U.S., UK, Canada, Australia, South Africa, United Arab Emirates (UAE) and even Ghana and Cote D’Ivoire to practice. According to NOI Polls, Nigeria loses no fewer than 12 doctors to other countries on a weekly basis. It further states that 88 per cent of doctors currently practising in the country wishes to relocate.
Figures released in February 2018 by the British Government indicate that no fewer than 5,405 Nigeria-trained doctors and nurses were currently working with the British National Health Service (NHS) in the UK. This means that Nigerian medics constitute 3.9 per cent of the 137,000 foreign staff of 202 nationalities working alongside British doctors and nurses.
This development, according to the Director, Policy and Advocacy, Nigeria Health Watch, Dr. Ifeanyi Nsofor, makes Nigeria the highest country engaged in diaspora remittances in the Sub-Saharan region and fifth in the world. In 2017 alone, Nigerians in the Diaspora sent home $22 billion, a 6.4 per cent increase from the amount repatriated in 2016. This proves that not only is Nigeria losing a lot in human resources, but it is also losing a lot of financial resources to other countries.
According to the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, doctors cost an African country between $21,000 and $51,000 to train. Nigeria is one of nine countries who have lost more than $2 billion since 2010 training doctors who thereafter migrate.
Meanwhile, countries like the UK and others are benefiting from this brain drain. With one in 10 doctors working in the UK coming from Africa, the country saves around $2.7 billion by recruiting these doctors.
But for a country with a growing population of over 190 million and having less than 40,000 registered doctors, these medical personnel are needed back home to attend to the citizens’ health as well as boosting the economy through their services. This is because besides the economic gain, the relocation of one doctor from the country affects 5,000 citizens, denying them access to quality care from a trusted medical practitioner.
There is no place like home, says an adage. This means that there are certain issues driving doctors, nurses and health workers out to offer their services in developed countries. A young graduate from the University of Jos, who didn’t want her name in print, said she was working towards completing a foreign licensing examination like many others, in order to get job placement abroad.
According to her, most of her friends have already left.
She said: “Only a few are remaining and they were equally making plans to make something more meaningful out of their lives.
“There are no good jobs in Nigeria and even when you get one, the pay is poor. Nobody appreciates the sacrifices of medical practitioners in Nigeria and I obviously didn’t spend so many years studying and denying myself a life only to be treated as insignificant.”
According to an Associate Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology from the Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria, Dr. Solomon Avidime, while the number of doctors registering to take national residency training qualifying examinations in the country is dwindling, the applications for foreign recruitment are on a steady increase.
“As at 2012, the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria (MDCN) reported that there were about 72,000 nationally registered Nigerian doctors, with only 35,000 practicing in the country. A deficit of over 260,000 doctors in Nigeria was established, looking at the population figure and growth rate, therefore moving forward and for Nigeria to meet up with recommended average of doctor to population ratio 1:600, a minimum of 10,605 new doctors need to be recruited annually.
“Even though this figure improved by 2019 as the MDCN has in its register 86,722 medical doctors from 1963 to 2019. A total of 4,357 dentists were registered from 1963 to 2019 while 32 alternative medicine practitioners were registered from 1992 till 2019,” Avidime, a one-time chairman of the Nigeria Medical Association (NMA), Kaduna State branch, said.
According to him, the gap is particularly critical for the country, which presently records some of the poorest health indices in the world, including being the fourth highest country with maternal mortality ratio and the eight highest with infant mortality ratio.
He added: “A report of 10-year (2009-2018) migration trend of trained Nigerian physicians presented recently at the NMA Annual General Meeting in Ebonyi State is anything but frightening. About 5,861 Nigerian physicians were in the UK in 2018. In 2014, a net weekly migration rate of two physicians per week was recorded, increasing to a net weekly migration of 17 physicians per week in 2018, representing a whopping 600 per cent.
“While infrastructure, physical capital and pharmaceuticals are important, work force for health remains one of key health system inputs that undoubtedly ensure qualitative service delivery and improves health outcomes. Evidently, the physicians typify this workforce and are the key determinant of the quality of healthcare services available. The world’s best healthcare systems are often to be found among the countries with the highest number of physicians as well.”
Furthermore, Avidime notes that none of the three strata of healthcare service structure in Nigeria is spared; Nigeria is far from achieving a reasonable ratio of healthcare provider per 1,000 population. He added that the ratio is rather worsening by migration of healthcare workers abroad for better working environment in terms of infrastructure and welfare. With the deficit of over 260,000 physicians, many more doctors are still migrating and this should be a matter of national concerns.
Besides Nigerian doctors preference to practice abroad, no medical doctor or health worker wants to stay back at the hinterland to provide healthcare services to rural dwellers. The situation is so epileptic to the extent that National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) doctors seek postings to the cities because everybody wants to work in the city and in specialist hospitals. Even in the face of limited vacancies at the secondary and tertiary health care centres, doctors still find it difficult to render services at the primary heath care centres located in rural areas.
Reasons for exodus
Several reasons have been given by various doctors and experts as to why health workers in the country prefer to render their services outside the shores of Nigeria. Many doctors are being confronted with a precarious situation of being unable to deliver family expectations due to poor remunerations.
Nigerian state-employed doctors earn as little as N150,000 ($416) a month, with top salaries for consultants rising to N800,000 a month, this is still way below what they could earn in Western countries.
Another reason is the frustration of using out-dated equipment, un-conducive working environment, a lack of good employment opportunities, frequent strikes, which often leave patients stranded and craze by the rich to get medical care abroad due to poor funding arising from lack of government’s investment in the nation’s health sector.
Other reasons include high level intra-professional rivalry, mass poverty, poor conditions of service, poor education and health facilities, lack of good rewarding system for hardworking manpower, untimely death of manpower assets, lack of research facilities and opportunity for advancement, political, communal and religious crisis.
It is typical of humans if given the opportunity, to jump at a higher paying job, better quality of life, intellectual freedom and working in a stable environment free from political, cultural, religious, economic and security dramas as witnessed in Nigeria almost on a daily basis.
Even though eight out of every 10 doctors in Nigeria desires to migrate, the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige, argued that there was no crime since Nigeria at present did not have enough health facilities to accommodate all the doctors seeking to do tertiary specialist training (residency) in the teaching hospitals, Federal Medical Centres (FMCs) and a few accredited state and private specialist centres in the country, where roughly 20 per cent of the yearly applicants, according to him, are absorbed while the remaining 80 per cent try their luck elsewhere.
Ngige, a medical doctor who came under fire from doctors and professional bodies in the country, maintained that although there is consequential negative import of brain drain on national productivity, most of the rejected applicants who usually throng the Federal Ministry of Health (FMOH) and that of Labour and Employment to complain of being illegally schemed out, have the right to seek training opportunities abroad to sharpen their skills, become specialists and later turn this problem to a national advantage when they repatriate their legitimate earnings and later return to the country.
He said: “I speak from the vintage position of being a medical doctor and a member, Nigeria Medical Association (NMA) since June, 1979 and enriched by my vast knowledge on health administration, having retired as a deputy director, Medical Services and Training from the Federal Ministry of Health in 1998, member of Vision 2010 Committee on Health as well as senior member, Senate Committee on Health 2011-2015.
“Therefore, the truth, no matter how it hurts, must be told and reality, boldly faced. The fact is that while the Federal Government has recorded a remarkably steady improvement in our healthcare system, Nigeria is yet to get there. Even where some of these doctors are bonded to their overseas training institutions, examples abound on the large number of them who have successfully returned to settle and establish specialist centres across the country. It is therefore a question of turning your handicap to an advantage.
“This situation in any case is not peculiar to Nigeria as countries like Pakistan, Ceylon, Bangledesh exported teachers to secondary schools in the old Eastern and Northern Regions in the sixties and seventies where their earnings were also repatriated to their countries.”
However, the minister quickly added that the Ministry of Labour and Employment had a migration policy developed with the European Union (EU) to assist skilled Nigerians work and earn decent living abroad.
According to him, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Foreign Affairs and Diaspora, Abike Dabiri-Erewa, has done a lot of work in encouraging Nigerian professionals abroad to return, with a good number of doctors relocating from the United States (US) and other European countries.
A careful analysis of his position shows that he is not far from speaking the truth; many young medical officers who graduate from medical schools spend two to three years looking for a space for Housemanship whereas they can sit for foreign qualifying exams which are easier and faster, and leave the country almost immediately to start practicing.
But in a counter-argument, the NMA President, Dr. Francis Faduyile, said the export of health care professionals, especially medical doctors to the developed world was to the detriment of the nation’s health system.
According to him, unlike Nigeria, the benefitting countries have more than enough doctors to cater for the health needs of their population without sweat.
“The U.S., where they are also going, has an average of 2.8 doctors per 1,000 people whereas Nigeria has 0.2 per 1,000 and you are saying you want more of our 0.2 to go and join 2.8. You can see the disparity. What we have is not enough.
“We actually need more doctors. In the U.K. where our doctors are also going, they have an average of 2.8 doctors per 1,000 people.
“That is about 14 times the number that they have in UK whereas the WHO states that we need an average of one doctor to 500 or 600 people, Nigeria currently with our 40,000 to 200 million, has about one to 5,000. In some parts of the country it can be 10,000 people and what that means is that for every 1,000 people we are short of about 10 doctors and it is unfortunate,” Faduyile said.
The President, Association of Resident Doctors (ARD), Abuja chapter, Dr. Roland Aigbovo, regretted that the calibres of doctors leaving Nigeria to practice abroad were leaving a wide gap that would affect the health outcomes in the county.
Aigbovo said young consultants and new medical graduates were leaving the country in droves.
He added: “The consultants are supposed to train the younger doctors to specialise and now they are leaving. The younger doctors who just graduated are also leaving; now where will they get the manpower to fill the gap?”
Consequences of brain drain on Nigeria
No matter how sweet the argument presented, the truth still remains that due to a poor health management system, Nigeria currently has one of the highest rates of communicable and non-communicable diseases, perinatal mortality rates, maternal mortality rates, infant mortality rates and the average life span is very low. As a result, Nigeria is highest in the number of preventable deaths due to inadequate and poor healthcare services, which of course stems from the shortage of medical personnel.
Also, given the developing status of the country, so much harm is being done to the economy and overall development; not only is investment on health professionals being lost to developed countries, which obviously have more doctors of their own, but the contribution of these workers to health care is equally lost and there is a loss in tax revenue.
There is no doubt Nigeria needs to control the migration of doctors in order to adequately meet up with the health needs of the people. However, a lot of work needs to be carried out.
Experts have maintained that the Federal Government needs to start showing enough commitment to bring to an end, the exodus of doctors and other health personnel to other countries to practice.
Greater investment in health is the first key to turning the tide, government must accept that brain drain is a problem and put its priorities straight by taking healthcare seriously. It must also sign all necessary health acts and bills, increase funding for the sector, ensure all funds are properly managed, improve the infrastructural and social amenities, improve the remuneration and pay more attention to the welfare of health workers as compared with those in developed countries.
Faduyile stressed the need for the Federal Government to honour the Abuja declaration by raising the bar on health budget from below six per cent to the 15 per cent agreed by all African heads of states.
He said: “Sincerely, we have been advocating for government to put in place things that will retain doctors in this country. They are just shying away from doing that. We have advocated for them to honour the agreement they willingly agreed to when in 2001 at Abuja all the African heads of states came and they had an agreement that 15 per cent should be budgeted for health every year.
“Nigeria has never had beyond six per cent which occurs only once in 19 years. We have always been less than five per cent. Currently, we are about 3.6 per cent and the one they are about to pass in 2019 is about 3.8 per cent and this is the premium our government has placed on health.
“Because they have not put enough funding in health maybe we have a very wrong view that we don’t have spaces so we have more than enough but the populace is suffering; a lot of deaths that are highly preventable are occurring. A lot of mishaps are happening to our people and we want our people to rise up and tell the government that enough is enough. We need to make a change about the health of our people because one of the cardinal constitutional duties of the government is to see that it provides health services for its populace.”
On his part, Avidime believes that not until certain issues such as an unstable economy and poor working environment are addressed, there will continue to be acceleration in international migration of workers.
To stem the tide, he stressed the need for critical thinking of all stakeholders on the side of policy change that will improve medical school output, economic stability, employment opportunities and improvement in security.
He said: “Opinion points to the fact that if developing countries can provide world-class education and training opportunities, as well as opportunities for unhindered career advancement and employment devoid of any form of discrimination, ethnocentric considerations, the migratory flow can be reduced.
“Institutional capacity will have to be expanded to accommodate more prospective students for the study of medicine at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels.
“The resultant effect is a doubling effect on the current output from the medical school. The Nigeria government, MDCN and the NMA will play a complementary role in this regards.
“Increasing the number of trained doctors is one way to combat future shortages. This is easier said than done, since becoming a doctor not only requires several years of rigid training, but also quality undergraduate education and financial huge investments.”
Avidime, who called out the NMA, maintains the association has an important role to play in addressing the scourge of brain drain by continuous advocacy for improvement on human resource for health, increase in the capacity of the medical institution to improve on the supply and form linkages with Nigerian physicians in the Diaspora in order to attract development in infrastructure, training and service.
From Olympics Games spotlight to Agbero: The touching story of para-sports athletes
In this piece, LUKMAN OLOGUNRO chronicles the challenges of some Nigerian special athletes who have to go as far as damaging their reputation to meet their needs
It was a wet Monday morning in Lagos following a light shower, the atmosphere was peaceful. The maddening traffic synonymous with the metropolis was amiss but as you alight from the Bus Rapid Transport (BRT), the state’s transport system, at the popular Stadium bus stop in Surulere, you burst into a crowd; two men have just been separated from a fisticuff.
It involved a full-grown man in his forties and the other, who is relatively younger and should be in his mid-thirties. The latter is physically-challenged and was on crutches. As a result of their fight, both sustained minor wounds, but it was the former who presented a pitiable sight as blood was gushing from his nose. He has been hit with the crutch by another disabled athlete who defended his colleague.
Expletives kept flying as passers-by-turned peacemakers try to put an end to the early morning brouhaha. Onlookers, some of whom were divided in their opinion as to why the able-bodied man, who was driving a commercial bus, could not restrain himself knowing that his rival would always draw sympathy from the neutrals, faulted him for attacking a vulnerable person.
A few of the onlookers, who claimed to witness the genesis of the skirmish, faulted the disabled man for his aggressiveness.
Peace was eventually restored after some riot policemen stationed at the entrance gate of the National Stadium, who surprisingly had gone on a ‘break,’ stepped in to end the melee which lasted about 20 minutes.
Just about the time that peace returned, one of the top executives of the transport union, having got a call came in on a tricycle.
“What they cannot try in Ojuelegba, they will be rubbing it on us here,” he yelled as he moved towards the armoured tank to thank the officers for their intervention.
Ojuelegba, in the heart of Surulere, is as popular in Lagos and as the Legendary Afrobeat Star, late Fela Anikulapo-Kuti and the hip-hop sensation, Whizkid, had in their songs.
The executive, also physically-challenged, had just been briefed by a few of the scores of the disabled victim and fuming with rage, he painted a picture that the fight would have been much fierce had he been around, stated that the man involved was to pay twice as much as what he was supposed to pay had he made a U-turn at Ojuelegba but he opted to come and turn at Stadium under bridge.
“We are in total control of this place and even some of the disabled transporters comply by paying for turning, discharge and loading passengers here or making u turn.
“It is what is obtainable all over the state and nobody can intimidate us here at this Stadium bus stop,” he added with emphasis.
The effect of the fight saw traffic building up for motorists who were coming from the Island who now avoided passing through the Stadium gate but drove through the fly over.
Taking a closer look, some of the physically-challenged men and women lurking around under the bridge were putting on track suits of Team Nigeria and one of them was making jest of the injured man.
“We have competed against other nationalities at international events and we showed them that we are made of steel because the kind of challenges that a disabled person faces in Lagos is not what their counterparts face abroad,” he said jokingly.
Luckily, Wasiu Yusuf, a top Nigerian wheelchair tennis player, was among the few familiar faces among the physically-challenged men and women.
“This country always treats us like thrash; most people just feel they can ride us because of our condition but it’s not their fault. We had options of changing nationalities but we didn’t take the chance,” Yusuf said as he lamented that the tough living condition forced some of them to go into transport business cum transport unionism popularly known as “agbero”.
Yusuf was a former African champion and had represented Nigeria at the 2012 Olympics in London, the United Kingdom and the 2016 version in Rio, Brazil.
Yusuf, who plays wheelchair table-tennis and wheelchair basketball, lamented the plight of disabled sportsmen, saying that joining the transport union was like adopting the cliché: “If you can’t beat them, you join them.”
“I never thought I can be involved in this (agbero) because I’m well exposed. As a national athlete, I have travelled to Europe, Asia and to about eight countries in Africa. I have a tricycle but it is not enough to sustain my family.
“Some of the money I made though the tricycle is what I used to train myself at least four days in a week but it’s like wasting of money because there are no tournaments to complement our commitment to the sport we are into.
“I have a wife and kids who are going to school. Most of us are the breadwinners of our families. Our families rely on us to survive.
“In order to have more time to train, I gave out my tricycle for someone to work and deliver to me weekly while I get more money from being among the union.
“One thing that most of you seem not to know is that, because of our condition, we need more money to survive than a normal person. But since we don’t want to be a burden on anyone, we decided to take our destiny into our hands and that is why we are into unionism, despite the dangers that are associated with it,” Yusuf said.
Asked if he was not ashamed to be associated with transport union, whose members are viewed as rascals by the society, he replied; “what could bring about shame in me being a union member? If I have got the kind of treatment that is desirable having defended the country’s pride at international events, I would have loved to face sports squarely but there is little or no hope that we can survive through participation in sports only. Some of us are artisans like tailors, welders, painters, etc, but there is no one to help. We can’t live by relying on others’ assistance.
Yusuf’s lamentation was echoed by Lateef Shodipo, one of the top executives of the transport union at the Stadium unit.
Shodipo is the current captain of the Nigeria’s Wheelchair Tennis team.
He said: “We formed the union here to protect the interest of the disabled sportsmen who come to train here daily. Most of the able-bodied transporters are so insensitive and discriminate against us and that led to our members coming together.
“It is the training that we have here at this Stadium that we have been using to bring honour to Nigeria at international competitions like the Olympics, Commonwealth Games, All Africa Games and many other international events.
“Most of our members live in places like Ikorodu and other far places and at times when you seek assistance to transport them, you won’t find it.
“In the past, there are lots of challenges being faced by disabled sportsmen some of who have won medals at international events but such challenges are very few nowadays.
“Even some of us can decide to leave home with little or no money and they know they will get to their home with the assistance of disabled people that are into transport union here.”
Alex Adewale is another Olympian that keeps lamenting the ill-treatment of disabled sportsmen.
Though he is not a member of the transport union, he defended his colleagues resorting to “agbero” despite the ‘disgusting’ nature of the job.
Adewale is a former Africa’s top-ranked player in wheelchair but his place has been taken as a result of inactivity.
He said: “Our leaders lack focus. Just like it has been stressed that sports can be used to curb crime and youth restiveness, it (sports) can also be used to end street begging by the disabled men and women. But unlike what is obtained in some developed countries where there is high welfare placed on physically-challenged men and women, the rich and powerful not only treat us with disdain but go as far as taking advantage of us to their own interest.”
The Ekiti State-born Adewale lamented how the dearth of tournaments led to him losing a huge amount of money after the London 2012 Olympics.
He said: “When we returned from the London 2012 Games, the Federal Government received us at Aso Rock and then President Goodluck Jonathan gave us some money. I got N500,000 despite not winning any medal but in order to develop myself, I used all the money to feature in a tournament in the United States in order to develop myself because I wanted to be among the top 100 players in the world which would make me qualify automatically for tournaments across the world. But since I came back, there is only the CBN Open which winning prize of N200,000 you can only manage to attend two tournaments in West Africa.”
Adewale cited the instances of the New Era Foundation (NEF), as a prime case of how disabled athletes are frustrated and are being maltreated by the society.
The NEF is the humanitarian project of Mrs. Oluremi Tinubu and in her bid for a senatorial seat in the 2007 elections, she organised a national wheelchair tennis tournament but the event was held twice.
“We felt being used and dumped because that tournament was to help make her appealing to the voters.
“They used the tournament as part of her campaign and luckily she won. We thought the tournament is guaranteed but it took us by surprise that the tournament was stopped thereafter and since then it has not been held,” Adewale said.
He added that letters were written to the NEF but they never got any feedback.
The athletes, he said, had at one time or the other sought audience with Tinubu whenever they got wind of her presence in Lagos but they hardly got her audience.
He said: “The only thing we know is that every year, the New Era Tennis is listed among the programme of activities of the Tennis Federation but it does not hold.”
Like every other politician, Tinubu has been involved in programmes aimed at aiding the masses and one would thought the disabled sportsmen would be among the beneficiaries.
“We have not been benefitting from her poverty alleviating programmes. It is her political associates that compile the lists and they share it among their families and friends,” one of the disabled athletes, who gave his name as Mohammed, said as he interrupted the interview.
Efforts to get an official of the NEF to react to the allegation and why the tennis championship was put off were futile as phone calls and text messages sent to Mr. Kunle, said to be one of the senator’s aides, were not responded to.
And when New Telegraph put a call through to the Secretary General of the NTF, Maryam Akande, she said she could not say categorically if the tournament would take place.
Akande, who became the NTF scribe two years ago, hinted that she spoke to an official of the New Era Foundation as a correspondent to a file she met in office.
She said: “Last year, the NTF president stressed the need to reach out to all the sponsors that have left the sport and we talked to an official of the New Era Tennis who promised that they would soon be back. And since then, we have been talking to them and the feedback was encouraging.
“In fact they said they will be back after the election and that is why we still list them in our programmes for the year. Hopefully, they will get back to us so that we can finalise how the tournament will run.”
Less than six months after coming into office, the NTF President, Dayo Akindoju, was also accused by the wheelchair tennis players of neglecting them, having convinced them to vote for him in the poll of June 2017.
A few of the players had gone to the press under anonymity and cast aspersions on the NTF boss as they lamented they were faced with hardship due to the dearth of tournaments.
They cited the fact that the Dayak ITF Futures, a $25,000 prize-money event being bankrolled by Akindoju, had continued without interruption for some years and his excuse not to hold a national tournament was unjustified.
“I have them in mind but it’s just that they don’t have enough patience,” Akindoju told New Telegraph as he disclosed that he would be solely bankrolling a national tournament tagged Vemp Open Wheelchair Tennis in Abuja in July. The tournament is tailored to complement the Central Bank of Nigeria Open, the only national tournament in the country.
Akindoju added that about the time the players had granted interview to the press that he tricked them into getting their votes, he was in discussion with a number of corporate bodies and individuals but his effort to get sponsors was not yielding results.
The immediate past NTF President, Sani Ndanusa, told New Telegraph that plans were in the top gear to have the players go through so many activities.
Ndanusa, who is the president of Africa Wheelchair Tennis, said there were plans to reposition the game in Nigeria as well as the continent at large.
He stated: “Currently in Africa, wheelchair players have the opportunity to strut their stuff in three different ITF tournaments with Nigeria, Kenya and Ghana putting up tournament that has helped in the development of the game.
“In 2018, two ITF Futures tournaments were held in Africa; Puma Engineering Wheelchair Open took place in Nigeria and the Dan Devan Open also debuted in Ghana. Also, the Nairobi Open in Kenya, which served as a qualifying event for the World Team Cup, was also held this year.
Ndanusa, a former minister of Sports in Nigeria, sees the current development as a pointer to the growth of the sport in Africa. “The wheelchair tennis is growing but the growth is rather slow, but we are working very hard,” he said.
Ndanusa stressed that in Nigeria, the Vemp Open, which held in July, served as consolidation to the CBN Open which has been on since 2013.
He added: “We have one of the biggest wheelchair tennis teams in Africa, they are very well-tested. However, there is more work to be done.
“Just recently, Alex Adewale and Wasiu Yusuf won the doubles title of the Nairobi Open in Nairobi, Kenya, in February this year while Kafayat Omisore (a female) is among the big stars of the game. I am excited that Nigerians are among the notable names in Africa. We need to consolidate on this.”
Nigeria is undoubtedly the best nation in power powerlifting and the head coach, Are Feyisetan, was once among those controlling the union in their formative years.
While Feyisetan is now a national icon as far as disabled sports is concerned in the country, he pleaded with government to help alleviate the plight of special athletes.
He said: “I have never seen disabled athletes that are as dedicated and loyal as Nigerians.
“They leave their homes and wheel their chairs from 5a.m. because we start training by 6a.m. every Monday, Tuesday and Friday. That is commitment.”
Feyisetan recalled that disabled athletes have always been the country’s saving grace at the Olympics where in 2016 Nigeria bagged eight gold, two silver and two bronze medals as against the able-bodied athletes who have just a bronze medal won in football in London 2012 Olympics where Nigeria got 13 medals with the able-bodied athletes having no medal to show despite the country budgeting almost N2 billion for the games.
He added: “People expect a disabled person to beg on the streets but they are breaking those stereotypes. Many people forget that some of these guys had a normal life before accidents crippled them – so they turn to powerlifting to begin another life.”
Feyisetan lamented the discrimination by companies who only commit their funds to football.
He said: “If we are not careful, some of these athletes celebrating gold medals today could turn to begging in the next few years – they grow older and feel used and abandoned. We need to stop that trend.”
A job and housing policy reward for athletes, he said, would help in suppressing the emotional torture that goes with disabilities.
Enugu Free Trade Zone: Dashing hope of economic prosperity
The Enpower Free Trade, the brainchild of former President Goodluck Jonathan, is yet to attain its potential six years on, reports KENNETH OFOMA
The birth of Enugu Free Trade zone, otherwise known as Enpower Free Trade Zone, in May 2013, was heralded with much hope and enthusiasm even though it was relatively young, compared to other free trade zones that are yet to be operational.
Being the first in the region and with the rising profile of the state as a budding industrial hub, it was hoped that the development of the trade zone would be accelerated. That has not been the case.
The free zone was expected to boost foreign direct investment and increase socio-economic activities in the state and region.
From what the promoters said, Enpower-FTZ offers investors the benefits of huge business opportunities from a potential market of 1.033 billion people on the African continent, the second-largest and second most populous continent on earth with 54 recognised sovereign states and countries, nine territories and two de-facto independent states.
Also, Enpower-FTZ gives access to markets covered by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the thriving Nigerian market, (the largest economy in Africa) and a direct unparalleled connection to the untapped industrial heartland of South-Eastern Nigeria, home to the Onitsha, Nnewi and Aba industrial centres.
The Enpower Free Trade Zone in Enugu State is expected to attract up to $500 million (N240 billion) worth of foreign direct investments from leading global manufacturing companies. Also, the activities of the industrial clusters hosted in the free zone are expected to create over 20,000 jobs across three major regions in the country.
But all that hope and great expectations had long gone cold as the new free trade zone seemingly became a lame dock. And nobody had envisaged that it would take that long to operationalise the zone.
The free trade zone became entangled in bureaucratic bottlenecks just as its fate became intertwined with the capricious and not-so impressive stories surrounding the development of Akanu Ibiam International Airport. Incidentally, it was during the visit of former President Goodluck Jonathan to perform the foundation laying ceremony for the terminal building/runway of the airport in 2013 that he announced the approval for the free trade zone.
“The opening of this airport is one of the key requests I received from my brothers and sisters from the South-East during my campaign for the election as President in 2011,” Jonathan had said.
The former President, who noted that a free trade zone would only be operational where there was an international airport or a functional seaport, said the facility had been over-due in the zone.
The then Governor, Sullivan Chime, commended Jonathan for his transformation agenda and called on the Ministry of Aviation not to relent until the Akanu Ibiam International Airport became fully operational.
Also speaking on the occasion, the then Minister of Aviation, Princess Stella Oduah, said the airport terminal would be completed within 15 months.
However, just as the development of the international wing of the airport has suffered many ups and downs with the project yet to be realised more than six years after the turning of the sod, the free trade zone which is complementary and an integral part of the airport has also been mired in controversy.
On August 25, 2013 the first international commercial passenger flight touched down at the Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu. The historic flight was made by the Ethiopian Airlines which became the first international carrier to operate from Enugu. However, flight to the airport has continued to operate on the domestic wing which itself has not been in the best state and cannot operate night flight owing to lack of landing lights among other things.
To worsen the situation, even the operational domestic wing of the airport being used for domestic and international operations has come under constant threat of closure by the Federal Government. First, it was on May 17, that the Federal Government announced plans to downgrade the Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu or shut it down for runway rehabilitation.
The then Minister of State for Aviation, who has now been elevated to substantive Minister, Hadi Sirika, who issued the threat at the 2019 Stakeholders’ Forum, in Lagos, said the decision was taken to enable the Federal Government to work on the airport runway to avoid any major incident.
Sirika had listed the terrible runway, a nearby market and abattoir, presence of free trade zone and a radio mask close by as reasons for the intended closure.
He said: “At the end of the runway, you have the government establishing a free trade zone at the centre. Enugu is to the East what Kaduna is to the North. When the government wanted to expand the runway to 60 metres long and 71 metres wide, there were few houses there and we were promised that they would be demolished and the owners compensated so we can have the improvement but now they have built more houses. Enugu would have to be closed down; that is the honest truth.”
A temporary reprieve was secured by the state Governor, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, as he swung into action and within days took care of the concerns raised by the minister.
Following the safety concerns raised by Sirika and the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), the Enugu State government issued a statement the same day, detailing steps it had taken to address all the issues raised.
The governor directed immediate closure of Orie Emene Market (abattoir inclusive). The relocation of the state Broadcast Mast on the approach of the runway to Okpatu Hill (Ugwu Rerenkwu) in Udi Local Government Area was also given accelerated attention. All these made the Federal Government to change her mind on the closure of the airport then.
Like a bad dream and postponement of the evil day, the Federal Government again on August 17 issued fresh threat to shut down the airport for runway maintenance. According to the General Manager, Corporate Affairs of FAAN, Henrietta Yakubu, the FAAN announced its intention to close down the runway of Akanu Ibiam International Airport runway on Saturday, August 24, to effect maintenance that will enhance safety operations.
She said: “This move is aimed at resolving the existing safety/security concerns to flight operations.”
Yakubu added that the date of the re-opening would be communicated in due course.
Again like before, this latest move by FAAN sparked off gale of protests. The South-East governors sent a letter to President Muhammadu Buhari urging him to delay the closure of the airport, and act against insecurity in the region.
The letter was signed by the Chairman of the South-East Governors Forum and Ebonyi State Governor, David Umahi.
The letter said the postponement of the closure of the Enugu airport would allow adequate arrangements to be made for travellers.
But the governors said the closure was prompt and would not give them any time to make security arrangement for the convenience of the people, and visitors to the region who would be travelling long distances to alternative airports where flights would be diverted to.
The governors called on the President to direct aviation authorities to provide immediate palliatives in form of transportation with armed escorts and helicopter services to prospective passengers from alternative airports that connect the zone.
The governors said the Federal Ministry of Works in collaboration with the South-East Governors’ Forum should carry out repairs on major roads leading to the alternative airports as well as clear all the bushes along the routes for better view of road users.
They asked that 24-hour joint security patrol be provided for the safety of the people and visitors to the South-East who will be using the roads day and night through the alternative airports.
Again, with the fate of the airport hanging in the balance, the ray of hope which seemed to be emerging at the end of the tunnel with regard to the development of the Free Trade Zone has been dashed.
The Chairman, Enpower Free Trade Zone, Enugu, Emeka Ene, who spoke to New Telegraph when the earlier threat to downgrade or shut down the airport was lifted, had expressed the hope that the zone would begin operation without much further delay. He had expressed enthusiasm that the cog in FTZ’s wheel of progress had been removed.
Like other export processing zones in the country, Enpower processing zone is under the supervision and management of Nigeria Export Processing Zone Authority (NEPZA).
NEPZA establishes, licenses, regulates and operates the free zones by providing a highly competitive incentive scheme, excellent support facilities and service for the purpose of creating an enabling environment for export manufacturing and other commercial activities.
“Enpower is a free trade zone in the South-East, the first and only because there is no other one. There are 35 free trade zones in Nigeria and Lagos has something like 12 or even 17 free zones; we have free zones in Port Harcourt, we have free zones in Kano, everywhere but in the South-East, and I mean the five states of the South-East, there is only one free trade zone which is Enpower Free Trade Zone. It was licensed by the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in 2015.
“So now, it is designed to encourage manufacturing of products for export into the region. And it has attracted companies from India, companies from Germany, companies from Canada, a Nigerian company trying to export to China; these are companies we have attracted. It has also attracted a Swiss-Italian Company involved in aviation parts and maintenance.
“Unfortunately there was a bureaucratic hitch between FAAN and Enpower and the (Enugu) State government over encroachment on land, conflict over where boundary starts and where boundary stops.
“So this caused a lot of delay. The resolution of these problems caused a lot of delay and that is why most of these companies did not start; we have to call them off. Now this was only resolved two weeks ago by the governor’s intervention which the new MD of FAAN, Enpower and then NEPZA, Ministry of Investment; everybody came to the airport and resolved it finally,” Ene said.
The presence of the free trade zone was listed by Sirika then as factors militating against the development and safety status of the Akanu Ibiam International Airport. The minister had cited the closeness of the free trade zone to the airport as a threat.
But the chairman of Enpower free trade zone Enugu said that dragging the zone into the mix was misplaced and showed that the minister was not fully briefed.
“Let me say that he (Sirika) was not properly briefed. There was an assumption that was made. However, I think that we have been in touch; like I said, this zone was approved by the President it has nothing to do with the state as alluded by the minister. The state has nothing to do with this; the state has already handed over the piece of land to the Federal Government. The President (Muhammadu Buhari) himself, not anybody else, the President himself signed the approval for that free zone, it’s a PPP arrangement,” Ene said.
Giving further insight into the creation of the free trade zone, Ene said, “Former President Jonathan gave the initial approval, but the President (Buhari) ratified it around December 2015. We started the processing of this zone in the dying tenure of former President Olusegun Obasanjo; it took seven and half years, so it has nothing to do with individual president. It started with Obasanjo, it went through Ya’Adua, from Ya’Adua it went to Jonathan and then finally to President Buhari.
“There was elaborate process that went on, so obviously the minister was not fully briefed, he just assumed that it was a state government thing, but it was not. Anyway, we have been working with FAAN for the last two years, obviously because free zones at the airport are essential for the stimulation of the growth of the airports.
“One of the largest free zones in the world is the Dubai Airport Free Zone Authority. If you arrive at the Lagos Airport, NAHCO (Nigerian Aviation Handling Company) has a free zone at the Lagos Airport, Johannesburg Airport has a free zone, so this is not new; Shannon free zone is world’s first free zone in Ireland, opened up in the ’50s, right at the airport.
“What is important is that Enpower complied with all the aviation regulations which is what the minister was harping about and we have been in touch and discussing with FAAN for the last two years and NCAA (Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority) team has gone there to inspect it and make sure that we have provided enough clearance, so there is no way there is any safety issue, which has been verified independently. And the MD of FAAN in front of the governor confirmed it, it was in the news.
“That was when the (minister) gave the clearance that the state government has met with all the demands, and he specifically mentioned the free zone and talked about it, even when the governor’s people were completely surprised and they were telling him ‘are you sure, are you sure?’
“They have discussed with Enpower, we have looked at the safety, we have all agreed, we have an agreement and everybody is okay; they went to the site, they looked at it and it’s in compliance, we have even exceeded the requirement by International Civil Aviation Authority (ICAO), so on that basis we can now move forward.”
The Enpower chairman also spoke on encroachment to the free trade zone by private developers and acknowledged that Enpower had had challenges in that regard.
He said: “That has been a very big challenge because while we were trying to resolve the issue with FAAN, of course it means that development can’t take place, if people don’t see development, they will come there and start selling the land. So we have had to deal with that on several occasions, trying to manage the process.
“However, now that we have the full clearance, we are not wasting any time in being able to secure the place properly and have the projects kicked off.”
Ene disclosed that while some foreign companies that had earlier indicated interest to invest in the free zone had left due to the delay, many others had been waiting patiently.
He added: “The zone has two parts; one part at 9th Mile Corner, at Nsude; and then the other one is right at the airport which is causing the controversy.
“The free zone is going to give life to the airport because right now people just import things, nothing is being exported; zero is being exported. But now as a free zone, as planes are coming in, cargo planes will be coming in too, both import and export products into West African markets, into sub-Saharan African markets and even one of the people that want to export to the EU and South Africa once they meet the requirement.
“The bottom line is that Enpower provides an enabling environment for industrialisation of Enugu and Nigeria.”
Asked whether it will be right to raise so much hope about the free zone coming into operation soon whereas the construction of the international terminal/ runway of the airport is being inexplicably delayed, Ene stated that there has been an assurance from the relevant quarters that the airport would soon be completed.
He said: “The MD of FAAN reiterated the importance of free zone at the airport; I think that’s something that has been missing in all the dialogue so far – that fact that the free zone was seen as an impediment to the development of the airport.
“In fact, the opposite is the case, it’s actually complementary, the zone is a stimulus to the development of an airport and that is how it should have been seen by all well-meaning Nigerians. And we believe that at this point in time there is an alignment; it’s a Federal Government supported project, it’s a Federal Government programme.”
Meanwhile, with the persistent hiccups in the development of the international wing of the airport as well as poor facilities at the domestic wing (necessitating closure), the hope of early take off of Enugu Free Trade Zone appears further deemed.
‘Foreign’ cyclists: Ticking security time bomb in Lagos (2)
CONTINUED FROM LAST WEEK
Some of the cyclists in Lagos sometimes come from Mowe area of Ogun State. Mowe is closer to the state. Most of the cyclists also operate in Ogun State; their behaviour and actions are not too different. Our correspondent went to Ogun State to speak with some of them.
One of the riders, Abubakar Halidu (26), admitted that some of them were often armed with machetes and knives. He explained that the weapons were for their protection against thieves who might want to snatch their motorcycles.
“We are not violent as people think. We only use the machetes and knives for protection,” Halidu said.
When asked why many northerners are coming into Lagos and Ogun states, he said: “We only have population in the North, but no money. We come to South-West to work. The majority of us don’t stay long in the South; that was why we don’t come with our family members. We only come to work and invest our proceeds in farming. When it starts raining, we are all likely going to be in our villages. It’s also true that there are criminals among us, you can’t rule that out.
“There is something people don’t know about those of us from the northern part of the country. We have people from Mali, Niger, Chad and Cameroon in Nigeria and they are mostly cyclists. Some of these foreigners can speak Hausa language, but that doesn’t mean they are from Kano or Jigawa. Take me for instance, I’m from Gaya Local Government Area of Kano State and I have been in Mowe for five years. When I got to Mowe, stealing of motorcycle was rampant. In fact, that was one of the reasons I started using machete for protection. When I was coming to South-West, my father warned me to be of good conduct. The words of my father have been guiding me against crime.”
Another cyclist, Seidu Muhammadu, from Kebbi State, said it was not easy working in South-West. He disclosed that the first motorcycle given to him on hire purchase was stolen. He added that after the incident, the owner of the motorcycle got police to arrest and to detain him for days. It took the intervention of the Seriki of Hausa community in Mowe to facilitate his bail.
The owner of the motorcycle was asked to exercise patience and to give Muhammadu a year to refund the money for the stolen motorbike.
He said: “I worked for a year before I could travel home. When I came back, I was advised to start using machete for protection. Since then, I have deliberately limited the routes I plied at night just to avoid my motorcycle being stolen again. We are law-abiding citizens and anyone among us who is violent or behaves violently is always punished by the Seriki. But sometimes, some of our colleagues go beyond their boundaries.”
Mr. Adeniyi Bayo, also a cyclist, said that five years ago, cyclists from North were not many. He added that currently, they were now more in number than the Yoruba and other tribes put together.
He added: “Some of these northern cyclists are aggressive. Language is a major barrier between them and their passengers. When you don’t understand them and they don’t understand you, they get angry. Whenever they have issues with their passengers, their colleagues would park to support them. We the Yoruba cyclists, avoid them whenever it come to argument, because they claimed they have police, Navy, Air Force, Army and other security agencies who are northern extraction in their clique.
“It is because of our closeness to expressway that we see many Hausa people coming from the North in trucks. They bring cows and their motorcycles are tied to these trucks. Personally, I see the influx of the northerners into South-West as a dangerous. I want to urge traditional rulers in South-West and other social groups to wake up from their slumber and begin to see the dangers some of us are seeing.”
Another cyclist, Mr. Yusuf Alabi, didn’t see any danger in northern cyclists coming into South-West in large numbers.
He said: “Some of the northern motorcycle riders are also used as security guards. After working in the day as cyclists, they become guards at night. If they are a security threat as most people fear, landlords wouldn’t be hiring them as guards.”
A man, who works closely with the leadership of commercial motorcyclists and tricycle riders in Lagos and Ogun States, said: “The northern cyclists, plying Lagos-Ibadan Expressway are feared by all, including policemen. Once any member is arrested, they will block the highway, and caused traffic jam. And no matter how many times policemen shoot into the air to scare them, they stay put on the highway. They stay there until their colleague is released. They operate with impunity and act like they are ready to die. I sense danger in the next coming years. Security agents should start checking under the seats of most of these cyclists. That is where most of them hide their arms and ammunition. I also know that almost every one of them is on drug.”
A senior policeman, who once works at FESTAC Police Station, recalled in detail, his encounter with the northern cyclists.
He said: “It was a real challenge; unfortunately for me, they were so many and had a place like a camp where they sleep. If you go there to arrest them, it becomes a problem. We discovered that one of their major problems, which was also problem for the police, was that they were always on tramadol. Another problem is that they don’t have houses. They sleep wherever they park their motorcycles. If they commit crime and run, you can’t trace them to their houses to arrest them.
“Even when you come for an arrest, they gather together to attack. You can’t rule out the fact that they were armed. I didn’t see guns, but they had daggers beneath the seats of their motorcycles. We also discovered that a lot of them were former Boko Haram members. When people don’t have homes, the temptation to commit crime is high.”
Another police officer said: “While working at FESTAC, I had encounter with them. I suspected that many of them were members of militia groups. I, however, didn’t find Boko Haram members among them. Many of them were running away from the Boko Haram problem in the North-East. They are members of volunteer task force. They had a lot of bad experiences. They had encounters with Boko Haram members. Members of their families were attacked and their homes lost. Many of them became destitute. They came to Lagos to make money to support their families back home.
“They have seen more actions and are more rugged. They are not the average cyclists and they fear nobody. A policeman armed with AK47 rifle doesn’t bother them. These are men that had seen bombs.”
The officer recalled that when he first got to FESTAC division, he heard that four policemen were killed by cyclists. When policemen tried to make arrest, they were attacked, injured and their rifles taken.
He said: “Although I didn’t see weapons with them, I know they are armed. These weapons are creatively concealed and could be used to stab. They attack bank customers; it was common then to hear that someone coming out of a bank was attacked by a cyclist and money taken. We started raiding them. There was a day we raided up to 100 motorcycles. They sent emissaries to negotiate with us. While this was going on, we prayed that there wouldn’t be casualty from their side or ours. I knew if one of them was killed in the process, they would attack the station.
“When the emissaries came, I asked them to sit down, so that we could talk. I told them that cyclists were robbing bank customers. I asked them that we should agree on a truce. We agreed that if any strange cyclist enters the community or a cyclist robs someone coming out from the bank, we would commence raiding again. They accepted. Since that truce, whenever someone robs, they would bring the cyclist to our station themselves.”
A senior officer with the Department of State Services (DSS) disclosed that the department once raided cyclists based on intelligence gathering. He said that they were shocked at the number of Boko Haram members they arrested.
Our reporter called the Comptroller General, Nigeria Immigration Service, Mohammed Babadede, to find out the number of people from other African countries, who have entered Nigeria since January 2018 till date, he insisted that the information was on their website. Our reporter checked the website but nothing of such was there.
Mr. Frank Oshanugur, member of the Association of Industrial Security and Safety Operator of Nigeria (AISSON), said the cyclists posed a threat to Lagos State.
He said: “The threat might not be immediate, but they are a threat. Lagos is becoming over-populated by large number of foreigners from Niger Republic, Benin Republic, Ghana and Chad. They are mostly unemployed youths from these countries. When the majority of them get to Nigeria, they engage in different things to make a living that is aside from motorcycle riding. Many of these people have no reason to be in Lagos or Nigeria, if not because of our porous borders.
“There is so much fear in the land and among those coming into Lagos are mostly men of Fulani extraction. They come from other African countries. If any of their members is attack, they gang up against the attacker. They are aggressive. The people of Anioma in Aniocha Local Government Area of Delta State have given the herdsmen seven-day ultimatum to leave their community. This is part of the threat we are talking about. As you can see, it is not peculiar to Lagos alone. Everyone is afraid.”
Oshanugur said that a lasting solution to the issue of the invasion of cyclists into Nigeria was for the government to have stiff penalty for foreigners who come into the country illegally.
According to him, the borders should also be better secured.
He said: “The Federal Government should provide job opportunity and other African countries too should provide for their teeming youths, who are coming into Nigeria for survival. Security agency saddled with the responsibility of manning our borders should be vigilant and properly vet those migrating into the country.”
A veteran crime editor, Mr. Christopher Oji, said that the influx of northern and foreign cyclists in Nigeria, especially Lagos State, was worrisome.
He said: “They are now everywhere! The influx of foreign cyclists has a lot of security implications for Lagos. We are sitting on a keg of gunpowder. Government and security agencies should act fast, because the situation is ready to explode. The reason I said we are sitting on a keg of gunpowder was because these foreign cyclists, have taken laws into their hands.”
Oji argued that officials of Nigeria Customs Service and Nigeria Immigration Services, working at border routes, believed the foreigners entering Nigeria were northerners.
He said: “Our Customs and Immigration officers couldn’t stop them; they claimed to be northerners. What our Immigration and other security agencies do at the border is to collect money from whoever is coming into the country. They allow them to enter freely without properly checking them. I believe our security agencies are afraid to touch these cyclists because they are always violent.
“Recently, one of the foreigners stabbed someone dead at Mile 2 areas, and ran out of the country. He was nowhere to be found. You can imagine what will happen if the cyclists decide to overrun the country. That will be a disaster!”
Oji suggested that security agencies should be diligent in checking African foreigners migrating into Nigeria on a daily basis.
He added: “I want to let the security agencies to know, that if they don’t know that those coming into the country are foreigners, they should know now that they are foreigners. They should get their data in case if they commit crime, so that they could be traced and arrested for prosecution. Most of these people living in our midst know our weaknesses. Landlords and landladies, who let out houses to them, should take their details and report to the nearest police station in case of crisis. Landlords should also not give them houses anymore. Landlords and communities, who employ them as guards, should be conscious. They should also know that they are at risk; government should take decisive action against the foreign cyclists.”
Blind, dumped, struggling in academic pursuits
Virtually impaired students ought to be properly taken care of to enable them excel in their academic pursuits, but at Special School for the blind in Opefia, Ebonyi State, it is a tale of woes, reports UCHENNA INYA
Special School for the blind, Opefia, Izzi Local Government Area of Ebonyi State, otherwise known as State Special Secondary School, was established in 2002 for the virtually impaired who desire to acquire holistic education to change his/her fortune in the society.
Since that year, the school has continued to grow from strength to strength with six sets of students graduating from the 17-year-old institution in their SSS3 classes.
Some of the students that passed through the school have also graduated from various universities in their desire to acquire complete education.
In infrastructure, the school has witnessed high level of development but lacking seriously in some other aspects that make teaching and learning desirable.
The school has produced many graduates most who have gone to the labour market to look for white Collar jobs but were rejected as a result of their sight status.
Some of the graduates have taken up teaching jobs in the institution and are the ones teaching the blind students to keep body and soul together. They are being paid paltry sum of N10,000 at the end of every term as salaries and N3,000 as transport fare to their various homes at the end of the term. The school however feed them.
Uguru Emmanuel and Oyibe Friday are some students that passed through the school but could not secure jobs in the labour market, leading to their return to the school as classroom teachers. They are among those receiving the sum on N10,000 and N3,000 as salaries and transport fares at the end of every month.
Uguru, a graduate of University of Nigeria Nsukka(UNN) said though the token he is receiving as a classroom is too small, he is happy for teaching his blind colleagues.
He urged government to provide studying equipment like brain machine, typewriting machine and other teaching materials. He also called for payment of the students tuition and feeding fees, lamenting that many students who supposed to enroll into the school are at home following their parents inability to pay their fees.
“I studied Sociology and Anthropology. I discovered there is need to help my fellow blind students and that is why I decided to return to this school to help them out. I have the same issues with them and I know how to handle them.
“The school management pay me small token to manage myself. Government should assist this school by providing studying equipment like brain machine, typewriting machine and providing their school fees because those are the areas the students find it difficult in their studies.
“Many people supposed to be schooling here as blind students but they are at home because of lack of money for school fees and feeding,” Uguru said.
On his part, Oyibe Friday lamented that he could not further his education because of lack of fund.
He explained that he finished his secondary education in the school and wrote to the government for assistance to further his education but was not given attention.
“I just finished my secondary education here in this school and I don’t have money to go further. I wrote letter to the government for assistance but they did not do anything for me. so, I decided to be teaching with my O’ level in this school and I teach Igbo Language to the students of this school. I desire to further my education”.
The school management and students said they are lacking seriously in the area of welfare and called for urgent attention to ameliorate their suffering.
The students said they are starving and that some of them have dropped out of the school following inability of their parents to pay for their school fees and feeding fees. They lamented that they don’t have enough teaching and learning materials.
One of them, Onele Favour told New Telegraph in the school that the institution don’t also have clinic where the students can access medical care.
“Some of the challenges we face in this school is our feeding fees, we are paying for feeding and our parents don’t easily afford them because it is too high. Some of us dropped out of school because of the feeding fees. We have one of them, Lawrence from Izzi here who just dropped because his parents couldn’t afford his feeding fees.
Some of us that are still in the school are owing huge amount of money and would have been sent home or dropped out if not the kind-heartedness of our Principal.
“We don’t have clinic and adequate medical attention. If you are suffering from any health challenge, you must move down to small market in this community and it is not conducive for us. They only give drugs without examining the health condition of the patient before giving the drugs,” she said.
Another virtually impaired student, Ogharu Ikechukwu, lamented that lack of mobility, food, educational aid and health clinic have remained a stumbling block to their studies.
He said some of them trek long distance to school and town during major events which he noted have exposed them to many dangers including accident and diseases.
He regretted that blind persons are begging in the streets because nobody can bring them to the blind school for study and appealed for regular visitation of people and government as well as NGOs to the school to make them feel sense of belonging to the society and encourage them to work header for success.
“We have been forgotten, we are just living on the mercy of God. No one cares to know whether we exist’’, Ogharu lamented.
On his part, the senior prefect of Special school for the blind Opefia, Maduabuchi Igboke, appealed to the state government to offer them free education and provide all the necessary support to them to excel in their studies.
He expressed dismay that the school library has not been upgraded since the inception of the school and that they have been using school syllabus made in 1980s .
He said people living with disabilities desire much attention from government and appealed that their rights be included in the constitution so that if any of them is insulted or maltreated because of his or her condition, such person can seek redress in court.
According to him, the rights of persons with disabilities, as a matter of necessity, should be entrenched in the constitutional framework of Nigeria to reflect the UN universal declaration of human rights since Nigeria is signatory to that treaty.
Igboke called on government to fence the school premises to avoid external attack from hoodlums, provide school bus for the students to ease their academic difficulties. He also called for scholarships of the students to university.
The President Nigeria Association of the Blind, Ebonyi State Mr. Nwabueze Igwe said ‘’it is not as if we take pleasure in begging. We are suffering a lot and want to survive. We have no one asking us how we are doing, so this is why we engage in legitimate activities to survive’’.
He called for adequate security in the two special schools for the blind in the state and expressed the hope that before the end of next year, virtually impaired people would not be seen in the streets of Abakaliki and other parts of the state.
Igwe called on the government to assist them in provision of raw materials, recorders and other materials that would enhance their learning.
Despite all these challenges, more students of the school have passed out successfully from the institution.
Last week, three of them; two females and one male were among those that did their graduation with their sighted students colleagues in the school.
One of them, Okwuegbu Cherechi Joel, 21, from Agbaja in Izzi Local Government Area of the state corroborated other students arguments that the school was lacking in things that make teaching and learning conducive and attractive
He said: “One of the major challenges we face is that the school is not fenced. We are always afraid of attack by external forces whenever we are in classrooms learning, we don’t also feel comfortable during break time. We are calling on government to fence the school for us so that we can always feel relax whenever we are in the school.
“We need well equipped library. Our library is not well equipped and our school is a special school which supposed to have well equipped library. We don’t also have electricity; we only have power generating set which doesn’t power our computers and other equipment. We need serious assistance in this electricity issues because computers are very important to us, we use computers for learning. There is what is called talks in the computers and when it is being downloaded in the computer, we can operate the keys through the talk. When we are operating the computers with the keys, we will be listening to the talks and the talks will be telling us the place that we are moving to; if we are making mistakes or doing the right thing.
“I want to further my education and I want to study political science education. I love politics and I want to go into it so that I can lead people. I like leadership and I want to go into it, I want to go into it so that whenever I am elected into any position, I will make sure I do well. I will threat everybody equally and deliver good governance to the people if I find myself in any position of authority.”
Another, Eke Virginia Oluchukwu, said: “The school is okay and the teachers are all trying. They make sure that we the virtual impaired are properly taken care of. We have challenges especially in terms of recording notes because we do use recorder to record our notes.
“After teaching in the class, the sighted students will now copy their notes and then we borrow from them and record. Sometimes, for us to get the notes to record is usually very difficult. I am very happy for graduating successfully and I want to further my education. I want to study Mass Communication, I so much love the course. I want to major in broadcasting in the profession.”
Principal of the school, a Reverend Sister, Rose Oguegbe called on the state government to make boarding system of the school free.
She also called for the removal of students tuition fees saying that education should be made free for the students. The principal of special school for the blind Opefia, Rev. Sister Rose Oguegbe who acknowledged the plights of the students while speaking with our correspondent, said hunger has become order of the day in the school.
“We have challenges but the most important one is the feeding of the students so that the school will be totally free.
She explained that the students school fees is not enough for their up keep and because the school is out of town people always forget to bring succor to them.
According to her, the school depends on near -by Catholic Church at Iboko which donates food to them through weekly contribution.
She maintained that mobility has made the students not to mix up with their counterparts in other parts of the state.
She suggested that some national and state assembly members can adopt the students and offer them scholarship as part of their constituency projects.
The Reverend Sister called on the people to show love and care to the physically challenged to give them a sense of belonging in the society.
Rev. Oguegbe called for the inclusion of persons with disabilities in government policies to enhance their potentials.
“Disability is not contagious, but impediment. Therefore, government should not just support the victims education, but also appoint them in political positions, seek for their contributions in policy making in the government.’’
“I have been in this school since 2002. I started with Primary and we graduated to Junior Secondary, from Junior Secondary to Senior Secondary now. We have graduated 6 sets of SS3. So, the school has been doing well with the help of government also.
“The school belongs to specially UBEB, they are the ones providing amenities in the school. All the structures here, teaching aids and all other things were provided by UBEB.
“It is not easy for the virtually impaired because some of their parents say they have not even finished taken care of those who see let alone training the blind ones. But we have been helping them, many of the blind students who pass through here are in UNN, Awka, LASU, colleges of Education. So, they are doing well
“But the problem is that some of them who graduated from the university went to government to be assisted and government always tell them “if I give you an office, what will you be doing”?
So, many who have graduated from the university have nothing doing, they still come to us. Some of them, we engage them here to teach others and we give them just stipends. At the end of the term, we give them N10,000 at the end of the term that is after three months, we also give them N3,000 for transportation to their homes after each term but they feed here. At the end of the term we just give them the N10,000 to go for the three months.
“Many students don’t pay, so we source for money to feed them, keep them and make them happy here. The government is trying in the area of infrastructure but they should pay special attention to the welfare of
the students. Government should look into the issue of mobility for the primary, they should provide their needs in the boarding system.
UBEB used to supply typewriters and other educational materials but since 2010 till date, they have not given us anything in for the classroom but structures, they are giving. So, we are begging the government to come to our assistance in the boarding system.
“Many of the virtually impaired are in their houses. When they come here, you tell them bring some money for us to help they will go and will not come back to start their studies because they can’t afford feeding fees.
“About three of them came last September to be enrolled into our school and we told them that boarding system is not free, ‘you have to bring something’. We thought they went back to look for money and till date, we have not seen them. So, if the school is free; no payment of feeding and others, you will see the school filled to its capacity.
Many of them in the villages will come out and start their studies if education in this school is free. So, we are begging government to make the school free at least the boarding system so that many of them in the villages will come out and join their colleagues in this school for their studies.
“Most of the virtually impaired students are very brilliant, they come first, second and third before the other ones come in. The last results of our students studying at various universities across the country, one of the had second class honours at UNN. All our students are doing very well outside and here.
“The sighted ones do help them, they read for them because we get tape recorder for them. The sighted students dictate notes and literatures for them. The virtually impaired students listen to tapes and that is how they read because we cannot provide brown papers again for them because it is very expensive. So, what we do is to give them tape recorder to tape and they tape and use it and read.
“In primary session, we have about 28 virtually impaired students. in secondary session, they are 29 and all together, they are 49 in number,” she said.
Earlier during a workshop organized for the students, Chief of Staff Government House, Abakaliki Dr. Emmanuel Offor, noted that the state government was working assiduously to ensure that physically challenged in the state were given scholarships and other incentives.
“It is not as if you have been forgotten. This government is doing everything possible to support your students and improve your conditions and that is why it is holding this programme to be able to get your problems,’’ he said.
Building collapse: Courting death, loss through compromise (2)
In this concluding part, MURITALA AYINLA writes that avoidable tragedies of building collapse could be checked if only the laws are rigorously and strictly implemented
“But on our part, we are collaborating with the relevant state government agencies to check the menace of the building collapse. We are sensitising our members regularly to standard and safety of human lives.”
An official of the Lagos State Material Testing Laboratory, who pleaded anonymity, gave a scientific dimension to the issue. Besides substandard building materials, he said, the salty nature of sand and water used by contractors in the state is another major factor.
He said: “Due to the location of Lagos State as a coastline area most Lagos water is salty just as the sand contains chemical reaction that may affect the mixture of the cement.
“The effect of all these shorten the lifespan of the building as some parts of the building would begin to chip off over time. The composition of salty sand and water also has debilitating effect on the iron rods that form part of the concrete which makes the iron to rust.”
The official also blamed the incident on the agencies saddled with the responsibility of regulating and controlling the circulation of standard products. Continuous influx of substandard materials into the country, according to him, shows that the agencies have no value for human life.
He said: “In other clime, fake or substandard materials have no place in the country; you can’t even find them. They just shouldn’t be in the market in the first place if we have a working system in the country. If we are determined to prevent avoidable disaster, only the circulation of the most qualitative building materials will be allowed in our market.”
When price becomes the only deciding factor in the calculations of the building contractor and financier of the building, compromise sets in. While the building owner wants to minimise costs as much as possible, the contractor wants to maximise profit thereby pitting one interest against the other.
A developer said that developer or contractor would always have his way, since he dedicates his time and energy to the building more than the building owner or financier.
New Telegraph also discovered that some builders often compromise either due to the inability of the financiers to provide the adequate fund for the building project or for selfish reasons.
Another developer, who identified himself simply as Chief Ajasa, somehow justified the compromise. He said for the developers to maximise profit, they take loan from bank in a bid to assist the landlord build after which they collect the rent for certain number of years in order to recoup the expenses incurred in the course building.
He said: “Since most landlords won’t let go their land and lack the wherewithal to rehabilitate their distressed buildings, the only available option for them is to hand the buildings over to the developers to rehabilitate or rebuild with certain agreement on how to recoup costs.”
In this kind of scenario, according to Ajasa, all the expertise reside with the developer who takes almost all the decisions, leaving room for compromises of all sorts. The developer said he had built several houses on similar arrangements on Lagos Island and in Ebute-Metta area of Lagos.
He said: “Some of these buildings are owned by aged landlords or deceased whose children lack the ability to rebuild or renovate the houses. When we take procession of such houses with a view to rebuilding them, we make agreement with the family on the terms and conditions of recouping our money.
“So, in this kind of arrangement, there is no way the property owner will have a say on the quality of the material to be used. Hence, we go for the cheapest possible materials affordable by us.”
According to him, there are times his colleagues have to reduce the number of the bags of cement to be used in the building and cut down the number of iron rods, even when property owner has the capacity to bankroll the renovation or the construction work.
“For us to make profit there are instances we have to use iron rods of lesser quality or those produced locally. Nothing will happen. That is how to make it in this job. Na fish dey chop him fellow fish to survive in the water,” Ajasa added.
A popular female developer on Lagos Island, who identified herself simply as Mrs. Bose, said it was a taboo for a developer to handle construction work of two buildings without building another one from the profits made from the first two buildings.
She said: “No building contractor shouldn’t be able to build additional house from the contract of two buildings, no matter what. He or she must find a way around it. It is not corruption; it is where one works that one designs ways to succeed. If you call it corruption, what will you call those leaders who steal billions of Nigerian money with their pens?”
Stating the contribution of substandard iron to the menace of collapse buildings, Soji Adetokun, 35, an iron bender, revealed that sharp practices also exist even in the quality of the iron rod used for the construction of concrete supporting pillars and beams.
The artisan explained that if the iron steel is not strong enough, the building could collapse regardless of the quality or quantity of the cement used in the construction. Although Adetokun did not disclose whether he had, at one time, used inferior materials for building construction, he confirmed that a typical Nigerian iron bender has tendency to go for inferior quality in order to make more profit.
He said: “No matter how much you give some artisans, for profit reason, some will still buy substandard iron rods. But if the landlord or building owner pays enough money, some might go for better quality. That is why if you are building, you must be ready to prioritise quality above your pulse.”
But the 1st Vice-President of the Nigerian Institute of Building, Mr. Kunle Awobodu, also listed faulty design, lack of comprehensive sub-soil investigation, quackery, use of substandard materials, poor workmanship, non-adherence to professional advice and greed as major reasons for the rising occurrence of buildings collapse in the country.
Awobodu, a former President of Building Collapse Prevention Guild, also blamed the cause on the impact of the weather on the buildings.
Flouting of building approved plan
The General Manager, Lagos State Building Control Agency, LASBCA, Olalekan Shodehinde, an engineer, said the main reason for building collapse was non-responsiveness of the building owners to building agency’ regulations and guidelines and influx of quackery in the built sector.
According to him, people flagrantly flout building regulations and approval, which is why building collapses, particularly storey buildings. He added that investigation always reveals that the builders had contravened the approved guidelines.
“They don’t always build according to the approved plan especially when it is a storey-building. There are times residential buildings are converted to six or seven-storey building shopping complex by the unscrupulous builders.
“If you are building right or obtain government’s permit, by following the due process or engaging the professionals, that building is not likely to collapse. If I could do a magic to remove quackery in the built sector, 50 per cent of the risk would have been solved,” Shodehinde said.
He lamented that the entire process in the built sector is being run by quacks, all cadres of professionals such as engineers, architects, town planners in the sectors.
“So, in a nut shell, our major challenge as agency is people,” Shodehinde added.
AREDOLS: Businessmen or building professionals?
While members of the Association of Real Estate Developers of Lagos State (AREDOLS), who are responsible for the development of some of the residential and shopping building complex in Lagos, claim to be core professionals in the built sector, built experts disagreed over their competency to handle building construction.
According to LASBCA boss, Shodehinde, AREDOLS is group of educated business men, the group may have some professionals among them but they might not be registered by the professionals in the built sector.
Today in Lagos several buildings are marked and declared distressed but people still inhabit them. While those under construction and sealed for violating approved plan are allowed to continue construction, even when the conditions for unsealing them are not met. Sometimes demolition of some of the buildings identified as distressed is only carried out just to play to the gallery or to show the world that the government is enforcing the law in the wake of a recent building collapse tragedy.
It not also uncommon to see agency responsible for building regulation in the state to begin aggressive marking of buildings as distressed only when a building newly collapsed.
Hence, following the tragic building collapse at Ita-Faji, the Lagos State government said that it demolished 40 structures which failed integrity test out of identified 283 distressed buildings.
Giving details of the discovered distressed buildings, the immediate past Commissioner for Physical Planning and Urban Development, Prince Rotimi Ogunleye said that 136 buildings were identified as distressed, on Lagos Island division alone, while 60 weak structures were detected in Ikeja division.
Ogunleye added that during the enumeration carried out by Lagos State Building Control Agency (LASBCA), 33 distressed buildings were uncovered in Badagry division while 29 of such were discovered in Ikorodu division and 25 weak buildings in Epe division.
However, investigations by this reporter revealed that some of the buildings that are prone to collapse are still occupied by the occupants. It was discovered that most occupants of the said buildings still reside in the impeding collapsed houses on the grounds that they have nowhere to go or lack of wherewithal to secure new apartments. This, it was discovered, is one sentiment that is crippling the arrest of this menace.
A tenant in one of the identified distressed buildings on Lagos Island, Segun Obasa, told this reporter that the tenants sometimes contribute money to give some officials in order to prevent them from being evicted from the building.
Findings of the tribunal committee set up by various successive government at both state and federal levels have among other things identified corruption, weak implementation of the law and gross indiscipline as bane of the collapse buildings in Lagos and other parts of the country.
According to the Chairman of the Committee set up to investigate the remote and immediate cause of Ita-faji building collapse, Wasiu Olokuonla, the findings of his panel were similar to what previous committees’ had reported.
The committee chairman, a former permanent secretary, who refused to state the detail of his committee’s finding, said that its findings also discovered that the investigated building had more storey than the number publicly specified.
Also the submission of the tribunal committee set up the former Lagos State Governor, Fashola, identified crass indiscipline among officials of government as another factor that has contributed to unending builing collapses building in the state, adding that failure on the part of government to enforce the law also contribute to the problem.
The committee report states: “The Provision of the laws regulating the building industry were found to be adequate, which if implemented and strictly adhered to, will ensure reducing the incidence of building collapse to the barest minimum. However, weak implementation by the relevant by the relevant agencies, flagrant abuse and deliberate flouting by the public, crass indiscipline and gross corruption by all and sundry rendered the law ineffective. The 2010 law empowers the agencies, but the system does not, because of political, cultural, administrative and other intervention.”
The way out
In Lagos, several General Managers of LASBCA had either been fired or forced to resigned following the current ugly incidents of building collapse. But experts unanimously agreed that failure to take a serious look at the various committees’ findings and implementing their recommendations remain the bane of the recurrent decimal of building collapse.
It is ironical that government, after spending huge resources to manage the scene of building collapse tragedies and setting up panel to probe the cause the disaster, the report of the committee hardly get the needed attention. Hence, implementing the recommendations to problems remain the way out of the several problems and to prevent future occurrence.
Going by the findings of the six-member and five-member committees set up by Fashola and his successor, Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode, on building collapse in Lagos, there is need for stiffer penalties for anyone found culpable in the recorded cases of building collapse in order to minimise the incidents.
Both committees called for strict enforcement of the building law as well as implementation of their recommendations.
But with the continued trial and probing of the Synagogue church building collapse by the Lagos State government, even with the change in government, experts are of the view that both building project financiers and contractors would think twice and prioritise safety of human lives while erecting or rehabilitating any structure.
The experts, who also called on the government to probe other buildings that have collapsed after Synagogue Church building tragedy, said that doing so would not only serve as deterrent to others but make people to value lives and be more considerate while building. they advocate that such cases must be pursue to a logical conclusion to ensure that those found culpable in the building collapse case will face the wrath of the law for their heinous crime against humanity.
The experts submitted that it is when the government demonstrate it’s value for human lives that builders will respect the sanctity of human lives and stop priotising proof of maximisation above the safety of would-be occupants of the buildings.
Building collapse: Courting death, loss through compromise
More innocent souls may still be trapped, maimed and lost in building collapse as long as compromise, love for lucre and corruption remains the practice in the Nigerian built sector. MURITALA AYINLA reports that avoidable tragedies of building collapse could be checked if only the laws are rigorously and strictly implemented
He stood out among the survivors and dead victims’ relatives invited by the Lagos State Emergency Management Agency (LASEMA) for financial assistance.
For nearly an hour that the programme lasted, he did not exchange words with anybody. He remained confined on the wheelchair, too engrossed to show interest in the happenings in the hall, obviously in thoughts of the fate that befell him. As more survivals walked out to receive cheques from the Lagos State Government, as financial assistance following their losses in the building collapse, tears rolled down his cheeks. His wife, Shakeerah Hassan, wiped his face, even as he managed to hold back tears but emotion failed him. Filled with emotion, the couple finally broke into tears.
That was Jamiu Hassan, one of the lucky survivors of the 63 Massey Street, Ita-Faji, Lagos Island building collapse which claimed 20 lives including 16 pupils of Ohen Nursery and Primary School. He was taking a nap on the last floor of the building when it caved in. For almost seven hours he was buried in the debris of the building. While under the rubble, Jamiu shouted for help but nobody could hear him, he heard so many pupils screaming for help but motionless as the beam of the fallen structured had already pinned him. Emergency responders and other volunteers unknowingly walked on the rubble under which he was buried for many hours but nobody could hear him screaming. But by the time he was excavated, he had sustained severe spinal cord and rib injuries which have confined him to a wheelchair.
The tears of the 36-year-old driver were not only provoked by the inadequacy of the money given to him to secure a new accommodation, but he was also obviously overwhelmed by the degree of his misfortune; how the tragic incident has rendered him incapacitated and confined him to a wheelchair.
Amidst tears, he said: “My issues are more complicated, I can no longer walk on my feet like others. If others eventually get over the loss, will I also? Between 9.30a.m. and 4.30p.m. I was trapped under the rubble I heard the pupils screaming also under the carcass of the building but was helpless because I had been trapped under the building’s beam. I do not know how to cope with life again when I can’t stand on my feet to work and take care of my family.”
Yetunde Ogunsanwo was too traumatised to recognise or greet anyone around her. The sight of her little boy, Joshua Ogunsanwo lying critically on the Lagos Island General Hospital bed worried her. Seeing the boy’s legs in Plaster of Paris (POP) was a burden too heavy to bear. For almost nine hours the distraught mother couldn’t sit. Hence, she burst into tears intermittently as she ran from one pharmacy to the other in search of the prescribed drugs and other needs as demanded by the doctors and other health care givers at the hospital.
Like many mothers, the 27-year-old woman had no premonition of the fate that befell them on Wednesday March 13, 2019. On the day, the trader had woken as early as 4.30a.m. to prepare for the day’s work and prepare her kid and husband’s meal. When it was 7a.m. she was already at Ohen Nursery and Primary School located on the ill-fated building. She left her little boy with school guards with a promise to return early to pick him only to find him in a critical condition at the hospital.
As shocking as her story seemed she was one of the few lucky mothers who met their children alive, though with degrees of injury. Many parents were not so fortunate. They bid their wards goodbye in the morning and they never set their eyes on their little angels anymore. They had dropped them in the three-storey building school, hoping to come and pick them in the afternoon but on returning to the school, what they saw was the a sea of sympathisers and onlookers who had gathered around the school building already reduced to rubble. Their beloved kids were buried alive by the debris of the collapsed building. It was a heart-breaking experience too difficult for many to bear. In the tragic incident, entire children of some families were involved.
A woman was said to have committed suicide when she could not withstand the agony of losing two of her three kids to the tragedy.
For hours, innocent children cried for help under the wreckage of the collapsed structure but nobody outside could hear them. Sympathisers and onlookers were helpless, the fallen slabs and other wreckage had covered them. They cried and wailed until they succumbed to death while the few lucky ones were rescued by sympathisers and emergency responders.
As touching as Ita-Faji school/residential building collapse was, life remains permanently altered for Okeoseye Odia, a policeman, who lost four children to flood-induced mudslide at Magodo area of Lagos metropolis. Odia’s children, Sylva (23), Sayo (15), Clinton (13) and Endurance (eight), were all consumed when flood broke through the family house located at 50, Otun Araromi Street, Orisha, Magodo Phase 1 in the early hours of Saturday, November 7, 2015.
Despite being assisted with N5 million by the state government to secure accommodation, he remained obviously overwhelmed by the degree of his loss in the unfortunate incident. He is currently battling with the miserable circumstances to which the regrettable occurrence had subjected him.
The experiences above are only samples of monumental pains and havoc wrecked on many Nigerians, whose relatives had been victims of collapsed buildings. Such occurrences, which have today become a somewhat recurring decimal, are inflicting pains and agonies on many families. It is, indeed, a sad phenomenon that seems to have snowballed into a regular happenstance in Lagos, the emerging “Mega City”.
Building collapse is one tragic incident that has brought so much pains and discomfort to the victims. It often occurs when least expected, though, sometimes envisaged, frightening and making everyone even the most organised person or organisation confused. It often takes place and when it does, it comes with stories of agony and lamentations. Fraying nerves are usually difficult to calm so also are the bereaved hard to console. Those cherished are suddenly lost or completely and permanently maimed. It is a disaster that pokes its destructive fingers on helpless persons. Like a thief in the night, it intrudes rudely into the victim’s world, venting its cruel spleen with abandon. One hardly survives it and those who managed to, hardly overcome the lasing trauma.
Whenever there is a bang, innocent victims are buried alive in the rubble, leaving the victims to writhe in pains for hours, sometimes days. Others simply succumb to death before the often delayed rescue mostly as a result of poor access to the site. Its victims over the years included but not limited to innocent occupants, pupils, residents, hawkers, bystanders, passers-by, labourers or porters who unfortunately choose to school, rest or live in the ill-fated building after a hectic day’s job. In many instances, an entire family is wiped out. Sometimes the kids will be spared to live thereafter as orphans. Many women had also become widows by this avoidable conundrum.
In Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial nerve centre, the collapsed building tragedy spares no region or district, since no part of the state appears to be free of these ugly incidents that have claimed hundreds of lives. From the densely populated and choked-buildings area on Lagos Island and Ebute-Metta to the sparsely populated Ojodu Berger axis, no one seems to know when and where the next tragedy will strike. The slum of Ajegunle and Ijora Badia as well as the highbrow areas in Lekki/Ajah axis come grave lamentations. The well-planned areas in Dolphin and Jakande Estate to the poorly-planned residences in Ketu, the air of frustration had always been palpable.
Government buildings are not exempted either. In the past, buildings owned, financed and, sometimes, handled by government officials have had their fair share of the challenge. On November 5, 2013, a shopping complex owned by Iru/Victoria Island Local Council Development Area of Lagos State collapsed on Muri Okunola Street, killing four people and with several others injured.
Also, seven people were trapped and injured including the site engineer when a building belonging to the Office of the Drainage, an arm of the state Ministry of Environment, caved in on December 15, 2011 on the premises of the Lagos State Secretariat, Alausa, Ikeja.
Statistics in Lagos
According to the 2018 emergency report of the Lagos Fire Service, a total of 11 building collapsed in the state in the year while 23 people died in the incidents. The record of Lagos State Emergency Management Agency (LASEMA) also shows that in 2107, 29 lives were lost in the 20 buildings collapse incidents recorded in the state. Thirty-four lives perished in Lekki Garden City building collapse in 2016. Between January and June 2019, the state has recorded seven building collapse cases with the loss of over 24 lives including that of the pupils of Ohen Nursery and Primary school at Ita-Faji.
But successive administrations in the state have not watched the situation in helpless frustration. In the past, committees have been inaugurated and other measures taken, yet the structures would not just stop crumbling. And the death toll from the ugly incidents keeps rising while many have, overtime, sustained permanent disability.
The tragic incidents seemed to be more peculiar in Lagos. To buttress the frequency of the ugly occurrences of building collapse in the “Centre of Excellence,” a Tribunal on Collapse Building set up by the former Governor of Lagos State, Babatunde Fashola, on November 18, 2013 also said that over 130 cases of collapsed buildings were recorded in the state between 2007 and 2013 alone.
In its report, the tribunal said: “over 130 cases of collapsed buildings were recorded in the state between 2007 and 2013 alone. While in 2014 no fewer than six cases were recorded by the Lagos State Building Control Agency (LASBCA). In the incidents, 128 lives were lost with the highest casualty figure of 116 persons coming from the Synagogue Church of All Nations (SCOAN) Guest House incident that shook the world on September 12, 2014.”
Going by the report of the tribunal summited to Fashola, an average of 18 houses collapsed per year, leaving hundreds of people bruised or buried alive. According to the Chairman of the tribunal, Mr. Abimbola Ajayi (an architect), five buildings caved in when the panel was still sitting.
So prevalent are the incidents in the state that between January and December 2015, 16 buildings collapsed.
Causes of frequent incidents
The causes of frequent building collapse are as numerous as structurally distressed buildings. A former Lagos State Commissioner for Physical Planning and Urban Development, Olutoyin Ayinde, a town planner, said “buildings won’t stop crumbling in Lagos until contractors stop the hasty development and embrace a scientific approach where all the appropriate and lawful steps in building will be followed without compromise”.
According to the former commissioner, most Nigerians including the contractors build by instalment and as a result, jump due process when it comes to building. He also said that Nigeria, particularly Lagos, continues to witness the unfortunate incident due to failure of builders who, according to him, are simply compromising the standard for selfish reasons or are incompetent. He explained that building construction is scientific, which requires due process by experts.
Ayinde, who is also the 2nd National Vice President of the Nigerian Institute of Town Planners, added that most builders hardly get approval before erecting their structures.
According to him, if at all they get permission for the construction of the building, they attempt to cut corner and flout such building approval.
He said: “Building project requires serious planning. The ideal thing is that you must have the resources to fund the building from acquisition of the land to the roof and virtually everything you need to do on the land. But the reverse is the case in Nigeria. People build by piece meal and without proper plan on how to fund the construction and as a result, compromise set in on the part of the project handler and property owners.
“There are other cases of collapsed building resulting from violation of building approved plans. For instance, there are instances in which two floors were approved and the consultant went ahead to build four-storey. There are also cases of professionals that are either inexperienced or compromising.”
Investigations have also revealed that most buildings that circumvented official supervision are usually built at night and other odd hours in order to get their structures built without being checked by the building regulatory and enforcement agents. This may be why the Lagos State government, at a point in time, prohibited building construction at night, on Sundays and other public holidays to prevent construction of structures when the regulatory officials would not be at work.
The directive, however, could not make any difference due to poor enforcement of the prohibition order.
Explaining the impacts of substandard blocks to building collapse incidents, the Chairman of Y. K. Block Industry, Alhaji Mustapha Yekini, identified the failing quality of cement and other building materials as one of the major causes of collapsed building cases. He said that most block makers are yet to adapt to the changing quality of cement mixture while building.
According to him, most block makers in Lagos use a bag of cement with a mixture of sand to mould 40 to 45 of nine inches blocks while the standard and in fact, the practice in other part of the country is maximum of 27 blocks for a bag of cement.
He said: “No matter how you look at it, substandard block can contribute to the collapse building. The concrete beams in building rest on blocks. Some block makers could use a bag of cement to make even more than 45 blocks of nine inches and it is usually 70 or more blocks if it is six inches.”
A chieftain of Association of Real Estate Developers of Lagos State, Olumegbon Mutairu, was quick to blame the menace on the sharp practices of the builders.
He said: “It is true that some of the major factors militating against reduction in the incidence of collapsed building are greed on the part of some developers and the use of substandard or inadequate materials. You can’t expect the strength of the building with a bag of cement for 20 blocks to be the same with the one with 50 blocks per bag of cement.
Detained, abandoned, languishing for debt (1)
In Ebonyi State, hospitals have resorted to detaining patients for their inability to clear bills. Twins, triplets, quadruplets’ mothers and other patients are presently languishing at Awaiting Bill Settlement (ABS) detention camps of the hospitals with pathetic conditions, reports UCHENNA INYA
Fourteen years ago, Mrs. Martina Nwofoke of Ogbala Ishieke in Ebonyi Local Government Area of Ebonyi State gave birth to sextuplets in her first pregnancy, four males and two females. All of them are alive.
On May 18, 2019, she gave birth to quadruplets; two males and two females bringing the total number of her children to 10 from two pregnancies. Nwofoke gave birth to the quadruplets at home.
She started bleeding after the delivery and was immediately rushed to the Federal Teaching Hospital Abakaliki (FETHA 1) where she was treated, discharged but could not pay the hospital bills.
She was transferred from her hospital bed to the ABS unit where she slept on bare floor with her quadruplets and other mothers who were in her similar situation.
The conditions of the detainees in the ABS camp have continued to generate public outcry and the State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA) had to donate a few mattresses and mosquito insecticide treated nets to them. Some of the detainees who couldn’t get the mattresses are still sleeping on bare floor.
Nwofoke was among the over 30 women dumped in the ABS camp. Life in the camp is extremely difficult. It is a very dirty environment and the detainees are packed like iced fish in a large hall and small rooms that are inside a building housing the camp. There is no electricity, no kitchen to prepare edibles. In the night, mosquitoes feast on the mothers and their babies.
Nwofoke said an odour emanating from a decomposing body, made them uncomfortable until it was evacuated.
The hospital gave the woman a bill of N200,000 for the medical treatment but she not could clear the bill as her husband paid only N80,000, leaving a debt of N120,000. The hospital had to take her to ABS, a camp where those who can’t afford their hospital bills after treatment and discharged are dumped, pending when they pay up.
Nwofoke said: “We are suffering a lot in this ABS; no food to eat, no assistance, no good amenities to make life better. As you can see, this environment exposes our babies to health problems because it is not conducive. We experience a lot of heat, mosquitoes bite and other things we are passing through here. Our babies no longer sleep in the night because of mosquitos. It was just a few days ago that a dead body here whose odour was disturbing was evacuated.”
The woman explained that she was in the ABS as her husband, a farmer, had tried all he could to clear the hospital bill and called for assistance from all quarters to enable her go home.
She added: “I have given birth to six children before; four girls and two boys before I gave birth to these quadruplets, two boys and two girls.
“The hospital management gave us high bill to clear –N200,000 and my husband has paid N80,000. We can’t afford the remaining N120,000 and that is why we were brought to this unit of the hospital by the management. I am not comfortable here and that is why I want to go home but money is not coming to clear the bills so that we can go home.
“I am a farmer and my husband is also a farmer; we have no money to clear the hospital bill. We don’t know when we will get money; we are therefore calling for assistance from all quarters; government, public-spirited individuals, Non-Governmental organisations (NGOs), corporate bodies to come to our aid. Life is very difficult in this ABS unit; we are no longer being taken care of because they said they have finished with us, that we have to clear our bills and go home. We were sleeping on bare floor until when government brought some mattresses and mosquito treated nets.”
Shortly after Nwofoke spoke with our correspondent and the public outcry, she and her children were freed by the Chief Medical Director (CMD) of FETHA 1, Dr. Emeka Onwe Ogah.
But while she was still in the hospital, behind Nwofoke was Mrs. Patience Ogonnaya from Amanator Umueze, Onicha Igboeze in Onicha Local Government Area of the state.
She did not also give birth in FETHA but in another hospital in the state. She was referred to FETHA 1 for proper medical attention. She gave birth to twins – girls – on May 24, 2019 through caesarean section.
Ogonnaya was sent to the ABS for inability to clear her hospital bill amounting to N102,210. She was billed the amount for her twins while her own bill is N40,000 which she has cleared remaining that of her twins.
She said: “I was brought to this ABS because of the debt I owe to the hospital; it is N102,210. This amount is for my twins while I have cleared my own bill. I paid over N40,000 for my own. I gave birth in a different hospital and was brought to this hospital because I was having issues after delivery, so I was rushed to this hospital where I was treated. I gave birth to a single child before these twins. I want help to enable me to go home.”
Susana Igwe, a native of Onunweke Isioffia in Ezza North Local Government Area of the state also gave birth to twins at seven months. She was bleeding seriously at Mile 4 Hospital, Abakaliki, where she was delivered of the babies. The bleeding persisted and she was referred to FETHA where her twins were put in an incubator for some weeks where they stayed and matured.
The hospital gave her two bills; one for the twins and the other for her own. The twins’ bill of N68,750 has not been cleared while her own has been cleared. She was remanded in the ABS. her husband is dead; he died before she was delivered of the babies.
The mother of six said life had not been easy for her as she depended on donations from public-spirited individuals to feed.
She said: “No one cares about me here. I find it difficult to feed. I am seeking assistance from everywhere so that I can go home. My husband is no more alive. I am the one carrying every responsibility in my family; no one is feeding my children. I took them to my father and I don’t have any money with me to continue feeding them. I am still in ABS because I have not cleared the bill the hospital gave me.”
On her part, Mrs. Onyinyechi Nweke, a native of Agubia in Ikwo Local Government Area of the state who also gave birth to twins at seven months – two females – said the hospital gave her a bill of N95,000 out of which she had paid N20,000. She was taken to ABS for her inability to complete the payment.
She said her husband, a motorcycle operator, had been hustling to clear the bill and has not succeeded. Nweke called on government, corporate bodies and public-spirited individuals to come to her aid.
About 16 women from Ezza North/Ishielu federal constituency in the state were remanded in the ABS by the hospital management for their inability to pay their bills.
Succour, however, came their way when their representative in the National Assembly, Hon. Anayo Edwin Nwonu, cleared their bills amounting to over N1.5 million.
The women and their bills are Mrs. Peace Chukwuma (N98,520), Mrs. Chinyere Aleke (N150,000), Mrs. Princess Nwosu (N170,380), Mrs. Salome Orji (N58,040), Mrs. Rachel Ugochukwu (N156,730), Mrs. Onyekachi Onyeazi (N107,490), Mrs. Nneka Uche (N95,91), Mrs. Udochukwu Eze (N119,280), Mrs. Annastecia Okwor (N135,040) and Mrs. Chineme Izzi (N168,660).
Others are Mrs. Miracle Elom (N26,650), Mrs. Maria Ogodo (N90,590), Mrs. Grace Nweke (N64,370), Mrs. Ugochukwu Igwe (N97,905) and Mrs. Ugoeze Adaeze (N43,690). The money was N1.583 million.
One of them, Aleke, from Okposi Umuoghara in Ezza North Local Government Area, said they resorted to prayers as their condition in the hospital was getting worse.
She said: “The hospital management chased us out of the hospital beds and took us to where they call ABS where we are staying without light and other amenities because of our inability to pay our hospital bills. We sleep there on bare floor with our belongings.
“We stayed in the ABS for months and we decided to examine our condition and discovered that it is getting worse. We then went into serious prayer asking God to come to our rescue.
“I led the prayer session and I told them that it is not only our governor and Rev. Fr. Abraham Nwali, Senior Special Adviser (SSA), to the governor on Religion and Welfare, that we have who always assist the needy, that we have some other public-spirited individuals that can assist us and we must pray God to touch their hearts to come and rescue us.
“About 4p.m. on that day, Hon. Anayo Edwin Nwonu sent his brother and one of his aides to come and ascertain patients from Ezza North/Ishielu federal constituency. They compiled our names and left.
“Today, he has visited us himself to clear our bills and we are grateful to him and pray God to replenish him. I have stayed in this hospital for two months and my bill is N150,000.”
On her part, Nwosu, who hails from Ikwuato Idembia in Ezza South Local Government Area, said they had been discharged by the hospital management but they could not afford the hospital bills.
She said: “We were removed from our hospital beds because we cannot pay the bills and the hospital management said we must pay the bills before they will release us.
“We sleep on bare floors and we are not properly taken care of after we were taken out of post-natal ward to the ABS ward. We have suffered in the hospital.”
The CMD , Ogah, who addressed the women during the payment of their bills by Nwonu, said “it pains a woman to come out of labour having the child and sleeping outside the comfort of her home”.
He said: “The best is what we do for the patients. Rather than sending them home because they don’t have money, we give them treatment to save their lives first. It is when they are alive that we talk of who will come and pay but if you push them out to go and die because they don’t have money for treatment, I think it is the greatest undoing, it is heartless and that is what we try not to encourage.
“We have not lost somebody because such a person does not have money.
“After treating them, some of them run away which is not good. But we don’t stop, we give them treatment.
“In 2017, victims of gas explosion from Ogoja were brought here for treatment and none of them came with one naira but we managed to treat them. At the end, they had a total bill of close to N20 million and up till today, that bill has not been paid. We are lucky that up to five of them survived and you know what it means for a burnt patient to survive, especially gas burns. We are employed to save lives, not to kill. So, people should come and clear the bills of these indigent patients so that they can go home.”
On her part, the Head of Department (HOD), Medical Social Work of the hospital, Dr. Felicia Otu, said the hospital management took proper care of all patients.
Otu explained that some patients were taken to the ABS ward to avoid occupying spaces of patients whose cases were very critical.
She said: “We see these women as their own cases settled and we see the ones in emergency – the ones we call the ‘unbooked’ from the rural villages who do not go to the hospitals but to the Traditional Birth Attendants (TBAs). When their cases are critical, that is the time they are rushed to the hospital and you cannot tell such people to be on the floor. Thank God we have a place we can say okay these ones that have been resuscitated, you have to be here.”
In Mile 4 Hospital, Abakaliki, some mothers were also waiting for their bills to be settled to enable them to unite with their families.
One of them, Eze Grace Ogala of Okpshi Ngbo in Ohaukwu Local Government Area who was delivered of twins, said she had been in pains since the delivery because of her inability to meet the financial requirements by the hospital for drugs which supposed to stop the pains and make her strong.
The 39-year-old women, who had two children before the twins, said she was a farmer.
She said: “I gave birth to two children before these twins. One of the twins has eye problem. Since I gave birth to the twins, I have not been taking drugs. I don’t have money to buy drugs prescribed for me and I have been having pains in my stomach since I gave birth. I want assistance to enable me to buy the drugs and pay my hospital bills. I want to go home.”
Another woman, Mrs. Franca Ogechi Achulike, said she was delivered of a baby through caesarean section.
She said: “I gave birth to twins – a boy and a girl. It has not been easy for me since I put to bed because you will buy this one, they will demand this one, they will request this one, and all these things involve money. So, it has not been easy at all. I feed them through breastfeeding and artificial milk. One of them, the baby girl, is not feeling fine. But I feel so happy to have these babies, they are blessings from God.
“I am still in the hospital because of the bill they gave us, which is not affordable. The bill is over N120,000 and I don’t know the amount they will charge for the baby girl of the twins who is not feeling fine. I want the governor and other public spirited-individuals to come to our aid.
“We have been running around to get money but we have not succeeded. My husband is not doing anything, he is just working in rice mill and he has been running around to see if he can raise the money but he is not succeeding, nobody agrees to give him money. I finished at Akanu Ibiam Federal Polytechnic, Unwanna. I have not got any job. I have ND there.”
On her part, Mrs. Ngozi Una, said she ran to the hospital to save her life.
She said: “I gave birth to two children before these twins. I am still in the hospital because I have not paid my hospital bills. I am suffering, I am not being taken care of and I want to go home. But the hospital management is insisting I must pay the bills before going. I am stranded here and I don’t know what to do.”
One of the nurses in the hospital, Patience Njoku, who is in charge of post-natal ward, admitted that some of the women were still undergoing pains after delivery because of their inability to procure drugs that would stop the pains, owing to lack of money.
She disclosed that eight of the women, who supposed to have gone home, were still in the hospital because of their inability to pay the hospital bills.
Njoku called on government at all levels, NGOs and public-spirited individuals to come to their aid.
She said: “Actually, some of the women are complaining of pains because they are unable to procure their drugs. We have done what we can and we have been given them drugs for sometimes. There are some drugs they supposed to be on but they didn’t buy it and that is why they are still having pains till now after the delivery.
“Most of the women cannot pay for their drugs and once you didn’t pay for your drugs especially within 48 hours of operation, you will keep on having the pains. But if you get your drugs, the way you supposed, within 72 hours, you see the woman being stronger.
“Most women, when they are being operated on, they may not procure their drugs due to financial constraints and some of them, their husbands will leave them, abandon them and go.
“We have up to eight of them who are unable to pay for their drugs and hospital bills and they are under Awaiting Bill Settlements (ABS). In these postnatal wards 1 and 2, we have two women unable to pay their bills making a total number of them to 10. We always try our best possible to make sure they are healthy and give them the drugs that we have around. We always wait for NGOs to come and offset their bills, sometime government officials do come.”
Meanwhile, an NGO, Twins and Multiple Births Care Initiative, has called for establishment of trust fund for twins and multiple births to reduce their suffering.
The group’s Secretary, Comrade Godwin Ezaka, told our correspondent that a combination of advocacy and direct interventions would tackle the phenomenon to a standstill.
Ezaka explained that the group had begun collection of signatures for submission of a petition to the state House of Assembly for a bill seeking establishment of trust fund for families of twins and multiple births in the country.
He said: “We have begun collecting signatures for the process of submitting a petition to the Ebonyi State House of Assembly for a bill, which when passed into law, will be known as Twins and Multiple Births Care Act. This bill is seeking for the establishment of a trust fund for families of twins and multiple births in Ebonyi State, nay Nigeria.
“When passed into law, it will help alleviate the suffering of parents and families blessed with twins and births. The family remains the bedrock of the society.
“We are out to ameliorate the human condition of twins and multiple births through the provision of financial support to enhance their daily upkeep. Your intervention for multiple births and their parents/families apart from cash and medical assistance is a panacea.
“It should be complemented with a forum for public awareness on multiple births, nutrition, health and child care.
“A trust fund for twins and multiple births will reduce the suffering of these folks. A combination of advocacy and direct interventions will tackle this phenomenon to a standstill. Social empowerment programme will safeguard the individual destiny of unborn generations.
“Let us collectively rewrite the sad stories of unprotected and homeless twins and multiples into success stories of living in abundance/freedom.
“We can recreate in them the happiness of life with compassion, humanitarian love and unparalled generosity for the less-privileged and the needy in our society. On the part of Twins and Multiple Births Care Foundation, we will continue to raise public awareness of the unique challenges that come with twins and multiple births.”
The state Coordinator of Legal Aid Council, Okwuegbu Egenti, told our correspondent that the Council would enforce the right of any patient whose right to free movement was restricted.
Egenti, however, called on government, corporate bodies, NGOs and public-spirited individuals to intervene in conditions of indigent patients by assisting them.
He said: “The Council can only come in when their rights are being infringed upon. Like in the issue you just presented, it is mainly financial but on the issue of restraining them that they can’t move out, that will amount to enforcement of their fundamental human rights on their right to free movement.
“When we enforce that right, the hospital will raise issue and say that it is because they are owing them and that is why they are detaining them but it amounts to unlawful detention if you say this type of person shouldn’t move out because he is still owing some money. On the other way round, the NGOs, government, individuals and general public should intervene in assisting the general patients.”
Oyo LGs’ dissolution: A fight of gladiators
Local government administration has always been a pawn in the nation’s political chess board. But in Oyo State, the fight to control the third tier of government has been a judicial macabre dance, writes SOLA ADEYEMO
Democratic experience in Nigeria is ridiculously unique in many ways. Since 1999 when the uninterrupted democratic dispensation commenced, Nigeria is believed to be practicing federalism, yet the federating units (states) are tied to the apron strings of the Federal Government, just as the states have also refused to allow autonomous existence for the 774 local governments across the country.
Politics of bitterness among the ruling and opposition parties has been a major bane of development, especially at the grassroots (local governments), where chairmen and their supervisory officials are hand-picked by governors instead of conducting elections where the electorate will elect their substantive officials to run the third tier of the government.
History of the Pace Setter, Oyo State, has since been riddled with warped transition wherein the three-year tenure of every outgoing local government official had always been cut short by the succeeding one that holds no trust in the other. Litigation had hitherto been the way out for the entitlements of the out-gone council to be collected.
The same scenario has repeated itself with the current Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) which on March 9, 2010 ousted the immediate past government of the All Progressives Congress (APC) under the administration of the Governor Abiola Ajimobi. For the complete seven years of his eight-year, two terms, in the saddle, Ajimobi never conducted elections into the local governments. He was merely appointing caretaker chairmen for periods of three and six months, at will, depending on loyalty of the appointees.
Much as the opposition parties cried out against the use of caretaker chairmen, who were mere stooges that were not empowered to carry out substantial developmental projects throughout their tenure, Ajimobi hid under the guise of a subsisting court case that disallowed him from conducting the election.
Poised to ensure he planted his foot soldiers to facilitate his party winning the last March gubernatorial election and perpetuate his political relevance after the eight-year tenure, Ajimobi conducted the belated local government elections on February 12, 2018. Considered as a sham and a process intended to shut other political parties out, the elections were a one-party affair as all the 33 local governments and the 35 local council development areas (LCDAs) were won by the then ruling APC.
The council chairmen were sworn in despite the criticism by the opposition parties that the LCDAs were not legally delineated, prompting their shunning the elections. A group of traditional rulers (Baales) from the Oyo zone area of the state, during the period, filed a suit in an Abuja High Court challenging the creation of the LCDAs, but the polls were conducted despite the pendency of the case and an injunction granted.
Upon the incumbent PDP administration being inaugurated on May 29, Governor Seyi Makinde announced the dissolution of the elected councils, while ordering all the chairmen to hand over to the Head of Local Government Administration in their respective areas.
In a statement issued by his Chief of Staff (CoS), Chief Bisi Ilaka, the governor said the election that produced the council chairmen was conducted in defiance to a court order stopping the process which held on May 12, 2018. Ilaka described the election as “an arrangee type”.
The council chairmen led by Prince Ayodeji Abass-Aleshinloye, however, kicked, saying that the order by Makinde was ridiculous and “an act of illegality given the fact that they were democratically elected and that a May 6, 2019 Oyo State High Court judgement had restrained the state government and its representatives or agencies from dissolving the councils or freezing the bank accounts of the councils, among others”.
Abass-Aleshinloye, the state chairman of the Association of Local Governments of Nigeria (ALGON), further said that the court had held that “dissolution of elected council chairmen and other officers by the state government or the House of Assembly is contrary to Section 7(1) of the 1999 Constitution as amended”.
Abass-Aleshinloye insisted that he and his counterparts would not leave office, asking the incumbent government to go to court which would decide the position of the law on the issue.
“We were democratically elected and sworn in to be in office for three years. We have just spent a year and few months. The governor has no right to terminate us.
“All discerning minds expected Oyo State government to defend its act of lawlessness and contempt of a subsisting court judgement on point of law and on absolute truth. But unfortunately, Governor Seyi Makinde’s administration opted for the path of ‘white lies’, arrogance and executive lawlessness.
“We advise Oyo State government to always toe the part of civility and rule of law. It has no power to dissolve a democratically elected local government, more so when there is a subsisting perpetual injunction/judgement by a competent court of law,” Abass-Aleshinloye told New Telegraph.
To many ordinary right thinkers in the state, the argument has been that Makinde’s action was apposite, arguing that the governor could by no way allow council chairmen unilaterally elected by the ousted political party to continue to co-administer the state with him. Where will he put his own followers and party loyalists who worked assiduously to ensure the party won? What kind of friendship or loyalty will anyone think the APC-elected council bosses have with or for the incumbent opposition party? These were some of the questions on the lips of some political actors in the state.
Justifying the government’s position, the Chief Press Secretary (CPS) to the governor, Mr. Taiwo Adisa, rubbished claims by the council bosses, saying that “there are strong suspicions that all the orchestrated campaigns are meant to distract the smooth take-off of the new administration but we will not be distracted.”
Adisa also adduced legal reasons for the government’s action.
He said: “Let me state that the government of Oyo State committed no illegality in dissolving the councils. Rather, the government took the step in defence of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The laws say that you cannot create local governments by whatever name called, without recourse to constitutional procedures.
“The immediate past state government went ahead to create LCDAs in total disregard for the constitution. They also jointly conducted elections into the recognised councils and the LCDAs the same day. By that singular act, they have tainted the elections conducted into the 33 local governments with illegality. You cannot mix apples and oranges together and call it a basket of apples or a basket of oranges. So the state is out to stop the illegality.
“Also, remember that the council chairmen were guilty of what lawyers call ‘forum shopping’ in trying to vacate the injunction that was issued to stop the conduct of the elections by rushing to a different court to get an order.
“A court of coordinate jurisdiction cannot vacate an injunction issued by its peer. It is an aberration in law and a violation of the law of natural justice. The state government cannot close its eyes and allow the perpetuation of judicial karate in the name of politics. So the Governor of Oyo State, Engineer Seyi Makinde, had to announce the dissolution of the councils to ensure sanity and to bring everyone to the part of constitutionality.
“Let me, however, state that the government will not condone any form of brigandage on this issue. The constitution states that you cannot create local government areas without recourse to the National Assembly. If you do that, it is inchoate like the Supreme Court said in the case of Lagos State. So when you do something like that and conduct elections into the councils, you have violated the constitution ab initio.”
Despite the avowed stance that they would not heed Makinde’s order to vacate their offices, New Telegraph’s checks at many of the local government councils revealed that the chairmen were no longer resuming at their offices. Career officers and other council civil servants were seen carrying on their statutory duties unhindered.
Just as the imbroglio was ongoing, the ALGON Chairman, Abass-Aleshinloye, cried out that his life was being threatened by some unnamed people. He particularly fingered the PDP and Makinde’s government.
In a letter he wrote to the police by his legal team, the Chairman of Oluyole Local Government Area before the dissolution, said that his life had come under threats beginning from May 30, 2019, after he addressed a press conference where he insisted that he and his colleagues would remain in office until the courts say otherwise.
According to him, after the conference, strange persons suspected to be supporters of the governor and his party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), came to attack him in his office, forcing him to escape through a different route.
He said strange men also trailed him on two different occasions after speaking on radio programmes.
The letter reads in part: “Ever since the press conference, our client is being trailed and is worried because of the persistent threat to his life and safety. In view of the above, we most humbly implore you to investigate our client’s complaint and take all necessary lawful steps to avert the threats to our client’s safety and life.
“We also wish to state that nothing untoward should happen to our client as we will hold the governor of Oyo State liable for any harm occasioned by any attacks on our client by the supporters of the governor of Oyo State.
“We also hereby request you to provide adequate security for our client in order to protect him from all the threats issued by the supporters and members of Peoples Democratic Party in Oyo State.”
The imbroglio, however, continues as the legal tussle before Justice Ladiran Akintola of an Ibadan High Court has again been adjourned till May 30, 2019 for further hearing.
Exactly a month after his inauguration, Makinde, during a media parley, said that the local government executives put in place by Ajimobi, which he had pronounced dissolved, remained so.
He added that he would conduct fresh elections into the councils latest by the first quarter of next year. Though the council bosses had been kicking, declaring that Makinde’s decision was autocratic and illegal, the PDP government insisted the dissolved local government executives were ab initio illegally put in place.
But Abass-Aleshinloye said “the governor carefully forgot to tell the public that there is a subsisting judgement of a court of record, as well as, a pending appeal he claims to have filed at the Court of Appeal.
“Again the trial court has further issued an order to maintain the status quo ante, the order which his government has been flouting with impunity and his spokesmen are deriding as ‘arrangee’, and for which committal proceedings have been issued against the errant officers of state. Yet his Excellency seeks to assure the public that he would respect the judiciary while deriding the institution and its pronouncements”.
Meanwhile, the councils are presently being run by career officers as the chairmen who relied on the court proceedings, have been shut out of their offices.
Police: Protecting hapless Nigerians from predators
The police have committed so many atrocities that their appearance evokes terror in Nigerians. Today, Nigerians fear policemen more than criminals, writes STEVE UZOECHI
It was a horrible night in June 2005, when five young men and a lady were brutally gunned down in cold blood by an unfeeling police team.
The ugly episode is today known across Nigeria as the Apo-Six killing.
The five young men – Ifeanyi Ozor, Chinedu Meniru, Anthony Nwokike, Paulinus Ogbonna and Ekene Isaac Mgbe – were auto-spare parts’ dealers at Apo, a satellite town in Abuja and the lady, Augustina Arebu, was the fiancée of one of the young men, Ifeanyi.
Down the road, off Gimbiya Street was Grand Mirage Hotel, a major relaxation spot in the neighbourhood and the five young men had chosen that night of June 7 to have a good time and perhaps give their friend’s fiancée, Arebu, a memorable treat.
But it was not to be. How could they have known that at the end of Gimbiya Street lurked ruthless death?
Their only offence till date has remained the fact that Augustina Arebu spurned the love advances of a senior police officer, then Deputy Commissioner of Police, Danjuma Ibrahim, who apparently didn’t take kindly to being turned down in public.
Unknown to the six, Danjuma and his team had thereafter mounted a checkpoint at the end of the street after the senior police officer told his men that ‘he sighted a group of armed robbers in the area’.
On their way home in their Peugeot 406 car, the unsuspecting victims were stopped at the Gimbiya checkpoint at the end of the street and Danjuma, after a brief argument, allegedly ordered his men to shoot four of the six. It was instant death for the innocent traders.
Nwokike and Arebu, who had survived the night, were ‘finished off’ in the small hours of June 8, by two police officers who claimed the two had ‘attempted to escape from custody’.
It was later discovered that Arebu was strangled.
Two officers who committed the last killings were later sentenced to death while Danjuma was set free.
The police had claimed the victims were armed robbers “who had shot at officers at a checkpoint.”
But a Judicial Panel of Inquiry set up by former President Olusegun Obasanjo dismissed the police claims as false and recommended Danjuma and his men for trial.
The five accused officers and eight other police witnesses testified that Danjuma allegedly ordered the killings.
But after more than a decade of protracted court hearings, the “Apo Six” are yet to get justice.
The presiding judge, Ishaq Bello, said there was insufficient evidence to convict Danjuma, who allegedly ordered the shootings. With that, the Police Service Commission reinstated Danjuma and gave him double promotion, leaving the families of the victims, distraught at the perceived injustice.
More than a decade, the families of the deceased are yet to get justice.
Regrettably, many of such tragic stories abound today in Nigeria with no visible sign that impunity in the Nigeria Police Force will abate any time soon.
“The police shall be employed for the prevention and detection of crime, the apprehension of offenders, the preservation of law and order, the protection of life and property and the due enforcement of all laws and regulations with which they are directly charged, and shall perform such military duties within or outside Nigeria as may be required of them by, or under the authority of this or any other Act”, so says the Police Act, but Nigerians know better.
Today, Nigerians from all walks of life are beginning to embrace the sad reality of living on edge in a country they call their own; depending upon the police they dread for their safety and living through each day being far too careful, not to cross operatives of the Nigeria Police Force, for fear of extra-judicial death.
The agency that should protect citizens; the tax-funded security outfit that should ordinarily be the first responder to citizens’ distress calls, has over the years, gradually yet steadily, built a predator status for itself.
This is the perception of most Nigerians.
With the rising penchant for impunity among personnel of the Nigeria Police Force; stakeholders, security pundits, human rights advocates and agitated citizens have continued the push for a lasting solution to the growing culture of arbitrariness and lawlessness in Nigeria’s police hierarchy.
Mexico is known to have disarmed and disbanded police formations in some of its states for complicity in criminal activities that had heightened the spate of violent killings in the country; but some analysts have adjudged the move as being extreme.
In December 2011, the Veracruz Police formation in Mexico was disbanded, with more than 900 officers in Veracruz losing their jobs. The officers were, however, given opportunity to re-join the police only if they pass the trust and credibility test by the state.
In September 2018 also, the entire police structure in the Mexican city of Acapulco was disbanded after being disarmed by the military.
Mexican authorities maintain that the clampdown was a necessary step in the effort to tackle corruption and infiltration of the police by criminal elements in the wake of growing drug-related violence in the country.
Nigerians in recent times have witnessed a wave of brutality and inexcusable extrajudicial killings of innocent citizens across the country, not by drug lords but by the police.
Most Nigerians are already exasperated with the growing culture of impunity in the police and would not shy away from recommending a total disbandment if that is what it would take to fix the rot in the Force, and effectively stem the tide of armed brutality by the police against the citizenry.
Alarming also is the thought that most agencies with the capacity to wield regulatory or supervisory authority over the police are at a loss on how best to curtail the wave of police brutality and impunity in Nigeria.
Mr. Rommy Mum, a member of the Police Service Commission, the agency empowered to discipline erring policemen; while conceding that there appears to be a seeming upsurge in incidents of police highhandedness, says that in his six months in the Commission, he was yet to see a single petition to the Commission on police brutality.
He said: “Besides what we read in the newspapers, the Police Service Commission (PSC) is like a court, if you do not bring an incident of abuse to its attention through a petition, it cannot take action. We need to publicise what the PSC can do for Nigerians and Nigerians should begin to come forward with specific complaints so we all can address these issues.”
Mum added that incidents of police brutality had always been around but only gained prominence because of what he called ‘on-the-spot reporting’ aided by the social media.
He said: “This, however, does not excuse the issues of police high-handedness. But again the new Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, is just a few months old in office and I believe he is making the right moves to tackle the incidents of impunity in the force. He is making the right reactions and interventions in words and he will need to be given a little more time to translate his words to results.”
In its part, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) maintains that impunity and brutality will continue to thrive in the police until authorities commit to holding erring officers and their accomplices accountable for their actions.
The South-East Coordinator of NHRC, Mrs. Uche Nwokocha, said all efforts so far made by the commission in collaboration with Amnesty International and other agencies in recent times, to get the police high command to account for incidents of extra-judicial killings by the police had yielded no result – not one incident of extrajudicial killing by the police had been fully accounted for.
She said: “In most cases, they will simply tell you that they have dismissed the erring officer, but on further investigation, we often find that some of such offending officers were merely transferred and not dismissed.”
Nwokocha observed that impunity and brutality in the police were largely driven by corruption. She named bribery and extortion as the triggers for highhandedness.
The National Coordinator for the Network on Police Reform in Nigeria (NOPRIN), Mr. Okey Nwanguma, warned that police brutality and extrajudicial killings in Nigeria had risen to epidemic proportion and needed urgent and decisive intervention from relevant authorities.
He said: “Across Nigeria, public outrage has reached a crescendo over the escalating spate of police extrajudicial killings and abuse of police power. To say the least, police extrajudicial killing in Nigeria has assumed epidemic proportion. Between November 2018 and April 2019, there have been no fewer than 15 documented cases of police killings across the country from reckless abuse of firearms.
“Nigerians woke up on Sunday April 14, 2019 to the tragic news of two more casualties of police brutality in Lagos in one day. That brought to no less than six, in less than one month alone, the number of cases of citizens killed in Lagos by trigger-happy police officers through reckless and inexplicable misuse of firearms.
“Earlier this year, two young women were killed in Abuja; one, just a day to her passing out from the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC). This was within two weeks after the tragic killing of Kolade Johnson on March 31 by a member of a police team from the notorious Anti-Cultism Unit of the Lagos State Police Command.
“And while the outrage that greeted that killing was yet to subside, another policeman under the same Lagos State Police Command again shot a young man and his young female partner, Adaobi Ojide, instantly killing the young woman. The police authorities in Lagos said the policeman who committed the crime escaped and has been declared wanted by the command while his colleagues were arrested and subjected to internal disciplinary procedure, dismissed and handed over for prosecution for murder.”
Police brutality has been a recurring incident in Nigeria apparently because of the seeming lack of commitment to decisively redress the growing culture of impunity in the police.
Also, on Saturday December 26, 2015, an allegedly drunk police sergeant, Stephen James, with Force No. 217884, attached to Police Mobile Force (PMF 22) shot and killed twin brothers – Taiwo and Kehinde Oyesunde, the only children of their parents – and their friend, Jeje, outside the premises of Paulson Hotel at Ketu, Lagos State, Nigeria, where Jeje’s birthday took place. The policeman later shot himself dead when the weight of the crime he committed dawned on him.
On June 27, 2015, Corporal Chris Ali shot into a burial ceremony at Fugar, Edo State, with an assault rifle, killing two nursing mothers who were seated under a canopy. He was found guilty of murder in the police orderly room trial. According to police authorities, he was consequently dismissed from the force and charged to court.
Most recently also, on June 3, 2019, a police sergeant, Collins Akpugo, shot and killed Chukwubuike Onuoha (21), an undergraduate of the Michael Okpara University of Agriculture, Umudike (MOUAU), at Okwulagha Afara-Ukwu, within Umuahia metropolis, Abia State. The deceased was an indigene of the community.
A woman leader from the community, Mrs. Ngozi Ogbonna, who led dozens of women in protest over the killing, noted that Onuoha was shot right in front of his father’s house.
Recounting how the man was killed, Ogbonna said: “Onuoha was in company with other youths when the policemen drove towards them in a Toyota Hilux van. The policemen flashed the van’s headlight in the direction of the youth, temporarily blinding them. Onuoha walked up to the van, pleading with the policemen to dim the light. Rather than comply, a policeman alighted and shot him on the shoulder.”
Before fleeing the scene and abandoning the van, the policeman shot Onuoha again on the chest, killing him.
The Abia State Police Commissioner, Mr. Okon Ene, also confirmed the killing, with a pledge to bring the fleeing suspect to justice.
It is widely believed in Nigeria that cases of police brutality and extrajudicial killings that are covered up by the system without redress are legion. They, by far, out-number the cases that come to court.
Consequently, victims of police brutality and highhandedness are most times denied justice and left without remedy.
It was expected however that the return to democratic processes in 1999 and the reform measures undertaken so far would curb police brutality, but police killings remain prevalent. This calls for urgent and far-reaching measures to end this disturbing trend.
NOPRIN’s Programme Coordinator, Nwanguma, observed that extrajudicial killings, particularly by Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), assumed a disturbing frequency under the immediate past IG, Ibrahim Idris, who did nothing to address the concerns raised, prompting the emergence of the #EndSARS Movement led by Segun Awosanya.
A police source close to the former IG noted that only the person that had been in Idris’ shoes would understand what the former police chief had to deal with. He said: “The former IG was caught in between the crossfire of powerful political forces that didn’t seem to help his focus on the job. The most I can say now is that Idris set out to do a good job but Nigeria is what it is.”
Dismissing the excuses, Nwanguma recalled that “instead of addressing widespread police abuses which prompted the popular campaign to disband the notorious Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), the police under Idris justified the excesses of the police accusing those campaigning for the disbanding of SARS as people harbouring criminal intents. The Presidency responded to the #EndSARS agitation by ordering the then IG to reform SARS and the NHRC to conduct public hearings on SARS atrocities.”
Despite these official responses and the huge investments of resources, time and energy by civil society, government and international development partners and foreign governments, police reform efforts have yielded no significant improvement.
Nwanguma regretted that, “on the part of government, there seems to be more rhetoric than concrete action. Even when government sets up police reform committees, the reports and the far-reaching recommendations of the committees are never wholeheartedly implemented.”
Though the police have always agreed to the prevalence of impunity in the Force and had always promised to redress same, the current IG, Adamu, has, however, shown signs of commitment to tackling the wanton brutality and high-handedness deployed by police personnel in the course of discharging their duties.
Unlike previous times, the IG was recently reported to have warned that Divisional Police Officers and Area Commanders would henceforth be held responsible for acts of impunity by men under their command and has vowed to restore sanity to policing in the country. And it is expected he would speedily act on his words.
As reassuring as his responses and recent actions may seem, Adamu would not be the first IG to accept that there is a pervasive rot in the Force that needs urgent decisive action.
One of the most indicting commentaries on the state of the police was rendered seven years ago by former IG, Mohammed Abubakar, while addressing Assistant Police Commissioners in charge of command operations and criminal investigation departments, at a conference in Abuja on February 13, 2012.
He said: “The Police Force has fallen to its lowest level. Police duties have become commercialised and provided at the whims and caprices of the highest bidder.
“Our police stations, State Criminal Investigations Departments (SCID) and operations offices have become business centres and collection points for rendering ‘returns’ from all kinds of squads and teams set up for the benefit of superior officers.
“Our Special Anti-Robbery Squads (SARS) have become killer teams engaging in deals for land speculators and debt collection. Toll stations in the name of check-points adorn our highways with policemen shamefully collecting money from motorists in full glare of the public.
“Justice has been perverted, people’s rights denied, innocent souls committed to prisons, torture and extrajudicial killings perpetrated and so many people arbitrarily detained in our cells because they cannot afford the illegal bail monies we demand.
“Illegalities thrive under your watchful eyes because you have compromised the very soul of our profession. Our respect is gone and the Nigerian public has lost even the slightest confidence in the ability of the police to do any good thing.
“That is how bad it has become and that is why we shall be adopting a very radical approach in the course of running this administration.
“We must purge the system of corruption which cripples and frustrates every honest effort at reforming the police as exemplified in the total failure of the multiple efforts of government at reforming the Nigeria Police Force.”
Abubakar had ordered the immediate disbandment of all squads, teams or any other operational or investigative outfit operating under whatever name and collapsing such under the original structures recognised by police standards.
While acknowledging the logistics and welfare problems facing the police, he, however, stated that, “these problems cannot justify nor serve as excuses for the myriad of uncouth and unprofessional conduct of police officers and men across the country.”
Speaking at the Public Tribunal on Police Brutality, Corruption and Abuse held in Owerri, Imo State for Southern Nigeria, by the NOPRIN Foundation, in collaboration with TrustAfrica, Nwanguma observed that the stance of the former IG Abubakar was a familiar pattern among newly appointed police chiefs in the country.
He said: “It appears almost every former Inspector General of Police, upon assuming office, adopts such no-nonsense posture, talking tough and promising reforms. But down the line, as they settle in, things return to business as usual. Recall that the current IG also made similar tough statements in his inaugural speech and announced measures.
“I must, however, admit that the response by the current IG Mohammed Adamu to the spate of extrajudicial killings by the police is a departure from what was witnessed under his predecessor, IG Ibrahim Idris.
“The directive to hold the commanding officers at the Police Divisions and Area Commands responsible for any further infractions will awaken them to their responsibility; to monitor and supervise officers under them to ensure that they are professional in the discharge of their duties. They will now take responsibility for failure to supervise and enforce discipline among the junior ranks.”
Furthermore, the South-East Coordinator of NHRC, Nwokocha, is also concerned that there may be a pattern to the incidents of police brutality and impunity.
She noted that the southern part of the country was worst hit by the rampant incidents of police high-handedness.
“The South-Eastern part of the country in particular, is a place where police are rarely held accountable for their acts of impunity and unprofessionalism.
“The complaints of incidents of police brutality that stream in to our office from southern Nigeria is enormous and by far more than the complaints we get from other regions of the country and the major causes of these incidents of brutality is extortion. Scattered across the South-East are all manner of police, military and paramilitary security teams piling undue pressures on the people,” Nwokocha said.
In May, 2019, the NOIPolls, a polling service founded by the former Vice President of the World Bank, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, ran a poll for 1,000 randomly selected Nigerians on the conduct of the Nigeria Police Force.
While 85 per cent of participants in the poll affirmed that illegal activities by the police were very prevalent across the country, the poll also found that the South-South and South-West zones have the largest proportion of Nigerians (89 per cent each) who attested to the high rate of illegal activities by the police. And this tends to support the claims of the NHRC. Some of the parameters evaluated include: killing the unarmed; intimidating the innocent; collecting bribes; arresting the innocent; illegal checkpoints (extortion); hiring out guns to criminals, sex-for-bail and arresting commercial sex workers.
“Get to some of these police stations for instance; it is shocking the level of impunity and brazenness with which they collect ‘ransoms’ from fellow citizens in the name of bail. And for that matter, bail is supposed to be free and this impunity goes on right under the noses of top police officers,” the NHRC zonal coordinator added.
With the increasing spate of crime and insecurity in the country, Nigerians are further burdened with ‘being careful’ in dealing with their own police operatives who should look out for their safety, to the extent that in some areas, the sight of a policeman evokes fear instead of an assurance of safety.
Only recently, in the heat of the extrajudicial killings by policemen in the country, the Head of Police Public Complaint Unit, Abayomi Shogunle, in a Twitter update that provoked public outrage, counselled citizens on how to relate with policemen, to avoid being killed. And one of such tips was that citizens should desist from speaking Queen’s English to police operatives as it may trigger conflict. He recommended Pidgin English instead.
His twit reads: “For now, don’t go and be speaking Queen’s English with them on the road. For proper understanding, talk to them in Pidgin.”
Ben Jack Egwuatu, a public commentator in Imo State had reacted by saying: “The counsel by Shogunle will not reassure any Nigerian and that is for sure. At best, it would instil fear in the citizenry by conveying the impression, that to be safe around the Nigerian Police, one must be able to walk on eggshell. This is the same Police Force that is funded by tax-payers money and the fact that Shogunle who is supposed to handle public complaints is saying this, is alarming, to say the least. All things considered, the Nigeria Police Force urgently needs a radical shakeup.”
In a 2014 report by Amnesty International entitled: “Welcome To Hell Fire: Torture and Other Ill-Treatments in Nigeria,” the authors wrote: “Amnesty International’s research into cases of torture, enforced disappearances and deaths in military and police custody, reveals a pattern of inadequate criminal investigation by police and military and a disregard for due process. This facilitates human rights violations in custody, including torture and other ill-treatment; denies people suspected of a crime a fair trial; and ultimately hinders successful prosecution of suspects. Security officials are rarely held accountable for failures to follow due process or for perpetrating human rights violations such as torture.
“The absence of acknowledgement and public condemnation of such violations by senior government officials further assists in creating a climate for impunity and raises serious concern about the political will to end such human rights violations.”
While many special government committees and reports have highlighted various causes of police impunity and brutality, the Human Rights Watch (HRW) is convinced that the prime cause of impunity and brutality in the police is corruption.
In one of its landmark reports on the police entitled: “Everyone’s in on the game, HRW submitted that: “Countless ordinary Nigerians attempting to make precarious ends meet as taxi drivers, market traders, and shopkeepers are accosted on a daily basis by armed police officers who demand bribes and commit human rights abuses against them as a means of extorting money.
“Those who fail to pay are frequently threatened with arrest and physical harm. Far too often these threats are carried out.
“Meanwhile, victims of crime are obliged to pay the police from the moment they enter a police station to file a complaint until the day their case is brought before a court. In the shadows, high-level police officials embezzle staggering sums of public funds meant to cover basic police operations. Senior police officers also enforce a perverse system of ‘returns’ in which rank-and-file officers are compelled to pay up the chain of command a share of the money they extort from the public. Those charged with police oversight, discipline, and reform, have for years failed to take effective action, thereby reinforcing impunity for police officers of all ranks who regularly perpetrate crimes against the citizens they are mandated to protect.”
A senior academic in the Faculty of Law at the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Binzak Azeez, in a recent article differed however, insisting that only a well-democratised polity and economy could abate the wave of brutality in the police.
According to him, the police are privy to the fundamental human rights’ provisions under Chapter 4 of the 1999 Constitution, as amended.
He wrote: “They are not ignorant of the Part 2 of the Police Act which posited their primary duties as ‘maintenance of law and order, prevention and detection of crime and the protection of lives and property.’ They understand that the application of firearms against persons ‘except in self-defence or defence of others against threat of death or severe injury or to prevent the escape of a person who has committed a serious or deadly crime while resisting their authority’ is unprofessional and barbaric. No amount of extant laws, bills and reforms can effectively curb police brutality in Nigeria.”
It is the hope of every resident of Nigeria that the police force will progressively evolve in the right direction; advancing steadily in the quality of training, techniques, and character of its personnel, in line with global best practices; and as such, rebuilding public confidence in the possibility that the Nigeria Police Force will someday render service with integrity.
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