It is pertinent to note that many entrepreneurs, including members of the Houston Citizens Chamber of Commerce in Houston and the Continental Africa Chamber of Commerce in Chicago, attended the forum.
Besides, officials of the U.S. Trade Department, the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity and the Corporate Council on Africa (CCA), among others, also participated in the forum.
Mr Kenny Efunpo, a Nigerian and a board member of Houston Citizens Chamber of Commerce, said that Nigerians in Houston should be encouraged to invest in Nigeria. He put their remittances in 2009 at about four million U.S. dollars (about N600 million).
Efunpo, who was the first African President of the African-American Chamber of Commerce from 2004 to 2005, said that some 250,000 Nigerians were living in Houston, adding that 25 per cent of the people were professionals.
Efunpo, who is into oil and gas, said that the remittance figure was extracted from a Western Union’s report.
“You will agree with me that it is a lot of revenue for Nigeria,’’ he said.
He said that in the past, the 75-year-old Chamber had been trying to organise a trade mission to Nigeria to explore the investment opportunities in the country.
“It is very good that Nigeria has taken the initiative to come and see how we can improve the economic, industrial and political situation in the country.
“But the programme was not much publicised in the U.S., especially in Houston. If it was well publicised, more business people would have attended,’’ he said.
Efunpo said that in the next two months, the chamber would be leading a delegation of investors to Nigeria to explore investment opportunities in the construction, housing and real estate sectors.
He noted that the discussions between Nigerian and American businessmen at the forum were “meaningful’’, adding that the forum would foster improved trade and investment relations between the two countries.
However, some of the forum’s participants attributed the low level of U.S. investments in Nigeria to the bad external image of Nigeria, promoted by the foreign press.
They, therefore, called on the Federal Government to embark on an aggressive image-laundering activity to change the erroneous public perception of Nigeria in the U.S.
For Mr Ademola Dada, the President of the Continental Africa Chamber of Commerce in Illinois, U.S., the forum would help to counter the negative perception of Nigeria created by the foreign media.
“We have to promote many face-to-face meetings like this continually since we cannot influence bad press about Nigeria,’’ he said.
Dr Wale Ajifolokun, Managing Director of Air Cargo and Travel Agency in Chicago, said that Nigeria should strive to “boost its own ego and write its own story its own way.
“If you wait for people to write it for you, they will do that from their own perspectives, which may be wrong,’’ he said.
Ajifolokun said that apart from the challenges of inadequate power supply, bad transportation and insecurity, Nigeria’s bad image had been scaring away potential investors from the country.
Dr Adetunji Oyedele, an exporter, particularly called on the government to address the problems of insecurity and kidnapping in the country.
“The Ministry of Information needs to constantly sell the country to the outside world; a country needs to be sold to the whole world.
“Ironically, the only time they get to know about Nigeria is only when something bad has happened,’’ he said.
For Chief David Olupitan, an international business consultant and co-founder of the 35-year-old Continental Africa Chamber of Commerce, the organisation of such a forum was long overdue.
“It will go a long way in addressing some wrong perceptions about Nigeria,’’ he said.
Olupitan, therefore, called on Nigerian entrepreneurs to promote their products in the U.S. through direct adverts or via such forum.
“Nobody can speak well of you than yourself; we need to start talking and shouting about ourselves and what we are doing,’’ he said.
The U.S. policy makers, however, made some pledges which reflect the prospects of increasing trade and investment with Nigeria.
Ms Julie Carducci, the Deputy Director, U.S. Department of Commerce, said that the department would intensify efforts to assist U.S. companies in finding new markets in Nigeria.
She said that the department supported U.S. companies’ exports to Nigeria, while matchmaking the companies with their Nigerian counterparts.
She, therefore, urged Nigerian companies to work with their U.S. counterparts in efforts to export goods with the required American qualities to the U.S.
Carducci urged Nigerian companies to participate in the trade shows organised in the U.S. to further strengthen their investment opportunities.
The trade shows will take place in Houston, La Vegas, Dallas and New Orleans in August.
“We have in the past supported trade missions to Nigeria. We hope to organise more of such missions to further explore the investment opportunities in the country,’’ she said.
Mary Roberts, the Deputy Director, Office of Trade and Investments in Chicago, welcomed the Nigerian delegation to Chicago, saying: “It is the largest city and centre of commerce for the entire world.
Roberts said that Illinois ranked 5th among the U.S. states concerning exports to Africa, while Nigeria ranked 4th among African countries getting Illinois exports.
Dr Cynthia Fontenet, an American businesswoman, said that the forum was timely, as both countries had a lot to benefit from each other.
She said that the U.S., with its high technology and industrial capacity, could benefit immensely from Nigeria with its enormous human and natural resources.
“This is bridging the gap and this connection with each other in commerce and industry is definitely the key to success,’’ she said.
The U.S.-Nigeria Forum is the outcome of the Trade and Investment Agreement (TIFA), whose objective also include providing a platform for deliberating on how trade opportunities can be explored, while a balance of trade is achieved.
Gov Godswill Akpabio of Akwa Ibom, who was represented by the Commissioner for Commerce and Industry, Dr Emem Wills, said that the government had done a lot in making the state an investors’ haven.
“In the last three years, the state has concentrated on the development of state’s infrastructure, We constructed roads, our Independent Power Supply Project has been completed, we are liaising with the PHCN for distribution,’’ Akpabio said.
The high point of the forum was the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), between the Federal Government and the International Trade Centre, Houston, and the Continental Africa Chamber of Commerce, Chicago.
One of the objectives of the agreement is to improve trade between Nigeria and the U.S., while enhancing value added oil and non-oil exports from Nigeria to the U.S.
The organisations will collaborate with Nigeria in promoting exportable products from Nigeria, under the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), to attract Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) into Nigeria from the U.S.
All the same, industry operators have consistently harped on the need to improve the country’s infrastructure, especially power, so as to create conducive environment for investors.
However, Mr David Adejuwon, the Acting Director of Trade, Ministry of Commerce and Industry, emphasised that potential investors should not wait for everything to be put in place before deciding to invest.
“If you have to wait for all challenges to go away, the investment space may not be available again,’’ he said.
Checking Sex Trafficking Of African Women
For thousands of years and even up to the present, African women have been subjected to acts of slavery, including sex trafficking, forced labour and domestic servitude.
Slavery has, therefore, become a daily happening each and every year, particularly among Africans. Now it seems some persons have turned it into a huge business from which they make large sums of money with no intention to let go any soon. This criminal act towards these victims is mostly perpetrated by their relatives, friends, men or women who pretend to mean well but who harbour evil intentions toward their unsuspecting victims.
The world is increasingly being blinded by the truth so much so that we don’t get to face the reality when a young girl is being trafficked. During the invasion of slave traders, women were used to satisfy their sex needs because such females were deemed to be of little or no importance unlike the men who were forced to perform the harder duties. These ladies were used anytime, any day thereby robbing them of their dignity and self esteem. Unfortunately, this trend has endured till date, more especially among African women.
Let me share the story of a young lady who was once a sex traffic victim. Her name is Ngozi (not real name). I met her in Moscow, the Russian capital, four years ago. She and her baby caught my attention. I was so curious to know who she was because, from every indication, she didn’t strike me as a student.
We started off by exchanging pleasantries after which she asked to know if I was a student, to which I responded in the affirmative. When she said she wasn’t a student, I then realised that my instinct was right, after all.
She was like, I need to tell you about myself unashamedly; an experience that has become a lesson to me and which might serve as a warning to any young girl who clamours to travel out of Nigeria in search of a better life.
Ngozi started narrating the story of how she was taken from Delta State, lured with the offer of travelling to Russia to assist a certain nursing mother from Uganda who was resident in Moscow. Her duty would entail taking care of the lady’s children in her absence.
The woman who travelled down to pick her from Nigeria happened to be a friend to her aunty whom she was staying with then. The two friends had a lengthy discussion together during which the woman assured Ngozi’s aunty that her niece would be well paid and have a good life. In turn, the aunty pleaded that Ngozi be properly taken care of and given the best of life as promised.
Fast forwarding a little, she narrated how her travel documents were processed based on the understanding that she was going for study as claimed by her lady companion in order to avert suspicion.
Ngozi said she was barely 17 years old as at when the woman came to pick her up. Everything sailed through for her at the entry points and they were able to arrive Moscow. But life took a different turn for her in a space of three days. The woman really made her feel comfortable in those few days, but on the fourth day, two hefty men wearing masks came into the apartment at night and whisked her away.
According to the lady, she was not the only one in such a mess as she could hear other girls crying and pleading for help from another cage where they were held. All she did was to cry quietly knowing the uselessness of any loud wailing. Soon, they were given new clothes by the masked men and told to get ready for work.
A new but harsh life began for Ngozi such that she got thoroughly beaten and starved whenever she declined sleeping with her assigned clients. She was forced to sleep with an average of 10 men each day and the money paid directly to the madam in charge of them. All her attempts to escape proved futile. Ngozi’s child came from a Russian man who bought her off from her madam. On the possibility of returning to Nigerian, Ngozi vehemently rejected the idea, claiming that she was ashamed of herself and nothing good could come of her life anymore.
After hearing Ngozi’s story and comparing with other accounts I had heard previously in the media, I was so broken and asked myself questions that might appear unexplainable but which definitely have answers: Why are young ladies in their early ages of 15-40 years, still being trafficked every year? What measures are being applied to stop the rise in sex trafficking cases in Africa? Why is the government not paying adequate attention to human trafficking? Why are there no seminars or platforms created to educate and possibly discourage the average young lady who wants to risk her life by travelling to such countries? And lastly, why are they mostly trafficked to Middle East countries?
Now, let’s start with the first question. Like stated in the first paragraph of this article, young ladies have always been victims of sex traffickers and also major targets because they are young and energetic.
Also, most of the girls trafficked are either orphans, people from poor homes or those who are desperate to have a better life by all means and who do not care about what happens to them afterwards.
On the second question, it can be said that the men and women who take these women overseas from Africa are most likely to have connections with a human trafficking syndicate. Just like the narcotics business, it is extremely difficult to identify those in charge. In the event that something goes wrong and a leader is apprehended, a fresh link is created immediately for the business to continue.
For the third question, we understand the fact that the government has a lot of responsibilities to handle; but regardless, women trafficking is an important issue too. It is a threat to society, trafficking is an important issue too. It is a threat to society, a threat to Africa and also to the girl-child. We appreciate the role being played by the Nation’s Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking In Persons (NAPTIP) but such monster as this deserves utmost attention and should be critically followed with all amount of seriousness.
The fourth question harps on the need for platforms to be created to discuss and enlighten potential victims of such illicit trade. We now live in a world that has gone digital and where information on any topic is readily accessible. But unfortunately, most of the less privileged young women still need to be properly taught about the so-called ‘countries with great opportunities’ which they hope to travel to and make quick money.
They should also be schooled on how to easily identify any person(s) who is coming around with the aim of deceiving them into travelling abroad for good jobs and better living standards.
On the frequency of trafficking women for sex in Middle East countries, I want to believe that it is as a result of the handsome monetary reward. Ladies who are trafficked to Arab countries often end up in wealthy families where they are mostly maltreated by their bosses and the entire household. These young women are usually placed on faulty contracts which subjected them to such households for life. They are bought from their traffickers with huge sums of money and forever remain as slaves or sex objects in which ease they are sometimes used to also generate revenue from pornographic video productions. And whenever these girls attempt to escape, having had enough, they are either killed or some other tragic fate befalls them.
Some of the effects of sex trafficking on African women who had been victims include, but are not limited to: loss of self worth, misery, self pity, living in fear, hunted by past experiences, loss of confidence in society and psychological trauma.
Sex trafficking can be checked if young women look out for early danger signals as already stated. Other measures that can be taken are as follows:
Young ladies should take note of false appearances and suspicious behaviours. Most fraudsters appear to be decent while some even belong to the same religious or ethnic group with them. They may even be the people such girls see daily who usually look harmless.
Parents and guardians should not just give out their daughters to people they barely know on the claim of providing them a better life elsewhere.
Government should ensure that once caught, tried and sentenced, any perpetrators are adequately punished if only to serve as deterrent to others.
And finally, the country’s borders should be under constant watch because these traffickers can always improvise means of transporting their victims out of the country or locally without the awareness of security officials. Some even pay their way through.
By: Osepken Muzan
Miss Muzan is a Nigerian medical student in Russia.
Customs And Dynamism At Seme Border
The pains cum hardship believed to have been occasioned by the Nigeria‘s international land border closure seemed incomparable to the dynamism and operational progress that have characterised the reopening of the borders.
Enlightening Nigerians, through the media, on the positive exploits of his leadership team associated with border reopening to their progress, the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) Seme border area boss, Comptroller Bello Mohammed Jibo, stated that his area command situated at the ECOWAS Joint Border Post, Seme-Krake Borders, has since the pronouncement of the reopening of land borders to date by the Federal Government, performed creditably.
He maintained that during the course of its sustained tempo in the fight against smuggling, the Command intercepted a total of 232 (Two Hundred and Thirty Two) parcels of cannabis sativa. In line with the dictates of the Service towards promoting inter-agency collaboration, cooperation and its unequivocal zeal towards the fight against drug trafficking, the Command handed over the aforementioned seized drugs with duty paid value of N2,933,358.40 (Two million, Nine Hundred and Thirty Three Thousand, Three Hundred and Fifty Eight Naira, Forty Kobo) only to the Commander, NDLEA Special Command Seme.
According to Jibo, officers and men of the Command had in their various operations taken the full advantage of the Service’s renewed strategies to continue the fight against smuggling, leading to remarkable interception of 705 (Seven Hundred and Five) items, with a duty paid value of N409,851,533.14 (Four Hundred and Nine Million, Eight Hundred and Fifty One Thousand, Five Hundred and Thirty Three Naira, Fourteen kobo).
The Area Controller itemised the seizures as 5,568 bags of foreign parboiled rice (50kg each); 3208 jerry cans of Premium Motor Spirit (25 liters each); 79 units of smuggled vehicles; 294 cartons of frozen poultry products; 131 parcels of cannabis sativa; 798 cartons of tomato paste; 3 cartons of sugar; 6 cartons of slippers; 305 pairs of used shoes; 30 cartons of Nescafe; 19 cartons of non-alcoholic wine; 10 cartons of cigarettes; 12 cartons of herbal soap; and 2 sacks of condoms; adding that the landmark achievement was an indication that officers and men of the Command were not losing their guard in detecting and streaming the tide of the nefarious activities being perpetuated by daredevil smugglers.
“In the wake of Federal Government pronouncement on the reopening of land borders, the Command harnessed all revenue compounds in line with the new operational guidelines with a view to projecting revenue base of the Command and facilitation of legitimate trade,” he said.
The Customs comptroller disclosed that in export, the Command recorded a trade volume of 348,827,775 (Three Hundred and Forty Eight Million, Eight Hundred and Twenty Seven Thousand, Seven Hundred and Seventy Five) metric tons of exported goods with the free on board (FOB) value of N4,277,047,153.92 (Four Billion, Two Hundred and Seventy Seven Million, Forty Seven Thousand , One Hundred and Fifty Three Naira, Ninety Two kobo) and a NESS value of N21,384,443.67 (Twenty One Million, Three Hundred and Eighty Four Thousand, Four Hundred and Forty Three Naira, Sixty Seven kobo).
Jibo explained that a whopping sum of N80,774,807.22 (Eighty Million, Seven Hundred and Seventy Four Thousand, Eight Hundred and Seven Naira, Twenty Two kobo) was raked into the Federation Account (federal government coffers) during the period under review emanating from 0.5% ETLS, 1% NESS, Baggage assessment and reassessment of trapped trucks; stressing that the Command was yet to receive imports from third countries, as there are clearance procedure disputes to settle between importers, agents from Nigeria and Benin Republic authorities, including the shipping companies, declaring that the Grand Total for the seizures and revenue stood at N490,626,431.36 (Four Hundred And Ninety Million, Six Hundred And Twenty Six Thousand, Four Hundred And Thirty One Naira, Thirty Six Kobo).
The comptroller explained that in line with the Comptroller-General’s reform agenda which sees the welfare of officers as paramount, the Command benefited from different welfare initiatives from the management of NCS, including the construction of 32, 30 and 16 man ranks and files barracks accommodation to cover the inadequacy of accommodation in the Command; pointing out that there was also ongoing renovation of Deputy Comptroller’s quarters as well as the new upgraded terminal to accommodate consignments, in the event that the private bonded terminal cannot handle the volume of consignments coming into Nigeria.
“In a bid to sustain the existing cordial relationship with the host communities, the Command through corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiative, constructed a modern convenience at the International Park, J4, in Seme Badagry West Local Government to assist travellers both local and international. The convenience was handed over to the Chairman of the Local Government Council for effective utilization,” he stated.
The Seme Customs boss stated that the Command was partnering with an NGO named Community Football Foundation for the establishment of a football club named Badagry United; which has already been registered with the Cooperate Affairs Commission (CAC) and Oba Akran of Badagry, De Wheno Aholu Menu-Toyi 1, was also presented with the Certificate of Grand Patron while the new team was accorded royal blessing and support.
Comptroller Jibo who personally led media practitioners on an inspection tour of some multi-million naira worth of trade facilitation equipment put in place by the NCS at the Seme Border also maintained that effective and efficient community relations was being maximally fostered by his leadership, leading to a befitting collaboration with traditional leaders as well as representatives of other sister government agencies.
On whether the Command has the operational capacity to contend with effective implementation of the new government directives that imports into the country must be fully containerised henceforth, Comptroller Jibo explained that it was only goods imported from developed countries that were to be received in containers while ECOWAS Trade Liberalisation Scheme products generally referred to as ETLS goods were still receivable in trailers and trucks; stressing that more uitra-moderm scanning machines have been acquired and installed for the command to boost its examination capacity and efficiency.
The well attended media briefing which was co-ordinated by the Command’s Public Relations Officer, Mr. Hussaini Abdullahi took place recently at the Seme conference room of the Service.
Ikhilae is a Lagos-based public affairs analyst.
By: Martins Ikhilae
Covid-19 Vaccine And Wike’s Approach In Rivers
I have read with dismay the misinformation peddled on social media about the Rivers State Government and its citizens on receiving the so-called Oxford AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine, especially as the Governor, Chief Nyesom Ezenwo Wike, was not seen on live television receiving a shot.
Some even reported that his Deputy, Dr Ipalibo Harry Banigo, allegedly received an empty syringe of a supposed Covid-19 vaccine on live TV.
As a concerned Rivers indigene who has the privilege of practising medicine in a developed country, I write in defence of the Governor’s health policies and to debunk some unfounded misconceptions about the Covid-19 vaccines at this crucial point in this pandemic.
We have seen and read about the devastating effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on the Black race, majority of whom are Africans. It, therefore, behoves every government and policy makers to prioritise their citizens, especially the ‘at-risk’ and vulnerable groups when it comes to receiving Covid-19 vaccines.
If the Deputy Governor of Rivers State got the vaccine before the Governor, it is probably because she is more at risk than the governor of which her profession as a medical doctor automatically places her up the risk ladder. The Covid vaccine is given based on risk-exposure basis.
The Federal Government of Nigeria through the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) and Ministry of Health, with the approval of NAFDAC, has procured about 4 million Oxford AstraZeneca vaccines and has rolled out plans to get the citizens vaccinated. The best that every state government can do, at this point, is to key into this vaccination programme and get the ball rolling, which the Rivers State Government is rightly doing.
Let us take a look at the various types of Covid-19 Vaccine;
Contextually, there are five major vaccines commercially available against Covid-19 and all have undergone clinical trials and certified to be efficacious to varying degree.
Vaccine trials are done using different criteria aimed at measuring infection load which determines their effectiveness. Every degree of vaccine efficiency offers better immunity than none.
Unfortunately, as most things are politicised in our country, people are quick to discredit the Governor solely by looking at summary figures and get swayed into propagating misconstrued and unfounded propaganda of the AstraZeneca vaccine as being substandard.
Oxford University AstraZeneca Vaccine.
This is a vector vaccine with 70.4% protection after the second dose.
It is given as 2 doses 3 months apart and can be stored in a refrigerator between + 2 to + 8 degrees Celsius for six months or till expiry date. It costs only $4 per vial.
Owing to the peculiarity of Nigeria’s erratic power supply and comparative cost advantage, this appears the best option. It is in no way substandard.
The Mordana Vaccine.
This is an mRNA vaccine developed by Madonna in partnership with Niaid.
It has 98.1% efficacy after the second dose given 28 days apart.
It can be stored in freezer between – 25 to – 15 degrees Celsius till expiry and in the fridge at +2 + 8 degrees Celsius up to 30 days before its use. It cannot be re-frozen and the cost of a vial is $15 to $25.
Pfizer BionTECH Vaccine
This vaccine was developed by Pfizer using the mRNA technology.
It provides 52% protection after the first dose and 95% effective at preventing Covid- 19 after the second dose. It consists of 2 doses given 21 days or three months apart depending on the supply availability. It can be stored frozen between -80 degrees Celsius to -60 degrees Celsius until expiry or six months afterwards. Once diluted, it has to be stored at +2 + 25 degrees Celsius used within six hours. Each vial costs $20.
Jensen (Johnson & Johnson) Vaccine.
This is a vector vaccine produced in America and found to be 72% effective at preventing moderate form of Covid-19 and 85% protective against the severe form of the virus.
It offers 100% protection from hospitalisation and death arising from Covid-19.
It is only giving in a one-off dose and can be stored in warehouses between – 20 degrees Celsius. It can remain stable at this temperature for up to two years.
This is a protein adjuvant vaccine. It provides 89.3% protection after two doses.
It can be stored at fridge temperature making it easier to distribute.
Vaccines, just as medicines, have side effects. The side effects represent signs that the vaccine is prompting your body to mount an immune response which is a sign that the vaccine is working.
For all vaccines against Covid-19, the most commonly reported side effects are mild discomfort at the site of injection, fatigue, nausea, headache, fever and chills.
The side effect profiles were extensively explored using the clinical trials data from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and other relevant bodies.
The WHO and CDC have published various data to reveal that the Black race is more at risk of mortality from Covid-19. Ironically, Black people are the lowest group to have received the vaccine so far globally. This apathy stems from propaganda, politics, conspiracy theories and statistics suggesting that the Black race is the elimination target of Covid-19.
It is interesting how data has been skewedly misinterpreted to suggest that any vaccine not up to 100% efficacy is substandard. That is not correct.
Despite the low efficacy rates of any of the vaccines, they still provide near-perfect protection against Covid-19 and prevent hospitalisation and death arising from complications of the disease.
People should be encouraged to take whichever vaccine is available to them depending on their local peculiarities and regardless of the vaccine brand.
If the Rivers State Government has procured any brand of the vaccine from the Federal Government or from any other source, despite the efficacy level, it is still optimum and will provide effective protection against the deadly Coronavirus and forestall poorer outcomes.
Let history not repeat itself. May we not forget the consequence of the apathy of the Northern leaders towards polio vaccine that gave Nigeria a herculean task in eradicating polio from the country.
The priority of the Rivers State Government in its roll-out Covid-19 vaccination plan should be to aggressively embark on public enlightenment to gain trust in our communities so as to underpin her commitment in ensuring that the health of Rivers people is prioritised.
There are various haemorrhaging concerns about the health sector both in Rivers State and nationally which will have to be addressed by the government in power, but of utmost immediate importance is to contribute meaningfully towards fighting this pandemic.
I salute the Rivers State Governor for championing this course in ensuring that Rivers people were promptly included in the Covid-19 vaccination campaign.
Dr Pepple is a fertility expert and NHS registrar in the United Kingdom.
By: Douglas-Iyalla Pepple
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