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Niger Delta: Job Crisis As A Time Bomb

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The time-bombs primed by sit-tight leadership and rising youth unemployment in Africa are beginning to detonate in some parts of the continent. First, it was Algeria that started the year on a sad note as youths, mostly university graduates, burned government buildings and commercial houses, paralysing the capital, Algiers. The rampaging youths said they were tired of the 11-year rule of President Abdelazis Bouteflika. They were also unhappy with remaining unemployed, years after graduation.

Then, Tunisia followed quickly in a revolt against joblessness that has sent their President Zine-el-Abi-Dine Ben Ali, who ruled the country for 23 years, scampering for safety in Saudli-Arabia. As in Algeria, the protesters were calling attention to the biting unemployment and under-employment that led one university graduate to sell fruits and vegetables on the streets for a living. This undertaking was seen by the graduate and the general public as demeaning for his qualification. Despite that, the police aggravated the situation by confiscating his wares for allegedly not having a vending permit. The hapless graduate couldn’t take the indignity anymore. So, he set himself ablaze and died later from his wounds.

Now Egypt is virtually at a boiling point with unemployed youths setting themselves ablaze in curious acts of self-immolation. They are not only protesting the economic down turn, but also the sit-tight disposition of President Hosni Mubarak, who has ruled the country for 30 years.

The question is where next? The excruciating socio-economic conditions that have put these countries on the boil are also prevalent in many African countries, including Nigeria. In fact the Nigerian condition may even be worse than what has sparked the revolt in these countries. The main point of departure, however, is that Nigeria has no sit-tight President.

Nigeria is indeed fortunate to have people who are imbued with an enormous capacity for soaking-up the pains and pangs of want. Here is a country where a president sought a third term, instead of two terms provided for in the constitution. He was fought to a stand still. Here also, jobless university graduates are eking out a living by riding commercial motorcycles (Okada), while those representing them in federal parliament are going home with mouth-watering salaries and allowances ranging from N10 million to N15 million monthly. Who says this unfair distribution of wealth is not an invitation to crisis?

So far, Nigeria has been spared widespread violent dissent. What could be likened to a revolt has been seen in the Niger Delta region where the agitations for resource control have thrown up all kinds of militant activities, including sabotage of oil installations and kidnapping of oil workers. Also in Jos and Maiduguri there have been Ethno-religious disturbances of grave consequences!

The country cannot afford to wait for things to get worse. “Job-creation is the need of the hour”. That is the view of experts like Dr. Ismail Radwan, a senior economist with the World Bank. According to him, 50 million youths in Nigeria were underemployed and three million new job seekers join the unemployment queue each year. The World Bank official wondered if there would not be social unrest eventually if the situation was not urgently addressed and canvassed a vibrant industrial sector as a way forward.

To buttress this point, the President of the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), Mr. Femi Deru said: “The rate of unemployment in the Nigerian economy is currently one of the highest in the world at 19.7 per cent. Over 50 per cent of the youths in the urban areas are unemployed. It is a very disheartening situation for parents who had laboured and strained to educate these youths. The state of affairs has assumed the dimension of an economic and social crisis. There is a relationship between rising criminality and unemployment. We should do something urgently to create jobs.”

The way forward for the different levels of government and their agencies is the provision of basic infrastructure such as power and roads. Along this line, there seems to be a glimmer of hope as a key interventionist agency of the Federal Government, the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), has taken some bold initiatives in infrastructure development. Here, the East-West Coastal Road project, which is a product of the Niger Delta Development Master Plan, stands out.

This mega project will no doubt open up the region that is unarguably the engine of the nation’s economy but sadly neglected over the years. The proposed 700 kilometres highway would gulp a staggering N1.8 trillion. It begins from Akamkpa in Cross River State and terminates at Ibeju Lekki in Lagos State.

The road holds enormous prospects for agriculture and economic development and must, therefore, be fully funded. This is one project that must not be neglected or abandoned as the people are already looking forward to its many benefits. For instance, Mr. William Dacoax, a surveyor, envisions a boom in fish production from the region.  He said:  “Based on our historical experiences on similar roads, the initiation of the project is bound to be fraught with all kinds of structural and political hindrances. The most visible impact is that there would be easy flow of fish products from the Niger Delta to key commercial centres such as Lagos, Kano and Onitsha, with attendant promise of more income to its inhabitants”.

Although building infrastructure is critical to growth, human capital development is an equally important component in achieving a holistic advancement. In this wise, the NDDC deserves commendation for trying to strike a balance between building roads and bridges and enhancing the capacity of the human person. The commission has been organising various skill acquisition programmes as well as offering scholarships to deserving students to study in both Nigerian and foreign universities.

As part of this effort, the NDDC, also embarked on a Technical Aid Corps [NTAC] programme, as a means of alleviating the unemployment situation in Nigeria’s oil-producing region. The commission said that it designed the programme to meaningfully engage graduates from the region and reduce the level of unemployed youths.

Since the programme took off last year, thousands of unemployed graduates have been enlisted by the commission and sent to various companies, including the Small and Medium Enterprises, SMEs, to work for two years. During the period the commission will pay each of the beneficiaries N30,000 a month which will be augmented by the employer with N15,000. Like the National Youth Service Corps [NYSC], the scheme is expected to help the young graduates gain the necessary experience, which would enhance their chances of securing gainful employment or to become self-employed at the end of their tutelage in the industries.

The NDDC scheme has the potential of reinvigorating the SMEs which are among the most potent forces responsible for the fast-tracking of the economic transformation of any country. Most of them lack the resources to hire graduates to boost their productivity. They can, therefore, take advantage of the availability of this relatively cheap labour to optimise their productivity and profitability. It is thus a win-win situation—the Federal Government through its agency mops up unemployed graduates from the labour market and the employers smile more often to their banks.

In order to get a good mileage from the scheme, the young graduates should be given an opportunity to hone their skills in their areas of specialisation. The graduates are expected to acquire specialised trainings that would at the end of the day empower them to set up their own businesses and stand on their own.

The Technical Aids Corps is a programme that the three levels of government and the private sector should be encouraged to buy into so that they can collectively mop up the teeming youths roaming the streets in search of employment. They should encourage this scheme by accepting graduates posted to them.

The task of creating jobs can only be tackled successfully when the right socio-economic conditions are created. Achieving this, of course, requires an investment-friendly climate, which presupposes that security of lives and property, provision of electricity as we building of good roads, must be given top priority.  According to an investment expert, Dr. (Mrs) Ngozi Awa, the quest to develop the Nigerian economy may remain a mirage unless efforts are made to boost the emergence of vibrant small and medium businesses in the country.

The sooner more jobs are created to gainfully engage the teeming unemployed graduates, the better for everyone. Efforts in this regard should begin in the Niger Delta which is the main artery that supplies the economic lifeblood of Nigeria.

Agbu, a seasoned journalist, writes from Port Harcourt.

Ifeatu Agbu

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Opinion

Helping Local Poultry Curb Protein Deficiency

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The Third National Development Plan in Nigeria (1975-1980) envisaged accelerated agricultural growth as being essential for future nutritional growth and emphasized the need for qualitative rather than quantitative food output. This was followed by the publication of a national food balance sheet by the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Natural Resources which revealed the critical extent of essential foods deficiencies in the country.
The target was the improvement of production management, the breeding and feathering of livestock as well as the provision of veterinary services.
From the period of the plan till date, the dream of attaining the required nutritional growth for the Nigerian populace had remained a far cry as outputs of animal products still fall below the minimum nutritional requirements.
Poultry, which involves the domestication of birds (fowls, turkeys, ducks and geese) kept for egg or meat production, is the quickest source of meat and its production process involves the least hazardous and arduous in relation to other livestock enterprise.
Hence, increased poultry production is one of the surest and quickest ways of bridging the animal protein intake gap in the developing countries of the world and in Nigeria, most importantly.
Although the task of bridging this protein intake gap appears formidable in view of the present economic and technological constraints besetting the livestock industry, its importance and the need to make it a reality must not be overlooked.
Known for its significant contribution to human nutrition and economic development, the poultry sector, according to Alabi and Osifo (2014) constitutes more than 57% of the total livestock production in Nigeria with many going into it for either meat, egg or both production.
With the ever increasing population of Nigeria, the poultry industry has not been able to meet up the animal protein need of the populace even as it has all the potentiality of providing the protein need of man. Many people still find it difficult to eat an egg in a year against the recommended average of 240 eggs in a year per person.
This indicates that despite several actions by both the government and few individuals, the chronic deficiency in qualitative food output still yearns for solution.
However, talking about solution, the problem of insufficient supply of hatchable eggs and day-old-chicks must be addressed. It has been observed that at certain periods of the year, hatchable eggs and day-old-chicks (DOC) go out of supply even with substantial amount of import, a situation that subjects peasant poultry farmers to booking for order and waiting for weeks without result.
Worst still, when these orders are eventually made available, almost all the farmers end up brooding birds at the same time and the result is an eventual egg glot in the market. Therefore, egg production calendar is now marked by glot and scarcity periods, as a result of irregular supply of the source of chicks and eggs.
For farmers in Rivers State, what can be a worse experience and set back than lack of adequate qualitative feed appropriate to the ages of the birds?
While farmers in the West and North, who have the privilege of proximity to source of raw materials are at liberty to formulate their feeds to desired standards, the Rivers State farmers see it as a very critical factor in poultry management.
They remain at the mercy of the commercial feed producers from the West who are more concerned about their profit even when the quality of the finished feeds tends to undermine the health and eventual performances of birds.
Moreso, the transportation cost of these feeds from the west to Port Harcourt, in no small measure, increases their cost of production high above what farmers from other states incure. The result is that the farmer in Rivers State is unable to compete favourably with his counterparts elsewhere .
Port Harcourt thus becomes a dumping ground for poultry products from neighbouring states which must be sold before products from within due to a downward slash in the price of the outside products, because of cost advantage.
Suffice it to say that for farmers in the state to meet up with the protein requirements of the state, a provision of functional feed mill that will formulate standard feed to serve the farmers within the state will be a great boost to the local industry.
Apart from the afore-mentioned, the problem of the poultry farmer in Rivers State, could be purely managerial and skill-based.
Like every field of endeavour, poultry farming is one sector which requires more than any other, a careful application of managerial expertise, if one’s capital investment is to be safeguarded and profitable returns expected.
The usual orientation of backyard poultry predominant in the western region of Nigeria has left many with the psyche that poultry business is an all-comers affairs, that could be started at any time without adequately counting the cost of commitment.
This has not just led to the abrupt abortions of many such ventures, but had in most cases devastated some homes who had put in fortunes, probably their retirement benefits just to make ends meet through poultry farming.
The later therefore, poses great concern as to the right attitude towards poultry farming.

By: Sylvia ThankGod-Amadi

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Opinion

Still On Twitter Ban

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Since the Federal Government of Nigeria banned twitter, there have been multiples of unintended consequences on the trail. First SERAP and about 176 Civil Society groups dragged the federal Government to ECOWAS court.
Every public discussion in the public space has been inundated with what many have described as a clamped down on the rights of Nigerians, to express themselves on the activities of government.
The Government of the United States has since condemned the ban, saying it is against the rights of Nigerians to express themselves in a democratic setting.
Several European countries too have taken the same route to give a knock on the ban.
The Nigeria Government had summoned the Ambassadors of these countries to brief them on the issue.
The suspension of twitter which is a micro blogging platform has become a festering sore on the face that cannot be covered. All attempts to justify the suspension do not seem to satisfy the international community and civil society groups.
The Federal government was irked by the penchant of twitter in encouraging contents that threaten the sovereignty, peace and stability of Nigeria.
The tweets of the leader of the outlawed IPOB, Nnamdi Kanu to say the least provoked a lot of concern.
Worse still the tweet of president Buhari was deleted with much dishonour, leading to angst and bitter reprisal.
Twitter did not treat the president of the largest black nation with respect and the honour he deserves.
Despite all entreaties by government across the globe, the Federal Government of Nigeria through the vociferous minister of information Lai Mahammed has come up with conditionalities for the lifting of the ban or suspension. A recent press statement by F.G insists that twitter must register as a corporate entity in Nigeria and must be licensed to operate, subject to Nigerian Laws.This makes corporate sense and nationalistic to say the least.
These moves sound very reactionary rather than proactive. Shouldn’t FG have taken these measures earlier? Must we wait to be humiliated before putting up institutions that should guide and guard our territorial integrity and nation hood.
The socio-Economic Rights and Accountability project (SERAP) and 176 concerned Nigerians filled a suit at the ECOWAS court during the week anchored by the rights activist Femi Falana.
The group has argued that the suspension of tweeter is aimed at intimidating and stopping Nigerians from using Twitter to assess government policies, as well as expose corruption and criticize acts of official impunity by government and its agents.
The group sorts an order of interim injunction restraining the Federal Government from implementing the suspension. So much have been said on the implications of the suspension on the economy of Nigeria and those doing business in Nigeria, including media organizations.
The impacts of the suspension no doubt have consequences of losses on the media and other operatives that use the platform.
The P.D.P caucus of the Green Chambers in the National Assembly came out with strong words condemning the suspension, describing it as draconic. The group indulged all Nigerians to continue tweeting despite the government threats to prosecute users of the platform through VPN.
A Nigerian American commentator John Obidi who raised a red flag over the suspension of twitter in Nigeria described the implication of the ban as being associated with the law of unintended consequences. Nigerian Government has banned the use of twitter, but did not envisage that smart Nigerians would use VPN to by-pass the ban. In this case the United States is the default or preferred location to tweet.
The unintended consequences therefore are indications that stories which ordinarily would have been trending in Nigeria went viral in the United States.
So many Nigerians among the 40 million users have begun to tweet directly to the American audience who ordinarily would not see some of the issues that are very local to the country. Consequently, the federal government has been exposed and it is now a case of washing our dirty linings in public.
This has monumental consequences on Nigeria’s international relations and economy.
The Buhari administration has begun to have a monster reputation as being draconian and authoritarian in dealing with its citizens, despite the merit of its actions. Indeed, through VPN, the anger of Nigerians is being tweeted to the world. This is drawing global attention on domestic matters that would have remained local.
This is an unintended consequence. The law of unintended consequence can be avoided byby utilizing a thinking tool of the “second order thinking”. This recognizes the fact that by solving one problem, Nigeria may have inadvertently created another. In this case the exposure of its challenges to the world in a more shameful manner would have been avoided, but its passion to stop a platform they thought was being used by enemies of the government prevailed. The implication is that Government must always plan and act beyond their immediate obsession to avoid unintended consequences.
Unintended consequences come with unmitigated fury and blind chase of a course of action. The result is always fatal.
There is nothing wrong with Nigeria asserting its sovereignty and respect for its laws and corporate practice, by insisting that twitter must register in Nigeria. There is also nothing wrong in checking and monitoring media contents that may be inimical to the peace and stability of Nigeria. The problem lies with the inability of the institutions in Nigeria to operate in line with international best practices.
The Nigerian Government should also investigate why twitter preferred to anchor in Ghana rather than Nigeria. Something is wrong with Nigerian Ease of Doing Business parameters. The business environment is no longer favourable to Direct Foreign Investment.
No one invites a dog to a party with a big stick in the hand. Nigeria is becoming an evil snake that eats its tail.
The body language of the government of the day, has sent the wrong signals to the international community. It has become obvious that the centre can no longer hold.

By: Bon Woke

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Opinion

Freedom To Move And Settle

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Far back as May 1964 there was a security report about some secret plans to use cattle to foster expanded settlements and population figures. It was unfortunate that those involved in putting together that report were not only reprimanded and cautioned, but reposted to other beats. Between that time and 1970, cattle were involved in census controversy, movements of troops and land acquisition. This issue is raised because of a habit of discarding a message because of the status or face of the messenger.
Controversies, shenanigans and attacks following a recent meeting of 17 Southern Governors and the positions they articulated on national issues, clearly portray the old suspicion of some hidden agenda. While Northern Governors, Elders and Youths had been meeting and taking decisions on national issues without much ado, a similar meeting by Southern Governors creates alarm. As to be expected, we can see the old game of creating a division in family meetings for the purpose of forestalling or weakening solidarity.
The integrity of a nation is such that no individual or a group of persons, no matter how highly placed, should do anything to undermine it, without being called to order. The Tide newspaper of Monday, January 21, 2019, carried a headline news, saying: “Obasanjo Slams Buhari Again, Says Another Abacha Era Is Here; INEC Lacks Integrity To Conduct 2019 Polls”. An elder statesman like Obasanjo would surely not speak carelessly without having some background facts.
Similarly, Obasanjo would not have raised a false alarm about Islamisation and Fulanisation without reliable security information. Femi Fani-Kayode was also quoted as alleging that “President Buhari’s Fulani cabal has conquered Nigeria”. He went on to say that “Northerners are heading most of the sensitive positions in the country”. The Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Diocese, Most Rev. Matthew Kuka, who is neither a politician nor a Southerner, also warned the Federal Government under Buhari against fanning embers of civil war. He said that the federal government was using different methods to achieve the goal of Islamic dominance in Nigeria, a secular state.
The Tide Editorial Comments of Friday, February 8, 2019 titled: “Nigeriens And Kano APC Rally” lamented that “two Nigerien governors were in Kano to rally support for President Buhari’s re-election”. Anyone would wonder if the integrity and sovereignty of the Nigerian nation are not being compromised, following the above observations. Foreigners voting in elections?
More importantly, the strategy of deploying cattle as the instrument of advancing some hidden agenda becomes quite glaring, with the attitude of the federal government towards numerous complaints against herders. From the issue of RUGA settlements, to the strategy of setting up a commission on herders, there are obvious indications of spirited efforts to promote some agenda, pointed out in a 1964 security report, for which some operatives were reprimanded.
In an editorial comment of Wednesday, July 10, 2019, The Tide newspaper wrote: “the Federal Government has no business intervening and lobbying for cattle rearers to spread their tentacles across all cities and communities in the country…” In another editorial comment titled No To Herders’ Commission”, The Tide (Wed; March 17, 2021) wrote “Mr Malami’s proposal for a commission for pastoralism must be rejected and consigned to the refuse heap of unhelpful and injurious initiatives as RUGA and cattle colonies because it is insincere, ill-motivated, wasteful and mere shadow-chasing venture in its intentment”.
Apart from these shenanigans, the Federal Government, under President Buhari, gave a gift of N150 billion to the association of cattle breeders known as Miyetti Allah, as a support for their business. Today, Southern Nigerians are becoming increasingly uncomfortable and also suspicious of the position of the APC-led Federal Government of Nigeria over the attitude towards the cattle issue. The level of destruction done to farm crops and the disruption of farming activities in communities in Southern Nigeria by cattle, are perhaps trivial issues that should not concern the federal government.
Some months ago, women and embittered people of Okutukutu-Epie a Bayelsa community, took their protest to the Government House in Yenagoa over their sad experiences with and threats from herders. Several other communities have pathetic tales of bitterness and woes arising from their encounters with herdsmen in their farmlands.
The question of herders occupying forests in rural communities with several herds of cattle and with no permission to settle in such forests, should be addressed promptly. Many highly-placed Northerners have condemned the decisions of Southern Governors on open grazing which they insist should continue. The issue of right of movement and settlement has been cited as a reason why herders and their cattle should have free access to anywhere, but such logic ignores the condition that right goes with responsibility. Farmers have been terrorised in their farms.
Occupying another person’s farmland and obstructing such person from his means of livelihood amounts to an abuse of right of movement or settlement, especially when such intruder acts with impunity. It is important to alert the Rivers State Government that a vast forest area stretching from ONELGA to Delta and Bayelsa States, is currently being occupied by herdsmen and their cattle. A private investigation revealed that many of the herders are non-Nigerians and, apart from having concealed weapons, they have no intention to move out. Let this hint not end like a 1964 report.
If the Fulani race in diaspora across the West African sub-region must be given a homeland to settle, like the Jews after the World Wars, then let this be an open rather than a clandestine affair. The current situation between Israel and Palestine should serve as a lesson. Sympathy cannot be won by blusters, neither should Southern Nigerians be seen as a conquered people. Southern Governors should see the “hand writing on the wall” now.

Dr Amirize is a retired lecturer from the Rivers State University, Port Harcourt.

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