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Global Food Crisis: Any Way Out For Nigeria?

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In the pre-independence and early post-independence eras, agriculture was the mainstay of Nigeria’s economy, as groundnut, cocoa and rubber used to be the major cash crops of the country.

Observers say that during those periods, many staple crops, including rice, beans, corn and millet, were widely grown across the country, recalling that the citizens were then able to feed well and live well.

They, however, note that in the country’s oil boom era, when petroleum became the mainstay of the national economy with huge earnings from oil exports, there was a remarkable shift of focus from agriculture, resulting in a significant drop in agricultural production.

“The waning government’s interest in agriculture in the last three decades have led to a marked decline in agricultural production in the country, compelling the nation to resort to food imports for survival,’’ said Mr Joshua Mabinuori, the National Vice-President, Association of Small-Scale Agro Producers of Nigeria (ASSAPIN).

“The development had also increased the number of hungry people in the country,’’ he added.

Mabinuori described the money which the government spent on food importation as “a colossal waste’’, saying that it was time for the government at all levels to start investing in agriculture to enable the country to survive under the looming global food crisis.

Sharing similar sentiments, Dr Kunle Hassan, an agricultural economist, said that if the Federal Government was really serious about its plans to diversify the national economy, it should allocate more funds to the agriculture sector.

He stressed the need to invest more in the agricultural sector so as to enable the country to tackle the challenges of the envisaged food crisis, while using agriculture to boost the national economy.

Such calls appear rational; as the United Nations Industrial Organisation (UNIDO) recently raised an alarm that the world would soon have a serious food crisis.

Dr Patrick Kormawa, the UNIDO Representative in Nigeria, who gave the warning in Lagos recently, said that the imminent food crisis might provoke political unrests across the world, adding that efforts to forestall the crisis would necessitate a radical reform of the international food system.

He said that the implications of the food crisis for Nigeria included unprecedented food price increases which, he noted, would mostly affect very poor citizens, who usually spent up to 80 per cent of their incomes on food.

Kormawa also cited a study, which predicted that staple food prices would be more than double in the next 20 years, leading to a unique reversal in human development.

Citing figures of the National Bureau of Statistics, the UNIDO chief noted that Nigeria spent roughly N300 billion annually on the importation of food and beverages.

The situation appears grim, as another report by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) also raised an alarm that Nigeria, Morocco and Bangladesh might soon face a food crisis.

The web-based report indicated that the average global prices of foodstuffs like maize, rice, sugar, wheat, meat and dairy products spiralled upwards by 25 per cent in the international market in 2010, compared to the December 2009 levels.

The report also warned that if the situation was not urgently addressed, it could engender one of the worst food riots the world had ever witnessed.

In more specific terms, the latest FAO report on global food prices projected that Nigeria would spend about N802 billion on the importation of food items this year alone to augment the shortfall in the local food supply.

The FAO reports blamed the high amount on the rising food prices across the world, adding that the figure was 20 per cent higher than what Nigeria spent on food imports in 2010.

On the worldwide level, the UN agency said that the global food import bill was expected to climax to a record of 1.29 trillion U.S. dollars (about N193.5 trillion) this year.

As a result, most agricultural organisations, including the FAO, have been calling on developing countries, particularly those in Africa and Asia, to invest more in agriculture to enable them to survive the imminent global food crisis.

The series of warnings bring to the fore food security issues and Nigeria’s plans to ensure food security.

Analysts contend that while international agencies are calling on countries of the world to make contingency plans to tackle the looming food crisis, Nigeria is not doing much to prepare for it.

They stress that the country’s over-dependence on food imports does not augur well with plans to increase local food production to ensure food security.

Agricultural experts insist that surest way to engender the country’s economic prosperity and improve the food situation is for the government to devote more attention and funds to the agricultural sector.

A farmer, Mr Joseph Ayanda, said that the apparent failure of the government to faithfully implement past and current agricultural policies was responsible for the country’s inability to achieve self-sufficiency in food production.

He stressed the need for the government to invest substantially in agricultural programmes to enable Nigeria to survive in the looming global food crisis.

“Nigeria has no business importing food items but the problem has to do with the non-implementation of the budget. There is also a need for the government to work with commodity associations to be able to achieve meaningful results.

“Currently, agriculture contributes about 43 per cent to Nigeria’s GDP, while cocoa contributes 23 per cent. Formerly, Ghana and Nigeria were the world’s largest exporters of cocoa but the story has changed due to the poor implementation of agricultural policies and programmes,’’ he said.

Ayanda noted that Nigeria even had more arable lands and favourable agricultural conditions than most of the countries, where it was importing food items from.

“It is sad to note that Malaysia came to Nigeria few years ago to get oil palm seedlings but now, the country is the largest exporter of palm oil in the world. This is because the Malaysian government has been devoting about 25 per cent of its budget to agriculture in the last 25 years,’’ he said.

Sharing similar sentiments, Chief Taiwo Toyin, an industrialist, stressed the need for Nigeria to diversify its economy, while investing more funds in mechanised farming to boost agricultural production.

“A green economy is Nigeria’s only hope for the future; government at all levels should invest more in agriculture to save the country from a food crisis.

“For a long time, we have neglected agriculture; our economy is now solely dependent on resources from oil, which will sooner or later dry up,’’ Toyin said.

“ With its abundant natural resources, Nigeria is supposed to be an exporter of food to other countries,’’ he added.

Re-echoing Toyin‘s viewpoint , Mr Kunle Oresile, a farmer, said that in spite of its huge revenues from oil, Nigeria ought sustain its focus on developing agriculture, as no country could make any appreciable economic progress without a solid agricultural base.

Oresile said that while smaller African countries like Botswana and Zambia had been allocating over 10 per cent of their annual budgets to agriculture, Nigeria was allocating less than 2 per cent of its budget to the sector.

“It may suffice to note that Nigeria has all that it takes to attain self- sufficiency in food production before the envisaged food crisis,’’ he said.

“ Lessons must be learnt from countries like Malaysia and Thailand that are not well-endowed as Nigeria but these nations are now feeding their citizens via well-structured agricultural programmes. They even export food to other countries, including Nigeria,’’ he said.

Oresile urged the Federal Government to give utmost priority to the development of the agricultural sector, adding that unless considerable emphasis was placed on the sector, the country might not be able to feed its over 150 million population if the global food crisis was real.

Experts say that it is a paradox that in spite of the vast human and natural resources existing in Nigeria, the country is still a net importer of essential food items and industrial materials.

Alhaji Ibrahim Ahmed, an industrialist, recalled that the problem of food shortage in the country began during the 1967-1970 civil war, when importation of agricultural inputs and machinery was deliberately curtailed to conserve foreign exchange to fund the war.

He, however, noted that the food shortage problems, which became less severe after the civil war, soon resurfaced in 1974 as revenue windfalls from crude oil exports resulted in further neglect of the agricultural sector.

Ahmed noted that during the oil boom era, Nigeria witnessed a massive movement of labour and other productive resources away from the agriculture sector to other sectors of the economy where returns were relatively higher.

“The oil boom era led to the neglect of agriculture and the migration of people from the rural areas to the urban centres; the people’s exodus somewhat caused a sharp decline in food supply.

“The various Federal Government’s agricultural policies and programmes since that period have yet to completely address the problem of food inadequacies in the country because they were poorly implemented,’’ he added.

How then can Nigeria be able to tackle the effects of the looming global food crisis?

Hassan said that for the country to have a functional agricultural sector, the government must necessarily review its budgetary allocation to the agriculture sector upwards.

The agricultural economist also stressed the need for a better synergy among government agencies involved in the implementation of the National Programme on Food Security.

“Farmers should also be sensitised to the emerging challenges of climate change, while efforts should be made to motivate workers and all those involved in the agricultural sector,’’ he said.

Besides, Hassan emphasised the need for the Federal Government to improve its food preservation and storage capacity by constructing more silos across the country.

‘Currently, the country, with a population of about 150 million people, can only boast of about 20 silos with a combined storage capacity of 300 000 tonnes.

“Also, the Strategic Grains Reserve Storage Programme, which is designed to provide relief in time of national disasters such as drought and war, is still not well-equipped to handle food emergency situations,’’ Hassan said.

All the same, the consensus of opinion among all the experts is: Nigeria has to make pragmatic efforts to ensure food security for its citizens, while initiating pre-emptive efforts to address the dire effects of the anticipated global food crisis.

Adeoti writes for News Agency of Nigeria.

Victor Adeoti

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Food Preservation: Time To Check Traders’ Excesses

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Have you ever bought oranges, mangoes, bananas, plantain and some other agricultural produce and wondered about their taste? Were they plucked before maturity? Were they cooked or ripened with chemicals, especially calcium carbide among others? Were they washed with detergents?
Calcium carbide is a chemical compound that is industrially used in the production of calcium cyanamide for fertilizer and also in welding. When calcium carbide comes into contact with water it produces acetylene gas that hastens the ripening of several fruits such as mangoes, bananas and apples.
These are some unscrupulous practices by traders in the various major and minor markets around us that pose a big threat to human health.
Food is one of the necessities of life, besides shelter and clothing. Through food, the human body is nourished with various nutrients, including carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins and minerals essential for making a person healthy.
In as much as human beings cannot survive without food, how the food is handled after harvest and during storage can be a big threat to a person’s health and general well-being.
Agriculture analysts believe that apart from the abuse of fertilizer application at various stages of planting, the use of chemicals for storage and ripening of fruits has become a huge cause for concern. So also is the washing of fruits, vegetables, nuts and root crops with detergents.
According to them, general abuse of agricultural produce, especially beans and other grains by traders in markets and vendors or retailers at different selling locations have reached an alarming stage.
It is common today to see fruits, vegetables, nuts and root crops retailers and vendors washing them with detergent. Equally disturbing is the traders’ use of carbides to ripen fruits and pesticides like Sniper on beans to prevent or remove weevils’ infestations.
Chief Akanbi Adeoye, the leader (Babaloja) of Ikosi Market, popularly known as Jakande Fruit Market, Ketu, Lagos State, blames fruits and vegetables vendors and retailers outside the major markets for such practices.
“Our information and security officers have not made complaints about such incidents in this market.
“Here, fruits and vegetables are sold on wholesale basis to traders from all parts of the state and they carry them in bulk to their various markets and selling locations,’’ he said.
Mr Adebayo Damola, a trader and wholesaler of plantain, pears, avocado, pineapples and bananas among others, says those who use carbide to ripen fruits and vegetables and wash them with detergents do it outside the major markets.
“Here, we are middlemen to farmers who entrust us with their produce which come straight from their farms.
“We sell in bulk to traders within and outside this market and they take them to places where they sell.
“However, l know that fruit and vegetable retailers and vendors use carbides to make them ripe fast.
“I know too that some wash them with detergents to remove the soil and make it clean enough for display to attract customers,’’ he said.
Damola says that in using carbide to ripen fruits, it is not sprinkled on the fruits or vegetables, but dropped at the centre after arranging the fruits in circular form and then cover with cloth.
He adds that it is the heat generated by covering it with cloth that causes the fruits and vegetables to ripen within 20 hours to 24 hours.
An agricultural engineer and retired staff of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture, Umudike, Umuahia in Abia State, Mr Mba Agu, says it is not the duty of traders to apply agro pesticides like Sniper on gains, especially beans.
“The application of pesticides on any agricultural produce, especially on beans and other grains, is for agriculture professionals and not traders.
“Agriculture professionals are trained to apply agro pesticides and insecticides on agricultural produces in a way that it will not be harmful when consumed.
“The problem is that people think that they can use Sniper and any other pesticides on agricultural produce without the input of those trained to do so.
“All pesticides and insecticides are bad and dangerous, at the same time still useful when used in correct proportions.
“If wrongly used, they become hazardous and dangerous for consumption and become cause for an array of health issues,’’ he said.
Sniper is one of the agricultural pesticides used to control insects and pests on grains and seeds and other wide range of produce.
Sniper contains Dichlorovinyl Dimethyphosphate (DDVP) 1000mg, Sodium Sulphate and Enzymes as recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Agu says there are three methods through which pesticides can be applied on beans and other produces for storage.
According to him, the pesticides are mixed in the material at recommended doses, sprayed around the warehouse for bulk storage or surface of the material in a container.
Agu believes that it is time pest control officers leave their comfort zones and enter the markets to sanitise the abuse of pesticides application on grains, especially beans.
He says it is time too that the National Agriculture Council dispatch its seed law enforcement officers to the markets to regularly take samples of grains for laboratory test and analyses.
For Dr John Olaoye, an agriculture engineer and lecturer, Department of Agriculture, University of Ilorin, farmers are and should always be encouraged to minimise the application of pesticides on beans, grains and other produce during storage.
“This is because during the planting stage, a lot of pesticides are used at flowering stage to protect it from pests.
“At the storage stage, it is advisable to use natural materials like pepper or by exposing the produce to oxygen.
“If you must use pesticides and there are residual content on the produce still remaining, it is still harmful,’’ he said.
Olaoye notes that the properties in DDVP pesticides were such that can vaporise.
According to him, if professionally applied, by the time of cooking at a boiling point of between 75 degree centigrade and 100 degree centigrade, the material will vaporise and will not be part of what is consumed.
“However, there are herbal formulations which are natural that can be used to prevent grains and other agricultural produce from pests and insects attack that were not harmful,’’ he said.
Olaoye says that since the market is the prerogative of the local government councils, the councils should revive their community and public health officers as was the case in the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s and early part of 1980s.
He adds that it is not enough for the local government to collect levy and issue receipts without doing the work of sanitising what comes out from the markets and upgrading the market structures.
The Unilorin teacher says that the community and public health officials check traders, what they have in stock, how they are stored and displayed for sale to ensure they are good for consumption.
They also stamp animals before they are slaughtered for sell as meat in the markets, adding that they also visit houses and test water from public mains and boreholes from which the occupants are drinking.
According to him, it is a pity that community and public health officers are not part of our system any more. However, the sooner the community and public health workers are brought back, the better it will be for everybody. Therefore, it behoves the government, especially local government councils, to be up and doing to safeguard the health of the citizens.
Dr Ikechi Agbugba, a vegetable expert and lecturer, University of Port Harcourt, says the misuse of any chemical on agricultural produce is a killer.
“How on earth will anybody wash fruits and vegetables and any other produce with detergents? What happens to water and sponge?
“This happens because traders always prefer the easy way out.
“The government has to be proactive to be able to check the excesses of traders and food vendors by apprehending and prosecuting offenders,’’ he suggested.
According to him, it is better to wash fruits and vegetables with clean water and sponge.
Agbugba says research works have shown that traders and food vendors are ignorant of the implications of what they are doing. He notes that organising and encouraging traders to form associations and get those doing similar trading to register is the easy way to enlightening traders on this.
“The market crier is useful in reaching them and telling them how to improve on handling hygienically the wares they have for sale,’’ he said.
On the whole, the federal and state ministries of agriculture should deploy their seeds law enforcement officers and pest control officers to major markets and produce retail outlets to ensure that what they are selling is good for the body when consumed by unsuspecting consumers.

By: Chidinma Agu
Agu is of the News Agency of Nigeria.

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Tackling Nigeria’s Refugee Crisis

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Even as the world marked the 70th anniversary of the adoption of the 1951 Geneva Refugee Convention this year, there have been increasing attempts lately by some governments to disregard or circumvent the principles of the Convention.
The UN adopted the convention establishing the rights of people forced to flee their home countries following the creation of UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) the previous year shortly after World War II.
However, there has been rising need for the international community to uphold the key principles of refugee protection as laid out in the Convention, including the right of someone fleeing persecution not to be sent back into the path of harm or danger, especially now that the world refugee crisis caused by conflict, poverty, war, violence, mis-governance and climate change has continued to drive more people out of their homes.
This is as some governments attempt disregarding or circumventing the Convention’s principles, through expulsions and pushbacks of refugees and asylum seekers at land and sea borders, to the proposals to forcibly transfer them to third states for processing without proper protection safeguards.
According to Article 1 of the Convention, a refugee is a person who is outside his/her country of nationality or habitual residence; has a well-founded fear of persecution because of his/her race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion; and is unable or unwilling to avail himself/herself of the protection of that country, or to return there, for fear of persecution.
The Convention not only ensures that refugees get another chance at living through the recognition of their human rights, but also stresses the importance of international cooperation in tackling the problem.
Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, said that the treaty is a crucial component of international human rights law and remains as relevant now as it was when it was drafted and agreed.
 “The language of the Convention is clear as to the rights of refugees and remains applicable in the context of contemporary and unprecedented challenges and emergencies – such as the Covid-19 pandemic,” Grandi said.
Globally, over 82.4 million people have been forced to flee their homes and among them are about 26.4 million refugees, half of whom are under the age of 18.
According to the UNHCR flagship report for 2020, Turkey continues to host the largest number of refugees with about 4 million people, 92 percent of whom are Syrian refugees.
Mr John Mckissick, UNHCR Deputy Country Representative in Nigeria, said that one out of 95 people on Earth today had been forced to flee his or her home to either become internally displaced or crossed the border to become a refugee.
According to him, Nigerians have become refugees abroad as a result of insurgents actions, non-state armed groups and organised criminal gangs.
Violent conflicts in some regions continue to increase the occurrences of displacements, leaving citizens with no option but to become refugees or settle in Internally Displaced Persons(IDPs) camps.
Over the last decade, violent attacks of bandits and the Islamist group Boko Haram as well as communal clashes have continued to escalate in Nigeria’s North-East, North-Central and North-West regions, according to UNHCR.
To help, UNHCR says it is providing ‘protection-by-presence, in the field through strategic protection monitoring, vulnerability screening, provision of material assistance and subsequent individual protection referrals to service providers.
The Agency is also advocating for increased access to social and basic services for displaced persons, respect for the Civilian and Humanitarian character of IDPs camps and a better protection environment overall.
Dr Wole Kuniji, an international law expert, said that to combat the refugee crisis in Nigeria, there should be a focus on the “root cause approach.”
Kunuji, a lecturer in the Department of Jurisprudence and International Law, University of Lagos, emphasised that the root cause approach addresses the foundational causes of the increase in refugees.
“The refugee crisis currently all over the world is caused by conflict, poverty, war, violence, mis-governance, climate change, among others.
“Let us figure out solutions to these causes and implement them before the situation escalates,” he said.
Suffice to say that all hands must be on deck to tackle and eliminate these root causes if Nigeria will be free from the menace”, Kunuji said.
According to him, the provision of Article 33 of the Refugee Convention on  the principle of ‘non-refoulement’ was the most significant and constitutes the cornerstone of the international refugee protection.
The provision refers to the practice of not forcing refugees or asylum seekers to return to a country in which they are liable to be subjected to persecution.
It asserts that a refugee should not be returned to a country where they face serious threats to their life or freedom and is now considered a rule of customary international law.
Kunuji said that the principle of non-refoulement was also the anchor of the Nigerian Refugees Act, adding that it must be appropriately followed.
Speaking on consequences for the violation of the provisions, Kunuji added that there should be an accountability and monitoring mechanism in the act.
This, he said, would mandate the National Refugees Commission to report to a relevant committee on what has been done regarding the provision.
“It’s one thing to have provisions in place and it’s another thing to have the political will.
“One way to ensure that there is a process of accountability is for the refugees commission to present a report every year on how they’ve helped or enhanced the implementation of rights of refugees.
“The UNHCR has a duty to continue to supervise and monitor the  implementation of the provision under the Convention and the Nigerian act,” he said.
On the other hand, Mrs Toyin Saraki, Founder, Wellbeing Foundation, said that research and development approach needed to be employed to tackle the refugee crisis.
Saraki, an advocate for refugees, said this could be driven by the philanthropic community in Nigeria.
According to Saraki, the philanthropic sector in Nigeria is ready and would happily partner the government in a more meaningful way, to make the lives of refugees better.
 “This will allow the philanthropic sector help the government not just with funds but also at the frontline with key knowledge that can drive impact.”
She added that her foundation believed in the need to make optimum health and social care outcomes a reality for the refugee population.
“We know that every  refuge deserves the right to health guaranteed in any host location, powered by health enhanced certifiable identities.
“Every refugee should have a health record and. We need the government to be able to plan to look after the health, education and care of refugees in our national budget.
“We cannot close our eyes to the infringement of the rights of refugees because any of us can be in such position tomorrow.”
“I believe that the community approach is where we need investment to be increased so that we can lift the host community and prepare for the refugee community that keeps increasing.”
“It is quite clear that every sector in Nigeria is going to have to come together to prepare for this emergency,” she said.

By: Busayo Onijala

Onijala writes for the News Agency of Nigeria.

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Odilism As Leadership Philosophy In Nigeria

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A pithy Nigerian aphorism declares that when we praise the woman that prepares the red beans porridge (akidi), she will cook another. This piece is an attempt at acknowledging a deserving and worthy akidi cooking son of Rivers State, whose trailblazing leadership philosophy and style brought mirth and joie de vivre to many in Rivers State, Nigeria and the world. This Rivers son is His Excellency, Sir (Dr) Peter Otunuya Odili, former Governor of Rivers State. This piece explores and conceptualises his leadership style, philosophy and achievements as a way of celebrating his 73rd birthday.
By Odilism, we mean a governing philosophy that empathically brought about qualitative, robust and wholesome development to the people via the summation of innovative insights and ideas gleaned from the public sphere. In this governing philosophy, factual and evidence-based discussions are crucial. Odilism understands that the danger in throwing the baby with the bathwater is that it clouds one’s ability to robustly discuss a given policy idea with the seriousness that it deserves as even one’s detractors can proffer innovative solutions. Thus, oppositional viewpoints were respected and courted. Odilism knew that contesting a viewpoint cum policy is the bedrock of deliberative democracy. This leadership philosophy recognised that such policy debates are the genuine means of producing superior public policy.
Inherent in this governing philosophy is the belief that elected leaders need to engage with one another. Odilism does not believe that contestation of ideas always connotes disputatious behaviour. Rather, it understands that such deliberations help sharpen leaders thoughts, aid resolve their issues and produce superior public policy. Odilism knows that these levels of engagement are needed for significant development in the state or country. Here, engagement is encouraged and not frowned at. This is because public policy debate is the refining point of the policy. When the refining is done properly, it produces delicious policies that obviates societal problems while an unrefined and under-debated public policy decapitates the economy and exacerbates poverty in the place.
Odilism smartly communicates its promises to the people. It enters into a social contract with the voters during electioneering campaigns and systematically completes the policies it promised. The vision, mission and governing ideals are explicitly stated in Odilism. For example, in May of 1998, Odili clearly delineated his vision for Rivers State and computed how his vision would be achieved in his manifesto written and distributed to notable Rivers sons and daughters. In the letter-like manifesto, Dr Odili envisioned a state “where communication, transportation, healthcare, accommodation, drinkable water and electricity will cease to be desires and will become available to all our people no matter where they are in the state”. He further noted that he foresees a state, “where every man who qualified for a job gets one without tears”. These lofty ideals and promises were aggressively pursued by the Odili, government.
One of the key ingredients in Odilism is the enthronement of God into the affairs of state. Like Dr Odili would say, “when the righteous rule, the people rejoice”. This faith-based leadership helped Dr Odili, a man of faith, to lead with empathy and love that is unrivalled in the annals of Rivers politics. It also helped him develop the largeness of heart that is peerless in the Nigerian body polity. He was so generous and free-spirited in giving that he was dubbed, “Donatus”. He was a giver and the people’s Governor.
Odilism is bold, innovative thinking and flawlessly creative. It produced innumerable positive projects and insights in Rivers State. It went to places and initiated projects others were too myopic to venture. Among the projects and policies of the Odili-led government were the construction and rehabilitation of schools in Rivers State, including the rehabilitation of my alma mater, Community Secondary School, Egberu-Ndoki, in Oyigbo Local Government Area of Rivers State. I was in Junior Secondary School Two (JSS 2) in May of 1999 when the Odili government was inaugurated in Port Harcourt. Other projects include: building of roads, flyovers, skill acquisition training, water supply and numerous gifts to Rivers women.
The most novel and innovative projects and programs of the Odili government were in power, education and health. The government, through the governing philosophy of Odilism, conceived and implemented state-changing and poverty alleviating programs in these three sectors. For power, the Odili-led government was the first and only state government that had a bite at independent power generation in Nigeria. His government conceived and built gas turbines for power generation in Rivers State. This novel and iconic program still produces hundreds of megawatts of electricity into the national grid and is a source of income to the Government of Rivers State.
Even more noteworthy were the cumulative programs targeting education in Rivers State under Sir Odili. His government paid for Senior Secondary School Three (SSS 3) students’ examination registration fees. In 2003, I benefitted from this policy as both my National Examination Council (NECO) and West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE) registration fees were paid by the Rivers State Government. This policy was a life changing one for those at the lower demographic spectrum like myself, as it gave our parents the needed break in fees payment. Furthermore, the Odili led government introduced a “Free School” bus system that was unheard of and one that has not been replicated anywhere in Nigeria. During his tenure, Dr Odili introduced a free school bus that dutifully conveyed students to school and transported them back from school. During this period, all a student need is to wear a school uniform, and such a student will be safely taken to school and back. The drivers were employed by the State Government with thorough background check conducted. The drivers and the conductors were polite, and gracious – a huge customer service experience in a government-funded program in Nigeria. The free school bus provided a safe commuting hub for students all over Rivers State while also providing the students with the collegiality to learn more, debate and solve academic problems. It was a hugely successful program.
The government also subsidized university school fees. As at September of 2004 when I gained admission into the then Rivers State University of Science and Technology (RSUST) and now Rivers State University (RSU), our annual school fee was capped at N8,800 (Eight Thousand, Eight Hundred Naira). That was significantly lower than that of the University of Port Harcourt, a Federal University. When we pay Dr Odili’s government will pay us through bursary, N9,800 (Nine Thousand, Eight Hundred Naira). Practically, we went to the university for free. There were scholarships and other education grants that the government embarked on. These empathy-filled, people-oriented educational policies enabled those who were socio-economically and politically disadvantaged to attend, not just secondary school, but also to bag university degrees. These policies were life-altering for many.
Dr Odili’s government also introduced one of the best health care policies of our time. The free healthcare policy for the elderly saved lives. For example, my wife’s maternal grandfather, late Chief Amadi Wosu of Oduoha in Emohua Local Government Area of Rivers State, was a beneficiary of this fantastic policy. In early 2000, he had a surgery at the then Braithwaite Memorial Hospital (BMH) Port Harcourt for free. Like many aged people, he was discharged without paying a dime. This is an example of how Dr Odili and his government touched lives in Rivers State during his time at the helm.
Sir (Dr) Peter Odili was born on August 15, 1948, in Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni Local Government Area (ONELGA) of Rivers State to late Chief Philip Celestine and Princess Janet Okwei Odili. He epitomises hard work and doggedness that is rare today. His hard work paid off both in his academic and political lives when he not only became a renowned medical doctor and an entrepreneur but also the Governor of Rivers State. His hard work and resolute spirit are infectious. He was so successful as a governor that lofty responsibilities and higher offices awaited him in 2007 but for the “great gang up”.
Dr Odili is one of the most remarkable and curious sons of Rivers State. A man of profound humility, and always willing to engage with others irrespective of their placement in the demographic continuum. He is blessed with an elevated analytical acuity and robustly sagacious. As Governor of Rivers State, he closed the window of aristocratic behaviour and divorced Rivers State of political oligarchs. He returned the ship of state to its rightful owners, the people of River State. Dr Odili delicately demolished the moneyed hoity-toity political class in Rivers State. During his tenure, the quality of his thoughts and governing philosophy was outstandingly sophisticated and people-centred that he was asked to continue almost unchallenged in 2003.
Dr Odili is composed, poised, respectable, blessed with the gift of the gab and has style. His carriage and gait are presidential. He is classy and resourceful but not highfalutin. He never went on a namby-pamby weirdo grimy rant like some. He understood that not all places are for fatuous, flippant would be humorous inanities. Unlike those that are clownishly egotistical and who display humility laced with arrogance, Dr Odili served with gusto and loved the people of Rivers State. All these were done with finesse and simplicity that gladdens the mind.
His reign was so fruitful with rural and urban expansion that it is unmatched in the history of the state. Due to the quality of his leadership, he was asked to “Carry-Go” during his second term bid, thereby, giving birth to Carry-Goism as a political concept. While germane and nice with a right. Candidate, the concept has been abused in a farce of self-interest, masturbatory self-indulgence, fame seeking and leaders with run-of-the-mill qualities. Unlike Dr Odili, each of them is manifestly unfit to hold any type of public responsibility. He led Rivers State with dignity, empathy and competence. This is why the heartbreaking underhand and incestuous wickedness meted to him in 2007 is almost unforgivable. Its stupidity, venality and malice occurred at a moment of maximum danger in Nigeria. The ‘cabal’ reigned supreme but failed Nigeria and her people. However, the people of Rivers State will forever appreciate Peter Odili and his government for their priceless service and competent leadership.
Dr Uwalaka is a research associate at the University of Canberra in Australian.

By: Temple Uwalaka

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