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Sustaining The Songhai Initiative



By 2015, the Rivers State Governor, Rt. Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi may handover to his successor a state that is built on a solid foundation for economic prosperity and empowerment.

This vision is anchored on three core values which include agricultural development, skills acquisition through scholarship and training and infrastructural development. Perhaps, the most visible among these, is the state government’s massive investment in the agricultural sector.

The Rivers Songhai Farm Project at Bunu-Tai being powered by the State Government through the Rivers State Sustainable Development Agency (RSSDA) is a testimony to the vision of the government in creating sustainable livelihood for the people of the state.

Sited on a-314 hectares of land in Bunu-Tai in the Tai Local Government Area of the state, the farm is 20 times the size of the Songhai farm in Porto Novo, Benin Republic. The Rivers Songhai Farm is also one project where there is zero tolerance for waste.

According to the Executive Director of the Rivers State Sustainable Development Agency (RSSDA), Mr. Noble Pepple, “The plan here is to be the centre for excellence in training, production, research, demonstration and development of sustainable agricultural practices.”

Mr Pepple, who spoke to newsmen shortly after a media tour of Rivers State Sustainable Development Agency (RSSDA) projects, listed the key objectives of the Songhai initiative to include the development of a resilient integrated programme, agriculture with industry and commerce, the development of human capital for the empowerment of individuals and groups as well as the establishment of a centre that serves as a model for youths in the state.

The RSSDA Executive Director, also listed other objectives to include broadening the socio-economic base of the state and the South-South region through aggressive production processing and marketing of agricultural products and other related services, provision of skills for the unemployed youths of Rivers State and beyond, encouragement of agro-tourism and reversal of rural-urban mitigation.

He said that the agency had also established regional aquaculture training centres across the state for the training of farmers.

While conducting newsmen round the Songhai Farm, at Bunu-Tai, a Beninoise, Mr Ide Adamo said that the Songhai spirit is not only technology transfer, but to teach Rivers people the virtue of honesty, hard work and transparency.

Mr. Adamo explained that Songhai Farm does not encourage wastage as everything under the sun is useful as far as the Songhai farm is concerned.

According to him, the human faeces  can be used as biogas for cooking while mosquito larva and animal dumps are all part of fertilisers.

At the integrated Aqua culture centres at Ubima and Ikuru Town in the Ikwerre and Andoni Local Government Areas respectively, the Manger, Enterprise  Development (RSSDA), Mr. Silvester Okoh and Mrs Victoria Adewuye told newsmen that the centres are used for the training of farmers in the state in all levels  of agriculture.

The Ubima centre, Mr  Okoh said, trained farmers from Ikwerre, Etche, Omuma, Obio/Akpor, Abua/Odual, Ahoada East and West Local Government Areas and Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni Local Government Area.

Mrs Adewuye told newsmen at Ikuru Town, that the Integrated Fish Training Centre in the community, serves the need of farmers in Andoni, Opobo/Nkoro, Khana and Gokana respectively.

At the Workmanship Technical Training Centre (WTTC) Bori, the Manager, Media, Rivers State Sustainable Development Agency (RSSDA), Mr. Kingsley Uranta described the centre as a cutting edge training institute that will drive skills acquisition for young men and women in some critical areas such as fabrication, pipe-fitting, welding, carpentry, masonry, tiling and catering.

He said that to actualise this, the RSSDA is partnering with Hybrid College United Kingdom and the Bonny Vocational Centre (BVC) for the award of City and Guild Certificates to graduands.

Rivers sons and daughters have also benefited from skill training in Norway and Namibia, while a number of them are on overseas scholarship programme. Some of the journalists especially those from Lagos could not hide their feelings on what they saw.

One of them, a correspondent with The Punch told The Tide that Rivers State had overtaken Lagos in terms of performances.

“We thought that only Fashola was performing, but the situation here is simply amazing.”

Another reporter from The Punch described the Songhai Farm project at Bunu-Tai as a billion naira enterprise. “Oh boy, billions have been sunk here. This is good for this country.”

For the reporter from Business Day, “Oil will dry one day, but this place will not dry.”

Some of the observers said this is indeed an investment that will certainly define the future of Rivers State.

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Limiting Varsity Admissions Through Age



Authorities of some
Nigerian universities have been remarkably consistent in denying admission to candidates on the basis of age despite their exceptional performances in the West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE) and the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME).
For some candidates, the initial euphoria of being admitted to study their choice of discipline for an academic session is short-lived as they fail to meet one of the many admission requirements of higher institutions, which is a minimum age of 16.
The action of some universities has generated squabbles in the education sector, and indeed, in the larger society, with a call on the Federal Government to set a minimum age benchmark for would-be admission seekers to institutions of higher learning in Nigeria.
Before the continuing controversy, the government made failed attempts to fix a minimum age limit of 18 years for admission into tertiary institutions and reintroduce the Higher School Certificate (HSC) in the school system. Again, the idea failed. It was jettisoned by some Nigerians on the basis that every child should express their ingenuity.
In recent times, some universities specifically maintained that no person under the age of 16 years would be admitted to the universities as a student. But many children below 16, assisted by their parents, beat the rules, and apply for admission to the universities because they think that the 16-year minimum age has no legal backing.
Nigerians seem to be divided on the direction the country should go on the minimum age limit for admission into the country’s universities, considering the fact that admitting students below the age of 16 has its merits and demerits.
Some stakeholders in the education sector have always argued that students in other climes, such as America, Europe and Canada could enter the university at any time they meet the requisite academic qualifications to enrol. If that is the case, why is it different in Nigeria? Why is there an age limit for admission to higher institutions in the country? What is such limit designed to achieve?
As the issue lingers some experts have called on the Federal Government to wade in to avert the looming disaster of wasting the brains of young, vibrant and scholarly youngsters. A few years ago, education stakeholders had engaged in spirited arguments – for and against – the age-limit admission policy by the universities. The age limit has become a norm with the exception of few universities admitting candidates as young as 14 and 15 years old.
Baring his thoughts on the issue, an educationist and retired principal, Mr Ignatius Lawson-Jack, spoke in favour of a “free age range” being canvassed in some quarters. According to him, globalisation and innovative learning devices, such as the Internet, computer, among others, have made students smart in acquiring knowledge and learning.
“Globalisation has made students very smart in learning because of the introduction of advanced learning devices, as well as the Internet. It is always advisable to allow students below the age of 16 into the universities owing to the fact that most of them possess high Intelligent Quotient (IQ) and can meet up with the demands of the society,” he stated.
A legal practitioner, Prince Nyekweru, said 16 years as the minimum age for anyone to gain admission to the university in the country is statutorily provided. According to him, the Joint Admissions And Matriculation Board (JAMB) Act makes a provision for it. He said age limitation for university admission in Nigeria was not a policy of any university or tertiary institution.
“There is a legal angle to the age limitation of university admission in Nigeria. It is not a university policy. The law establishing JAMB makes a provision for it. The act makes a provision that for one to be qualified to get into the university the person must have reached the age of 16. It is not a university policy.
“You see the challenge we have now is because of the exposure and everything; you can see somebody who is 16 years and the person is matured to be in the university even less than 16. And you can see somebody who is 16 years but behaving like someone of 12 years. I think they should find a meeting point. Age is not necessarily the determinant of maturity of a person. Maturity these days depends on foundation and exposure”, he said.
A journalist and publisher, Mr Owuje Park Harry, said admission to a Nigerian university should be based on performance not age. For him, maturity varies from person to person depending on the development of the brain. Some persons, he said, with high Intelligence Quotient are usually more intelligent and mature than those older than them.
“University admission should be based on the performance of the candidate, not the age. Because some persons, based on the development of their brain, their IQ is far higher than those far older than them. Just recently the child that had the highest score in JAMB was a 15-year-old candidate. But because of the law he was denied admission by the university of his first choice. Though some private universities cut corners and admit candidates below 16, the law cuts across every university in the country”, he stated.
But for a Port Harcourt-based educationist, Mrs Igbikinime Robinson, the present age limitation is all right. In other words, she said the age limit of university admission should not be left open considering the developmental factors of the child. According to her, if anything, the age should be increased to withstand pressures such as the things the child will face.
“Admission age to the university shouldn’t be left open considering the developmental factors such as the cognitive, affective and psychomotor domain of the child. I think it should have been 17 or 18 years of age so that by that time the child is matured enough to bear some responsibilities that might come their way. This period the child will be able to know their right from their left.
“Such a child will not be intimidated while in school. But those of them that enter at 14, 15 or 16 years still behave like kids. At that age they are still looking for people to take care of them. And then their mental level too is low emotionally and physically. At the present admission age they still need parental guidance. I think 17 or 18 should be ideal and that is what is obtainable in some Western countries.
“But before the university admission age can be extended, the current age children begin nursery and primary schools should be increased. For example, a child needs to be three years old to start nursery programme. No school should admit less than three years.
“At this point, the child has started talking. But we find out that these days because parents are looking for money and may be no one is to stay with the child, they are being forced to take such child to school at an early age of two or a year plus.
“I think it is wrong. There is a developmental process in every human being and at that age that child needs enough sleep. But waking up the child at 5 or 6 am because you want to look for money is wrong because it affects the child’s health or their developmental processes. So, children should start from age three for kindergarten. By the time the child gets to the primary level that child has attained six years.
“So, if the progression continues that child will finish secondary school at 17. At this age the child has attained maturity. That child will be able to bear some responsibilities because the understanding level has increased. Intellectually the child will be sound. There is no point rushing the child”, she emphasised.
As the debate on age limit for admission seekers to Nigerian universities continues, some stakeholders have asked for an exception particularly for exceptionally brilliant students? They have, therefore, called on the relevant authorities to amend the Act to accommodate such cases.


Arnold Alalibo

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Environmental Safety: Here Come Smarter Plastics



A frenzy of scientific research is going on around the world to find lasting and contributory solution to the negative impact of plastic materials (which cause litter, choking of drainage system and marine life) on the environment. A lot of technologies are being developed for recycling of plastics while other efforts are being made on other areas including how to make plastics to be bio-degradable.
The United Nations World Environment Day celebration in 2018 was on the theme “Beat Plastic Pollution”.
For many stakeholders around the world, including United Nations agencies, plastics manufacturers, environmental protection agencies, concerned non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and the general public, who have been worried about the negative impact of non-degradable plastic materials on the environment, solution seems to have come.
The contributory solution, according to recent discovery, is using just 1% Ozone-Biodegradable (OBD) additive in the manufacture of plastic materials. This additive (OBD) is said to make any various plastic materials biodegrade after a short period of time.
A number of countries in Europe, Latin America, South Asia, Middle East and Africa are already using OBD in tackling the menace of plastics that have escaped collection and, therefore, polluting the environment.
According to the Ozone-biodegradable Plastics Associations (OPA), UK, the use of OBD in plastic manufacturing can actually be a contributory solution to the global menace.
The OPA said that the problems caused by plastic litter in the environment has compelled governments, manufacturers and brand owners to rethink the way plastic is produced, used and their end of life.
“Many are now looking for products and technologies that are inexpensive, non-disruptive to manufacture, and can   be   re-used and re-cycled at the end of their useful life.
The need for OBD plastics is indeed obvious. Thousands of tons of plastic waste is escaping collection, getting into the world’s environment every day, and unless treated with just a 1% inclusion of Ozone-biodegradable Additive will remain there for decades.
Ozone-biodegradable plastics have been independently tested and found ultimately bio-degradable on land or in the sea.
Perry Higgs, a senior scientist at Symphony Environmental Limited, UK, the leading producer of Ozone-biodegradable additives branded d2w, says the use of Ozone-biodegradable additive creates a faster and more complete degradation which leads to bio-degradation.
He was speaking at a one-day symposium on the menace of plastic waste, recently held in Accra, Ghana, attended by the Ghana Plastics Manufacturers Association (GPMA), the Ghana Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Environmental Services Providers Association (ESPA), etc.
The President of GMPA, Mr. Ebbo Botwe was said to have advocated for the use of Ozone-biodegradable additives in Ghana to help reduce the menace of plastic waste in the Ghana environment – at least to serve as a mitigation measure to the concerns to many stakeholders in the country.
In fact, he was said to have disclosed that the association has provided about 7,000 special plastic waste bins to help curb the indiscriminate dumping of waste in the environment.
Information available, (https://www.symphony shows that UK-based Symphony Environmental is a world leader in the development of additives to make ordinary plastic biodegradable and also has a range branded d2p which are protective technologies which enhance plastic products.
Symphony’s technologies are sold into nearly 100 countries around the world, with applications in retail, medical and manufacturing industries with a focus on the protection of both the environmental and human health.
Symphony is a member of OPA ( the Society for the Chemical Industry (UK), and the Pacific Basin Environmental Council.
There are four main features of the d2w Ozone-biodegradable technology:
*Ozone-biodegradable Plastic facilitates the ultimate biodegradation of plastics on land or in seawater by bacteria, fungi or algae, within a reasonable time, so as to cause the plastic to cease to exist as such, far sooner than ordinary plastics, without causing any toxicity;
*Meets a number of relevant international standards;
*Has same characteristics in terms of appearance, strength flexibility and functionality as normal plastic;
* Does not just fragment and create micro-plastics, as the treated material becomes a biodegradable food source for the microbes found in these environments.
So far, 23 countries including Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirate, Brazil, Argentina, Burkina Faso, Sudan, Togo, Benin, Mauritius and Pakistan have taken regulatory actions to make the production and/or importation and the use of Bio-Degradable Plastics mandatory.
Indeed many countries around the world have realized that they cannot realistically collect all the plastic or indeed impose the restriction and or ban plastic, considering its usefulness in terms of cost, durability and economic impacts on economies.
Furthermore legislating in favour of the use of Ozone-biodegradable additives helps to support the local plastics manufacturing industry, thus securing the jobs and livelihoods of tens of thousands of people employed in this sector worldwide.
Ozone-biodegradable technology would certainly be an excellent solution for Nigeria, especially for the significant plastics industry we have and those government agencies, including the Federal Ministry of Environment, which has scheduled a national workshop in Abuja on 12th September, 2019 on the need to develop a National Plastics Life Cycle Management Policy for the country.
During the tenure of the Nigerian 8th National Assembly, a bill was introduced in the two houses on how to address the concerns of Nigerians on the issue of plastic wastes – and the best ways to handle the issue. The Plastics Group of the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN) had advocated for a win-win solution in tackling the issue.
The Ozone-biodegradable plastics technology is an additional and very attractive option which will be proposed and recommend in Nigeria. Giving consideration to the significant importance of plastics in socio-economic life of the people, especially as over 600 plastics firms in Nigeria have 350,000 employees on their payroll, it will be difficult to dispense of such jobs.
The best and most pragmatic option remains to increase the infrastructure for the collection and recycling of plastics and at the same time make it mandatory for the use of Ozone-biodegradable additives, which will then help to mitigate the menace of plastic waste that escapes collection and ends up polluting the country.
MAN, being a representative body of all manufacturers in Nigeria and a custodian of making Nigeria an industrialized nation in the face of lean resources, should lead the discussions with the Federal Ministry of Trade, Industry & Investments (FMTII) and Federal Ministry of Environment (FMEnv) to enact laws or regulations in line with other countries that have adopted the Ozone-degradable technology.
Phillips, an environmentalist, writes from PH.


Amaka Phillips

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Leveraging E-Payments, Digital Innovation For Trade



There is no doubt that technology has revolutionised the banking industry, particularly mobile and the Internet, as bank customers continue to embrace electronic payment for financial transactions.
Indeed, individuals and businesses now crave e-payment platforms mainly due to the immense economic benefits they derive from them, which include convenience, affordability, availability and customer retention.
For instance, a recent report of the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) on “Selected Banking Sector Data: Sectoral Breakdown of Credit, ePayment Channels and Staff Strength” for first quarter, shows that a total of 557,083,712 electronic payment transactions valued at N34.02 trillion were recorded in selected banks across the country.
The e-payment channels include: the Nigeria Inter-Bank Settlement System Instant Payments (NIP), Automated Teller Machine (ATM), Point of Sale (PoS), electronic cheque truncation, mobile cash, electronic bills pay, web and mobile payment, among others.
Statistics indicate that cash and cheque use are declining as the world is swiftly becoming the age of digital payments, push payments and instant payments.
Analysts say the rise of different e-payment channels continues to have a direct impact on local economies, especially Nigeria.
In 2016, a report by Moody’s Analytics commissioned by Visa Incorporated showed that increased use of electronic payment products, including credit, debit and prepaid cards, added 296 billion dollars to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), while raising household consumption of goods and services by an average of 0.18 per cent per year.
The report: “The Impact of Electronic Payments on Economic Growth” was conducted in 70 countries between 2011 and 2015.
The report also showed that e-payments added 640 million dollars to Nigeria’s GDP and an average of 16,880 jobs per year within the review period.
The benefits of e-payment to Nigeria’s economy are unquantifiable as it is evolving into a cashless society, deepening financial inclusion, reducing poverty and contributing to the effectiveness and stability of the financial system.
Director, Payments System Management, Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Sam Okojere, said the Nigerian Payments System had evolved over the years from primitive barter system to the use of cowries, metals, notes and to the present electronic payments system.
Okojere disclosed that CBN, as the regulator of the payments system, had been implementing various policies and initiatives towards the development of the Nigerian Payments System.
According to him, the strategic objective of the payments system is to migrate Nigeria from cash-based economy to an electronic payments inclined market. Thus, the bank’s strategic priorities have been to achieve a credible, reliable and efficient payments system.
Okojere disclosed this during a recent Joint Seminar for Banking and Telecom Regulators from the Sub-Saharan Africa Locations on Digital Products and Payment Systems in Lagos.
The seminar which had the theme: “Advancing ePayment and digital innovations in Africa – Evolution of Nigeria’s payment systems” was to promote financial inclusion through digital innovations in sub-Saharan Africa.
The seminar was organised to provide key officers of regulatory authorities in African Markets – notably locations with FirstBank subsidiaries; Ghana, Senegal, DRC, Gambia, Sierra Leone and Guinea – a platform to get familiar with developments in the Nigerian Payment Systems and Digital Products Industry.
Thereon replicating and adopting the knowledge from the seminar with a view to bolster the finance industry in their respective countries.
Speaking on how other countries can learn from the Nigerian experience, Okojere emphasised the need for strong collaboration, especially in the areas of intelligence gathering and information exchange to fight fraud.
“The Nigeria Electronic Fraud Forum is working on extending its partnership to other African countries.
“Also, periodic exchange of staff to learn on the job is very crucial to the development of competence,” Okojere said.
Notably, he stressed the need to start organising Intra-African Conferences with themes that reflected local challenges.
Specifically, he said the CBN continued to demonstrate its resolve to shape a more trusted and efficient payments landscape in Nigeria through its strong commitment to collaboration and stakeholder engagement.
Speaking on FirstBank’s leading role in promoting digital banking and financial inclusion across the country, Adesola Adeduntan, CEO, First Bank of Nigeria Ltd., said the bank had been a success story as far as digital banking was concerned.
He restated that economic growth and development of host communities was important to the bank, and that assisting Nigeria and the continent at large address poverty was imperative and reason for financial inclusion being at the core of its business strategy.
Adeduntan said First Bank was also committed to financial inclusion and would continue to improve the lives of Nigerians through the provision of innovative financial services.
Also, Mr Chuma Ezirim, Group Executive, e-Business & Retail Products, First Bank, noted that the bank was pursuing sustainable financial inclusion by leveraging its unparalleled experience in serving the low income segments.
“Our agent banking offering with focus on serving financially excluded individuals and small businesses in rural areas is experiencing exponential growth with significant revenue and social impact,” he said.
Ezirim disclosed that First Bank had over 28, 000 agent banking network located in 754 local government areas, processing N240 billion worth of transactions monthly.
“The agent banking asides creating employment has made banking easier and closer to people, and the testimony of the people is that their communities has been turned to city,” he said.
He highlighted the challenges faced by the agents as poor infrastructure, trust, lack of awareness, low income/literacy level and identity management, among others.
Corroborating the First Bank boss, Mr Mike Ogbalu, Chief Executive Officer, Verve International, said Nigeria’s payments system had evolved over the last 20 years with amazing impact on the economy, industries and the lives of Nigerians.
Ogbalu said the August 2005 banking sector recapitalisation redefined competition within the industry and set off a technology ‘arms race,’ which positively impacted the growth of the industry.
Also, Managing Director, Nigeria InterBank Settlement System (NIBSS), Premier Oiwoh, disclosed that Nigeria was one of the few countries in Africa and the world to have deployed an Instant Payment platform solution.
According to Oiwoh, the NIBSS Instant Payment (NIP) is the first and only point-to-point funds transfer service that guarantees instant value to the beneficiary.
He disclosed that the NIP experienced exponential growth value from N3.9 trillion in 2012 to N39.9 trillion as at June 2018.
Oiwoh noted that benefits of improved payment system would facilitate the entry of new players into the financial industry, faster turnaround time with inter-bank transactions, convenient banking and improved innovations from mobile and internet banking.
Others include: next day settlement of merchants for Point of Sale (POS) transactions, availability and uniform functionality of the terminals and uniformed card acceptability across the network.
However, he itemised fear of fraud and security issues, infrastructural challenges and low level of card usage on POS as some of the impediments to Nigeria’s electronic payment system.
Furthermore, Mr Agada Apochi, Managing Director, Unified Payment Services Ltd., urged operators in the payment system to evolve a scheme whereby various African currencies would be acceptable both as transaction, settlement and billing currencies.
“Otherwise, we would continue to depend on the dollars or pounds; because there is no national currency in African today that is allowed as a global currency for settlements or billing,” he said.
He also advised telecoms companies to reduce their roaming rates in Africa to deepen digitalisation, thus allow more businesses utilise their USSD for transactions during trips. He added that present roaming rates of telecoms companies in Africa was prohibitive.
Ishola writes for the News Agency of Nigeria.


Oluwafunke Ishola

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