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Is Nigerian Railways Back?

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Uche Onyia, 55, a farmer in Ehamafu  town in Enugu State is one of many people caught with the nostalgic feeling of how railway was working well in Nigeria before now. He concedes that he has not boarded a train in the past 15 years “because trains do not come here anymore”.

Onyia stresses that the train was the cheapest means of transportation then, saying that “trains will transport anything you want, from farm produce to livestock, for just a small amount.

“All my friends and relations who travelled very far — especially to the northern part of Nigeria — also travelled by train. It was so much fun then.

“The railway was very supportive of our economic activities. I used to travel by train to Markurdi and Oturkpo to sell my palm oil.

“On my way back home to Ehamafu, I used to buy big tubers of yam. My last journey by train was from Ehamafu to Markurdi about 15 years ago.

“The trains have since stopped running and the railway lines are now overgrown with weeds. Some people have even erected structures on the rail lines,’’ Onyia moans.

Similarly, Rosemary Chukwu, an Aba-based trader, recalls that she used the train service to transport soaps and detergents manufactured in Aba to Jos, Kaduna, Bauchi, Maiduguri and other big cities in the North in the 1980s and the early 1990s.

“That was the good old days; the trains have stopped working for a long time,” she says.

Chukwu emphasises that she abandoned the soap and detergent business about 15 years ago because the transportation of her wares by road became too expensive and somewhat dangerous.

However, the good news for people like Onyia and Chukwu is that the management of the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC) has gone far in the rehabilitation of railway lines across the country, as part of efforts to resuscitate rail transport.

Nigeria’s railway map currently reveals two major lines. The first, known as the Western Line, is from Lagos to Kano. It passes through towns like Abeokuta, Ibadan, Ilorin and Jebba.

The second line, known as the Eastern Line, is from Port Harcourt to Maiduguri. It goes through towns like Aba, Umuahia, Enugu, Markurdi, Lafia, Kanfachan, Bauchi, Gombe and Potiskum.

The Managing Director of NRC, Mr Adeseyi Sijuwade, says that N67 billion has been earmarked for the rehabilitation of Port Harcourt-Maiduguri line.

He says that the Western Line has been rehabilitated, adding that train shuttle services between Lagos and Ilorin have also commenced since 2011.

“Presently, we move about 12,000 commuters daily within Lagos. We also move about 4,000 commuters from Lagos to Ilorin on Tuesdays and Fridays. The Ilorin to Lagos train trip is on Wednesdays and Sundays,’’ he says.

Sijuwade says that the NRC is now experiencing a new dawn, stressing that the Lagos-Kano shuttle service will be restored before the end of this month.

He concedes that although the commencement of the train service has been postponed twice, the service will surely begin this month.

“The railway engineers have just returned from the final inspection of the tracks; our contractors are now working on the minor adjustments that were recommended by the engineers.

“We are going to begin trial runs very soon, while the full restoration of train services between Lagos and Kano will certainly start before the end of this month (July),’’ he says.

The NRC chief pledges that the Port Harcourt-Maiduguri train service will be restored soon, as the rails’ rehabilitation works have reached an advanced stage.

Besides, Sijuwade says that the new standard rail-gauge line between Kaduna and Abuja is 35 per cent completed, adding it will be fully completed within the next two years, if adequate funds are provided for the project.

“Fortunately, the Subsidy Reinvestment and Empowerment Programme (SURE-P) is adequately funding the three railway projects: Kaduna-Abuja, Lagos-Kano and Port Harcourt-Maiduguri rail lines.

“However, only the new Kaduna-Abuja rail line is of the standard gauge among the projects. We only want to complete the rehabilitation of existing lines before going full blast in having the standard gauge on all routes.

“By the time the standard gauge track is fully in place, the current narrow gauge lines would be used by cargo trains alone because they cannot bear the speed of modern passenger locomotives,” he said.

It is expected that when fully operational, the Western Line would be specifically devoted to the haulage of export-bound goods to Apapa Port and Tin Can Island Port in Lagos. The line would also be used for the distribution of imports from the ports to the hinterland.

“Apart from moving passengers, the Western Line will also move cement from Dangote and Lafarge works to different parts of the country.

“Some tank wagons, which will be used for transporting petroleum products, have also been acquired by the NRC,’’ Sijuwade says.

A tanker driver, Umoru Alhassan, describes the acquisition of tank wagons by the NRC as a welcome development, saying that this will lessen the risks taken by tanker drivers in transporting petroleum products across the country.

“However, the railways will not make tanker or trailer drivers redundant; it will only make our job easier as we will now move goods and products from railway stations to filling stations, warehouses and markets.

“Most of the accidents on these bad roads involve our members and we are not happy about this. Many people do not appreciate what a tanker driver or a trailer driver goes through due to long hours of driving, bad roads and even the condition of our trucks.

“We welcome the second coming of the railways,’’ he adds.

Observers believe that the reintroduction of rail services in the country will also be helpful in efforts to tackle the growing menace of unemployment.

A Port Harcourt-based historian, Mr Ajuomiwe Ezuma, says that the rail rehabilitation project will definitely create more jobs, while improving the living conditions of many citizens.

“If properly executed, the management of the NRC will earn appreciable revenue from revamped train services, while jobs will be created for many unemployed youths across the country.

“This is a step in the right direction and it should be sustained because many Nigerians still believe in using the railways for their journeys.

“Besides, the haulage business will receive a big boost because the railways can move big freight from one part of the country to the other,’’ he says.

Ezuma insists that an active railway sub-sector will prolong the lifespan of the country’s highways, while the current menace of overloaded trucks and fatal road accidents will be drastically reduced.

Observers agree that the multiplier effects of a functional rail system in Nigeria are numerous and positive.

They say that a restructured rail transportation system will inevitably boost the economic fortunes of Nigeria and the well-being of her citizens.

Uchediumor is of the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN)

 

Augusta Uchediunor

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HIV/AIDS, Covid-19: Challenges And Way Forward

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Since the declaration of the Coronavirus, also known as Covid-19 as a pandemic in January 2020 by the World Health Organisation (WHO), the ailment has taken the front burner of medical interventions the world over. This has greatly relegated attention to the HIV/AIDS epidemic which had hitherto been a thorn in the flesh of the world, to the background. Subsequently, experts in various fora have categorically stated that Covid-19 has come to stay, just as its compatriot, HIV/AIDS.
The result is that virtually all forms of attention, including resources, have been shifted from HIV/AIDS intervention to Covid-19 since the outbreak of the virus, despite the fact that HIV/AIDS is still claiming lives globally.
Sad still, current evidence suggest that People Living With HIV(PLWHIV) have higher risk of becoming seriously ill from Covid-19, especially those of them who are not on treatment, or virtually suppressed, and may be at an even greater risk, according to the Project Manager, Rivers State Agency for the Control of AIDS (RIVSACA), Dr Naaziga Francis, in an interview.
Covid-19 is having a serious impact on the most vulnerable communities, not just in Nigeria, but globally, especially the hard-to-reach rural communities, and this may threaten the progress of work done on HIV and other health related ailments.
Experts say there is a fall in HIV testing, as well as patients with tuberculosis (TB) suspected to have HIV who are supposed to be referred to the next step of diagnosis and treatment. Malaria diagnosis as well as antenatal care visit has also declined.
Buttressing this, the Director, Cross River State SACA, Isere Obten, said, “ in terms of accessing HIV services, it is low, health workers are focusing on Covid-19, especially with the vaccine in place.
 “In terms of resources, it’s been zero release (of funds) as most international donors are chanelling their funds to Covid-19″, he said.
Adding his voice, the Executive Director of Global Fund, Peter Sands, said, ‘’No country is immune to the spiraling economic costs of the (Covid 19) pandemic. Prolonged economic shocks leave deep scares, which have profound effects on people’s health in years to come”.
There’s little doubt that from the foregoing, this calls for concerted efforts from stakeholders within the HIV space to check the current trend of lesser attention to the epidemic. 
Towards this end, the South-South Zonal Coordinator of the National Agency for the Control of AIDS (NACA), Dr. Uduak Daniel, during the just-concluded HIV Media Roundtable in Port- Harcourt, called on the media to be more strategic in reporting HIV issues. 
“It will require them to be involved in the field at both the state and local government levels to propagate the activities of HIV/AIDS-related issues in order to curtail the contact and spread of the disease,” she said.
On his part, the Director, Public Enlightenment, Ministry of Information and Communications, Rivers State, Mr. Celestine Ogolo, who represented the State Commissioner for Information and Communications, Pastor Paulinus Nsirim, insisted that the media must continue with its role of agenda-setting in drawing attention to government on critical areas of need and reducing the high prevalence rate of HIV in the South-South zone. 
“The media must not allow Covid-19 take off the shine of the work in HIV/AIDS”, he stated.
However, all of these efforts may come to naught if government at all levels does not take it upon itself to identify and support such efforts. This is why the Federal and State Governments, particularly, including donor agencies, as a matter of necessity, should make release of funds for effective HIV/AIDs response in Nigeria a priority.
For people living with HIV/AIDS, the authorities may need to ensure that they have, at least, a 30-day supply of ART in their homes. They could even have necessary drugs for up to six months to avoid exposure to COVID-19 during visits to health facilities.
The onus also lies on the implementing partners to continue with their interventions as part of their corporate social responsibility to society. 
While this is being done for HIV/AIDS, there’s also the need to observe the protocols of regular washing of hands, wearing nose mask, and observance of social distancing as preventive measures to Covid-19. 
Society should, indeed, still know and be concerned that HIV/AIDS is still in existence and claiming lives, hence practices capable of spreading the virus should be avoided.
Igbiks is of the Rivers State Ministry of Information and Communications.

By: Martha Igbiks

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NUJ: Gleanings Of PH National Confab

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Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital, recently served as the host city for the Third National Conference of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ).
Declaring the two-day event open at the Obi Wali International Conference Centre, Port Harcourt, Rivers State Governor, Chief Nyesom Wike, said he considered the theme of the Conference “The Media, Insecurity And National Unity” very apt in view of the perilous security challenges that have continued to plague the country unabated which he believed would address the issues of insecurity in Nigeria and positively impact on the nation’s unity.
Represented by his Deputy, Dr Ipalibo Harry Banigo, the Governor said that the country was threatened as a result of self-destructive tendencies like ethnic chauvinism, religious intolerance, brazen disregard for the rule of law and nepotism and that it appeared the Federal Government of Nigeria was fanning these embers of disunity through its perceived actions and inactions.
“For instance, how could we explain a situation where almost all the heads of security agencies as well as critical national institutions are headed by people from a particular ethnic nationality and religious faith in a country which prides itself as a secular state and believes in federal character when it comes to the appropriation of positions?” Wike wondered.
He urged journalists, who are said to constitute the Fourth Estate of the Realm, to brainstorm and come up with a workable solution to save the country from imminent collapse.
NUJ President, Chief Chris Isiguzo, while speaking, called on journalists in Nigeria to avoid allowing politicians to dictate news angles for them. He also spoke on the theme: ‘The Media, Insecurity And National Unity’ at the event which held from June 7th – 8th, 2021.
Isiguzo added that it is unethical for journalists to allow politicians take over their responsibilities and dictate media content at the expense of public interest. He warned journalists to de-escalate news capable of causing fear and panic, especially now that the country is facing the challenge of insecurity.
In one of the other presentations at the conference, the Head of Mass Communication Department, Renaissance University, Enugu, Dr Maxwell Ngene, urged the Federal Government to ensure that the Freedom of Information Act is domesticated and implemented in all states of the federation as a matter of necessity, so as to instill accountability in government.
Speaking on ‘Maintaining Peace in Turbulent Times: The Role Of The Media in Security and Unity of Nigeria’, Ngene, advocated that codes of conduct in journalism practice should be encouraged as well as development of a regulatory framework that would enhance media’s role in national unity and security, while adding that there should also be strict observance of high professional standards of ethics.
Also speaking on  Media and National Security, Alhaji Muktar Sirajo stressed that there must be ethical re-orientation in media practice, genuine and inclusive fight against corruption, pervasive unemployment and poverty, and addressing the issues of ethno-religious, political and economic-based violence, with robust improvement in national security architecture to stem the tide of terrorism and insecurity in the country.
Alhaji Muktar urged media on its part to place national interest above any parochial interest in disseminating information to the public. He enjoined the mass media to avoid the temptation of over- escalating negative news, but rather focus more on escalating positive news in other to calm the tension arising from the insecurity challenge being faced in the country. 
In another presentation on the same topic, Richard Akinnola, explained that press freedom is about freedom of expression, which in itself is a fundamental right in the world, without which genuine democracy cannot thrive. He encouraged journalists never to disclose their source of information no matter the cost, noting that they must maintain their sources of information in order not to betray the trust and confidentiality of their new source. 
Also as part of the event, delegates undertook a tour of the new Flyover bridges to have a feel of some of the new edifices being put in place by His Excellency, Governor Nyesom Wike. The first visited was the Okoro-Nu-Odo Flyover with a length of 880 metre. The second visited was the Rumuogba 1&2 Flyover which we were told is the longest of all with 1.24km length. Others were the Rumuola, GRA Junction, Rebisi, and Oro-Abali flyovers. It was gathered that three of the flyovers were constructed at the same time and delivered less than one year.
It is worthy to note that the NUJ Vice President Zone D, Chief Wilson Bako, led the Team Flyover and the Rivers State Press Officer, Ministry of Works, Paul Bazia, sensitised the delegates on the Wike-led administration’s projects recorded thus far.
It was also observed that delegates commended the numerous quality infrastructural projects executed by Governor Wike, while calling on other governors in the country to emulate his leadership prowess.
Meanwhile, everything that has a beginning has an end as the two-day event came up with a 17-Point communique drafted by the Drafting Committee members; namely Amos Dunia, Ifeyinwa Omowole and Emma Couson and signed by the National Secretaries, Shuaibu Usman Leman and Walin Shadalafiya, on June 8th, 2021, in the presence of key media houses and civil society organisations (CSOs).
The confab adopted the following resolutions as panacea to the myriad of security, political and ethno-religious crises currently facing the country. 

  • Taking into cognisance that the primary responsibility of government is to protect lives and property of citizens, against the backdrop of prevailing situations that government is overwhelmed and unable to effectively carry out this onerous responsibility, the conference urges citizens to assist in community mobilisation as a way of addressing insecurity and notes that it will be disastrous to allow citizens to lose confidence in the ability of government to deal with the situation.
  • The conference also did retrospection on the role of journalists with regard to their core mandate of informing, educating and holding government and leaders accountable. Conference notes that the media has played an active role in their propagation and proliferation by promoting their different names and titles and serving as a vehicle for their messages.
    *It also notes that more is required of practitioners as watchdogs of the society, particularly at this trying period in which a balanced reportage is more than ever before desired.
  • The Nigeria Union of Journalists takes note of the responsibility of the state to guarantee safety of lives and property, to protect the economy and economic resource areas, critical infrastructure, environment, including forest reserves and national assets.
  • The government should, in enforcing security policies, carry stakeholders at all levels of governance along and ensure good governance.
  • The Media should mediate with its distinct role of being between the governed and the rulers, particularly in situation of existential threats. The Union urges its members to prioritise mediation in the prevailing tension that pervades all geo-political zones and the threats to Nigeria’s unity. 
    *The Conference urges media practitioners to exercise caution in their reportage and analysis of unfolding events as well as play the role of a mediator between contending forces and actors. 
    *The media should be a partner in de-escalating tension instead of being a party to the conflict.
    *As for the controversy generated by the suspension of the micro-blogging platform – Twitter, the Union notes the widespread use of its resourcefulness in promoting dialogue, individual expression and commerce. The Union, therefore, solicits for caution on all sides.
  • In view of the challenges impacting on press freedom, freedom of expression, the Union will establish a Special Press Freedom Monitoring and Defence Committee.
  • The Conference, as part of innovation being injected into the NUJ, an ‘NUJ HALL OF FAME’ was launched. It is in view of this that the Conference resolves that the HALL OF FAME shall be instituted to accord due recognition to deserving public office holders, technocrats, journalists and other deserving members of the society, who have distinguished themselves in their chosen fields. In this wise, His Excellency, the Governor of Rivers State, Chief Nyesom Wike, became the first inductee of the HALL OF FAME.
    *The Conference stresses the need for adherence to the rights of the people to freely express themselves and comment on the affairs of state and conduct of government as an intrinsic part of democracy that demands accountability of rulers and public officers to the citizenry.
    *Conference notes that a factor we cannot ignore is the fact that Nigeria is a country that fought a civil war. Those who were active players in the war, from children that were born after the war to those who experienced the war, have not gotten a closure.
    *Stakeholders call on the NUJ to lead the national voice for healing the actors of the Nigerian Civil War still alive, to engage and dialogue on issues that bind them as well as commit to ensuring that past events are put behind them and all find closure.
  • Conference also notes that #EndSARS was just a ventilation of bottled-up anger, dissatisfaction and discontent with the elites.
    Conference notes that more than 60 years after Independence, it is still battling with ‘State of Origin’ in our National Data Collection System taking into cognisance that ethnicity and tribe played a negative role in the cause of the RWANDAN war. . Participants commend His Excellency, Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State for hosting the Conference and thank the people of the State for the warm reception.

By: Susan Serekara-Nwikhana

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Should Daughters Inherit Father’s Property?

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Recently, a court in one of the southern states nullified the practice of denying female children the right to inherit their father’s property. The ruling confirms that the female child can inherit her father’s property. It is good but how the message is going to be sent to the villages at the grassroots calls for concern.
This issue of women inheriting directly from their lineage is supposed to be translated to the rural areas. This will give them a sense of belonging.
One thing is for the government or a competent court to make and interpret such law, another is for kinsmen to obey and allow the female children inherit their father’s wealth.
There are those who hold tightly to the cultural practice that females should not inherit their father’s property because, according to them, women get married out. Some people have vowed not to, feeling that if a daughter partakes in the share of her father’s property, she will take the proceeds to her husband’s house. Even as educated as some persons are, and having attained certain levels in the society, they still hold to the opinion.They claim that it is African culture. In some rural areas they don’t bother whether such laws are in existence and view it as imported.
Another group say there is nothing wrong in that since the woman came from such lineage. For them, such idea is primitive and archaic in this 21st century.
A legal practitioner, Chidi Enyie explained that every female child has a right of inheritance.
Citing Section 42 Sub 1&2 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended, he said that every person has a right to freedom from discrimination.
He said that was invoked in Ukoje Vs Ukoje (2020) where the Supreme Court came to a judgement that no person by reason of sex shall be discriminated against by reason of sex from inheriting the property of the parents.  The same way the males are entitled to inheritance, that’s the same females are entitled.
According to Barr. Enyie, the issue of sharing inheritance comes into play when a deceased parent dies intestate, that is dying without a Will, but if it is when there is a Will, it means the deceased person has done the sharing of the property in the Will.
“In most cases, it happens when there is a Will.  In our custom in Nigeria, they tend to favour the male child, but the Supreme Court judgement remains the name unless it is reversed in later decisions”, he said.
His words: “As it is, the barrier of discrimination has been nullified. Both male and female can inherit.  Even if she dies, her children are supposed to continue the ownership of the property, they are supposed to inherit their mum.  It can continue to run from generation to generation in that lineage”.
He pointed out that it depends largely on the type of marriage as sometimes in a customary marriage, the custom of the people will apply so long as the custom is not repugnant to national justice, equity and God conscience, then the custom will apply.
But in a Statutory marriage, Esien vs Esien (1934), he said that the Supreme Court came out with a decision that if it is the biological father of the child and not the customary father of the child.
“But ignorance on the part of the society tries to hamper the execution of the judgement of the Supreme Court”, he insisted.
He maintained that the judgement of Ukeje vs Ukeje is being criticised by the Ibo tribe that it wants to nullify their customs stressing that it should not prescribe what their custom should be.
He advocated that women should remain vibrant and contend for their right until awareness is created about the equality of both sex.
A pharmacist, Mr. Edet Okong, said such issue is prevalent in Nigeria because of poverty and illiteracy while it is not practised in other countries.
He noted that women have a share in his family whenever they are sharing things.  
He asked: “Is it not somebody from that family that gave birth to the woman?”
A legal practitioner, Mr. Ejike Uboh, noted that the issue of inheritance has to be handled by the court.
He said that NGOs need to carry out a lot of campaigns to the rural areas to be able to change the mindset of people who still hold into such cultural practice.
Uboh said that females inheriting their father’s property is good and traceable to the Holy scripture and called on FIDA and traditional rulers who are the embodiment of customs to sensitise people, giving reasons why such practice should stop.
A mechanic, Nude Ikegwuru, insisted that it is impossible for a daughter to inherit her father’s property and argued that women are exempted from paying levies in some communities and so should not.  
He made reference to the Aba women riot of 1929 which prevents women from paying tax in Nigeria.
A businessman, Gold Ibokwe, said that such laws and decision by the government should be taken seriously as time goes on.
According to a medical laboratory scientist, Ebere Nduidi, “when a woman is not married, she should have right to any property in her father’s home but when she gets married, I don’t think that is necessary.”
He emphasised that when a woman gets married, she changes her name and start answering her husband’s name, becomes somebody’s wife and so should not as she has been legally married.
Although he argued that the daughter can if it is her biological father’s property and not a general family case and insisted that if she gets the property before the death of the father, she should not return it.
“Fathers have the right to Will properties to their daughters if they want. They have equal opportunity as the male children”, he opined.
An entrepreneur, Davies Peter, said a woman can inherit her father’s property while she is alive and after her lifetime, the property should be released to the family.
According to him, since she bears the name of another family, the children shouldn’t continue the inheritance.
He advised that natural justice has to take its course instead of imported law while the laws be properly looked into and maintained that there should be some exception to the interpretation of some of the law as regards Nigeria and Africa generally.
He said although some of the laws are treated based on the fact that women are referred to as the weaker sex and they try to wave certain things.
He cautioned that people should not bring what is impracticable into existence and argued that male and female are not equal.
Mr. Kayode Ojo, an Architect asked: “Don’t you think that when you give a woman land in her father’s house, another one in her husband’s house, it will be too much? 
“ A man and a woman is a family, the husband and the children, so she should inherit in her husband’s house”, he noted.
Although the law supersedes tradition, he said, but that is if he wants to give the land to his daughter, at the end of the day, it is her own and insisted that tradition cannot prove the law wrong.
A pharmacist, Mary Udoh, said that fathers should be sensitised about writing Wills before death, so that if a property is bequeathed to whether a female or male, nobody under the law can take it away from such child.
An engineer, Emeka Obi, said what one may call cultural barriers and taboos is a common problem in Nigeria.
As he puts it: “People’s customs and traditions are peculiar to those who practice them. If according to the way of life of a given people, their daughters don’t have a place in the family inheritance, so be it, but if out of love or goodluck, a father Wills a property to any of his daughters, I have no problem with that”.
A nurse, Mary Uche, in her own view said: “ This is a welcome development. We are more of girls in my house than boys. “Could you believe that we lost our Dad, we the girls buried him but the boys took all the properties. And even if a woman dies, all her properties will be given to the sons’ wives. The only things given to the girls are clothes, if you demand more, they will tell you to go and inherit your husband’s house. If you are single, they will tell you to go and marry”.
The consequence of denying the female child the right of inheritance of father’s property is that if it comes to a situation where she is expected to contribute to family pressures, definitely she will withdraw. 
I’m not sure that any property can be too much to be owned by a woman.  If she has properties both in her father’s house and husband’s home, better for the children; after all, they were not stolen but inherited from grandparents. 
Religious leaders should preach more to the populace on improving the lives of people in the society.
Traditional rulers, NGOs should continually have dialogue and pass the messages down to the grassroots and perhaps to those in the urban centers no matter how learned and their level of exposure.

By: Eunice Choko-Kayode

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