In a dramatic move, the Federal Government
recently initiated a programme, which aims at saving one million lives via
improved health care delivery for all Nigerians.
The three-year initiative, from 2012 to 2015, represents
an important paradigm shift in the government’s health policy.
Experts say that the programme marks a shift from the
previous orientation, which focused primarily on inputs and processes such as
buildings and equipment, skilled manpower and availability of drugs, to one
that focuses on health outcomes through live-saving strategies.
The crusade fight to make available essential health
care services to women and children across that globe started when the United
Nations (UN) Commission on Life Saving Commodities for Women and Children initiated
plans to save 16 million lives by 2015.
Observers say that the “Saving One Million Lives’’
initiative is a laudable programme aimed at transforming health care delivery
in the country.
The Minister of State for Health, Dr Muhammad Pate, said
that the country’s health care delivery system could only be adjudged as
efficient and effective if diseases could be cured, while the citizens’ lives
were saved from preventable disease or deaths.
Pate said that the “Saving One Million Lives’’
initiative was based on evidence-based, cost-effective interventions which
could address the leading causes of maternal or child morbidity and mortality.
He said that the initiative comprised eight components,
adding that the 10 recommendations of the UN Commission on Life Saving
Commodities for Women and Children regarding 13 under-utilised essential
commodities were fully embedded in the initiative’s components.
“The initiative particularly aims at improving maternal,
newborn and child health through the delivery of an integrated package of
interventions at thousands of primary health care clinics with referral links
across the country.
“We are working to increase the rate of antenatal care
attendance, skilled supervision at child delivery centres and availability of
critical commodities for treating postpartum haemorrhage, eclampsia and
promoting reproductive health.
“The SURE-P MCH (Mother and Child) programme has
successfully started a conditional cash-transfer mechanism that has shown
remarkable results, with 100-per-cent increase in uptake in the participating
primary healthcare centres,’’ he said.
Pate said that the initiative aimed at improving routine
immunisation coverage and eradicating poliomyelitis, while the Federal
Government in June introduced pentavalent vaccines that would protect millions
of children against preventable disease
He said that in 2013, pneumococcal vaccines for the
prevention of pneumonia would be introduced, thus expanding the scope of
ongoing efforts to save more lives.
“Vaccines remain among the most cost-effective public
“As part of our efforts to scale up prevention from
mother-to-child HIV transmission, we will increase access to quality HIV
testing and counselling as well as treatment of infected mothers, while
exploring the feasibility of giving universal access to HIV treatment to all
those infected,’’ he said.
The minister said that as part of efforts to scale up
access to essential medicines, the Federal Government was working towards
improving the children’s access to diarrhoea treatment.
For malaria control, the government, through the Nigeria
Malaria Control Programme (NMCP), is also planning to increase people’s
utilisation of insecticide-treated bed nets, while enhancing the people’s
access to effective anti-malarial medicines.
Besides, the government is planning to improve child
nutrition, while treating children with severe malnutrition.
In this year alone, the Federal Government has provided
more than 30 million doses of Vitamin A micro-nutrient supplements to
children under the age of five.
The country’s health care delivery to women and children
will soon receive a boost, as President Goodluck Jonathan pledged his
administration’s commitment to addressing issues relating to maternal and child
mortality while launching the “Saving One Million Lives’’ initiative on October
“Increased domestic funding for life-saving commodities
is a key area of commitment we are pursuing in this administration.
“We are committed to a total of 33.4 billion U.S.
dollars (about N5 trillion) over the next four years for the procurement of
additional reproductive health commodities, representing a 300-per-cent
domestic funding increase.
“We have also set aside half a billion dollars (about
N75 billion) over the next four years for maternal, new born and child health
intervention under the Subsidy Re-investment and Empowerment Programme
“This is in addition to increased commitment of 68
million dollars (about N10.2 billion) for polio control and routine
“In our efforts to improve access to life-saving
commodities for women and children, particularly the vulnerable population, the
Federal Government in April 2011, removed user fees from contraceptives in
public health facilities.
“This has led to a dramatic increase in the demand for
contraceptives in public health facilities by more than 150 per cent,’’ he
Jonathan, however, solicited the support of development
partners in developing essential medicines to scale up plans in tackling
diseases such as diarrhoea, malaria and pneumonia.
He noted that the three diseases accounted for of 55 per
cent of deaths of under-five children in the country.
Explaining why he was so passionate about issues
regarding maternal and child mortality, the president said that his mother gave
birth to nine children, out of which only himself and his elder sister were
“Seven of my siblings died as infants and sometimes;
when I remember their faces as infants, I imagine that they could have grown up
into pretty young ladies and handsome men.
“That I am alive today is the handiwork of God; it is
not by any human intervention.
“So, as a person, I am quite passionate to be part of
anything which the government, corporate bodies or international organisations
are doing to save the lives of women and children.
“Probably, I am even luckier, some people of my age even
lost their mothers and some grew up as orphans.
“So, I am quite pleased with what we are doing here
today and I have to sincerely thank my good friend, the Prime Minister of
Norway, for his generous contribution to the initiative,’’ Jonathan said.
Mrs Angel Hanson, who represented the Norwegian
government, announced a donation 2.5 million U.S dollars (about N375 million)
over five years to the “Saving One Million Lives’’ initiative during its
Hanson said that Norway, with its mobilisation of human
resources and prudent resource management, became one of the most prosperous
countries in Europe.
She expressed Norway’s happiness with the proactive
policies of the Nigerian government that were aimed at developing the country’s
human resources for national development.
The Minister of Finance, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala,
underscored the need to overcome the challenges facing Nigeria’s health system
and improve the quality of health care delivery to the citizens.
She said that in spite of recent the gains recorded in
the health sector, there was an imperative need to fast-track efforts to attain
the health-related Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
The minister noted that it had been estimated that
approximately one million women and children died annually in Nigeria due to
preventable diseases and causes, putting the socioeconomic future of the
country at risk.
Okonjo-Iweala stressed the need for the adoption of a
new approach to address Nigeria’s health outcomes and harness its demographic
potential as necessary drivers for the country’s sustainable growth.
She said that Nigeria’s population was projected to
double in 20 years, while increasing by 146 per cent in 2050 to about 400
million, making it the 4th most populous country in the world.
She said that the expected population boom would be
largely driven by very high fertility rates which had persisted over the last
Okonjo-Iweala said that the “Saving One Million Lives’’
initiative presented a renewed strategy for improving health outcomes,
particularly for women and children.
“The mothers and children we save today will build a
more prosperous Nigeria in the future and enhance Nigeria’s aspiration to
become one of the world’s largest 20 economies by 2020,’’ she said.
The minister said that the procedures of the initiative
were directed at improving the lives of millions of women, their children and
their families, while shaping future fertility patterns.
In addition, Okonjo-Iweala stressed that accelerating
the decline in fertility rates would trigger changes in the age-structure of
Nigeria’s population, adding, however, that this was beneficial to the
She emphasised that inadequate access to life-saving
commodities constituted a big threat to the lives of Nigerian women and
Okonjo-Iweala, nonetheless, noted that the Federal
Government was addressing these challenges through the National Health
Strategic Development Plan (NHSDP), which aimed at improving the citizens’ health
status through a purposeful health care delivery system.
“The ‘Saving One Million Lives’ initiative is a
culmination of efforts in the health sector to improve delivery of health
outcomes and address critical challenges so as to improve the wellbeing of
women and children,’’ she said.
Dr. Ariel Pablos-Mendez, the Assistant Administrator for
Global Health in the United States Agency for International Development (USAID)
said that the U.S. government, through USAID/Nigeria, would support the
initiative’s implementation in Nigeria.
He gave the assurance that the agency would collaborate
with the Federal Ministry of Health to expand safe motherhood and newborn
interventions, including antenatal care, improved child delivery processes as
well as management of obstetric and newborn emergencies, among others.
Pablos-Mendez pledged USAID’s readiness to collaborate
with the ministry and its local partners in efforts to build stronger health
care systems in the country.
He said that partnership would also strive to
consolidate the successes recorded in improving commodity forecasting and
logistics systems, as well as HIV control, malaria control, family planning and
maternal/child health care delivery.
Ofili writes for
Nons Agency of Nigeria (NAN)
Food Preservation: Time To Check Traders’ Excesses
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.
Tackling Nigeria’s Refugee Crisis
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.
Odilism As Leadership Philosophy In Nigeria
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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