Not many Theologians
would accept that sexual and reproductive health and rights are issues that the church can discuss particularly going by the meaning of theology and the stance taken by churches.
The stance, when taken by the church on such issues bordering on sexuality, reproduction, HIV and their attendant rights as it affects women, is mostly based on the general feeling that the pulpit, nay church, is only meant for discussions and teachings about God.
The extent to which this is true, or otherwise, has been a subject for discourse in different fora. Lately, there are indications that the refusal of the church to address such issues may, to a large extent, have culminated in the rampant societal decadence.
Those were the views canvassed recently at a 3-day training workshop on “Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR), and Prevention of Mother-To-Child Transmission (PMTCT) of HIV/AIDS”. The event was organised by the World Council of Churches (WCE) in conjunction with the Christian Council of Nigeria from August 7-9 at the Presbytarian Church, Rumuomasi, in Port Harcourt.
In his presentation titled “Sexual and Reproductive Health, Rights and Theology”, The President, Nigeria Commission of Reformed Churches, Rev. Dr. Benebo Fubara –Manuel, noted that the inability or refusal of the church to openly address issues on sexual and reproductive health and rights has led society into seeking other explanations regarding the issues.
In the process, society has continuously degenerated into what it is today, mostly because the church, which sees itself as the originator of truth, guides its own version of the truth jealously.
Fubara-Manuel, who is also the Chairman, Christian Council of Nigeria (CCN), Rivers State and the immediate past Principal Clerk of the Presbyterian Church of Nigeria, said a major mistake the church has made is its refusal to listen to society on issues. about sexual and reproductive health and rights. This situation, he said had affected society negatively.
“This is because most churches are formed with the notion that they have truth in their hands. This concept of truth that was bequeathed to us was given to us with a lot of untruth. So, many churches think that they have truth in their possession and therefore have no room to listen to others.
“Every truth claim of every church is a contextual truth claim. It is not wrong in its entirety because it testifies to Jesus Christ, the way, the truth, and the life. But it is limited, and therefore, always to be understood as dated, hence the truth understanding of the church today, may be different from the truth understanding of tomorrow … whereas, the truth is bigger than every church”, he said.
Continuing , the Clergyman said if the Church could come off its high horse in such issues and include its teachings in its curriculum, society would have fewer cases associated with sexual and reproductive issues.
Such issues include: early marriage, early indulgence in sexual activity, issues relating to divorce, unwanted pregnancy and the rights of women in marriage, different from the strict doctrines of the Church, which bases its teaching on a woman’s submission to her husband, even when her right is trampled upon.
Fubara-Manuel said the church should, for instance, see it as its duty not to condemn the woman with an unwanted pregnancy, and address the issue in its own contest. This would most likely lessen the number of unwanted pregnancies in the society.
In her presentation titled “HIV and AIDS in Nigeria”, the Executive Director of “Support for Mankind Development Initiative”, Mrs. Iminabo Austen-Okoroafor, highlighted the present state of HIV / AIDS in Nigeria.
The focus of her presentation was on key operational challenges experienced in the fight against the HIV/ AIDS pandemic, and the role expected of the church. She identified six key operational challenges:
They are: poor ownership and leadership of the HlV response at various levels, limited state government contributions to the fight against AIDS, and weak supply chain management system and limited human capacity and service delivery.
Others are: Limited private sector, including faith-based organizations (FBOs) in the fight against AIDS, more monitoring and evaluation plus data management system.
She also stated the President’s Comprehensive Response plan (PCRP) for HIV/AIDS in Nigeria from 2013 to 2015, which is aimed at achieving Global Commitments, Universal Access, as well as the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) target of halting and reversing the HIV epidemic by 2015.
The objective of the PCRP, she said, is to avail 80 men and women aged 15 and above knowledge of their HIV status, to enroll an additional 600,000 eligible adults and children on Antiretroviral Therapy (ART), and provide ART for 244,000 mv pregnant women for PMTCT.
Others are: 2,000 new PMTCT and ART service delivery points across the country, provide access to combination prevention services for 5,000 MARPs and provide access to combination prevention for 4 million (9%) young persons aged 15 – 24 years.
Mrs. Jessie Fubara-Manuel, the Coordinator of the training, which was organised under the auspices of the Ecumenical Hl V and AIDS Initiative in African WorId Council of Churches (EHAIA/WCC), in collaboration with the CCN, focused on “Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights in the Families and Communities”.
Using concrete situations, Jessie identified specific issues about SRHR in family and community settings and established the need for open discussions on SRHR both within the family and various shades of communities and how to take specific actions against acts bordering on SRHR.
Taking participants through the topic, “Youth and Adolescent Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights in Nigeria”, a clergyman, Reverened Okechukwu Kalu Iro, x-rayed youth and adolescent psychology as it concerns their indulgence, and the attendant right issues that emanate from it.
President of the “Niger Delta Coalition of Persons with Disabilities”, David ThankGod Enogho, in his paper titled “Disability and Marginalization in Nigeria”, laid bare the dehumanizing experiences meted on the physically challenged by the Nigerian society, which constitutes outright infringement on their fundamental human rights.
Tracing “disability” and its attendant marginalization to the Bible, he identified some key areas in which discrimination and marginalization of people with disability can easily be noticed. Such areas include education, employment, transport, housing, political participation and religion.
A trainer on SRHR, Mrs. Kaine Bob-Manuel, presented a paper on “Sexual and Gender- Based Violence in Nigeria”, particularly as it affects the girl- child and women. She identified five types of Sexual and gender-based violence against women. They include sexual, physical, emotional, psychological and socio-economic violence.
She also identified avenues through which such violence manifest in Nigeria. They are forced prostitution, ponography, trafficking in women, partner violence and marital rape.
Others are dowry abuse, murders, partner homicide, psychological abuse, abuse of women with disabilities and forced pregnancy.
While making their presentations, speaker after speaker re-echoed one key phenomenon and that is that the church needs to take a clear stand on such issues as critical to society as Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights, and the fight against the HlV/AIDS pandemic, particularly as it affects the woman and youth, who are the worst hit.
All speakers agreed on the fact that beyond affording members spiritual guidance, the church has to venture into issues of SRHR and HIV/AIDS. Among its members, different from strict adherence to what is perceived to be the dictates of the Bible, as interpreted by the church.
The central message from the workshop was to the effect that the church should, not regard issues pertaining to SRHR and HIV / AIDS as being out of its purview or something capable of attracting disrepute and hence must be avoided.
How Fake News Hurts Newsroom Relationship
It used to be so easy. A reporter brings a story and the excited editor goes through it and simply publishes it, confident that the claims are correct.
Very often, impressed editors offered some morale boosting rewards – a bottle of wine, lunch, dinner or cash. And even more. Trust was mutual.
Not anymore. With the prevalence of fake news, most editors, also known as gatekeepers, no longer trust the frontline soldiers and would use every available binocular to search for the truth.
Analysts have said that it is difficult to blame the editors for being more careful, considering the many cases of gaffes, brazen lies, fake news and wrong information the conventional media embarrass themselves with, on daily basis.
Few weeks ago, an influential media house published a story quoting the World Health Organisation (WHO) as saying that 146 million Africans die of tobacco-related diseases every year. The editor so trusted the reporter and did not ask how many Africans would have been left after just two or three years of such harvest. The reporter had, on her own, added three zeroes to her copy.
Not long ago, a media house published a story quoting a state governor as pouring encomiums on his estranged predecessor at a birthday ceremony. Very harmless story. Easy pick for every editor. But trouble started immediately the story went out. It was fake. No such ceremony took place. The reporter just imagined it.
Last year, a report announced the opening of airports after the COVID-19 lockdown. Eager prospective passengers rushed to book tickets only to be turned back. What they read was false. Fake. The reporter just deceived everyone.
The craze for fake news has indeed taken over today’s media space, with both the social and traditional media struggling to outdo each other in the spread of hoaxes.
The instances are just everywhere. Aside from the fake news, photos or videos are purposefully created and spread to confuse and misinform. Photos or videos are also manipulated to deceive, while old pictures are often shared as new.
In some cases, photos from other shores are shared in the Nigerian space, ostensibly to create the impression that they are local scenes.
Umaru Pate, a professor of Mass Communication and Vice Chancellor, Federal University, Kashere, says the trend is “dangerous, unethical, provocative and subversive to peace and societal serenity’’.
“Fake news misinforms and misdirects society with severe consequences on individual and national systems. It heightens tension, builds fear and mistrust among people.’’
Information Minister Lai Mohammed, has equally deplored the trend, declaring recently that fake news could “threaten and destroy’’ the country. He has also launched a campaign against it.
The minister recently observed that every news manager was faced with the challenge of managing fake news, and expressed the fear that the purveyors could push the country into crises.
Dr Sylvester Usman, a university teacher, has echoed similar worry.
“Fake news will make media practice lose its appeal; it will challenge the credibility which is the base of journalism practice,” he said.
He challenged editors to rise up against the bastardisation of journalism by the new media, and emphasised the resuscitation of investigative journalism to tackle national challenges and help government plan better.
But as the scourge rages on, analysts have continued to wonder why the tendency to lie appears more common in the information age.
Mr Emeka Madunagu, publisher and editor-in-chief of Metrostar, an online publication, says fake news prevail because journalists pursue traffic, rather than accuracy.
Madunagu, former editor, Saturday Punch, advised media managers to equip newsrooms with gadgets and technologies that could detect and remove fake news and images.
Prof. Pate believes that fake news is partly caused by the absence, or late arrival, of official information, which creates a vacuum filled by rumours and imaginations.
According to him, desperate politicians, ethnic jingoists, foreign interests and mischief makers have also taken advantage of the explosion in social media platforms – Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Google, Nairaline and WhatsApp – to spew fake news and hate messages which inflict confusion into the society.
While urging media houses to focus more on investigative reporting, he cautioned against selective reporting and the promotion of prejudicial stereotypes about groups and individuals based on incomplete facts, mischief and ignorance.
Analysts have also called for more training to boost research capacities among media professionals so as to minimise shallow reporting and episodic attitudes in news coverage and programme production.
They have also cautioned the media against promoting statements of politicians, ethnic champions, religious zealots and other interested parties without critical inquiry about specific social conflicts.
“Such groups are usually prone to spreading fake news against perceived rivals,” Alhaji Aminu Mohammed, one such analyst, says.
While urging media gatekeepers and news content managers to be more critical, the analysts have pointed out that publishing fake news could confer legitimacy, credibility and massive reach to such fakery and confuse the audience about truth and falsehood.
Worried by the effects of such misinformation, many Nigerians have always wondered if it is possible to quickly spot fake news to avoid being misled.
Mr Dapo Olorunyomi, publisher of Premiums Times, believes that the best way out is to establish a fact-check unit in every Newsroom.
Olorunyomi, whose outfit has established a channel “Dubawa”, through which it trains media practitioners on fact-checking, emphasises the need to build wide contacts and use the internet to carry out a fact-check on every story to determine its integrity before publishing or airing same.
He also suggests the need for readers, listeners or viewers to check multiple sources, and try to establish trusted brands over time.
Madunagu has a more proactive approach to the menace.
“When a reporter comes with a sensitive story, I will calm him down and ask him to relax.
“When he relaxes, I will debrief him. In the course of doing that, I will try to see whether he brought himself into the story. There are times I did that and the reporter told me to kill the story. It means he was not so sure of the exciting claims he penned down,” he said.
He said that the situation is serious and warned editors against rushing to publish any “beautiful scoop” filed by reporters who are out there on the field.
“Editors should not totally trust reporters. These days, I don’t.
“Editors must have phone numbers of other Editors. These days, hunger is pervasive; for little money, people can tell lies. They can write anything. So, one must be very careful. When editors are handling sensitive stories, they must be very careful,” he said.
Most editors agree with Madunagu and believe that Nigeria will be the better for it if editors in traditional mediums, who determine information the public is served, strive for reliable information which is crucial to her growth.
But even as the editors strive for accurate information, some have noted the challenges of ownership influence, social malpractices and corruption, media professionals acting as judges or advocates for hidden interests, and cases of senior editorial staff acting as consultants to politicians and religious groups.
The existence of cartels among reporters covering specific beats has also been noted as another factor responsible for the adulteration of what is reported. Very often, the cartels form “gangs’’ that decide what information to publish with pecuniary interests threading through the discussions.
Analysts say that such “unholy fraternity’’ has often led to the “burial’’ of some hard truths that would have been useful in the nation’s search for greatness.
Another challenge is the “copy-me’’ syndrome, a practice where reporters receive reports of events they did not cover, from colleagues, and publish same, not minding if what they had been “copied’’ is fake news.
Not a few reporters have lost their jobs to this scary practice, yet it still persists.
Unfortunately for editors in most media houses, the heat is usually extended to them with no one concerned about their pleas or claims to innocence.
Such sweeping sanctions, analysts say, have forced editors to suspect every story with some “dodging” sensitive reports they believe have the potential to create trouble.
Madunagu captured it more succinctly.
“These days, I use every binocular to check the veracity of every story. I won’t want to take medicine for what should not be my headache.”
Unfortunately for the reporters, most editors today have similar fears over their copies. Such fears rule most newsrooms today.
By: Ephraims Sheyin
Sheyin writes for the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN).
HIV/AIDS, Covid-19: Challenges And Way Forward
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
NUJ: Gleanings Of PH National Confab
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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