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Anti-Graft: How Safe Are Whistle Blowers?

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In February, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) recovered 9.8 million dollars from the former Group Managing Director of Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Andrew Yakubu hidden in a fire proof safe in a building in Kaduna.
In the context of the current government’s anti-corruption campaign involving whistle-blowing policy, when citizens give information to help government in the recovery of stolen loot, the Federal Government gives a reward as incentive.
Because it is a policy that whistle blower may be entitled to between 2.5 per cent and 5 per cent of the amount recovered, the whistle blower in this regard will get not less than N200 million.
Although the incentive looks impressive, concerned citizens raise concern about the protection of whistle blowers other than financial reward, even as whistle blower may choose to remain anonymous while providing information.
Conversely, a whistle-blower who gives false or misleading information will be liable to investigation and possible prosecution, even though he or she is also entitled to protection.
But Chairman, Whistleblower Network, Abuja,  Mr George Uboh, said although the policy prescribed safety for whistle blowers, the citizens should be reassured in concrete terms that they would be fully protected when they blew the whistle.
“I receive a lot of report from some whistleblowers that have suffered some forms of adverse treatment and that really pains me.
“So, I advocate that an office be set-up, such as we have in the U.S. where there is Dual Protection Office and the office has to be independent,’’ he said.
In a bid to provide the desired protection, the Senate recently passed the Witness Protection Programme Establishment Bill, 2017 that seeks to create and operate a programme that protects witnesses in certain investigations, enquiries or prosecutions.
Sponsored by the late Sen. Isiaka Adeleke, the bill is to protect whistleblowers and witnesses directly involved in the prosecution of certain criminal cases.
Presenting the report at the plenary session on June 8, the Chairman of Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters, Sen. David Umaru, told the Senate that the committee had agreed on the development of a legislative framework that allowed for the conduct of a public hearing on it.
According to Sen. Umaru, the objective of the bill is also to protect persons who provide vital information, evidence or render assistance to law enforcement agencies during investigations, enquiries or prosecutions.
He noted that the Witness Protection Programme is a universally accepted concept for the protection of witnesses who are willing to provide facts or data for the purpose of enhancing the justice system and whose lives are threatened.
Commending the Senate, observers note that the House of Representatives should also pass the bill for endorsement of the presidency.
In this regard, Mr Mahmud Magaji, Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) applauded all efforts aimed at protecting whistleblowers in the fight against corruption and corrupt practices in the country.
“ However, we need to put certain legal structures in place to guide against miscreants so that the whistle can be blown well,’’ Magaji said.
Similarly, Mrs Esther Uzoma, an Abuja-based lawyer supported the argument for the provision of more concrete protection for the whistleblowers.
She noted that although the protection of whistle blowers seemed to be guaranteed because their identities were shielded from the public, such identities might not be kept for long.
Uzoma suggested to the government to exercise witness protection for the whistleblowers by giving them a fresh identity, relocating them to a new place and give them a new life.
“If this protection can be given to them, it would enhance their jobs because the information that they are giving has helped in the recovery of looted funds.
“This senseless unmitigated looting of the country’s common wealth cannot continue as the country cannot survive if it continues.
“The government of the day owe the whistleblowers their protection to facilitate fight against corruption, I support the policy,’’ she said.
Similarly, Mr Maxwell Opara, a lawyer in Abuja urged government to intensify the passage of the whistleblower protection bill to law.
Supporting Opara,  the Chairperson, International Federation of Women Lawyers, Abuja chapter, Mrs Ngozi Ikenga,said the whistle blowing policy had made the present administration credible.
She called for the quick assent to the passage of the whistle blower protection bill to encourage the whistle blowers.
According to her, while the recovery of the looted funds is a step in the right direction, the EFCC needs to exercise caution in disclosing information of recovered looted funds to the public before investigations are concluded.
All in all, the Federal Ministry of Finance insists that the objective of the Whistle Blowing programme is to stimulate accountability and transparency in the management of public funds.
It says the programme is also designed to encourage anyone with information about a violation of financial regulations, mismanagement of public funds and assets, financial malpractice fraud and theft to report it.
According to the ministry, anyone who whistleblows in public spirit and in good faith will be protected, whether or not the issue raised is upheld against any party.
“Any stakeholder — internal or external — who has made a genuine disclosure and who feels that, as a result, he or she has suffered adverse treatment in retaliation should file a formal complaint to an independent panel of inquiry that shall be set up to handle such complaint, detailing his/her adverse treatment,’’ the ministry said.
According to the whistle blowing programme, if the whistleblower chooses not to disclose his identity, there will be no record of the whistleblowers’ identity.
Also, if the whistle blower chooses to disclose their identity, the identity will only be disclosed in circumstances required by law.
In all circumstances, the government says it will maintain confidentiality to the fullest extent possible within the limitations of the law.
Joshua writes for   News Agency of Nigeria (NAN).

Abigael Joshua

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Covid-19 Vaccination: Role Of Local Leaders

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It was a matter of time, but Covid-19 vaccination has already started to generate heated arguments following a hint that the Federal Government could start sanctioning anybody who refused to be vaccinated.
Dr Faisal Shuaib, Executive Director,  National Primary Health Care Development Agency, NPHCDA, disclosed this at a recent press conference in Abuja. He, however, said that implementation was dependent on availability of the vaccines.
“The Presidential Steering Committee and the Federal Ministry of Health are exploring ways of making vaccines more available to all Nigerians, including federal civil servants and corporate entities.
“Once these vaccines are made equitably available to all Nigerians, then we will need to have a frank discussion about justice, fairness and liberty that exist around vaccine hesitancy.
“So, you have a right to refuse vaccines, but you do not have the right to endanger the health of others,” he said.
Already, attempts have been made by two states – Ondo and Edo – to make Covid-19 vaccination compulsory, especially for public servants and members of the public who wish to gain access to certain places.
These places include religious worship centres, banks and public buildings.
However, those attempts and the suggestion that the Federal Government might sanction those who refuse vaccination have been criticised by some trade, professional and religious associations.
 The Nigeria Medical Association (NMA) and Joint Health Sector Union (JOHESU) that kicked against the compulsory vaccination, said that government should rather embark on advocacy and persuasion, than coerce citizens into getting vaccinated.
The spokesman for JOHESU, Mr Olumide Akintayo, said the policy would only be sensible if there were enough vaccines to inoculate eligible citizens.
Akintayo stated: “If you are thinking of it in terms of responsibility, it makes sense; but practically, we all know it is an impossible task.
“ If all the doses that have been sent to Nigeria since this outbreak is less than 10 million, how do you enforce that kind of policy in a country of over 200 million people?
“You don’t just come up with policies that are not backed by common sense; you don’t just say things because you want to talk. It would have made some sense if the vaccines are available for everyone.”
The General Secretary of the NMA, Philips Ekpe, said citizens could not be forced to be vaccinated against Covid-19 the same way they had the right to reject medical treatment.
Rather than being forced, he said Nigerians should be made to understand the need to be vaccinated. 
According to him, although they cannot be forced, citizens who refuse vaccination should stay in their houses so that they don’t endanger others.
He said: “The Federal Government needs to make people understand the reason why they need to be vaccinated. They have the right to say no. You cannot force people. People have the right to say no to medical treatment.
“But you should let them understand the dangers of not getting vaccinated.
“For example, if you want to travel out of the country, if you are not vaccinated, you will not be let in. The reason is because the other country you are going to won’t want to endanger the lives of its citizens.
“Let them understand the importance, but then if they refuse, they should stay in their houses and not go out and endanger others.”
Experts believe that properly communicating the advantages of being vaccinated, through the use of existing structures, such as religious and cultural institutions, would yield better results than subtle threats.
Communication connotes persuasion, even on occasions when the purpose of a piece of communication is not to persuade, there is still the need to win over the audience to accept the message.
In this era of fake news, and when the social media is awash with conspiracy theories against vaccination, persuasion must first be deployed to get the attention of citizens.
The burden increases tremendously when there are cultural and religious stereotypes which could prevent many adherents from accepting that being vaccinated is safe.
This challenge is not peculiar to Nigeria. In the U.S. for instance, vaccine hesitancy is responsible for over 90 per cent of all Covid-19 related hospitalisation.
Getting some Americans vaccinated has been so challenging that many people have been offered monetary incentives to convince them to get vaccinated in an unusual case of persuasion.
In Nigeria, where religious and traditional leaders are custodians of faith and culture respectively, they wield great influence on devotees and those institutions can be deployed to boost vaccination drive.
Historically, religious and traditional rulers often employ the cognitive process of persuasive communication to change an entrenched social perception or public opinion hindering required public support for relevant people-oriented policies.
Leaders have the influence to subtly appeal to the target to listen, accept, comprehend and act.
Therefore, before considering the stick, government should first explore the use of carrot.
Religious and traditional leaders can help in giving correct messages on vaccination as well as being role models, making sure that they and their loved ones too are vaccinated.
Faith-based and culture-based organisations can also collaborate with other leaders to sensitise communities on the benefits of vaccination and to also dispel the many myths and disinformation about it.
King Bubaraye Dakolo of Epetiama Kingdom in Bayelsa has been putting this practice to use, since vaccination was first rolled out in Nigeria in March.
“The arrival of the vaccine brought a huge relief to our kingdom. I mobilised my people to carry out awareness campaigns in the various communities to guard against apathy.
“My council chiefs and I led by example in being vaccinated early. When the people saw that, they were fully convinced that the vaccine is not harmful.
“We made it clear to our people through town hall meetings that the vaccine is safe and is designed to save humanity.
“We equally reminded them how some persons who refused to be vaccinated for poliomyelitis in the past are suffering the consequences of their actions today,” the traditional ruler said. 
According to the WHO Covid-19 Dashboard, Nigeria had administered 4.4 million Covid-19 vaccine doses as at Aug. 31, 2021. Out of that number, 2.9 million Nigerians have been fully vaccinated, according to the NPHCDA.
With a fairly efficient vaccination structure, owing to many years of immunisation against polio, the Nigerian government should activate collaboration with religious and traditional bodies in its vaccination drive.
Experts, including health professionals and public administrators, believe that involving these leaders in advocacy and public enlightenment will lead to more people accepting to voluntarily get Covid-19 vaccination.
Of course, with just a paltry 0.7 per cent of the population vaccinated, the key indicator for any punitive measure for avoiding vaccination will be subject to availability of the vaccines.
However, to achieve the goal of vaccinating 40 per cent of its 200 million population before the end of 2021 and 70 per cent by the end of 2022, Nigeria will need more than availability of vaccines.
There has to be the acceptance and willingness of the majority of its population to be vaccinated.
One of the crucial and effective way to achieve that is to work with religious and traditional leaders.

By: Kayode Adebiyi

Adebiyi writes for News Agency of Nigeria.

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COVID-19 Vaccination: Role Of Local Leaders

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It was a matter of time, but COVID-19 vaccination has already started to generate heated arguments following a hint that the Federal Government could start sanctioning anybody who refused to be vaccinated.
Dr Faisal Shuaib, Executive Director,  National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA), disclosed this at a recent press conference in Abuja. He, however, said that implementation was dependent on availability of the vaccines.
“The Presidential Steering Committee and the Federal Ministry of Health are exploring ways of making vaccines more available to all Nigerians, including federal civil servants and corporate entities.
“Once these vaccines are made equitably available to all Nigerians, then we will need to have a frank discussion about justice, fairness and liberty that exist around vaccine hesitancy.
“So, you have a right to refuse vaccines, but you do not have the right to endanger the health of others,” he said.
Already, attempts have been made by two states – Ondo and Edo – to make COVID-19 vaccination compulsory, especially for public servants and members of the public who wish to gain access to certain places.
These places include religious worship centres, banks and public buildings.
However, those attempts and the suggestion that the Federal Government might sanction those who refuse vaccination have been criticised by some trade, professional and religious associations.
 The Nigeria Medical Association (NMA) and Joint Health Sector Union (JOHESU) that kicked against the compulsory vaccination, said that government should rather embark on advocacy and persuasion, than coerce citizens into getting vaccinated.
The spokesman for JOHESU, Mr Olumide Akintayo, said the policy would only be sensible if there were enough vaccines to inoculate eligible citizens.
Akintayo stated: “If you are thinking of it in terms of responsibility, it makes sense; but practically, we all know it is an impossible task.
“ If all the doses that have been sent to Nigeria since this outbreak is less than 10 million, how do you enforce that kind of policy in a country of over 200 million people?
“You don’t just come up with policies that are not backed by common sense; you don’t just say things because you want to talk. It would have made some sense if the vaccines are available for everyone.”
The General Secretary of the NMA, Philips Ekpe, said citizens could not be forced to be vaccinated against COVID-19 the same way they had the right to reject medical treatment.
Rather than being forced, he said Nigerians should be made to understand the need to be vaccinated. 
According to him, although they cannot be forced, citizens who refuse vaccination should stay in their houses so that they don’t endanger others.
He said: “The Federal Government needs to make people understand the reason why they need to be vaccinated. They have the right to say no. You cannot force people. People have the right to say no to medical treatment.
“But you should let them understand the dangers of not getting vaccinated.
“For example, if you want to travel out of the country, if you are not vaccinated, you will not be let in. The reason is because the other country you are going to won’t want to endanger the lives of its citizens.
“Let them understand the importance, but then if they refuse, they should stay in their houses and not go out and endanger others.”
Experts believe that properly communicating the advantages of being vaccinated, through the use of existing structures, such as religious and cultural institutions, would yield better results than subtle threats.
Communication connotes persuasion, even on occasions when the purpose of a piece of communication is not to persuade, there is still the need to win over the audience to accept the message.
In this era of fake news, and when the social media is awash with conspiracy theories against vaccination, persuasion must first be deployed to get the attention of citizens.
The burden increases tremendously when there are cultural and religious stereotypes which could prevent many adherents from accepting that being vaccinated is safe.
This challenge is not peculiar to Nigeria. In the U.S. for instance, vaccine hesitancy is responsible for over 90 per cent of all COVID-19 related hospitalisation.
Getting some Americans vaccinated has been so challenging that many people have been offered monetary incentives to convince them to get vaccinated in an unusual case of persuasion.
In Nigeria, where religious and traditional leaders are custodians of faith and culture respectively, they wield great influence on devotees and those institutions can be deployed to boost vaccination drive.
Historically, religious and traditional rulers often employ the cognitive process of persuasive communication to change an entrenched social perception or public opinion hindering required public support for relevant people-oriented policies.
Leaders have the influence to subtly appeal to the target to listen, accept, comprehend and act.
Therefore, before considering the stick, government should first explore the use of carrot.
Religious and traditional leaders can help in giving correct messages on vaccination as well as being role models, making sure that they and their loved ones too are vaccinated.
Faith-based and culture-based organisations can also collaborate with other leaders to sensitise communities on the benefits of vaccination and to also dispel the many myths and disinformation about it.
King Bubaraye Dakolo of Epetiama Kingdom in Bayelsa has been putting this practice to use, since vaccination was first rolled out in Nigeria in March.
“The arrival of the vaccine brought a huge relief to our kingdom. I mobilised my people to carry out awareness campaigns in the various communities to guard against apathy.
“My council chiefs and I led by example in being vaccinated early. When the people saw that, they were fully convinced that the vaccine is not harmful.
“We made it clear to our people through town hall meetings that the vaccine is safe and is designed to save humanity.
“We equally reminded them how some persons who refused to be vaccinated for poliomyelitis in the past are suffering the consequences of their actions today,” the traditional ruler said. 
According to the WHO COVID-19 Dashboard, Nigeria had administered 4.4 million COVID-19 vaccine doses as at Aug. 31, 2021. Out of that number, 2.9 million Nigerians have been fully vaccinated, according to the NPHCDA.
With a fairly efficient vaccination structure, owing to many years of immunisation against polio, the Nigerian government should activate collaboration with religious and traditional bodies in its vaccination drive.
Experts, including health professionals and public administrators, believe that involving these leaders in advocacy and public enlightenment will lead to more people accepting to voluntarily get COVID-19 vaccination.
Of course, with just a paltry 0.7 per cent of the population vaccinated, the key indicator for any punitive measure for avoiding vaccination will be subject to availability of the vaccines.
However, to achieve the goal of vaccinating 40 per cent of its 200 million population before the end of 2021 and 70 per cent by the end of 2022, Nigeria will need more than availability of vaccines.
There has to be the acceptance and willingness of the majority of its population to be vaccinated.
One of the crucial and effective way to achieve that is to work with religious and traditional leaders.

By: Kayode Adebiyi
Adebiyi writes for News Agency of Nigeria.

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Food Preservation: Time To Check Traders’ Excesses

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

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

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