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Ambazonia, Separatists And Internet Democracy (I)

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A Biafra-like agitation for independence has been unfolding in neighbouring Republic of Cameroon since November 2016. The people of Northern and Southern Cameroons under the umbrella of the Southern Cameroons Ambazonia Consortium United Front (SCACUF) finally decided to affirm the independence of the English-speaking sections of Cameroon from the Republic.
Like the Indigenous People of Biafra, the Ambazonians as they have called themselves since 1984, are protesting against their alleged marginalization by the dominant Francophone Cameroon and the Paul Biya government in Yaounde.
They insist that whereas oil is found in the English-speaking South Western part of Cameroon, the central government has practically neglected the region, and the people have been turned into “slaves” on their own soil.
Like the Biafran movement in Nigeria, they have their own flag (white and blue) and a national anthem. The Cameroonian Anglophones claim that their struggle is non-violent and peaceful but they will insist on their independence, and the declaration of their own Republic.
They further argue that whereas French and English are the official languages of Cameroon, the central government has imposed French as the language to be spoken in Anglophone Cameroon. They insist on their right to speak English.
After World War 1, the League of Nations shared the geographical territory known as Cameroon between the French and the British. The latter administered its own share from Nigeria.
On October 1, 1960, Nigeria gained independence from Britain. British Cameroon had a choice between joining Nigeria or Cameroon. In a referendum conducted in 1961, the people of British Cameroon chose to join French-speaking Cameroon to form a Federation. But the planned federal system never really worked.
In 1972, Cameroon changed its name to the United Republic of Cameroon. In 1984, the word “United” was removed from the country’s name by the Paul Biya administration, thus, adopting the pre-unification name of French Cameroon and effectively raising fears of alienation among English-speaking Cameroonians.
Colonialism and its legacy may have been the foundation of many of the crises in post-colonial African states, but poor governance, ethnicity, competition over power and national resources, religion and sheer leadership incompetence have done worse damage.
Post-colonial African leaders have failed to act as statesmen but as new colonialists adopting in West Africa, the twin colonial policies of divide and rule and assimilation.
Cameroon has been a long-suffering country, first under former President Ahmadu Ahidjo and especially under 84-year old Paul Biya, who has been President for 35 years.
It is ironic that 56 years after the country became a Republic, English-speaking Cameroonians are fighting against the seeming attempt by their French-speaking compatriots to “assimilate” and “marginalize” them. The two Cameroons are fighting over the language of the colonialists, national resources, and power-relations.
On Sunday, October 1, 2017, Sisiku AyukTabe, Chairman of the Southern Cameroons Governing Council, formally declared the independence of Southern Cameroons or the Federal Republic of Ambazonia.
“We, the people of Southern Cameroons are slaves to no one”, he said, “Not now, not ever again! Today we reaffirm autonomy over our heritage and over our territory…It is time to tell Yaounde that enough is enough!”
The response from Yaounde has been characteristic. Weeks before the protests and the declaration of independence in Southern Cameroons, soldiers were sent to the region to shoot in the air, prevent rallies, and intimidate the people. Several  persons have so far been killed.
“This division will never happen”, says Cameroon’s Communications Minister, Issa Tchiooma Bakary, speaking for the central government. Just like IPOB and Nigeria? Yes.
Since the end of the Cold War, there has been a wave of nationalist agitations across the world resulting in self-determination, secession and partitions, and the emergence of new countries. But self-determination or secession is not an automatic process, and it is not in every instance that the protests result in the Nirvana that the separatists seek.
In Cameroon, the Biya administration must get off its high horse and engage the leaders of the separatist movement in dialogue. The international community must prevail on him to put an end to the abuse of human rights and the killings in Southern Cameroon. It is the refusal of the central government to address the grievances of the people of Southern Cameroon that has brought Cameroon to this moment.
To quote AyukTabe, again: “The union was always intended to be a union of two equals. Unfortunately, what our peace-loving people have experienced ever since is oppression, subterfuge, discrimination, violence, intimidation, imprisonment, forced occupation, cultural genocide and misappropriation of our natural resources by the leaders of the Republic of Cameroun.”
It is instructive to note the similarity between the expressed concerns of the Ambazonian movement and similar movements in recent times in other parts of the world, and the attitude of the governments in power.
In Spain (the Catalan secessionist movement), Nigeria (the Biafra movement) and Iraq (the Iraqi Kurdistan) – the Catalans have held a referendum to leave Spain, but the Spanish government says this is “unconstitutional.”
Biafrans want a referendum in Nigeria – the government says this is unconstitutional because Nigeria’s unity is not negotiable. The Kurds also want to get out of Iraq, but the central government is opposed to it on the grounds that the September 25 referendum is unilateral and unconstitutional!
It is not just rhetoric that is involved, the military is deployed, violence is unleashed on separatists or critics of the extant union and the government. While these may seem to be traditional responses, the assault on the human rights of protesters now includes an increasingly important territory: the internet.
The internet is perhaps the most striking phenomenon of the century, in the manner in which it has extended the frontiers of human freedom and expression. It is the most modernist icon of globalisation and the borderlessness of space and time.

Abati, a Public Affairs Analyst, was Special Adviser on Media to former President Goodluck Jonathan.
The internet does not know fear. It is an irreverent tool of political mobilization, commerce and social networking. It is the public mind in motion, and the anonymity that it offers in certain forms makes it a strong instrument of revolt.
Elections can be won or lost, governments can be pulled down or popularized, through the mind of the internet. Given its power, reach, and impact, dictators are uncomfortable with the democracy of the internet which has proven to be much stronger than dictatorships, tyrants and intolerant governments. The relationship between the internet and authority has therefore been one of unease and distrust.
The result has been the attempt by intolerant governments and political figures to control the internet, shut it down or violate the rights of its users. China has an internet police that filters internet traffic.
In 2011, Egypt tried to stop the people’s revolution by shutting down the internet. Tunisia, Italy, North Korea, Syria, Iran, Libya, India, Bangladesh, Burma, Nepal, Maldives, Iraq are other countries where the internet has been censored in one form or the other or completely shut down.
The degree of civil society repression varies from one country to the other, but the excuse for abridging internet democracy could be as ridiculous as saying that the internet had to be shut down in order to prevent cheating in students’ examinations as has been the case in Iraq and Ethiopia.
Generally, shutting down the internet has become the new mode of repression and a standard response to dissent. African states and governments have joined the trend. In the last year alone, 11 African governments have shut down the internet in one form or the other.
These include the Democratic Republic of Congo (ostensibly to reduce the capacity to transmit “abusive messages,” but actually to stop the people from opposing President Joseph Kabila’s attempt to prolong his tenure); Gambia (a few days to the 2016 elections), Togo (to check protests against President Faure Gnassingbe, and the people’s request for multi-party elections and Presidential term-limits), Ethiopia, Gabon, Gambia, Egypt, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Morocco.
In Nigeria, there has also been so much official discomfort with what is termed “hate speech” on social media platforms particularly whatsapp, instagram, blogs, and twitter. One lawmaker even proposed a Social Media Bill which criminalises internet democracy.
The worst anti-internet culprit so far in Africa would be in my view, not Egypt (where the revolution succeeded in spite of the repression) but Paul Biya’s Cameroon where intolerance and unpleasantness have been elevated to the level of state policy.
In January, the government of Cameroon shut down the internet in English-speaking parts of the country. This lasted for more than three months. This has again been repeated. It is unacceptable.
The cost of internet shutdowns is enormous and disruptive, and the gain for governments is so small. The free flow of information is breached, the targeting of specific regions as in Cameroun is discriminatory; the right to free speech is violated, along with other rights: association, choice, and freedom of thought.
The UN Human Rights Council in 2012, 2014 and again in July 2016, resolved that “the same rights that people have offline must also be protected online”, and all states must refrain from taking such measures that can violate internet freedom. The African Union Declaration on Internet Governance (Algiers, February 13, 2017) is on all fours with this UN Resolution. The UN should go further and impose sanctions on countries that violate internet freedom.
Worse, businesses suffer in the event of an internet shutdown. Internet services are accessed through broadbands provided by mobile telecom companies. When such companies are asked to shut down their services, they easily comply out of fear of being blackmailed by the government. They can be accused of supporting terrorism, for example! By co-operating, they incur losses, part of which they may eventually pass to their subscribers.
Similarly, with growing internet penetration in Africa, so many other businesses are dependent on the internet. Indeed, the internet is increasingly a shopping mall – for bloggers, advertisers, consultants and the average consumer of services. An internet shutdown in the light of this, undermines economic growth and development. Human dignity and relationships are also affected. The internet is a networking tool, so much so that many families depend on it for contact and interaction, and many individuals on it for survival.
Shutting down the internet rolls back the gains of the democratization process in Africa. African countries seeking growth and investment in the telecommunication sector, and within the economy generally shoot themselves in the foot when they seek to destroy such a significant tool.
Internet registries worldwide should sanction errant governments which deny their citizens access to the internet. Men of conscience and thought leaders should speak out against the growing trend of internet shutdown or violation by African governments.
In Nigeria, we must continue to discourage the government from ever contemplating any such misadventure. I am not in any way recommending, by this article a “sovereignty of the internet” in the sense in which John Perry Barlow, an internet activist spoke, when he issued “A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace” (1996). Rather, I urge the protection of the democracy of the internet and this democracy is about rights, obligations and the rule of law.
To return to the politics of imperialism and dissidence in Cameroon, Nigeria (for strategic reasons – the proposed Ambazonia being a buffer zone between Nigeria and Cameroon), ECOWAS and the African Union should intervene early to prevent an outbreak of social and humanitarian crisis, if not chaos in North West and South West Cameroon. The feuding parties should be encouraged to go to the negotiating table. What is going on in that country is as much a Cameroonian problem as it is a Nigerian problem.
Abati, a public affairs analyst, was Special Adviser on Media to former President Goodluck Jonathan

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Opinion

Leakages In Nigeria’s Economy

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During his tenure as Nigeria’s head of state, retired General Ibrahim Babangida confessed that he was surprised why the Nigerian economy had not collapsed, with all the bashing and buffeting from various quarters. What the retired General did not tell us or express any surprise about was what roles the military played in the precarious state of the nation’s economy during his tenure. Anyone who has read Major-General Jibril Musa Sarki’s work: Born to Rule (1999), would appreciate the roles of the military in Nigeria’s current state of affairs.
While recriminations and pointing of fingers would not take us anywhere, it is needful that on-going leakages and profligacies in the Nigerian economy be examined with honesty. We should also remind ourselves of Oliver Goldsmith’s prophetic poem: “Ill fares the land, to hastening ill, a prey, where wealth accumulates but men decay”. Perhaps, it is too late to remind ourselves of our wrong doings and negligences of the past, because we are not predisposed to doing anything to correct them.
It would be unnecessary to remind ourselves that Nigeria has worn the sad tag of corruption, but what is needful would be to examine the subtle ways that it is practised. Corruption goes beyond taking and giving bribes to get things done or to escape justice. Rather, corruption would include taking undue advantage of the trust, confidence, ignorance, docility and loop-holes of the masses and the social system, to cheat by those who manage the affairs of the nation. Leadership is a trust and those who abuse such trust lack integrity necessary for leadership. Must leadership be synonymous with cunning?
It is corruption and failed leadership where those who lead the masses would grow pot-belly through gourmandism while the masses grow lean and die because of starvation and unemployment. Crime rate increases where the masses are impoverished, with no alternative means of earning a legitimate living.
So much had been said and heard about looting and plundering of the nation’s wealth by various clever people, which was why General Babangida expressed surprise at the resilience of the economy. Of all heads of state, it was late General Sani Abacha who was called a looter while others are innocent patriots. Even the loots said to have been recovered end up being relooted by some smart alecks and smooth operators. Surely, only a small fraction of the plunderers and looters of the nation’s wealth come to light or get penalised. There is also the politics of plea-bargaining and joining the party in power to have a clean slate.
The milk-cow providing the enormous wealth fit to be plundered and looted, oil and gas resources of the Niger Delta, also run into the lair of Ali Baba. Thanks to Land Use Act and the Petroleum Industry Act (PIA), the people of Niger Delta can be content with sharing 3% annual allocation of oil profit with other communities where oil pipelines pass through. Who would say that oil pipelines, as well as the oil and gas industry, are not clever sources of economic leakages in Nigeria? Are such leakages not facilitated by some technical and legal jargon and ambiguities too hard for other stakeholders to understand?
Leakages in Nigeria’s economy can be described as haemorhage with regards to profligate spending of public funds on non-profit-yielding foreign travels by state officials. From pilgrimages to medical tours, the ways that funds have been lavishly spent in the past have not been fair to the declining state of the nation’s economy. What can be quite annoying in this regard is the lip service we pay to the concept of patriotism and accountability, whereby those supposed to manage the affairs of the nation with utmost prudence become hypocritical.
Even more annoying is the attitude of political office holders in not showing genuine concern over the state of the nation’s economy, if we use the current exchange rate of the Naira as a measure. When Chrysler, a leading American company, was close to bankruptcy in 1980, chief executive of that company, Lee Iacoca, among other measures, reduced his salary and allowances by 90% as a sacrifice to save the company. Iacoca did not feed fat or engage in foreign travels when his company was in crisis.
Here in Nigeria, Babangida as a military President, introduced a similar sacrifice to save the Nigerian economy. He declared a 20% cut in his salary and those of state governors under his regime, but average Nigerians knew that the measure was a window-dressing. Today, there is Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida University (IBBUL) in Lapai, Niger State, asking for increment of tuition fees. Neither is Babangida alone in the ownership of private universities. Yet, Nigeria ranks as second poorest in food affordability, according to UK-based Institute of Development Studies.
Next to profligate and unmerciful squandering of public funds is the scandalous and unjustifiable remunerations packaged for political office holders by the out-gone military regime (1999). According to the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), a Nigerian senator earns four times the salary of the President of the United States of America. Senator Shehu Sani disclosed that each senator gets N13.5 million monthly as running cost and N700,000 as salary, while there are several other allowances, plus N200 million as constituency allowance.
Then comes tax evasion and frauds by which the Nigerian nation loses enormous revenue annually. There are available research documents in various university libraries and archives, revealing clever ways that corporate tax evasions and frauds take place, such that even forensic auditors can be hood winked and out-witted. If the above listed sources of leakages and several others that we know little about are blocked, Nigeria may not go borrowing money here and there, as if we are a poor nation.
Honest and patriotic Nigerians are alarmed and uncomfortable about current borrowings and rising debt profile which place the future of this nation in a precarious position. What have we done with loots said to have been recovered over the years and what are we doing with the money being borrowed here and there? Perhaps, building of rail lines and feeding of school children take huge chunk of borrowed money and recovered loots. Meanwhile, the image of Nigeria and the current regime demand serious attention, with reference to pensions for governors, etc.

By: Bright Amirize
Dr Amirize is a retired lecturer from the Rivers State University, Port Harcourt.

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Opinion

Go Get Vaccinated

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As at this time last year, the world was still on the threshold of inventing a safe vaccine for the novel Coronavirus disease, otherwise known as COVID-19.
The Chinese virus, as the erstwhile United States President, Donald Trump, once called it, had, soon after its manifestation in late 2019, caused the imposition of lockdowns in several countries across the world such that nearly crippled the global economy.
In its bid to check the daily high infection and death figures even as medical scientists searched to identify what virus could attack humans on such scale, the World Health Organisation (WHO) had issued an advisory for people to avoid handshakes while observing frequent hand washing with soap and running water or use alcohol-based hand sanitisers. At that time, the apex global health institution had not become sure of the virus being airborne which explains its delay in recommending the wearing of face mask in public. Even social distancing and sneezing into one’s bent elbow came with this later discovery.
Today, no fewer than seven COVID-19 vaccines have been approved by the WHO and are being distributed for use across the world. The more popular ones among them are Pfizer-BioNTech, Oxford/AstraZeneca, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson/Janssen and Russia’s Sputnik brand.
Since early March, Nigeria has continued to take delivery of varying quantities of doses of these drugs, particularly the AstraZeneca, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson brands. Largely donated by friendly foreign governments and some international agencies, their rollout has been smooth in the main, regardless of observed vaccine hesitancy among the people.
This attitude may not be unconnected with any one of the following factors. First, there are those who still hold strongly to the belief that all the news on Coronavirus is a hoax being peddled by politicians who aim to profit from funds raised to fight the disease. Second, there are others who fear that the vaccines were hastily manufactured and not sufficiently tested for any long-term side effects before their emergency release by the WHO and NAFDAC. They had looked up to the nation’s political leaders and health authorities to first get openly inoculated to assure them on the safety of the new drugs.
But even as this has since happened with frontline medics, Mr. President, his Vice, most state governors, their deputies and other top politicians getting the intramuscular injections in front of national television cameras, the attitude seems to persist. Again, it is unfortunate that just about the time the vaccines were beginning to be rolled out globally a new variety of the virus, tagged the Delta variant, was identified — seriously undermining the efficacy and suitability of the new drugs in the people’s estimation.
Third, let us also consider those who will naturally try to avoid the nurse’s syringe or ‘long needle’. Sincerely, I want to bet that if these vaccines had come in the form of tablets or capsules, there would have been a better turnout of people at the various administration sites. And fourth is the fact that there already exist lots of alarming stories about serious reactions and deaths of COVID-19 vaccine recipients abroad. Some countries, including India and South Africa, had been reported to halt the administration of certain brands of the vaccine on their citizens. Related to this is the case of a few Nigerians who complained of dizziness, nausea, headache, fever or pain after being inoculated. But these always vanish after a few days and have been described by physicians as normal vaccine reactions.
Now wait for this! It has also been observed that people have started selecting where to take the jabs based on the brand of vaccines available at such centres, while some others have opted to tarry a bit in expectation of the arrival of a certain yet-to-be-imported brand into the country. And this is as medical experts have continued to assure that, despite their different names and recommended doses, none of these COVID-19 vaccines is superior to the other.
In fact, available information indicates that the vaccines already being used in Nigeria are administered in two separate shots, except the Johnson & Johnson product which is a single-shot vaccine. It is essentially for this reason that the health authorities reserved it mainly for the elderly and those living in areas that suffer movement difficulties — such as riverine, desert and security-compromised communities – as they may not easily travel from their homes for a second jab of the other vaccines. Surely, this is good thinking! Or, don’t you agree?
Reports also have it that Nigeria is targeting to inoculate, in two years, 109 million persons of 18 years and above, including pregnant women. It is believed that this is the nation’s strategy to achieve early herd immunity among her citizens. If true, then the authorities will have already planned to fail woefully. This is because 109 million persons out of about 200 million population only translates to 54.5 per cent; which falls way below the 70-80 per cent threshold recommended by scientists to be immunised or acquire natural immunity in order to end the global pandemic or, at least, bring it down to epidemic level.
So far, Nigeria has taken delivery of less than 10 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines, with the two largest hauls of 4 million coming from the WHO co-led COVAX initiative and the US Government, respectively. If about 9.8 million of these doses are indeed of the two-shot brands, then it means that technically, provision has only been made for a little over 4.9 million Nigerians. At this pace, if just that number is provided for in the six months between March and now, then it will translate to 19.6 million persons in two years. And this is far below the target.
As stated earlier, it is already worrisome that there exists much scepticism among the citizens; but government will also share in the guilt if early volunteers are made to wait beyond the prescribed 3-4 weeks interval to get a second shot. While it may not be enough to blame lack of cold storage facilities, I think there is still the need for governments to step up their sensitisation of the people.

By: Ibelema Jumbo

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Opinion

Jumping The Gun

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It is a cheering news, to wit: “Nigeria Set To Begin Export Of Vehicle Parts, Heavy-Duty Metals” – ref. The Tide: Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2021. Zeetin, a Nigerian precision engineering company, whose Managing Director is Azibaola Robert, told Nigerians that his company signed an export Memorandum of Understanding with a Turkish-American Company, JMT Ltd, to export Zeetin’s products to other countries. Robert told us that: “this is the first time a Nigerian engineering and manufacturing company will start exporting heavy-duty metal products, spares to the international market”.
Any patriotic Nigerian would be glad to hear such news, rather than something saddening such as acts of banditry and brigandage. With the export of Zeetin vehicle parts and heavy-duty metals, “overall, Nigeria will be the ultimate beneficiary”. Hopefully, JMT Limited, while taking the responsibility of exporting and marketing Zeetin products, would have satisfied itself that the products are of international standards. It would not be enough for a precision engineering company to manufacture products, but there is also an additional responsibility of quality assurance.
Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN) would obviously have satisfied itself that Zeetin products are of international standards. Therefore, credit must go to an indigenous Zeetin precision engineering company for being the first to export heavy-duty metal products and we hope that it would be a proud beginning; not Ajaokuta Steel!
Common stages involved in every project, including precision engineering works, would cover risk analysis, project design, implementation and then monitoring and evaluation. Purposes of monitoring and evaluation include getting factual and comprehensive feedback with regards to the performance of products sent out into the market. For manufacturing companies, lots of resources are spent on the feedback process, to ensure customer satisfaction and product sustainability. Complaints from customers and users are taken seriously so that corrections and improvements can be made.
At a seminar in the School of Oriental and African Studies, London, a long time ago, some useful facts emerged with regards to the common reactions of developing countries, to criticisms. Monitoring and evaluation process would obviously involve pointing out lapses calling for correction and improved strengthening. The emphasis was that criticism should not be seen as acts of aggression or hostility, but as opportunity for corrections and improvements. It takes maturity and a big heart to learn from scathing criticism.
With regards to product quality, developing countries, including Nigeria, have been known to have some lingering lapses, despite improved diligence. When there were talks in the recent times about Nigeria going to manufacture cars and aircraft, a former Nigerian diplomat swore that he, nor any of his grand children, would travel by such vehicle. Be it a joke or reality, his remark represents the attitude of many Nigerians towards local products. It is not always a question of ability or absence of it, but something else, quality included.
At the aforementioned seminar in the London school, there was a comment about “jumping the gun”, being a reference to an attitude of setting out long before the dawn. There is usually a difference between having an ability, and having the readiness to apply it, at the most appropriate time. Jumping the gun would mean embarking on a mission before one is ready enough to do so. Such haste may arise from vanity or some other weakness. It may not be wrong to take some risks or announce some breakthrough, but let it not be for “show” purposes.
In the management of development process, what is known as felt-need theory includes the practice of addressing needs and necessities according to the order of priority. Priority rating of a need would include the level of threat posed and the number of people involved. Commonsense understanding and assessment of a priority would mean “doing first thing first”. As First-Aid instructors would say. If threat to life is involved, then life-saving measures would be more appropriate priority than spending time in arguments while situation gets worse. You don’t go after rats while a house is on fire!
There was a time, a few years ago, when products packaged and exported from Nigeria were rejected abroad on the ground of not meeting international standards. Such products were not vehicle parts or heavy-duty metals. A major complaint about Nigerian-made products has always pointed towards “finishing and packaging”, which carry the tag of “poorly done”. There have been complaints that Nigerians rarely take serious pains to give a “good finishing” to what they produce. Products carry signatures of their origins and producers!
The endeavours and exploits of Zeetin have been used in this article as a means to examine what real progress means. That there are differences among individuals, nations, cultures and races, count as blessings and assets, rather than liabilities. Real progress shows in the development and advancement of what is indigenous to a people, rather than in copying and adopting foreign things, including engineering technology. Such progress begins with development of a right sense of beauty, not as a caricature but as an infallible signpost for knowing what exhibits harmony and creates joy. Beauty, Harmony, Joy!
People often strive in vain, and motivated by vanity, to copy and adopt what is not indigenous to their culture. Much time and resources are spent on wanting to follow the train of fashion, while efforts are rarely made to identify and develop indigenous talents. Obviously, every distinct group of people have unique endowments, peculiar to them, serving as their contribution to collective humanity. Harmony arises where differences in kind give their best to build up the whole through complementarily. Wherever one endeavour complements another, harmony arises.
Rather than be rooted in our native soil, culture and peculiar endowments, we copy and reproduce what is alien and borrowed from those we consider better. Such lifestyle of imitation is a major drawback for Nigeria. We progress better by being rooted in what we truly are and then build up from the grassroots; not by borrowing, copying or imitating what others had developed. From engineering works, to governance and health issues, there are indigenous and local content components that can give added values, if we Don’t Jump the Gun.

Dr Amirize is a retired lecturer from the Rivers State University, Port Harcourt.

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