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Who Speaks For Indigent Nigerians?

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The pattern of public communication in Nigeria has over the years been deplorable. Public policy is hardly ever well publicised. The people are always in the dark about a policy, especially the roles they are to play to ensure its success. Indeed, the apparent disconnect between the government and the citizenry is due largely to poor public communication flow. Sometimes, it takes the form of no communication at all while at other times, it is occasioned by inaccurate or inadequate communication. Interestingly, because the real target of any policy is the people, the general public ought to be conversant with any matter of public interest. That is what is referred to as public enlightenment – a veritable prerequisite for national development.
The solution to the problems of development in a nation does not necessarily lie in massive construction of physical structures alone. In fact, the people may, due to ignorance, not appreciate such projects and could misuse them. There is, therefore, the urgent need to place greater emphasis on public enlightenment to prevent devastating mob actions like the burning of public buildings or the disruption of public power supply cables, among others.
A cursory look at the handling of the topical issue of fuel subsidy would show that in reality no one spoke for the indigent Nigerians. Recently, some ministers made a point that majority of protesters against the removal of fuel subsidy did not know why they were on the streets. That observation is, no doubt, correct because there is no way the down-trodden and uneducated indigent persons whom the ministers had in mind, would have known the issues at stake when they were not educated on the subject.
Government as usual takes for granted that people knew or ought to have known, without making effort to ascertain whether or not the issues at stake were known to them or whether those who were supposedly informed understood the message. In other words, the ministers were right that more often than not, people are instigated into protests. This is because the so-cal1ed instigators – the opposition political parties, are no 1ess contemptuous of our neglected indigent Nigerians. Indeed, the diction of the alleged instigators is the same as that of the government, a language which the poor masses do not understand. What, for example, would the uneducated have made out of the address on political mandarins by our dear ministers?
The question why then were the indigents on the streets should not be difficult to answer because they got there through what is called intra-personal communication. Some of them woke up on the first day of a new year to discover that the same amount of money which catered for certain needs the day before suddenly became greatly insufficient for the same needs as was the case with the January 1, 2012 fuel subsidy protest. They did not need to be educated to appreciate their deprivation as well as its suddenness. Thus, no one needed to instigate such persons to get into the streets. While some other persons who are unemployed and thus idle found good company in the streets, other idle hands seized an obviously conducive environment for looting. It was a classical case of people talking to themselves in the absence of communication.
There is, however, the argument that the fuel subsidy matter has, for a while, been the subject of debates here and there and as such it is wrong to say that no one speaks for the uneducated and indigent masses of this country. Here, we need to note that sectoral consolations and public enlightenment are two different issues. Whereas a few things may be said to douse tension or to discourage protest, they are of little relevance because those would essentially pass for what is known as panicky rejoinders. In addition, they are usually directed at the elite and not the indigent Nigerians.
Apart from the fact that the messages are neither timely nor easy to understand by the uneducated, the channels employed are usually inappropriate. Advanced technology has, no doubt, established that the best way to reach mass audience across distances is to use the mass media particularly radio, newspaper and television. But in Nigeria, the problems which the indigent Nigerians have with the media are too many.
Firstly, no many people have access to the media or can afford the channels. Secondly, the country’s erratic public power supply makes it difficult for people to listen to radio or watch television. The indigent masses cannot afford batteries for their radios let alone generators for television.
Thirdly, media practice in Nigeria is not only urban-based but exceedingly elitist. It is not grassroots-oriented. To start with the use of local languages which the people hear and understand is unfortunately uncommon. Consequently, media contents which are designed to inform, educate and entertain the people are not understood by them.
Therefore, there exists in Nigeria a visible disconnect between the media and a large percentage of their target audience. This is a major challenge yet to be met because the ideal thing is that people do not need to understand a foreign language to be able to know what is actually happening either in their country or elsewhere.
Sadly, community-based and community-owned radio and television stations, as well as newspapers, are rare in Nigeria. The decision of the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria (FRCN) to use its national stations to transmit over 12 Nigerian languages is commendable, but the corporation is yet to operate from all state capitals let alone in local communities. As for television, the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) is supposed to have a total of 200 stations with no less than 80 in local communities, but there is doubt if the expansion project would be completed considering the trend of irregular capital grants to the Authority.
In the case of the print media, it is strange that a nation which had a newspaper, Iwe-Irohin, that was published in a local language as far back as 1859 is yet to come to grips with how to sustain community and local language newspapers. Consequently, to use any of these modern organs to communicate with the indigent Nigerians amounts to nothing.
Traditional institutions would probably have been useful but there is doubt if they are sufficiently committed to public policy to become its advocates.
What is more, modernity has overtaken the traditional channel, which is the town crier. One framework which would have been helpful is the use of cine rovers at the village square. Unfortunately, this has gone into disuse since 1993 when government merged the proscribed MAMSER with the Public Enlightenment Division of the Federal Ministry of Information and Communication which had metamorphosed into National Orientation Agency (NOA).
The great dream of the founding fathers of NOA, which was to use it as a grassroots channel to mobilise public support for government projects and policies has been abandoned, as the agency is now more often used to propagate culture. Who then speaks for indigent Nigerians on public policy?
Toby writes from Port Harcourt.

 

Bethel Toby

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Opinion

Consequences Of High Bride Price

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Bride price is payment made by a groom or his kin to the family of the bride in order to ratify a marriage.  It is paid by the family of the groom to their future in-laws at the start of the marriage usually in cash and materials.
Bride price in Nigeria varies from one ethnic group to another.  What obtains as bride price in Rivers State may be different from Kogi State in terms of cash and materials required by the bride’s family. Although there are a few similarities in the list of items to be provided by the groom in Nigeria. 
It also varies from family to family. Some families collect as low as N5,000 while others collect as high as N1,000,000.
There are criticisms that this African tradition of paying bride price to the bride’s family before marriage degrades a woman by putting a required monetary value on a wife.But those who support the tradition uphold it as a cherished cultural and religious symbol of marriage.
Some families see bride price as symbolic, hence they ask for less. I have seen a situation where the mother of the bride collected N30,000 and later gave it back to the couple, asking them to put it in their bank account so that it will serve as a “starter pack”. This shows that she wasn’t really giving her out for money.
In our local setting, a marriage is recognised only when bride price and gift items have been presented to the bride’s family.  It is important because it validates marriage to give a woman respectable status in the society as a wife.
The importance of bride price can never be over-emphasised. It is one of the highest honours confirming a bride’s value and womanhood, giving a husband the full rights to the economic and reproductive powers of his wife. It is an honour bestowed on the parents that their daughter is getting married.
I see nothing wrong in payment of bride price but in recent time, the issue of high bride price seems to be competitive among families whose daughters are ripe for marriage.It is alarming and heart-breaking how newly-wedded couples end up paying debts years after marriage. When demanding for high bride price, some parents do not realise the fact that the yet-to-be couple will plan for church and court (Registry). The Registry requires little token. Although, the clergy will not ask, but the couple need to settle one or two things in church. 
More worrisome is the fact that some parents demand a live cow from an in-law as if the lady is to be exchanged. I know of a culture where cow must be provided to her kinsmen by the surviving husband or children before a late woman must be buried. The claim is that the man didn’t complete the marriage rites before the death if the woman. This is just to extort money from the late woman’s children.
A young man was mandated to pay about N2million to the wife’s kins after losing her during child birth, simply because he never completed marriage rites. What about the welfare of the surviving child?
A situation where a basin of fish that costs over N200,000 must be presented in the name of bride price for a traditional marriage to be contracted gave me concern. 
A father also demanded about N1million as dowry for his daughter. For Christ’s sake, no amount of money collected as bride price can pay all the expenses from birth to University level of a lady as this is the dream of greater percentage of our parents nowadays. No amount of money can buy a woman. “Her value is inestimable”.
High bride price can cause disharmony between husband and his in-laws. A young man was lamenting that after his marriage, his in-laws can never be allowed into his family. This is as a result of whatever high bride price they would have charged.
High bride price can cause a man to exhibit violent behaviours when he remembers how much he paid. He gets angry at every little thing the wife does which can lead to domestic violence. The implication is that the woman will suffer in silence with the fear that the man may demand for the high bride price if she leaves the marriage.
Income from her job or personal business is seen by the man as his. She is being denied freedom on using her income and often leads to a situation where the husband must be consulted before any monetary transaction in the family. This leads to hostile marital environment and can destabilise the marriage.
Man dominates the woman in terms of decision-making. The woman has little say or nothing when issues come up in the home. He can say: “Don’t talk, I paid heavily”.
One of the consequences of high bride price is that if perhaps divorce occurs, the bride and the family, according to customary norms, have to return the dowry. If the dowry were very expensive to the tune of N1million, they may not be able to pay back.
High bride price encourages gender inequality. It reduces the power and prestige of the woman with the perception that she was paid for.
High bride price leads to poverty. A couple may have been forced to incur debts in the course of marriage. These are young men and women who are starting life perhaps after graduation and have not made enough savings. Paying back debts incurred during weddings for two to three years should be discouraged.
For many young men, withdrawal syndrome sets in when they remember that they have to provide as much as N1million to marry a wife. You see someone going to marry at the age 50 because he didn’t have enough.  Even the ladies are also affected here. Some men get scared of going into such families or ethnic groups for marriage.  When will they train their children? 
No matter the status of the groom, minimal amount should be fixed for dowry to avoid certain consequences in future. Family of the bride should take cognizance of the fact that their daughter deserves some comfort in her new home.
It is high time the traditional institutions worked through their subjects in the various communities to create awareness on the dangers of high bride price in our society. 
Community heads who are saddled with the responsibility of marriage functions and rites should be advised to cut down some of the items and reduce the costs of available ones.
I call on local government councils to work with traditional rulers, community and family heads as well as women leaders to come out with minimum and maximum amount of money and other items needed as bride price and dowry. 
It should be domesticated in the by-laws of the local councils across Nigeria.

By: Eunice Choko-Kayode

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Opinion

Away With Open Grazing

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It was reported recently that the Federal Government had mapped out 30 grazing reserves for the implementation of a National Livestock Transformation Plan (NLTP) under its Green Initiative project.
According to the report, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Agriculture, Dr Andrew Kwasari, disclosed this while addressing journalists on the move by the government to resolve the persistent conflict between herders and farmers over land, water and pastures.
“The 19 Northern States have grazing reserves. So far, we have mapped out over 30 grazing reserves and on paper, we have over 400 grazing reserves.
“So, the northern governors have to be committed to working with the Federal Government, Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, supervision of the NEC, to make sure that wherever those grazing reserves are found that we are able to convert them into lush green models specifically for pastoralists, and pastoralists will not migrate anymore…” Kwasari said.
He further disclosed that traditional rulers like the Gbom-Gbom Jos had been consulted and they suggested that the low hanging fruit for federal and state governments was to ensure that pastoralists were settled in gazette grazing reserves.
The presidential aide also said that this would take away any notion of land grabbing or taking of land from communities and giving to herders as was feared with the government’s stillborn Rural Grazing Areas (RUGA) programme.
It would be recalled that the NLTP was launched by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo in the Gongoshi Grazing Reserve, Mayo-Belwa LGA of Adamawa State, in September 2019. The plan was to run from 2019 to 2028 as part of the federal government’s Green Initiative in collaboration with states, farmers, pastoralists and private sector investors under the auspices of the National Economic Council (NEC).
NLTP has a budget of N100 billion for the breeding of cattle and other types of livestock. Of this amount, the federal government would contribute 80% as grant only, while the participating states were expected to raise the remaining 20%, donate land, draw up the project implementation structure, and provide workers.
Besides Adamawa, the programme has also taken off in six other pilot states; namely Benue, Kaduna, Nasarawa, Plateau, Taraba and Zamfara. Others which were reported to have voluntarily joined the initiative include Anambra, Ebonyi, Edo, Ekiti and Ondo States.
Given the foregoing, any peace-loving Nigerian would be tempted to assume that a viable solution has finally been figured out for the perennial herders-farmers crisis in the country. But President Muhammadu Buhari’s recent charge to his Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN), to identify the country’s gazetted grazing routes leaves one wondering if, indeed, he was acting from the same script as Osinbajo and Kwasari.
If there ever was any doubt as to the Presidency’s rejection of the collective decision of the southern governors to outlaw open grazing in their respective states, such was cleared by the President himself in his recent exclusive interview on Arise TV.
“What I did was ask him (Malami) to go and dig the gazette of the First Republic when people were obeying laws. There were cattle routes and grazing areas…
“I asked for the gazette to make sure that those who encroached on these cattle routes and grazing areas will be dispossessed in law and try to bring some order back into cattle grazing,” Buhari emphasised.
Honestly, I had wished that the President’s directive to the nation’s chief law officer was aimed at recovering only grazing reserves for the NLTP scheme as Kwasari did announce. But his inclusion of cattle routes suggests that Buhari is still not considering letting go of the now outdated nomadic grazing practice in Nigeria.
And just as the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN) wasted no time in rallying behind the man, so also was his position quick in drawing flaks from socio-cultural bodies like Afenifere, Ohaneze Ndigbo and the Pan-Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF) all of which insisted that the power to allocate land rested with the state governors and not the President.
Of particular interest was the reaction of Afenifere’s publicity secretary, Jare Ajayi: “Who designated specific routes as exclusively belonging to those who would be grazing cows? If you are doing this kind of thing in their own area, it is understandable (because) that is in their own area.
“I have not read anywhere that our forefathers sat down and agreed that these particular routes, maybe from Ogbomosho to Saki or Badagry, are for grazing…”
Again, some analysts have expressed the fear that if Buhari insisted on pursuing the recovery of grazing routes, prominent buildings in many parts of the country, including the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), would be pulled down.
I still don’t get why Mr. President is seriously reaching for the list of cattle routes in First Republic Nigeria even when the 1979 Land Use Act entrusted governors with the control of their states’ lands years after the now sought-after gazette was published. With such power, can’t a state chief executive reapportion any previously gazetted grazing route or reserve located in his domain?
Buhari should please focus on promoting sedentary animal husbandry through the NLTP scheme in order to reduce the existing tension in the land. A good leader should be able to ensure peace in his domain even if he has to bend over backward to achieve it.

By: Ibelema Jumbo

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Opinion

Short, Sharp, Shock-Treatment

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There was a recent allusion from the Nigerian President, or the Presidency, about the possibility of some impending shock, meant to restore sanity in the country. It came as a warning to those who were alleged to be intent on destroying or destabilising Nigeria via insurgency, agitation and causing mayhem. Therefore, it has become needful to alert Nigerians about Nature’s Standing Order of Short, sharp, shock treatment (SSST), as a mechanism of restoring order when humans allow disorder to grow too high. In truth, there is such mechanism in the scheme of things.
Those who are familiar with Jewish cosmogony via the Kabbalah, would know that there is a flow of Divine influx, also known as Zazahot or lighting flash, which is an up-building and a restorative system. The 5th anchorage of that Divine Circuit system known as Geburah or Judgement has the duty or responsibility of restoring order and bringing about a balance, when disorder and imbalance become overwhelming in creation or a section thereof. Disorder and imbalances usually come from humans.
Being endowed with a free will and the freedom to make personal decisions and choices, which are often mis-used, humans bring about disorders and imbalances which distort the beauty and harmony of creation. Accumulation of massive impurities would necessitate a cleansing process to reduce the results of human engagements in acts of impunity, shamelessness and irresponsibility. Before catastrophies come there are usually warnings.
In the case of Nigeria, the warning signals have been persistent and loud enough even for obtuse persons to be aroused to a state of alertness. Nature has a process of educating human beings through bitter personal and collective experiences. No one can say that such warning signals and bitter experiences have not been there for quite some time. As a process of ensuring justice, there are watchers and weavers whose activities in the 100m of destiny entail monitoring the deeds of everyone with utmost accuracy. There are also provisions for deep reflections and possible redressing of imbalances.
Nigeria has been brought to its current sad state of affairs through many follies and deliberate acts of mischief. From Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s book Reforming The Unreformable, we are told that more than 5,000 board seats existed as sinecure, with political leaders having enormous patronage powers. We are told that a bad public service is certain to produce bad governance, even if the right accountability and other mechanisms are in place. Thus, there is a spiral of malfeasance.
From public service system, to tertiary education, we are told that “a systemic rot has befallen Nigeria”, apart from “inflating the budget by doubling or tripling the allocations…” Even with the Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI) bill which was approved in May 2007, there was no transparency or accountability in Nigeria’s oil and gas sector. In both physical and process audit there are deficiencies in management and utility.
Okonjo-Iweala advised that “special care be taken to ensure that oil revenues are spent wisely to build up durable long-term assets whose benefits can be shared with future generations”. Nigeria’s great dependence on oil and gas whose vulnerability to global volatility of commodity market are important factors in the country’s need to reshape its economic structure and growth based on diversification. With regards to corruption, Okonjo-Iweala said that “cynicism about the fight against is greatest when allegations of corrupt acts on the part of the elite are not investigated with any vigour even when investigated …”
If human verdict is reflected in the dismal and sad score card available in the public domain, then the verdict of the watchers and weavers of human destinies must also be far worse. There are indications globally that visibly gathering dark storms would surely result in some catastrophes whose true nature no one can tell accurately. For Nigeria as an individual nation in the global family, it is obvious that the shock alluded to by the President is an omen of things to come.
However, no one is in a position to predict exactly the nature and intensity of the shock the president had in mind. Reacting to the President’s statement, a number of Nigerians expressed sadness that it was a warning to agitators who allegedly are trying to destabilise and disunite Nigeria. But the situation obviously goes beyond current activities of political agitators and bandits.
Normally it takes a long time for storms to amass such power that would result in a destructive shock. Therefore, it would be myopic and wrong to judge the Nigerian situation from a one-sided perspective. Across the globe, Nigeria features as one of the delicate zones where some shocks are most likely to arise. Already harbingers of warning signals include activities of Boko Haran and other agitators for Islamic states and sharia laws, spate of kidnappings and demand for ransom, etc. The commando-rescue-style of an American farmer held hostage in Northern Nigeria placed Nigeria as a vulnerable nation.
Prelude to any coming shock usually includes complacence arising from gluttony over loots. The fact that a few highly-placed Nigerians tried to exonerate late General Sani Abacha of accusations of looting, despite exposures of such deeds, is another evidence of a nation which needs a shock to regain sanity. It takes the collaboration of humans through various activities, to serve as agents in the fulfillment of the mechanism of destiny. Such human agents rarely know that they are serving the course of Nemesis.
Unlike the Nigerian Civil War (1967-1970) with its attendant miseries and woes, SSST comes as mechanism of Divine intervention, to ensure that those who deserve to die, die the death they deserve. It is fast and thorough, with long-lasting effect. It is a weapon of sective elimination.

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

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