On many occasions, stakeholders have criticised the activities of artisanal gold miners with an observation that they process their gold ores within areas where citizens, especially children, are exposed to lead-laden dust.
In one of such occasions, in 2010, lead poisoning occurred in Zamfara State which claimed lives of no fewer than 500 children of five years old and below.
The incident occurred in the three local government areas of Anka, Bukkuyum and Maru, comprising eight villages.
Surveys conducted in the eight villages showed that no fewer than 17,000 people, mostly children less than five years of age, were affected by the poisoning.
Public health officials in the areas recorded sudden high number of children that suffered from vomiting, abdominal pain, headaches and seizures — possible symptoms of lead poisoning.
In May 2010, public health officials learnt that hundreds of children became sick in Zamfara; reports stated that the children suffered from vomiting, abdominal pain, headaches, and seizures.
They also got reports that many children died but the cause was unknown and such a large number of childhood deaths and illnesses became public health officials’ concern.
A team of medical experts was sent by the Federal Government to one of the affected villages to find out the cause of children’s deaths. The experts observed that the lead poisoning outbreak in Zamfara in 2010 was attributed to the activities of artisanal miners that processed their gold ores at homes and village squares where children were exposed to lead- laden dust.
Surveys conducted in the eight villages by the experts showed that more than 17,000 people, mostly children below five years, were affected by lead poisoning.
The team members were drawn from the Federal Ministry of Health, the Nigerian Field Epidemiology and Laboratory Training Program, the World Health Organisation, and Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) known as Doctors Without Borders, among others.
The team discovered high level of lead inside most of the homes, wells and in the children’s blood. They noticed that artisanal miners would bring rocks inside their homes to extract gold which contained lead and when the gold is extracted, the lead dust spread throughout the house.
The experts say lead is a naturally occurring toxic metal found in the earth’s crust; a cumulative toxicant that affects multiple body systems and is particularly harmful to young children.
With this discovery, MSF began procedures to save the lives of lead- affected patients. It came up with effective response to the crisis such as medical care therapy, health education, environmental remediation and safe mining practices.
Further to this, in 2012, the Federal Ministry of Health, Ministry of Mines and Steel Development, MSF and other stakeholders organised the first international conference on lead poisoning in Abuja. The conference covered technical aspects of environmental remediation and case management in Zamfara. Stakeholders at the event pleaded with the government to release funds for environmental remediation of the affected villages.
In response to this, the affected eight villages were remediated by the United States Hazardous Waste Removal Protocols and the remediation lasted for more than four years in three phases.
Huge amount of contaminated soils and mining waste were removed from 820 residences and ore processing areas in the villages.
In spite of these efforts, lead poisoning recurred in Niger State in 2015 where no fewer than 2,500 children in two villages — Unguwar Magiro and Unguwar Kawo in Rafi Local Government Area were affected – resulting in the death of 30 children.
The Niger government said that in as much as it could not stop artisanal mining completely, it would make efforts to promote safer mining in the state.
It said that it would train staff on laboratory analysis and management of lead poisoning, deploy more staff to health outpost and upgrade Kagara General Hospital to treat lead poisoning cases.
The state government also said that it would cooperate with MSF, the United States Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, WHO, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, the Nigeria Field Epidemiology and Laboratory Training Programme, among others, to curtail lead poisoning recurrence.
So, in 2018, the Ministry of Mines and Steel Development, in collaboration with relevant agencies, organised the second international conference on lead poisoning. The conference was organised to share lessons learnt from Zamfara and Niger and to proffer ways of mitigating future lead poisoning outbreak.
MSF, key international and national stakeholders, came together during the conference and called for a federal programme for the prevention of lead poisoning associated with artisanal gold mining in Nigeria.
Stakeholders, therefore, suggest a long-term strategy, identifying and mapping possible areas of future outbreaks by engaging the local community to promote safer mining and environmental health.
Oluyole writes for the News Agency of Nigeria.
Not many Nigerian elite became aware when Nigerian politics became a gangsterist affair and what accounted for that peculiar feature, and whose interest such development was meant to serve. Similarly, not many Nigerians had an opportunity to read an online posting by The Times, April 9, 2008. Its title was: The New Scramble for Africa Begins: Modern Imperialism on the Resource-Rich Continent will be less Benign than old Colonialism. Its author was one Matthew Parris, making reference to “Black gangster governments” emerging under the guise of democracy.
It is quite unfortunate that the docile and myopic nature of the Nigerian masses should be exploited to such an extent that people can be induced to sell and enslave themselves. For example, how many people took note or reflected on the following statement of a governor: “Anything that will promote the interest of Rivers State is what I will do. You can be my sister state, if you want to take what belongs to Rivers State, I will not agree. I will not sell Rivers State”. (The Tide 25/11/19 – page 39).
With reference to the controversies over the recent elections in Bayelsa and Kogi States, there was a phone call from a Kenyan research fellows, saying that what is happening in Nigeria is “not an exclusively Nigerian affair”. He did not want to go for. Knowing him for his level of articulateness and deep degree of perception, it was not difficult to grasp the message of the Kenyan diplomat.
Commenting on the same recent elections in Bayelsa and Kogi States, the PDP National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Kola Ologbondiyan, made statements that Nigerians should think about seriously. He said “President Buhari by now ought to have summoned his service chiefs and ordered a presidential investigation into the violence and observed infractions in the elections, including the deployment of a police helicopter to teargas voters”. He went on to add that “it is clear that he is more interested in the survival of the APC than the survival of democracy”.
The aforementioned online posting of April 19, 2008, did talk about “raping” of African countries by self-interested Asian or Western powers” who sponsor “Black gangster governments”. While such foreign powers do not need to administer or visit the territory, the strategy is to “buy your own gang” and “give it support munitions, bribes and protection to keep the roads and airports open”. What is the vital issue at stake? Matthew Parris said it is oil!
The fact that allocation of oil blocks in Nigeria is shrouded in secrecy and chicanery also goes with the fact that those given such allocations merely become rent collectors. Without the technical wherewithal, they sell the allocations to foreign partners, who should rightly be called buccaneers perhaps, these foreign buccaneers or middlemen, are those who “buy and sponsor Black gangster governments”, for their own business purposes.
The perennial state of instability, insecurity, corruption and social injustices involved in a “do-or-die” system of politics and governance, may not be unconnected with the Matthew Parris theory of “Black gangster governments”. If that is not the case, then why is democracy being subverted and undermined under the guise of election? Why are the security and armed forces involved in the way they are in electoral process?
While there are many glib talks and explanations about the unstable state of developing countries, not much is known about foreign influences fuelling such state of instability. If no other fact can be pointed out, the issue of arms proliferation can suffice to support the theory of foreign collaboration.
Common weapons used by heartless economic interests to maintain the status quo include arms, money, power, intimidation, violence, corruption, poverty, mendacity, hypocrisy etc.
Unfortunately, members of the security and armed forces, wittingly or unwittingly become participants or partners in this sad mission. It is a well-known fact that global capitalism operates at its worst in the oil and gas sector, of which Nigeria is a playing field. When the military handed over power to civilian politicians in 1999, details of the constitution were not made open.
The fact that elected members of the National Assembly were showered with lots of money as allowances and benefits, was meant to provide a safe landing for the military and their collaborators. It is also a fact that a major part of oil block allocations was done by the military and more in favour of their collaborators. Therefore, there is a close relationship between oil politics and the military, such that who holds power matters a lot.
We cannot deny the fact that it takes gangsterism to subvert and dethrone a democracy in such a nasty way that elections can become a warfare. Why are voters being intimidated, bought over with money or burnt alive because of what party they belong? Obviously, there is more to the gangsterist nature of Nigerian politics than what meets the4 eyes.
Not only voters are being subjected to anti-democratic assaults, but efforts are being deliberately made to expand and consolidate power, just like PDP once boasted that it would remain in power for 50 years without being dislodged. Is that democracy?
Basic Education: Using PR To Address Challenges
It is a privilege to talk with Public Relations Officers of the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) and the State Universal Basic Education Boards (SUBEBs) from all over the country. This National Training session is very important because it has the capacity to enhance the quality of basic education in the country.
It is instructive that the 2019 Public Relations Training is holding in Rivers State. This is because Rivers State is the centre of rapid development in the country. Therefore, the gathering of basic education public relations officers means that they will directly interact with the development process of Rivers State.
I take this opportunity to welcome you to Rivers State, the home of Mr. Projects, Nigeria’s Best Performing Governor. You must have noticed that Rivers is a huge construction site.
UBEC And SUBEBs Public Relations Officers Are Important
Public Relations Officers of UBEC and SUBEBs are key players in the quest to resolving the out- of-school children challenge facing the country. Fundamentally, proactive information dissemination to convince parents to allow their children access basic education is important. This is in view of the fact that basic education is free.
•This entails effective use of traditional and new media. However, each public relations officer must use the right media that will be most effective for his state. But in view of the strata of society being targeted, I suggest local broadcast media and the new media. For the broadcast media, messages should be sent across to parents through indigenous languages.
In cases where finance is available, the public relations officers should work with the Local Government Education Authorities (LGEA) to engage in direct outreach programmes, which will involve meeting religious leaders, community-based groups, women groups and comparative groups in the drive to attract children to school.
•Retention Of Kids In School
Even when the out-of-school children are attracted to school, the next challenge is to retain them in their classes. Here again, public relations officers of UBEC and SUBEBs remain critical partners with other stakeholders.
I believe that the PR Departments of UBEC and SUBEBs should be strengthened to provide positive information on the beautiful things that happen in schools – the improving quality of learning, the free feeding programme (where it exists) and the advantages of good education.
PR personnel must not allow purveyors of negative information discourage children from going to school and giving parents reasons why children should not go to school. Such negative information comes from sensationalism. If there is a challenge at a public school, these negative information traders blow it out of proportion.
While we seek better educational facilities, we must always seek intelligent and honest ways of promoting the public basic education system. You can achieve this by promoting outstanding teachers and very brilliant pupils in different schools across different states.
•Advocacy To Attract Stakeholder Participation In Basic Education Across Communities
We have all agreed that government alone cannot drive basic education. There are limited resources with competing needs. We are also aware that several schools across the country that require attention cannot be reached by the Federal and State Governments.
This is where the participation of community stakeholders is vital. Public relations officers in different states working with other SUBEB and LGEA officials should identify privileged Nigerians in different communities and prevail on them to invest in basic education schools.
There are privileged Nigerians who can build classroom blocks, boreholes, writing materials, classroom furniture and feeding for children. These investments ought to be done in line with the capacity of the investing stakeholders.
For the investing stakeholders, they would have their names crested on the areas of their investments. In addition, UBEC and SUBEB should also initiate awards and halls of fame to recognize these stakeholders and encourage others to key in.
•Education Remains The Key To National Revival
As public relations practitioners, always bear in mind that you are at the most important rung of the developmental ladder of the country. This means that you must remain dedicated.
As it stands today, education is the only way for the country to commence its journey to greatness. In this march to greatness, education plays a key role and the basic education sector is even more important. That is why public relations officers of UBEC and SUBEBs must engage the process and all stakeholders to ensure that our people appreciate the importance of basic education.
•Education Beyond Politics
As we work to develop the basic education sector, we must bear in mind that education is beyond politics. Every Nigerian child, irrespective of the political leaning of his/her parents, should be able to access education
Therefore, public relations officers working for UBEC and SUBEBs must place the society above political considerations. If they do this, they will earn the confidence of parents and improve the enrollment figures in our public basic schools.
Building Networks To Achieve Collective Goals
This is why this meeting should be applauded. Beyond the training that PR personnel will get is the opportunity to interact and build networks for the development of the basic education sector.
Though the challenges faced may differ from state to state, public relations officials have the platform to peer review and compare notes. This way, they can tap into diverse experiences and better their operational capacity. In the long run, the country stands to benefit. The basic education sector would be enriched and our country would naturally be on the path to growth.
Nwakaudu is the Special Assistant to the Rivers State Governor on Electronic Media. He made the above remarks at the 2019 PR Training for UBEC and SUBEB Public Relations Officers from the 36 States and FCT in Port Harcourt, yesterday.
By: Simeon Nwakaudu
Tribute To The Nigeria Police Band
One of the most interesting legacies inherited by the Nigeria Police force from the British is the Magnificent Police Band which was established in 1966. Located in the vast premises of the old Southern Police College, Ikeja, it was created by some British officers serving in Nigeria, with its Director of Music trained at the Royal School of Music in London. Its first Director was Major I. Boyle, a charismatic lover of music.
The Director of Music of the Police Band was said to have wept when he last conducted the orchestra before leaving Nigeria. The memory of that emotional experience probably left a lasting legacy which still gives enthusiasm and pride to the police band. The story may be different now but today that arm of the police is still quite strong.
The Police School of music recruits annually musically talented youths between the age of 16 and 19 and trains them over a period of time ranging from three to five years. The music syllabus of the school includes the general theories of the music, ranging from composition, audition and voice training etc, to literature studies and skills and principle in musical performance and conducting.
Martial music, marching, parade and other musical acrobatics feature in the area of the training programme. The students also take some academic courses which include two international languages, usually English and French, or any other language plus English. The degree of rigorous training which the students, undergo is quite spectacular, commendable and amazing.
In addition to the scope and variety of courses which the students undergo during their training programme, they are also expected to pass a music examination conducted by the Associated Board of Royal School of music before they become fully enlisted in the police force. The rate of drop-out has been quite high but that has not forced the school to reduce its standard rather, more and more youths queue up in large members during recruitment exercises.
Although a previous knowledge of music is not a criterion for entry into the police school of music, there is an aptitude test to determine musical potential and talent. Those with previous musical knowledge complete the course earlier than those who do not possess such knowledge.
The Police Band Performance and entertains in Public during important national and international occasions. As a part of its public relations programme, the band allows any individual or organization that can afford the cost, to hire its services, for private use. Heads of educational institutions with interest in music one also allowed the privilege of asking for visiting music instructors, provided that such institution is located within its catchment area. This is one way to promote music.
Apart from the central base or headquarters of the Police School of music, the Nigeria Police also has a local band in each state police command. The activities of such local band even though on a minor scale, include the supply of musical entertainment in the officers’ mess or during passing out parade and other ceremonies. The Rotary Club International is a close friend of the police band, as collaborators in fund-raising or other humanitarian activities.
There is a very commendable collaboration between the Nigeria Police Band and its military counter part. Apart from occasional exchange or secondment of personnel between the Police and Army School of music, there is a collaboration in curriculum innovation and up-date. The Army School of Music, though based in Kaduna, has other out-posts or branches, also with a Director of music.
The difference between the Police and Army School of Music is that the Army is responsible for training of other musicians for other arms of the defence forces, especially buglers. What prevented late Fella Ransome Kuti from enlisting in the Army School of Music was his style of dressing during an interview. The Army and Police Band can be quite colourful and amazing when they perform in public.
There was a time when the police Band had a close understanding with Nigerian Television orchestra, then headed by Dr Adams Fiberesima, in the promotion of music in Nigeria. A musical composition by Dr Adams Fiberesima titled “Opu Jaja” had featured in the performances of the London Philharmonic Orchestra and in the United states of America where the piece also won a great deal of approval.
The evolution of music in Nigeria as an adermic discipline owes much to the Nigeria police Band as well as the Nigeria Television and radio network. Apart from organising a body of music-makers and music-lovers, they also participated in the organization of musical competitions and fund raising activities. Now music education is gaining an increasing popularity in the country.
Is it not praise worthy to see a family where a 13-year-old girl plays a piano, with father and mother on a saxophone and violin respectively, forming a mini-family orchestra? There are a few such Nigerian homes, one such being that of a retired officer of the Police Band.
The Rivers State Council for Arts and Culture used to organise talent-hunt and Promote inter-school musical competition. Maybe immediate problem on prepotent need is how to find daily bread in a harsh economy.
The Port Harcourt Musical Society should also be seen as promoting music education.
The value or impart of music does not lie in the beer-parlour variation but in the aesthetic experience. Music can also convey pleas and warnings to teachers and lawless people. This Police Band does so in some clever ways, but not always in public. At state funerals it’s fantastic what the Police band can do.
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