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Editorial

Immunisation: No More Failure

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Fresh alarm raised recently by two United Nations agencies about the failure of immunization inNigeria calls for urgent need by the three tiers of government and stakeholders in the health sector to redefine their strategies for a sustainable immunisation programme.
The World Health Organisation and United Nations Children’s Fund, which gave strong signal of Nigeria’s deteriorating health indicators at an African Vaccination Week said, diseases are escalating in the country because immunisation programmes are handled with levity.
Putting it in proper perspective, UNICEF said, “Ignorance, religion, culture and rumour are some of the reasons for the failure of nursing mothers and pregnant women to complete their immunisation schedule….” Immunisation, a bulwark against deadly diseases such as tuberculosis and diphtheria, is also failing in Nigeria because of inadequate funding and corruption.
According to UNICEF,Nigeria has the world’s second highest number of deaths in children under five, losing around 2,700 every day from a ratio of 120 per 1,000 in 2016, although it has declined since 2003, down from more than 200 per 1,000. Only one out of three babies is delivered in a health facility. The poorest among Nigeria’s population continue to be most in peril, whatever their age. While there have been drops of 31 per cent and 26 per cent in under-five and infant mortality rates, respectively, over the last 15 years, the decline in deaths of newborns over the same period is just 20 per cent, highlighting an urgent need to scale up interventions targeting the youngest in the country.
The indices indicate that the uptake of routine immunisation remains poor and full immunization coverage has failed to gain traction as only one in four children are fully vaccinated. The situation for rural children causes greatest concern – only 16 per cent are fully immunized, compared to 40 per cent of children in urban areas. Measles vaccination coverage has now fallen below 50 per cent.
Despite making significant progress in the eradication of polio, which led to Nigeria being declared polio-free in 2015, insurgency in the northeast and the resultant insecurity is beginning to reverse these gains: four new cases of wild poliovirus (WPV) re-emerged in Borno State.
Diseases such whooping cough, tuberculosis, diphtheria, polio, chicken pox and measles, some of which have been totally eradicated in several parts of the world, are still wasting away lives here because of the failure of immunisation. A disturbing May 2017 survey by the Abuja-based coalition, the Association for the Advancement of Family Planning, concluded that 90 per cent of women in northern Nigeria delivered their children at home because they did not have access to antenatal care, hospital and transport fees.
Immunisation was developed to prevent diseases, not to cure them. It protects children from contracting a broad range of dangerous diseases, including hepatitis and cervical cancer. Described as one of the greatest breakthroughs in modern medicine, British health authorities say “no other medical intervention has done more to save lives and improve quality of life.” For instance, small pox, which killed thousands of Europeans in the 18th century, was wiped out in 1980 through vaccination. If it were still common, it would have led to two million deaths annually.
WHO says that through immunisation, two to three million children are saved from vaccine-preventable deaths annually? The global measles mortality has declined by 79 per cent from 651,600 deaths in 2000 to 134,200 in 2015 as a result of immunisation. In 2016, a 22-year strategy saw the United States becoming the first country to eradicate measles. Finland’s determined immunisation drive has wiped out measles, mumps and rubella. With extensive vaccination, only Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria still had cases of polio as at 2016.
The challenges before Nigeria are tough: First, vaccines are expensive. According to WHO, a dose of MMR costs £200. The National Primary Healthcare Development Agency, at the height of the meningitis outbreak, a disease which had killed 813 from 8,000 infections as at 2017 April, said that Nigeria required $1.1 billion to procure vaccines to stem the person’s fatalities. This is enough to call on government at all levels to allocate more resources to the sector, and also manage the funds more transparently, devoid of corruption that allows officials to sell vaccines, meant to be distributed free to those in need, at exorbitant prices.
It is on this premise The Tide welcomes the recent move by the Rivers State Government in collaboration with other agencies to address the challenges of immunization in the State. We believe that such a synergy will not only assuage the financial burden of getting children immunised, but will also encourage easy and unimpaired accessibility.
We equally urge other states of the federation to emulate the Rivers example and get serious about the political, social and technical constraints bedeviling immunisation campaigns. Efforts should be stepped up to make vaccines widely available and to motivate health workers to penetrate the rural areas. Research has linked immunisation to politics, lifestyle, religious beliefs, culture and trust of authority, in conjunction with access. There is therefore the need to disabuse the minds of the people who still feel that some vaccines are capable of causing sterilisation and other ailments.
While we commend the integrated awareness crusade currently put together by the Rivers State Government to sensitisethe people of the benefits of immunisation, the joint effort should target and weave the campaign around health organisations, religious leaders, educational institutions, the media and traditional institutions to achieve maximum impact.
Heartwarmingly, the world of medical science is developing new vaccines to combat diseases. One of such is the malaria vaccine, which should have been put on clinical trial in three African countries between 2018 and 2020. Through collaboration, all stakeholders have to key in to such projects, and also develop the local capacity to produce vaccines in partnership with our research institutions and the universities.
We also enjoin parents to take advantage of the efforts of government and their collaborators to ensure their children within the specified ages are brought forward for immunization. The fight against child killer diseases must be total and won now.

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Editorial

No To Power Tariff Hike

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As operators of the power sector mount pressure on the electricity regulatory body to effect the scheduled increase in tariff, electricity consumers across the country have continued to voice out their objection, since news of the planned increase in electricity tariff by the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) slated to commence in April, this year broke.
Going by the new tariff approved by NERC, consumers will pay about N1.52 trillion more for power supplied to them this year, but several groups are of the view that this increment should not stand until there is considerable improvement in power supply.
Justifying the new electricity rates, NERC said it considered the actual changes in relevant macroeconomic variables and available generation capacity in approving the tariff, and that the review was to give the Electricity Distribution Companies (DISCOs) cost-efficient tariffs to operate with. It even stated that the review recognised the historical tariff deficits of the DISCOs which affected their bottom line, and developed a framework to manage future revenue shortfalls in the industry, including minimum market remittance requirement.
This will account for differences between cost reflective tariffs and allowed tariffs in the settlement of invoices issued by the Nigerian Bulk Electricity Trading Plc (NBET) and Market Operations (MO) department of the Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN).
Although NERC seemed to have concluded that the tariff review has come to stay, consumers consider any increase in tariff now as unjust and counter-productive because they have, for too long remained victims of poor power supply and in some cases permanent darkness.
Suffice it to say that the myriads of challenges plaguing the nation’s power sector include epileptic power supply with very low voltage, outrageous (estimated) billings and supply of light at awkward times (10pm to 3am) when it is not of much use.
In some areas where the transformers have issues, consumers continue to remain in darkness until they contribute money to get them repaired or replaced. Owners of new houses are expected to buy poles by themselves to be connected to power line. So, why hike electricity tariff?
The Tide notes with displeasure that DISCOs in most parts of the country have failed to show capacity and ability to deliver efficient and stable power supply and so in no way better than the comatose defunct Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) which they replaced in 2015 during the privatisation of the power sector.
Also, despite the marching order by the Federal Government to DISCOs to meter customers, nothing concrete has been done in this regard. Instead, there are reports in some parts of the country that instead of hastening the issuance of meters to those who don’t have, those issued prepaid metres are ordered to return same. Therefore, to tolerate any increase in tariff with such inefficiency would be to reward poor performance.
Equally, we make bold to say that the woes of our electricity supply should be blamed on the Federal Government’s refusal to demonstrate the political will to step on big toes and sanitise the power sector by reviewing the privatisation exercise embarked upon by the previous administration.
Government should compel the DISCOs to install prepaid meters for consumers and ensure optimal and consistent supply before any tariff increase. So, solving the electricity problem in Nigeria has to be holistic, requiring all hands to be on deck – the generating companies, distributing companies, transmitting company, consumers, as well as NERC.
Because the vast majority of electricity consumers are yet to be metered and are charged based on estimated billing, we believe that any increase in tariff now cannot guarantee fairness and transparency on the side of the DISCOs but instead to further rip-off consumers due to wrong estimates.
It is gratifying that the House of Representatives Committee on Power in response to public outcry recently, ordered NERC to suspend any tariff increase for now.
For all these reasons, we insist that NERC should review the services rendered by DISCOs and revoke the licences of the incompetent ones. Also, we suggest, as a way forward, that the issue of electricity be removed from the exclusive legislative list so as to allow states to develop and own power projects.
We support gradual, reasonable, cost-reflective tariff commensurate with service rendered, as increase in tariff should not be a channel by which inefficiency in the system is transferred to the consumers. We say no to any increase in tariff. Nigerians cannot continue to reward DISCOs, unless the Federal Government wants to honour them for their inefficiencies. New tariffs can only be justified if services are improved.

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Editorial

FG’s Proposed Mechanised Farming

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When the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Alhaji Mohammad Nanono, penultimate week, said that the Federal Government will begin an agricultural mechanisation programme in 632 out of 776 local government areas in the country, many cynics simply dismissed the initiative as another political gimmick that may not stand the test of time.
Some critics contend that, like other agricultural and rural development schemes in the past: Operation Feed the Nation (OFN) of General Olusegun Obasanjo’s regime, Shehu Shagari’s Green Revolution, General Ibrahim Babangida’s Directorate of Food, Roads, and Rural Infrastructure (DFRRI), Rivers Basin Development Authorities, among others, the proposed mechanised farming may also end up the same way. Good reasoning!
Sadly, Nigeria’s efforts at boosting the agricultural and rural development sector had been bedeviled by policy somersaults and inconsistency in policy implementation and this had been the bane of the nation’s overall development, especially in the post-civil war Nigeria.
However, The Tide is consoled by the new mechanised farming initiative under President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration.
Though the minister fell short of naming the 632 local government areas that will benefit, we strongly believe that, as he rightly said, the scheme would ensure that Nigeria achieves food security, job creation and economic growth in the near future.
“The initiative is expected to involve a full technology transfer package that would cover all stages, from agricultural production to industrial processing and marketing. It will also fully equip each of the LGAs with administration and information technology workshop”, the minister affirmed.
He added: “Each LGA will have service centres and each centre will have brand new tractor fully equipped with admin and IT workshop and also stores for seeds, fertilizer and excess produce and farmers will be linked to processing industries”.
Assuring that government will guarantee the mechanisation process and services, the minister enjoined individuals and groups to come with proposals on how to manage the service centres that will provide jobs and boost food production and food security across the country.
While we endorse the initiative, we implore the Federal Government to hit the ground running by ensuring that all critical stakeholders are involved in ensuring that the scheme takes off smoothly and is given the desired impetus in its implementation.
Most experts believe that the problem with Nigeria is not about policy formulation but implementation. Nigeria’s economy in the past five decades has largely depended on oil and gas, with little or no deliberate efforts made to diversify the economic base.
Over reliance on the hydro carbon industry has been a major challenge of our national development and well-meaning Nigerians and friends of Nigeria think that agriculture and agro-like industries remain the best option to follow.
It will not only provide employment for the teeming unemployed citizens but go a long way in solving the security challenge currently staring Nigeria in the face.
The Tide thinks that agriculture has the capacity for turning the nation’s economy around and lifting the country that is virtually stagnated in many fronts; infrastructural deficit, poor education and health facilities, insecurity, poverty, among others.
Perhaps, many will think that mechanised farming in 623 local government areas may be too ambitious for a government that is battling with so much challenges; terrorism, banditry, unemployment, militancy, poverty rate, among others, all that is required is the political will and commitment to weather the storm.
Adequate funding simply is the right way to go and government must, as a matter of expediency, map out a clear-cut road map to achieve the desired goal.
It will not also be out of place to involve the Organised Private-Sector (OPS) through Public Private Partnership (PPP) because in civilised climes such initiatives are usually private-sector driven. This programme must not be politicised if it is actually intended to see the light of day.

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Editorial

PIND’s Goof On Rivers

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Last weekend in far away Abuja, a Chevron initiative for the promotion of equitable de-
velopment and peace building in the Niger Delta region, the Foundation for Partnership Initiative in the Niger Delta (PIND), in its Annual Conflict Survey Report for 2019, which it released at the weekend, named Rivers, Cross River, Delta and Edo States, as recording the greatest number of political, electoral and other violent crimes and their resultant casualty and fatality figures which are themselves mind-boggling.
In the report, PIND said the above listed States recorded highest number of lethal violence in the Niger Delta in the year under review.
The report, which was signed by the body’s Knowledge Management and Communications Manager, Mr. Chichi Nnoham-Onyejekwe, indicated that 969 lives were lost in 415 recorded violent incidences in 2019 in the region, with the four States recording the highest number of crises and casualties.
It further claimed that the survey was carried out in the areas of political/election violence; violent crimes (armed robbery, kidnapping, piracy and ritual killings, among others); gang/cult clashes, as well as communal/ethnic clashes.
According to the document, “Available data/report has revealed that in the overall, the most reported incidents of violence related to criminality (including piracy, abductions, armed robbery cases, and ritual killings), which totalled 260 incidents resulted into 444 fatalities in all the States”.
It further indicated that gang/cult related clashes accounted for 272 fatalities while communal/ethnic tensions claimed 197 lives. During the period under review, the report said 100 lives were lost to political and electoral violence, especially in Rivers, Delta and Bayelsa States. The report equally said gang violence, on the other hand, was reported in all the states in the region but that it was more prevalent in Rivers, Edo and Delta States.
Also noteworthy is the disputable claim by the body that in the run-off elections held after the 2015 general elections and during the 2019 elections, political tension was heightened in the whole of the Niger Delta, adding that in February 2019, for instance, no fewer than 56 deaths were recorded in the area during the presidential election.
According to the report, conflict flashpoints in the region remained largely unchanged in 2019, from that of 2018. The body, therefore, in the report, listed 10 local government areas in six States as the most violent in the year under review.
While The Tide is not in any way encouraging violent crimes in whatever guise, we are appalled by the staggering figures released by the organisation in its report, particularly as it relates to Rivers State which has today been enjoying relative peace.
Infact, to rank the State as the most violent among the States of the Niger Delta region is not only discomfiting but also distasteful. We, therefore, dismiss such unfortunate generalisation about the State as alarmist.
We are tempted to believe that the PIND report is another calculated attempt by some faceless individuals and groups to paint Rivers State black among the comity of States in the country, with the sole aim of de-marketing the State and scaring away potential investors from the State.
While we whole-heartedly condemn and reject the report as it concerns Rivers State, we are glad to note that the State, under the watch of Governor Nyesom Wike, has been experiencing unprecedented giant leaps in all facets of human endeavours. The economy of the State, more than ever before, is swirling in unquantifiable prosperity. Businesses and economic activities are flourishing. Basic infrastructure are receiving significant boosts on a daily basis. The entire landscape of the state capital is wearing a fresh look. The Garden City status of Port Harcourt is fast returning.
Little wonder that the State has gone down in history as having hosted more persons and events than any other state in recent times. More organisations are today planning to host their annual conferences and other events in the state.
Thus, if the sordid pictures painted about the state by PIND and its co-travellers were true, this would not have been the case. The truth remains that today, Rivers State is very safe. Residents of the state are by no means inundated by woeful tales of insecurity and violence as experienced in several parts of the country, particularly in the North. At least, contrary to insinuations, the citizens are sleeping with their eyes closed.
However, we are not by any means suggesting that there may be no isolated cases of violent crimes perpetrated in parts of the fast growing oil rich state, but these are not enough to completely decapitate the state as some unrepentant propagandists would want the world to believe.
To this end, we are at a loss on how PIND got its staggering figures to the extent of ranking Rivers State as one of the most violent States in the Niger Delta region within the past one year. Against this backdrop, therefore, we state equivocally that the report is politically motivated.
If the report is not one of the ploys by the vocal majority to undermine the good works of the Wike administration, particularly its tireless efforts to rebuild the socio-economic base of the state, we wonder what it is. We strongly believe that PIND goofed in the report.

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