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
COVID-19: Whither Rivers Public Health Lab?
No doubt, this verse of the Holy Bible is apt and dearly explains the challenges associated with the emergence of Coronavirus also known as COVID-19 the world over.
Since the pandemic emerged from Wuhan, China in December 2019, it has brought the world to its knees with about 19,000 deaths and over 500,000 cases across the world.
Surprisingly, the pandemic has brought down to ground zero even the best of health care systems while Europe is reportedly the current epic centre and not China.
As a result, many nations have announced travel ban to foreigners while others have declared a total lock down, leading to a sudden global economic meltdown.
For instance, it has been reported that Coronavirus is killing one person in every 10 minutes in Iran, death toll in Italy has overtaken China while Argentina, Spain, Canada and the US State of California have all declared a lockdown. Africa has got its fair share of the emerging Coronavirus pandemic.
This is evidenced by the number of African countries that have recorded suspected cases and fatalities as the case may be.
Nigeria, Africa’s big brother has been adversely affected with about 50 confirmed cases, one death, while Governor of Bauchi State has been confirmed positive.
With the hind sight of Ebola epidemic in 2014, pundits expressed fear that the next state would be Rivers State.
This is because Rives State remains the hub of oil and gas industry in Nigeria with the presence of two sea ports in Port Harcourt and Onne, an International Airport at Omagwa supported by the Airforce Base as well as a train terminus in the heart of the city of Port Harcourt, is suggestive of influx of people into the state.
It was, therefore, no surprise indeed when it was speculated on the social media that COVID-19 has been reported in Rivers State.
The Rivers State Commissioner for Health, Professor Princewill Chike, on Saturday 14th March immediately addressed the media where he stated categorically that the suspected case of a 43 year old Imo State man was negative.
Professor Chike disclosed that the samples were taken to Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LUTH) infectious disease centre.
In his words: “The nasal, oropharyngeal and sputum samples were collected for analysis and dispatched to the reference laboratory in LUTH.
He concluded thus: “The result from the test is available and is negative.
Interestingly, the Rivers State Government has constituted a 5-man Inter-Ministerial COVID-19 Awareness Campaign Committee headed by the Commissioner for Information and Communications, Pastor Paulinus Nsirim, for which several engagements have been held with critical stakeholders.
On the order of closure of schools and partial lockdown, an implementation committee has also been constituted.
Rivers State Governor Nyesom Wike, in a broadcast on Friday 20th March, ordered the immediate closure of public and private schools.
In as much as awareness campaign and closure of schools are necessary, COVID-19 offers the nations of the world, including Nigeria and indeed Rivers State in particular, opportunities to review their health care delivery system.
This review requires scientific investigation into manufacturing of vaccines and drugs needed for prevention and cure.
It would be recalled that the founding fathers of the state established a public health laboratory after the civil war as an integral part of the State Ministry of Health.
They foresaw the strategic position of the state to the national economy and created such a sensitive laboratory for disease surveillance.
It was the Rivers State Public Health Laboratory that carried out surveillance for the outbreak of cholera in Emakalakala during Governor Melford Okilo’s administration as well as water quality management in parts of the state.
Unfortunately, the government of Dr. Peter Odili with Dr. Emi Membre-Otaji as Commissioner for Health gave the premises to NAFDAC and transferred the laboratory to the Central Medical Store with the promise of building a new one.
Worse still, the inception of the Wike-led administration was greeted with the outbreak of killer illicit gin (Ogogoro) for which the Rivers State House of Assembly invited the State Ministry of Health for an interface.
It was revealed that because the State Public Health Laboratory was in deplorable condition, samples of the killer Ogogoro were taken to NAFDAC for which result of analysis was delayed because NAFDAC itself had a job at hand.
Such sample analysis was required to protect and promote healthy living of the public because they are not carried out by conventional medical laboratories.
It was painful that the illicit Ogogoro samples were taken to NAFDAC not because of lack of laboratory scientists in the state but because of lack of basic equipment at the state public health laboratory.
It is on record that Rivers State, in the past, had competent laboratory scientists that served as Directors of the Public Health Laboratory.
It is worthy of note that late Professor Appolos Nna Bulol, late Jaja Festus Sunday, late Doctor Promise Karibo, Ikpoko Innocent, late Doctor Fiberesima Tonye, and Token Lawson-Jack among others worked there, including the present Director, Ngozi Igbo.
One thing is clear: the present Dean, Faculty of Medical Laboratory Science, Professor Confidence Wachukwu worked with the Public Health Laboratory of Ministry of Health before transferring to the Rivers State University (RSU).
The Rivers State Government must see beyond setting up interministerial committee on COVID-19 and closure of schools to reequipping the Rivers State Public Health Laboratory as part of effort to control emerging zonotic diseases such as Lassa fever, COVID-19, TB, toxoplasmosis and psittacosis, among others.
Better still, the Rivers State University now has a Teaching Hospital to handle tertiary medical services much more complex than primary health care centres and general hospitals.
Without mincing words, therefore, the Rivers State Government must interface with the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) and World Health Organization (WHO) to purchase relevant calibrated laboratory equipment and embark on hands- on-training.
If Rivers State Ministry of Health sent samples to LUTH, the Rivers State University Teaching Hospital (RUTH) could be equipped to carry out similar test too.
Collaboration, obtaining approvals and training are all that is needed to diagnose and fight emerging diseases.
These equipment include but are not limited to Polymerase Chain – Reaction (PCR), High Performance Liquid Chromatography, Spectrophotometer and Compound Microscope particularly the brands designed for specific purposes.
For instance, Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) according to experts is required to identify causative organism to their specie level, Ribo Nucleic acid in virus as well as amplify specific gene and acid detection and sequencing.
As organisms continue to mutate, humans must be determined to control emerging diseases.
It is also pertinent to revive agriculture and veterinary laboratory that hitherto existed at the present day office of the PDP State Secretariat on Aba Road, Port Harcourt.
The time to act is now.
Sika is of Radio Rivers FM, Port Harcourt.
Amotekun: Good Thinking, Bad Product?
After decades of general insecurity and apparent helplessness on the part of the Nigeria Police and other security organizations, different sections of the world’s most populous Black nation now seem to have lost faith in the ability of the regular security forces to restore peace and order in the land.
Recent attempts to rejig Nigeria’s security apparatchik have failed principally because President Muhammadu Buhari and his All Progressives Congress (APC) government are still playing deaf to all the calls for an immediate replacement of the nation’s service chiefs.
While the government prevaricated, Boko Haram, ISWAP, cattle rustlers, Fulani herdsmen, armed bandits, kidnappers, rapists, cultists and other criminal gangs became more daring in their various onslaughts against the rest of society.
The resultant resort to self-help has since found expression in the formation of neighbourhood vigilantes, state security outfits and now, regional police.
The Western Nigeria Security Network (WNSN) codenamed Operation Amotekun is about the first of any such successful attempts at registering a regional security outfit in Nigeria.
So far, Amotekun appears like a well conceived antidote to the current spate of insecurity in the country and is fast becoming the prototype for all other geo-political zones except perhaps the core North which insists that the proposed South West brand of regional policing is targeted at migrant Fulani cattle herders.
On its part, the Federal Government had, ab initio, opposed the formation of Amotekun as an independent regional security apparatus. Speaking through the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN), the government cited Article 45, Schedule 2 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) as having placed the nation’s policing on the exclusive list. Malami, however, said that the government would allow state and regional participants on the basis of a newly proposed community policing architecture.
Under the new arrangement, as was later explained by the Inspector General of Police (IGP), Mohammed Adamu, the Federal Government will recruit about 40,000 Nigerians as Special Constables drawn from their immediate communities of residence, regardless of whether they are indigenes of such communities or not. They will be trained, attired in the usual police uniform and function in the same way as the regular police; except that their duties will be mainly to gather intelligence reports for which they will be paid a monthly allowance.
Going by this concept, therefore, Amotekun and such other future regional outfits are expected to fall into the community policing system only to the extent of sharing intelligence, arresting and handing over any crime suspects to the nearest police station for further investigation and possible prosecution.
Again, another equally aggrieved group and Mallami’s co-travellers, the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN), hardly helped matters when it threatened that the North will deny the South West zone a shot at the Presidency in 2023 should its governors still proceed with the establishment of Amotekun.
But the South West governors, who reportedly conceived the idea of Amotekun in Ibadan, the Oyo State capital, in June 2019 at a meeting of the Development Agenda for Western Nigeria (DAWN) commission, would have none of that.
Their meeting with Malami, a few days after launching Amotekun on January 9, 2020, did not appear to have ceded anything to the Federal Government or Miyetti Allah. And this was quite evident from Malami’s posture during a presss conference after the meeting. The AGF’s countenance was, to say the least, a study in icy self-possession as he stood among the obviously gloating Yoruba governors. In short, he looked like one who had just met his match in the Ondo State Governor, Rotimi Akeredolu, another SAN and chairman of South West Governors’ Forum.
Besides the South West geo-political zone, only the North West is said to have raised its own regional security force, codenamed Operation Sege Ka Fasa.
Before these inter-state security co-operations, internal security had degenerated to the level of states helping themselves by forming their own vigilante corps For example, in Lagos State there is the Lagos Neighbourhood Safety Corps (LNSC), Borno has the Civilian Joint Task Force, there is the Hisbah Corps (Sharia Police) in Kano, Operation Rainbow in Plateau while Enugu floated the Forest Guards.
Here in Rivers State, the Governor Nyesom Wike administration, in 2018, established the Rivers State Neighbourhood Safety Corps Agency (aka Neighbourhood Watch) with about 3,000 vibrant youths recruited and already being trained by the Nigeria Police at Nonwa in Tai Local Government Area when the Federal Government suddenly clamped down on the initiative, accusing the state of providing training beyond what is usually allowed for such paramilitary engagements. But those who saw beyond their noses simply sympathized with an obviously paranoid Federal Government, especially in the face of the approaching general elections in 2019.
However, the Pan-Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF) has joined other regional socio-cultural organizations across Nigeria to urge their governors in the South South geo-political zone to quickly establish a regional security outfit in the shape of Amotekun.
PANDEF, an umbrella body of traditional rulers, elder statesmen and other stakeholders in the Niger Delta was reported to have made the call at an expanded National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting recently.
There is, however, this fear that PANDEF’s request may not be quick in coming, especially considering the latest pronouncement on the matter by the Delta State Governor and Chairman of South South Governors’ Forum, Senator Ifeanyi Okowa, that the governors would rather key into the nation’s approved community policing template.
Commenting on the South South scenario, a Port Harcourt-based security operative who only wished to be identified as Ehiogie from Edo State said much as he liked the bold statement being made by the Yoruba governors with the launch of Amotekun, it is still early to see how applicable the idea will be to other zones; more so now that it is yet to have the necessary legal framework for its implementation.
Ibiso Elvis-Amgbare is a private school teacher also resident in Port Harcourt. According to her, “What the Yorubas are doing with Amotekun is enough to tell President Buhari that he has never been sincere in tackling Boko Haram and Fulani herdsmen attacks against ordinary citizens of this country and can no longer be trusted to do so, going forward.
“I hope that Amotekun succeeds and for our governors in the South South to adopt same in order to stave off any dislodged miscreants who may be tempted to relocate from such zones to this area,” she prayed.
Pan-Igbo organisation, Ohaneze Ndigbo, Middle Belt Forum and a number of other ethnic-based groups have tried to close ranks with their region’s governors, especially since the advent of Amotekun. The only sticking point is that whereas most of these groups have urged for speedy assemblage of their own equivalent of the Yoruba police outfit, apparently in response to the fast deteriorating security situation in their respective domains, their governors seem to be tactfully delaying the process while awaiting the eventual outcome of Amotekun.
Thus far, Amotekun’s formation can be said to have been popular, consistent, fearless and quite methodical. Nearly all prominent Pan-Yoruba groups have lent their support to the agency and its promoters. From Afenifere, whose chieftain and former Secretary to the Federal Government, Chief Olu Falae, was once abducted by suspected herdsmen, to Odu’a Peoples Congress (OPC), Yoruba World Congress (YWC) and Yoruba Council of Elders (YCE), there has been serious condemnation of the Federal Government’s attempt to subjugate the WSNS by appointing its representatives into the governing council of the regional agency.
What’s more, the initial equipment outlay by the South West governors for Amotekun’s take-off is as intimidating as it is impressive. According to reports, each of the six governors was billed to contribute 20 security patrol vehicles and 100 motorcycles; but Oyo State Governor, Seyi Makinde, opted to donate 33 vans, making it a total of 133 operational vans and 600 motorcycles.
Also, even if Amotekun will be run by a governing board, there is no losing sight of the fact that the South West already has a generalissimo in the person of the former OPC warlord and now, Aare Ona Kakanfo of Yorubaland, Chief Ganiyu Adams. His influence will surely rub off on the regional outfit.
Reports also have it that the outfit has already recruited 1320 operatives from Lagos, Ekiti and Osun states armed with Dane guns like local hunters. Question is: What can these locally made firearms accomplish against the AK-47 wielded by the Fulani herdsman, kidnapper or armed robber? Or, better still, should such encounter result in the deployment of unorthodox combat methods, can the Amotekun cops boast of superior charms and amulets against their mostly itinerant adversaries?
Amotekun is good, no doubt. And its promoters have also demonstrated their individual and collective abilities to think outside the box when it mattered most. But what happens after now? How well will the likes of Amotekun be managed elsewhere such that will not lead Nigeria into deeper crisis than they intend to avert? Only time will tell.
By: Ibelema Jumbo
Security Agents, Demoralising Nigerian Youths
It has become a daily routine for security agents to harass Nigerians, particularly the youths, under the guise of law enforcement. Nigerian youths are intimidated, extorted, arrested illegally, arbitrarily detained and even killed extra-judicially.
This unfortunate development has been perpetrated by the regular security agents like the police and perhaps the military for a long time. But of recent, it seems the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and some other paramilitary organisations have entered the fray.
In Ibadan, Oyo State, EFCC operatives, using crude force, sacked the patrons of a nightclub in a bravado style. This action caused so much concern that there would almost have been reprisals from the public. Law enforcement is a given globally, but the manner security agents in this country go about it leaves much to be desired.
In the case of Club 360, the aforementioned nightclub, EFCC officials invaded the building at midnight and ransacked it thoroughly, subjecting those present, especially youths, to a crude and humiliating treatment. Vehicles, phones and laptops were confiscated. In all, about 89 persons were arrested.
By every given standard, this seems an unusual way to enforce the law. It is harassment. Granted there could be some suspected fraudsters at the location, but what about the innocent among them? Should they have been manhandled and treated badly as well? In civilised climes, law enforcement is intelligence-driven and, therefore, excludes all forms of over-drive by security agents.
Although the EFCC has the responsibility to check and prevent financial crimes, their dramatic incursion into nightclubs and entertainment homes on the allegation of harbouring internet fraudsters may amount to using a gun to kill a mosquito. The outcome is usually unintended, one of which is to discourage investments and businesses.
When people lack trust in their security apparatuses, they tend to recoil from society in apparent disgust and blend with their social class, tribe or religion and do businesses in ways that benefit only them and their families, not society or the nation. This is dangerous because of its negative economic implications.
Harassment of innocent and young Nigerians by security agents, notably in the services sector, will certainly harm the economy if not checked. First, the nation’s economy is a weak and struggling one which is being diversified from the hitherto oil monopoly we have always had.
Since Nigerians, especially at services centres, have become vulnerable to attacks, unwarranted arrests and detention, they will customarily be wary of patronising services-based businesses like restaurants, nightclubs, entertainment enterprises, among others.
In the United Kingdom (UK), for instance, statistics revealed that out of the four areas of the economy (services, manufacturing, construction, and tourism), services alone contributed about $2.65 trillion which amounted to over 80 per cent GDP in 2016. These services included retail, food and beverage, and entertainment. That is how significant the services sector of a nation’s economy could be if properly harnessed.
But in Nigeria, rather than encourage services providers, security agents, under the pretext of law enforcement, often invade and humiliate them, most times unjustifiably. What foresight or tangible benefits are there to be derived from such precipitate action?
Similarly, EFCC officers stormed a nightclub in Osogbo, Osun State, in October 2019. At the end of their operation, they arrested suspected 94 Yahoo Yahoo boys on an allegation that they had turned the place into a den of internet fraudsters. The EFCC had also carried out mass arrests of youths in similar operations in Enugu, Uyo, Aba and Lagos. Sadly, such clubs are usually unable to recover from these invasions.
In a popular case, the EFCC arrested a musician, Naira Marley (real name Afeez Fashola), allegedly for singing songs that glorified internet fraud. Is that not baffling? By their legal roles, the Nigerian Communications Commission and the Nigerian Copyright Council, as regulators, are in charge of this field, yet the EFCC intruded by taking over their functions.
The many untoward activities of the anti-graft agency are responsible for the crude state of the organisation. Twenty years into the Fourth Republic, they are yet to imbibe the basics of law enforcement in a democratic setting. Isn’t that too long a time to adjust to the present reality as against the brutal days of military dictatorship?
Besides the EFCC, the youth have other security agencies to contend with. Those among them who drive expensive cars, use iPhones, laptops and technological gadgets are repeatedly hounded by the police and the military. At a time in 2017, the molestation was so much that some young Nigerians founded the hashtag, #EndSARS.
The #EndSARS demotic movement was incensed by the human rights abuses such as arrests, extortion and detention of the youth by the police. As a result, the police high command in Abuja promised to rehabilitate the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS). Whether that was done or not is yet to be seen.
While that was going on, the police renewed their abuses when a policeman killed Kolade Johnson at a TV viewing centre in Lagos last April in his desperation to arrest young men and women wearing dreadlocks and “sagging” trousers. For wearing tattoos, the military descended on some youths in Aba last year, arresting and torturing them.
Just in December last year, some police officers attached to the Eagle Crack Unit in the Rivers State Command allegedly tortured a motor mechanic, Ikwunado Chima, to death on allegations of being a secret cult member and a robber. At random, officers stop vehicles and arrest young people for flimsy reasons, apparently with the intent to extort money from them.
It is wrong to assume that every young person is a criminal and therefore deserves to be treated as such. Law enforcement agents, especially the police, variously rob young Nigerians by compelling them at gunpoint to transfer monies into their accounts electronically. Girls are not exempted as sometimes they are indecently assaulted by security agents.
Is it a crime to be a youth in Nigeria? Nigerian youths already have enough in their kitty. Unlike other climes where young people are entitled to many benefits, in Nigeria, they are deprived of every good thing. No jobs, no quality health care, no good education, and above all, no future. Indeed, youths in this country are in the most precarious state.
Therefore, security agents shouldn’t add to their misery. Their rights should not be violated on account of where they go to have relaxation or fun and what they put on. If they violate the law, they have to be accosted with civility, not in a gangsterish manner.
By: Arnold Alalibo
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