With what is happening in the country today, one “is compelled to ask is our democracy moving ahead?” In a nation like ours that question will draw protesters and a public symposium. In short, there will be those who will take up pages of newspapers to list the good things we have gained since Nigeria re-embraced civilian rule in 1999. By the time they finish to enumerate the gains of democracy and its so-called dividends one is won’t to become a democracy ambassador.
The good side is that I am able to write this because democracy has given me the right to do so. There is so much freedom that one can move around the country without any passport. Democracy is such a good thing that one can reside in any part, except in the so-called “herdsmen colonies”.
One may even ask, “what about the right to vote and be voted for?” Of course that is one of the biggest gains we have gotten as ordinary citizens since the military boys threw away their khaki uniforms and made themselves senators and lawmakers, including governors and presidents. The constitution provides that if one is tired of wearing khaki, he can scrap his uniform and take up mufty. With that, one is guaranteed absolute freedom to force himself on the people indirectly by being the only candidate that emerges at the primaries. And, if you don’t succeed that way, you ask some boys to shoot at the polling booth to scare away civilians and stuff the box with ballot papers.
We have moved from Option A4 to Secret Ballot system, where only a voter can decide to cast his vote by himself and not by proxy. The former Federal Electoral Commission (FEDECO) has transformed to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). Before now, they were tied to the apron strings by the federal government, but now they are so independent they can announce figures even when the elections are over.
To further make them more independent those old-school teachers who cannot add ordinary figures have now been replaced with very erudite professors and doctorate degree holders of the Chike Obi class, who can calculate the two-thirds of Nigerian voters in five minutes. It’s so simple these days to just look at the voters register and predict who will win in the next elections.
The media is also doing well; there are lots of media houses now. As the fourth estate of the realm, they are saddled with spreading every government propaganda and those who cannot are either shut down or sued for breaching the peace. Journalists are having a field day in their duties because it’s easier to get jailed for false information than before. Those unprofessional ones are gradually being weeded out of the field.
The social media has emerged to give voice to the voiceless; a responsibility the traditional media has failed to do in the past 20 years. With Facebook, Twitter and Whatsapp one can mobilise millions of Nigerians to do what the government says. That is why the GSM companies are expanding base everyday and cost of android phones has gone down drastically.
So with a phone in your hands you can even overthrow the government and make our politicians accountable. This new social media regulatory bill is god-sent to save the nation from anarchy. How can everybody be speaking at the same time? There is need to streamline the media space by ensuring that nobody tries to paint our democracy black.
There is much improvement in our legal system such that the lawyers are smiling to the courts. There is so much cases to be defended, even if one tries to cause insurrection against the government. As at today, the lawyers have improved in defending human rights. One cannot stay in the police and DSS custody for more than 24 hours. Anywhere such happens, the best lawyers are ready to give their services “Pro-bono”.
The women have become more involved in governance; they are no more in the kitchen or in the “other room”. This democracy has brought out the best in them that even our former speaker at the House of Representatives was able to beat her female counterpart and won. Some of them have the privilege to cry at the floor of the House if their male colleagues fail to heed to their debate. Foreign countries can now see our women are very emotional about the democracy of the nation. They want to see more women in government positions since it will bring the dividends closer to the people. Empowering more women will mean that lots of them will leave their shops and markets or government creates more position for them.
The youths are the most advantaged now. Not fewer than 50 percent of the appointments go to them. The octogenarians are gradually being pushed out of the system. The country is witnessing more young hands driving government policies and programmes, the problem is that most of them love cars, houses and holidays.
To make sure that this democracy works, there is need for a third term. Eight years is not enough for a sitting governor or president to succeed. Such term is too short to deliver on electoral promises. The country needs to amend its constitution so that a president will have to stay enough to complete his visions and programmes.
This democracy is good because opposition are the real enemies of the people. They should stop destabilising the peace that we have. The best way to play opposition is to align or jump to the ruling party and enjoy the dividends. Why should there be an opposition in our young democracy? Even in advanced countries the opposition joins hands in transforming their country.
Why Newspapers Are Getting Smart
This is not the best time for newspapers and magazines.
Ever since the social media, or perhaps the Internet dominated the media space, newspapers and magazines are seriously struggling to find their feet.
The disenchanting news is that many newspapers and magazines have gone off the newsstands and those that have managed to stay on are struggling hard to survive.
According to the Pew Research Centre, the estimated total daily newspaper circulation in the United States as at 2018 was 28.6 million for weekday and 30.8 million for Sunday. There was eight and nine percent cut down from that of 2017.
In the developing world, including Nigeria, the picture is more gloomier as many publishers have either cut down on printed copies or totally shut down, many national dailies such as the New Age, Daily Champion have all shut down their presses.
According to the Pew research, “the industry’s financial fortunes and subscriber base have been in decline since mid 2000s and website audience traffic, after some years of growth, has leveled off”.
The sad part of the scene is that in Nigeria many community newspapers have gone extinct because they cannot compete in a technologically driven environment that evolves everyday with latest communication gadgets.
In early 2004 many newspaper houses in Europe, in a bid to fit in, came up with the idea of the tabloid newspaper. It was an innovative idea aimed at tackling the problem of readership. In Britain, two broadsheets, The Times and the Independent embraced tabloid as a way out of the doom. And within few months they witnessed improved readership. But that was short-lived.
The essence of the “tabloid newspaper” in early 2000 was attracting younger readers especially the ones that prefer a quick manageable read. So, a compact newspaper of much smaller size with shorter stories and colourful pictures became the trend. Axel Springer, publisher of Bild, Europe’s best selling newspaper at the time was optimistic that compact newspapers or tabloids can succeed.
It was this kind of optimism that led The Times of London to start a compact edition in November 2004 and the paper saw an 11 percent increase in circulation in areas where it sells both old editions.
Not long after the success of tabloids, the social media came with a mighty force and things started changing drastically in the newspaper business. As Facebook, Instagram and Whatsapp, including Twitter came on board; the younger generation started drifting towards the new technology. Apart from getting updates about celebrities and sports, the new communication platform started venturing into full time information business. One unique aspect of the new platforms is that it provided an instant two-way communication process with little or no gate-keeping process.
It’s no surprise that from 2010 when Facebook became popular, a lot of newspapers started facing real challenge. In a quick way to adjust to the new technology, many newspapers and magazines in 2015 struck partnership with Facebook. The New York Times, The Guardian of London and the National Geographic entered into new partnership with the social media platform.
The partnership is such that Facebook users will be able to read stories from these publishers without leaving the social network, since it will host articles rather than just providing web links that send readers off to the news firm’s website.
In return, newspapers will be able to sell advertising that appears next to their stories and keep all the revenues, or let Facebook sell the advert space and give it a 30 percent cut.
Over the last five years, Facebook has grown membership up to a billion in recent statistics. In 2015, Facebook users were 1.4 billion, a quarter of the world’s population. Today, news firms are cultivating legions of Facebook fans. Through this partnership, publishers can reach new audiences, while Facebook will keep users from straying and serve up more adverts.
This new partnership has equally brought more challenges for newspapers. They risk giving Facebook even more power by conditioning young Facebook users to think that they can get everything they need in one stop and undermining their own websites as destinations. The risk is that they pay too much attention to the number of visitors driven through social media and not enough to the time people spend engaging on their websites.
The greatest risk to publishers is that social networks continue to transform themselves into a form of modern-day newspaper, curating content, engaging users and selling their attention to advertisers.
That cannot be said of publisher and newspaper owners who are struggling to meet with these rapid changes. The major fear of newspapers going extinct by 2050 as predicted by some doomsayers is seriously starring at the faces of publishers who, in the past, enjoyed lavish adverts and readership.
There is, therefore, need for innovativeness in newspapering. It’s not enough printing facts and pictures. Today’s average reader needs more than that. There must be efforts by newspaper houses to diversify their revenue source. Adverts are dwindling by the day.
To begin the survival revolution means that newspapers must exploit the shortcomings of the social media and Internet. In order to achieve that, it must begin a stocktaking process. The current challenge of fake news in the social media should be the first area newspapers should exert themselves. The truth remains that newspaper’s only real asset is its credibility. This credibility stems from its focus on truth, through the process of gate keeping. Investigative stories should be given prominence. Readers want analysis, not only information, and newspapers should be ready to provide it for them.
In the area of revenue, many newspapers are venturing into new areas of entertainment, share buying in other core investment areas. Many of the newspapers surviving today have more than one source of revenue. They have ventured into real estate, sports and even academic and research publishing.
The reality today is that no business relies on one mode of sustenance. A popular adage says, “no rat survives with one hole”.
Unemployment And Human Trafficking
In a space of two days, two Nigerian women allegedly trafficked to Lebanon were rescued after they cried out on the social media for help. While 23-year old Omolola Ajayi is said to be with the Nigerian Ambassador in Beirut after the rescue, waiting to be returned to Nigeria, 33-year old Gloria Bright, a mother of two, has reunited with her family in Kwara State.
Reading the pathetic stories of these women as they narrate their ordeal in the hands of the human traffickers and how they found themselves in Lebanon, one could note a common factor – poverty and unemployment. Being unemployed and poor with no hope for a better tomorrow, they grabbed the alluring offer of travelling to Lebanon to teach given to them by traffickers posing as benevolent agents, only turned to a slave and a house help respectively.
The truth is that Omolola and Gloria should count themselves among the very lucky few. Many young Nigerians who left the shores of the country in search of greener pastures but found themselves in similar mucky waters never lived to tell the tales. So, it is kudos to the Federal Government, the Chairman, Nigerians in the Diaspora Commission, Abike Dabiri-Erewa and all who facilitated the rescue of these citizens from the lion’s den. It goes to show that Nigeria cares for her citizens.
But as has been asked by many, what has the nation done to ensure that the number of people that flee the country daily through all means in search of better life for themselves and their loved ones is reduced? The National Bureau Statistics report of 2019 pegged the unemployment rate in the country at 23.1 per cent and underemployment at 16.6 per cent with a projection that the unemployment rate will reach 33.5 per cent this year, 2020. Young people account for two-thirds of these unemployed and underemployed populations.
Therefore, much as one will agree that human trafficking is one of the global human right challenges of our time and that some of those who emigrate Nigeria do so out of the erroneous belief that once they find themselves in Europe, America, United Arab Emirates and other foreign countries they are made, what is being done to make them have faith that a better future awaits them in Nigeria and how is it being done?
At a function in Abuja recently, the Minister of Labour, Senator Chris Ngige, decried the alarming unemployment rate in the country. He noted that various government social intervention programmes targeted at reducing youth unemployment and eradicating poverty have been implemented by different administrations since Nigeria gained independence in 1960. He listed some of the programmes to include National Accelerated Food Production Programme (NAFPP), implemented between 1972 and 1973, the current National Social Investment Programme (NSIP), which has been ongoing since 2017, embedded in the nation’s Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP) 2017 – 2020, yet unemployment rate and poverty levels are on steady increase.
He asked, “What is government and other stakeholders not doing right? What changes are needed in the policies, plans and strategies? What action areas need priority attention? What roles should different stakeholders play and what other options are not being exploited? How do we break the resilience of high unemployment rate in the country?
Sincere answers to these questions by both government, the private sector and other stakeholders will go in tackling the unemployment challenge facing the country. As earlier stated, while government may claim to be making effort to address the huge economic problem, the question of why and how the effort is being made must be ascertained. What is the how and why behind the NPower project, the Tradermoni and other projects meant to tackle unemployment by both current and previous administrations?
The role of the private sector in addressing the pressing unemployment problem in the country cannot be over emphasized. They have the capacity to create jobs and have been doing that but should be encouraged to do more through business-friendly policies and laws. The newly signed Financial Bill by President Muhammadu Buhari specifically designed to support the implementation of the 2020 budget, create enabling environment for business and investment by the private sector and also reform the tax regime by amending several Acts has been described by many economists and financial analysts as a right step in the right direction. It is our hope that the law will lead to boom in the private sector and ultimately, more jobs for the citizens.,
However, good economic laws and policies without security and peaceful society will not yield the desired results. Hence, the urgent need to address the disturbing security situation across the nation. Our political leaders at all levels should ensure good governance devoid of injustice, unbalanced government, nepotism and favoritism, capable of destabilizing the nation and thereby discouraging investors from investing in the country.
Indeed, the unemployment challenge which is making many brilliant, hardworking and purpose-driven youths leave the country in droves must be addressed through various approaches. Entrepreneurship must be advocated both as a course in our secondary and tertiary institutions and among the youth generally. Our youth must be made to acquire some skills as that is a catalyst for driving economic prosperity and staying competitive in today’s technology-driven world.
Our youth also have to be sensitized and educated on the inherent danger in migrating to other countries through any means to eke a living. All that glitters is not gold, they say. As Omolola advised, people should be cautious of travelling by strange persons who pose as benevolent agents. One sure thing is that despite how difficult things are in Nigeria, many are still succeeding and, with hard work, more will.
Rivers In The Diversification Agenda
Prior to 1951 when oil was discovered in commercial quantity in Rivers State, agriculture was the primary occupation of the people of the State. The abundance of palm oil and kernel which basically constituted the main revenue source of the country in the 19th century earned the state the name ‘Oil Rivers Protectorate’.
In a sample survey carried out by the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Natural Resources, in 1983, about 40% of the rural inhabitants were said to be committed to farming. Ever since, agriculture had been an important branch of the economy of Rivers State, even as it remained the main source of livelihood for the rural people.
The place of agriculture in the state’s economy paved way for the creation of a parastatal within the Ministry of Agriculture in 1988, called Agricultural Development Programme (ADP). The functions of this body included among others; formulating and implementing programmes relating to agriculture as well as providing extension services to farmers in both rural and urban areas of the state.
At this point, Rivers State became one of the leading states in the production of yam, cassava, cocoyam, maize, rice and beans. The availability of about 39% (760,000 hectares) of the state’s total land mass, particularly in the upland area, made the cultivation of major cash crops such as; oil palm products, rubber, coconut, raffia palm and other crops like vegetables, melon, pineapples, mango, pepper, banana and plantain possible.
The fishing industry was not left out. It happened to be another thriving sector. Besides being lucrative, it was also a favorite pastime activity. With many artisanal fishermen in the riverine areas, and approximately 270 species of fish existing, the state provided valuable seafoods such as crabs, oysters, shrimps and sea snails among others.
One thus needs not be told that the state has large potential for agricultural production. Unfortunately, even with 39 per cent of land suitable for cultivation, agricultural productivity has continuously remained low probably due to low soil quality from oil spillage and leakage, or a perception among youth that agriculture is an unattractive means of employment.
However, in order to create an economic shift towards agriculture, in 2008 the then administration of the state implemented a replica of the Songhai international agricultural training center model first pioneered in Porto Novo, Benin Republic.
The model of the Rivers Songhai Farm Initiative (RSFI) consisted of a centrally located agricultural training center with a working farm expected to provide opportunities for practical learning and agricultural tourism.
The model made provision for the followings; instruction on the concept of zero waste, whereby farm by-products would be used in other activities (e.g., manure to be used to fertilize crops), teachings on farmers entrepreneurial skills and how to get more value from their primary products, and participants to have access to a network of satellite farms started by graduates of the program.
Given the provisions of the model, there were hopes that the RSFI’s specific goals if properly managed have got the potentials to diversify production in Rivers state beyond the oil industry, improve agricultural productivity, and reduce youth unrest by giving them better access to employment and entrepreneurship opportunities.
Located on a 314 hectare of farm land at Bunu in Tai local government area, RSFI, within its shortlived operational season, was prominent in broilers production, cassava processing, feed and rice milling, machines production, stabilised bricks production, free range poultry, plantain farming, pineapple, vegetable, cassava and moringa cultivation. More units designed for future production at the centre include coconut, animal feeds, mango for chips and juice, orange for juice and input for animal processing and snail production.
All the same, at the dawn of the diversification agenda of the current political leadership in the country, one had expected that Rivers State would lead the committee of states whose agricultural flag are globally acknowledged with all the acquaintances the state had established with agriculture.
This expectation nevertheless was heightened in May 2016, when Governor Nyesom Ezenwo Wike personally called for sustained efforts to diversify the country’s economy following dwindling earnings from oil. Governor Wike made the call at the Government House, Port Harcourt, during a visit by the Executive Director of the Nigerian Export Promotion Council (NEPC), Olusegun Awolowo.
Stating that the country can no longer depend solely on oil earnings, he averred that his administration would partner with the NEPC to develop alternative sources of foreign exchange earnings for the state, noting that the present economic challenges facing the country suggests that states have to look inwards to survive.
Responding to an earlier call by the visitor for a development of the state’s agricultural sector to boost internally generated revenue, Wike signalled a willingness to collaborate with NEPC in the area of agriculture. Of course, what could be more reassuring than an affirmative statement coming from a leader who had carved a niche for himself as one who acts out his words.
Four years down the line, Rivers residents still await the boom in agriculture. This is achievable if the government can collaborate with the private sector, the state can experience mechanized agriculture, against the age-long subsistence farming for which it has been known. With this in place, employment creation is assured, income will be provided and emigration curbed.
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