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Opinion

FG, ASUU Have Done Well

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It was cheering news last December, when the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) suspended the strike it embarked upon for over 8 months.
Their grievances ranging from Federal Government’s non-implementation of 2009 agreement which bothers on issues of earned allowances, payment system and revitalisation of the universities.
At the end of the day, no victor, no vanquished. Both ASUU and FG shifted grounds and came to an agreement which led to the call off of the strike that almost took one academic session.
Although the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic contributed to the number of months University teachers and students spent at home.
Late last year, the Federal Government had announced the closure of all schools on the 18th of December 2020 and that schools’ resumption at every level should be on the 18th of January, 2021. Some states who were proactive had already resumed earlier than that date. While other states, including their universities have reopened, a lot more after deliberations with their university Senate have decided to resume  later this month and early February.
While ASUU and their universities authorities were taking their time to review their academic calendars, last week, issue  of how to cope with COVID-19 pandemic while at work came up by ASUU.
Yes every normal person will think of that especially with the crowd in our universities. A situation where you have a lecture hall of about 200 to 300 students.
This should not be another subject to be discussed that will make teachers and students to go home again. COVID-19 was there while ASUU and FG were deliberating on the issues of 2009 agreement. Issue of how to cope with the disease should have come up and be trashed while others were being handled.
While ASUU was on strike, private universities had academic activities going on, although some of them have been operating online. Those who had physical lecture have been coping like the universities that never joined the industrial action.
Even public primary and secondary schools in Rivers State here, had been running staggered programmes since resumption. While some and their teachers come in the morning session, others engage in afternoon session according to government’s directive.
If pupils at Kindergarten, secondary classes and their teachers could cope with all the measures put in place, university teachers and their undergraduates can equally cope.
Every university has a Health Bay, the staff and relevant faculties and departments on campus should set up those required equipment and materials beginning from the university gates.  Use of face masks made compulsory and ensure that every building -classrooms, hostels, cafeteria, banks, name them, have their own equipment where members of the university community can wash hands regularly.
In fact, we are looking upto our universities in search of prevention and cure for this deadly disease. Departments like bio/chem, medical laboratory science, college of medicine and the likes  can produce hand sanitizers which can be distributed to the university community for use. At least, let’s practise non-pharmaceutical measures before relevant authorities come up with the vaccines.
Universities where we have Home Economics Departments should get fabrics, construct and sew various shapes of face masks and should be sold at lower rates to generate funds in campus.
Members of ASUU can also provide for their members because many labour unions provided for their members.
Some of the tertiary institutions that never joined the ASUU strike were able to cope with the COVID-19 protocols.
Sometime in August last year, Basic 9 and Senior Secondary School (SSS3) students and their tutors were allowed to sit for their BECE and SSCE  complying with the protocols.
In September and October last year, primary and secondary schools nationwide reopened and completed 3rd term of 2019/2020 academic session, started and concluded 1st term of 2020/2021 academic year observing all COVID-19 protocols.
Universities should ensure that all necessary COVID-19 protocols and orders are strictly adhered to.  Adequate precautions should be maintained so that the lives of the students and lecturers will be saved.
Since there were already strategies and protocols as well as orders in place in primary and secondary schools since last year when ASUU was on strike, let ASUU and their universities resume and all those protocols and orders be observed with utmost strictness.
Staggered resumption can also be practised in the universities as is practised in the primary and secondary schools.
A lot of time has been spent on argument of 2009 agreement while private universities have been running their academic calendars without stress.
It is so worisome to note that 2019/2020 academic session has suffered setback, 2020/2021 admission is still being withheld. What is the hope of Nigerian public universities? Will these incessant strike actions help our undergraduates?
It is more than 10 years now this issue of 2009 agreement between FG and ASUU began. Almost every year, it comes up as if it has never been tackled before. It is high time the two parties had concluded because it is not helping our university system.
Every year, while their counterparts in private schools are moving on, undergraduates in public universities are sitting at home while parents have already paid school fees. The of-campus students who paid rent last year have lost that to their landlords. Most parents with the harsh economy cannot send their wards to private universities. Of course, it is the right of the children to acquire education.
It is also annoying that a budget made for a child for a course of study for four to five years will run for six or seven years while other children are waiting.
I call on ASUU to accept whatever the FG has offered so as to go back to work. It can also be reviewed from time to time if they are not satisfied. Rome, they say was not built in a day.
Apart from the fund ASUU is asking from the FG, universities can also make up from internally generated revenue, after all University education is not free. Money is raised from school fees annually so university authorities should ensure proper use so that some of the issues they are asking for can be settled.
While we commend FG for paying withheld salaries of some of them, we equally urge the government to clear the backlog of those remaining so that ASUU can concentrate on academic matters.

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Opinion

Water Of Mara

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In the ancient entrance and walls of the Temple of Apollo were numerous admonitions, one of which read: “Look back to where you had erred and take steps to put things right again”. Apollo was regarded by ancient Greek people as the god of archery, prophesy, music and sun, and there were temples and devotees dedicated to the honour of Apollo. The admonition to “take steps to put things right again” required having the courage and willingness to drink “the Water of Mara”, which is an idiom. The Water of Mara is usually bitter.
A Nigerian politician was quoted as saying that the bandits, kidnappers, hoodlums, etc., operating in the northern parts of Nigeria, copied their trades and activities from the militants of the Niger Delta zone who were agitating for resource control, with reference to oil and gas resources. That was the ground to ask for amnesty as the Niger Delta militants had enjoyed under the Presidency of UmaruYar’Adua. Such logic or reasoning cannot hold any water because it is obviously wrong to compare agitation for resource control and the situation in the North.
Wherever people are not ready to own up their deficiencies and weaknesses, they usually resort to prevarication and equivocation which are merely intellectual sophistry. Such mindset makes it more difficult to take steps to put things right; rather, the use of excuses and scapegoats feature as usual political gimmicks.
When a former President, Olusegun Obasanjo, raised alarm not too long ago, about Fulanisation and Islamisation project, he was not joking or crying wolf, but informing Nigerians of the shape of things to come. Even before then, the hue-and-cry over Sharia law during Obasanjo’s presidency should have been a notice about the pursuit of some agenda. Let us not continue to pretend, because already Nigeria is classified in some quarters as an Islamic State. Frankly there is nothing wrong about that. Rather, there is something else more disturbing.
Those who know the mindset of the Fulani race would tell us that there is no separation between religion, politics and economics. Ray Ekpu, in Newswatch Magazine of March 20, 2000 said: “When Ahmad Sani, Zamfara State’s own Ayatolla Khomeini, announced with a freshly nursed beard decorating his face, that he was taking his state down the Taliban road, President Olusegun Obasanjo tried to downplay its impact by saying the matter would fizzle out… Instead, state after state in the north got infected by the Sharia epidemic”.
So there has always been the game plan of using religion not only as an opium of the poor and politicians but more as a means of pursuing economic as well as political ends. Many years ago, Professor Omo Omoruyi lamented that the nation’s military and security apparatus are skewed in favour of the Muslim North. There have been many subtle efforts to raise Islamic ideology as embodied in the Sharia law as vital national values in a supposedly secular and democratic country. We have a standing Sharia Police!
The time has come for Nigerians to bring the game of hide-and-seek to a halt and tell ourselves the truth, despite its bitterness. The nation is sliding towards dangers and steps much be taken to put things right again to avoid disasters. One of such steps is to separate religion from politics which should reflect in federal appointments. It has become clear to many Nigerians that religion is being used as a cover to pursue political and economic ends. The security situation in the country is a reflection of the shenanigans of toxic politics, with militant groups as bargaining chips.
The “Water of Mara”, as an idiom, has to do with taking the needful steps to put things right before the night comes. The starting point in such a project involves mindset. To live in the past under the illusion that present realities and challenges can be addressed with past prescription, is a wrong mindset. Earth-life is progressive and subject to changes, since nothing is perfect here. Rather, through learning experiences and the internalisation of the lessons contained therein, steps can be taken to fashion out what is realistic and needful for the present. This is the point which eludes conservative mindset.
For example, old injunctions to stone adulterers and witches to death cannot be a proper remedy for the present time. This is the line which advocates of Sharia law are prescribing and, even if that is acceptable to some people, ideals of democracy provide for individual freedom of choices. If Sharia law is good for some section of a nation, then that choice must not be imposed on others, especially when such imposition is being made in some clever ways, including violence.
One feature of human mindset is the ability of the mind to reverse itself as well as the stuff and contents deposited therein. The mind can reject and empty itself of unpleasant contents and replace them with new values, if there is such strongly felt new orientation. Therefore, whatever conditions that an individual finds himself, especially unpleasant ones, opportunities do exist for a change through a radical alteration in thought frequency. Being held back in the past is to hold the mind in bondage.
There are road maps in various forms to educate everyone that life on earth demands some duty, responsibility and obligations which may be bitter to take on. No one can climb higher when there are gaps and vacuums left unattended below. Unfortunately, indolence and pride cause many people to dodge some responsibilities, duties and obligations, neither would falsification and subterfuge provide an escape way. To drink of the Water of Mara is a part of the education which life imposes on everybody, especially when duties, obligations and responsibilities have been left undone.
The justice of life’s learning process involves penalties and personal atonements which no individual can evade or transfer to another. There is a system of justice and equity which human blusters, excuses and cleverness cannot sabotage. For us in Nigeria the time has come for the leaders of the nation to have the patriotism and courage to drink the Water of Mara rather than postpone issues that need to be addressed boldly. There is the need to work out a mutually acceptable road-map.
Dr. Amirize is a retired lecturer from the Rivers State University, Port Harcourt.

 

By: Bright Amirize

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Opinion

In Nigeria’s Interest

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In a children’s fiction, One Week One Trouble, Anezi Okoro told the story of a boy, Wilson Tagbo, who begins secondary school but had more flaws than virtues because he got into trouble almost every week – from riding the school’s bull and interrupting a sports event to tampering with laughing gas at the Chemistry laboratory.
Looking at the current state of the country, wouldn’t it be apt to liken Nigeria toTagbo as her trouble seems endless? For a while now, there is hardly a week that passes without the citizens having to battle with one problem or another – herders/farmers clashes, banditry, kidnappings, fire outbreaks, National Identity Number (NIN) registration issues, food shortage, fuel scarcity and many more.
For some ambiguous reasons, motorists are back to the era of queuing for hours or even passing nights at fuel stations in order to get petrol to move around. Expectedly, transportation fare has doubled and prices of food and other items in the market have increasedastronomically. In some parts of the South, there is scarcity of meat and some other food items because a group that calls itself Amalgamated Union of Food Stuff and Cattle Dealers of Nigeria, had the audacity to order the stoppage of food and meat supply from the north to the south.
Initially, it sounded like a joke. But behold, last week Thursday, the association commenced a strike action asking for N4.75 billion in compensation from the federal government for the destruction of their businesses and property during the #EndSARS protest and Shasha, Oyo State market chaos in February.
Although the six days strike was reportedly called off on Wednesday following the intervention of Kogi State Governor, Yahaya Bello, it goes to show how selfish and unreasonable some people can be. This set of people has deliberately been sowing seeds of discord among the northerners. They portray the #EndSARS protest as being an anti-north protest which is far from the truth.
In the first two weeks of the protest which was carried out by Nigerian youths across the country who were demanding an end to police brutality, good governance, among others, we saw youths of the country from different tribes and religions united in one voice for a common purpose. They were forging ahead in this unity when some of our leaders became jittery and decided to destabilise them, leading to the huge destruction. And anyone who followed the reported accounts of the incident can testify that the destruction was done randomly across the country.
So, it couldn’t have been targeted at any ethnic group or region. Igbos, Hausas, Yorubas, Ijaws, Ibibios and people from other ethnic groups were victims of the mayhem. Now, should all these peoples withdraw their services to one another and, by implication, to the nation because some of them were adversely affected by the protest? What kind of country will that be?
Yes, there was an attack on food stuff sellers in Shasha, Ibadan, Oyo State. Was it not condemned by almost everyone, including governors, traditional and political leaders of the South West and other parts of the country? I remember the state governor, Seyi Makinde, and his Ondo State counterpart, Rotimi Akeredolu, promptly visiting the community, suing for peace and promising to give palliatives to those whose goods and property were affected by the mayhem.
So, there is no justification for the action of the northern food dealers who failed to realise that no section of the country has a monopoly of everything. What you have, others may not have. What others have, you may not have, hence the need for a balance. In any case, there are millions of northerners living in the south and vice versa. A lot of inter-marriages have taken place. So, by blocking transportation of food items to the south, you are also punishing your fellow northerners in that section of the country.
What about the huge loss to northern farmers who have invested millions of naira in their business, only to watch their goods perish or be compelled to sell them at giveaway prices because they are prevented from taking them to the south?  How will they be compensated?
I think we have come a long way as a country. And as long as we remain one nation, we should work towards peace and unity of the country instead of everyone clinging to their ethnic nationality as is being seen everywhere lately. There is no part of the country that is not feeling the heat of growing insecurity in the country. We should join hands to deal with the challenge instead of allowing it to tear us apart. There are various trades being carried out in the country – cattle rearing, farming, trading and many others. If those engaged in these businesses learn to abide by the rules of engagement and imbibe the principle of live-and-let live, our communities and the country at large will be a better, peaceful place to live.
Meanwhile, there is still a lot of work to be done about our national unity. It is not enough to erect the unity fountain or continue claiming that the country is united when through actions and inactions our political, opinion and religious leaders are constantly dividing the country. Some of our leaders, both at the federal and state levels, have placed their ethnic interests far above that of other ethnic groups in the country and are ready to dance to their tune no matter whose ox is gored. We have heard the Governor of Zamfara State, Bello Matawalle, and some other prominent people of Fulani origin constantly canvassing for amnesty for bandits who have killed, raped and plundered the North West and other parts of the country.  I believe you know the reason.
If we have leadership in the country, we need to see them take decisive measures to deal with the enormous problems in the country. The current issue of blockage of food supply particularly, should be swiftly and unbiasedly handled before it escalates.
For the leaders and peoples of the South, it is hoped that the events of the past six days have opened their eyes so that they can begin to prioritise investment in agriculture.

 

By: Calista Ezeaku

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Opinion

We Need Petroleum Products

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In recent times, the prices of petroleum products rose to the extent that citizens found it difficult to meet up.A situation where the price of petrol especially, is put at N170, N175 per litre in a country where crude oil is produced calls for concern.
Sometimes the problem may not come from the marketers but the authorities saddled with the responsibility of providing these essential commodities.I think one of the reasons for high cost of the products is the issue of importation and landing cost which according to some marketers make it difficult for them to break even.According to them, the marketers purchase from the major distributors at N161 or N162, and do not make any serious margin selling at N170 per litre.
When the present federal administration came into power a few years ago, the price of petrol was less than N100 per litre. They would always talk about subsidy removal and nothing reasonable to show from funds recovered from that.
How long will Nigerians continue to suffer with high cost of petroleum products? With epileptic power supply available, it is difficult for people to cope buying petrol at high cost to power their generating sets.
The chairman of the Independent Petroleum Marketers Association of Nigeria (IPMAN), Rivers State chapter, Dr. Obele Ngechu, said there was a looming petrol scarcity in the country and explained that high percentage of marketers were unable to get the products at the depots.
Motorists have been advised to avoid panic buying as the issue will soon be sorted out.
According to him, what is happening today in the international market, the rise, the upward review of crude oil is affecting the local market. The cost of gas is no longer the same. PMS is selling at over N170 or N180 in some stations. In the country today, you find out that the supply of petrol is not sufficient. Most petrol stations have run out of stock.
You imagine a situation where all the marketers will be requesting for petrol and only about 25 per cent will be able to get.
Last week, I had an experience of moving up to two or three filling stations in a particular area and none had a product.Cooking gas was also not there as they said they never had supply.  When I finally got one, the price had increased.
I think there is need for Nigeria to fix the refineries and not wait or depend on private ones which may not be able to satisfy users.It is high time the National Assembly took a short-term approach to the situation by making emergency arrangement for approval for subsidy since it was not in the 2021 budget.
Let there be subsidy because it will be difficult for Nigeria to be buying petrol at the initial high rate when she is not paying subsidy.In any port in Nigeria, the landing cost of petrol is N190 per litre from the foreign market, according to the IPMAN chairman.
When these products are refined in Nigeria; for instance, kerosene prices definitely will be minimal for the masses. The kind of kerosene available does not look good.
IPMAN Chairman said adulterated kerosene has taken over the market due to the high cost of refined kerosene in the international market.His words: “All Nigeria consumes now is what they call “Kpo fire”, because kerosene imported from the international market now is very expensive, it will cost N300 to arrive Nigeria and you can see “Kpo fire” is the one refined locally and a lot of people are dying as a result of it.”
The implication is that hike in price of petrol will definitely affect transport fares.  Motorists may want to increase fares to recover the cost and maximise profit, which is the mission of every business operator.
For the transporters who ply inter-state business with more quantities of fuel in some trips may also increase the fares to meet up. The rate at which people travel from one destination to another will reduce considering the high cost and scarcity of the product.
Although from December till now, with the price fluctuation, commercial vehicle operators have maintained their fares.We are aware that each time there is increase in pump price, prices of commodities rise because traders who deal on staple food especially the ones who go to “bush markets” will also increase price due to high cost of transportation.
Economic losses are always associated with high pump price because some commercial motorists can decide to withdraw from the business with the fear of not meeting up the turnover on a daily basis.
Sometimes car owners decide to keep their vehicles at home preferring to board public transport to work.
High foreign exchange is another issue affecting the major distributors from the international market and with high cost marketers find it difficult to cope.
Nigeria’s benchmark in the budget as it relates to sale of crude oil at the international market is pegged at $30 to $35 but crude oil is sold at $62 dollars per barrel.
Even cooking gas of 12.5 kg which was sold at N4000 for sometime now has gone up to N5000. This started gradually and unfortunately has not stopped till now.
As a result, some households have resorted to the use of kerosene and even firewood as their last option which, according to experts, is not advisable.
The government is supposed to subsidise the price for independent marketers and let the four refineries be fixed to function maximally, otherwise this current challenge in the petroleum industry will not do the citizenry any good.
We are not unaware that more private refineries are being established by individuals while some  will be in operation soon, but let something be done as fast as possible because of the masses.
Since the four traditional refineries are not producing at full capacity, the government should set up additional modular refineries that should be able to refine fuel in Nigeria at the price that the marketers can afford and break even.
When this is done, the product will be readily available, the issue of high cost and sometimes scarcity of the product will be a thing of the past.
The Federal Government should, as a matter of fact, repair the refineries so that crude oil can be refined in Nigeria. If they have become so obsolete, then new ones can be built new ones.

 

By: Eunice Choko-Kayode

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