There are many heart aches that test one’s faith in his or her religion and, indeed, God: the anguish of long suffering, the loss of valuable property, the treachery of an ingrate, the tortures of jealousy, the agony of poor health, but there is nothing that rends the heart, that destroys all hope, that ruins a life, that weakens one’s faith as the death of a beloved one.
On Friday October 2, 2009, the cold hand of death took away from me and my wife our beloved and only surviving child, Master Vahana Ochonma, at a tender age of 14 years eight months. Vaha as he was fondly called returned from his school, Niger Delta Science school, Rives State College of Arts and Science, Rumuola, Port Harcourt hail and hearty on Monday September 28, 2009. Later that day he complained of pains.
We took Vaha to a private clinic first, but there was no significant improvement. So we moved him to the university of Port Harcourt Teaching Hospital. Up till 2.00 p.m. that faithful Friday both of us had a father-and-son chat. Though lying in his sick bed, he assured us that he was strong and even asked for food. Thereafter, it was a bewildering battle. Doctors, nurses, everyone there fought relentlessly to stop the merciless hand of death from snatching Vaha away but to no avail. At exactly 2.30 p.m. Vaha started his journey to the far country, the glories above. Our flood of tears could not stop him. The love we share could not stop him. Our lofty plans for him could not stop him. And his dream to become a medical doctor could not stop him.
Vaha had a most promising and envious future. He was a wonderful child so intelligent, so dutiful, so handsome, so thoughtful, and so full of life, velocity, and love that my wife and I were content with him as the only child. He was a child of humorous, courteous, cheerful, and honest disposition. From the tributes of his teachers, mates, friends, and relations to him, Vaha touched the lives of the people he met on his short sojourn in this world of tears, sorrow, struggle and sweat. Describing his nature, one of his teachers who came to commiserate with us repeatedly said in a very sober tone: “Vahana was a good boy”. His Eminence, Sir Dr. Chukumela Nnam Obi II (OON JP) Oba (Eze Ogba) of Ogbaland and Chairman, Rivers State Council of Traditional Rulers who also came to console us said that Vaha was not dead because he will continue to live in the heart of his admirers.
Vaha, my son, was my brother and my friend. He was my Researcher, Liberian, Special Assistant, Adviser, and Confidant. He was my motivation for work. To my wife, the mother, he was everything. Vaha was a jewel of inestimable value.
As I write this piece, I remember the words he regularly used to propel me to write this column. He would remind me: “Daddy, you have not down loaded for this week”. So you see why I could not “down load” for the past three weeks.
Life without Vaha will be a terrible challenge to me. As I try to write this piece with tears welling up my eyes, a question continues to swim across my mind: What is it that each and everyone of us seeks in life? I think each and everyone of us needs a child or children in a family to give him or her an anchor, to give him roots in this earth. We need more than power, wealth, and fame to make us human. We need love, kindness and affection to learn the true values in the world. We need happiness, success, peace of mind. We need more life.
We avoid cross roads, crisis. Now I know better that crisis is a part of life. With its different sizes, colours and shapes, it comes when it will come. When we face crisis, we face a decision. In a crisis situation, we are like a patient who either gets worse and dies, or gets better and lives. Since the death of Vaha 26 days ago my wife and I have been inundated with stories of people who faced terrible crisis. Some got over their crises and lived while others could not and they died.
And so I ask again. What is it that each and everyone of us seeks in life? Sri Harold Klemp, a writer and spiritual says that what we should look for is a greater ability to meet our life. In his words: “When any thing comes up, instead of being plowed under by the forces of life, flattened by the steamrollers of the negative forces, we say, I have the temple within myself and we figure out what to do. It will give an idea, a nudge to take the next step to figuring a way out of the predicament”.
Now my wife and I are facing the practical aspects of our religious teachings. And so do others faced with one crisis or the other.
In spite of the numerous pathways man has been led through, living one’s religion is to live a full spiritual life each day. This involves absolute self-surrender to the will of God. It involves finding heaven no matter what our outer circumstances may be. It involves giving love to God and our fellow creatures and also accepting same whether it comes in form of religion, gifts, kind words, challenges or crisis. Then no matter the vicissitutes of life we can always find at least a little bit of happiness every day. I think this is possible for those who desire to live their religion.
16 Days Of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence
November 25 marked the beginning of the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, which ends on International Human Rights Day, December 10.
As the U.S. Ambassador to the Federal Republic of Nigeria, a leader, and a woman, gender equality and women’s empowerment are causes that are near and dear to me. They are also priorities for the U.S. government at home and around the world.
President Joseph Biden has made gender equity and equality a cornerstone of his administration, with a first-ever national strategy to advance the rights and empowerment of women and girls.
The Department of State has an office dedicated to Global Women’s Issues and the United States globally contributes over $200million annually towards gender equity and equality programming.
In Nigeria, the U.S. Mission works to promote environments that support women’s economic success, to address challenges that hold women back, and to empower Nigerian women to do the same. Nations that have gender parity have greater economic and developmental growth, less conflict, and higher rates of literacy than those that do not.
Fundamentally, we see it as our duty – and that of everyone who seeks a just and equitable society – to ensure women and girls have opportunities not just to participate but also to lead in all aspects of life.
As Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie said earlier this year at our International Women’s Day gala, “Women for so long have been excluded and now we are slowly righting the wrongs of history.” The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)’s five-year plan, initiated in 2020, highlights gender inclusion as a cross-cutting issue required to achieve Nigeria’s development objectives. The strategy prioritises narrowing gender gaps and equalising access to health care, agriculture, education, economic empowerment, political participation, and peacebuilding.
Equitable treatment of women is something we can all agree on, and it is the underlying requirement for addressing gender-based violence (GBV). Last year, USAID promoted an integrated, comprehensive package of community interventions, including health and counselling services, to prevent and respond to GBV.
To decrease social tolerance for GBV, our partner Breakthrough Action – Nigeria (BA-N) delivered integrated messaging on GBV through mass media, community structures, and religious channels. BA-N also strengthened community volunteers’ skills to identify and refer GBV survivors to USAID-supported services, such as primary health facilities.
Simultaneously, activities such as the Integrated Health Program supported the Federal Ministry of Women’s Affairs to select national GBV indicators to increase GBV reporting across sectors. USAID supported the Federal Ministry of Health to adopt World Health Organization post-GBV clinical care guidelines.
United with the Nigerian government, the private sector, and civil society, we were able to simplify the most complex concepts of GBV, and thereby shape Nigeria’s National Strategic Health Development Plan II to better address this vital issue.
As Africa’s largest democracy, Nigeria sets the tone for the rest of the continent. Nigeria has done so much to advance women’s issues, including the passage of the Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act and the implementation of the National Gender Policy.
However, there are still many structural inequalities that impede women’s access to economic resources and opportunities and that hinder women’s full participation in society. According to the World Economic Forum’s 2021 Global Gender Gap Index, Nigeria ranks 78th out of 156 countries in terms of economic opportunities for women.
Nigerian women’s full participation in public life is fundamental both to reducing their vulnerability to GBV and to sustaining Nigeria’s vibrant democracy. Yet, women and girls often face high barriers in electoral politics, governance, and peacebuilding.
Nigeria’s representation of women in state and national government stands at only four percent in elective office and 16percent in appointed positions. Women not only lack a platform, but their viewpoints are also excluded from the decision-making process.
The upcoming 2023 elections present a critical opportunity to include more women in leadership positions in government. Throughout this election season, Mission Nigeria will be working with local organisations specifically to reduce violence against women in politics and during the elections.
Together, we will work to strengthen the capacity of women’s groups to advocate for laws and policies that provide better protections for women. In return, we hope more women will run for office, join a campaign, or serve in the next administration.
Recognising the challenges women face, the United States will continue to support Nigerian women to realise greater productivity, economic diversification, and income equality. We will continue to push for full implementation and enforcement cooperation of laws and regulations already enacted, with emphasis on criminal accountability for those complicit in violations of the law.
And we will continue our long-standing partnership with the Nigerian government, the private sector, and civil society, to each do our part to build a more gender-inclusive society, where women and girls are not only safe from gender-based violence but can reach their full potential.
By: Mary Beth Leonard
Leonard, US ambassador to Nigeria, wrote from Abuja.
Nigeria Is Ripe For BVAS
The voice of the unpatriotic is unmistakable in the respect that even after 108 years of our marriage, and 62 years of our independence, there is scarcely any policy, technology, or structure that we are ripe for as a nation. And it does not matter if this new thing, whatever it is, happens to be the best for us as a nation. It does not matter if technical innovation is able to leapfrog us, such that we can take our place in the League of Nations. No. The voice of the unpatriotic becomes even loudest, especially when undue political or economic advantage appears to be slipping away, as might be the case in the current election cycle.
The audacity of those with a stranglehold on our country is palpable. Take, for example, the recent utterance of the Kano State Chairman of the All Progressive Congress, Abdullah Abbas in Gaya, when reiterated that the APC will capture Kano by hook or by crook. He said: “People are saying that I should stop saying the APC will capture Kano by hook or crook. I want to tell this gathering that the APC will capture Kano by hook or crook.
Such statements reveal the underbelly of the APC, its National Chairman, Senator Abdullahi Adamu, and others like them, whose chief aim is to retain Nigeria in perpetual infancy even when we have all that it takes. For these men, it is either we standstill or retrogress, not minding that the world continues to move forward. Senator Adamu played his hand during the recent visit of the Commonwealth delegation to the 2023 General Elections at the party secretariat in Abuja.
The APC Chairman voiced his doubt concerning the practicality of using the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) for the transmission of election results in real time from every part of the country. In his thinking, Nigeria is still technologically infantile to make such a quantum leap. To substantiate his position, he raised the issue of network coverage and electricity. But, as a former governor, he might be having selective amnesia. Because, he Must have been more privileged than most Nigerians to know the extent of, and the nature of terrorist operations even in the remotest parts of our nation.
But, of course, these concerns are only a window dressing to shroud the real intentions of his party, which is to derogate, vitiate, and sow distrust in the mind of millions of Nigerians against the capability and the credibility of the new technology. Ordinarily, some may argue that he spoke out of tune, but that thought perished when the party’s National Secretary, Suleiman Argungu doubled down when he stated that power supply would be a major issue in his home state of Kebbi. But again, this argument is pedestrian, in the sense that accreditation has been done using an electronic device provided by the Independent National Electoral Commission in recent elections.
Arguments of this sort from those who ought especially to know, signpost why Nigeria continues to wallow in underdevelopment always scoring own goals, while our target is within reach. We have bought the fallacy of ‘the nascent democracy.’ lying to ourselves that we are young in comparison to other enduring democracies. We say things like, it took America more than 200 years, and they are yet to get it right. But, we forget that when they started, knowledge was not ubiquitous, and that information took days, weeks, if not months to travel. Conversely, we can have the information we want right in the palm of our hands. And, if we have any deficiency, we can immediately bring experts from enduring democracy to train and equip us. No. our problems are self-inflicted, either through our collective actions or inactions. We are our own undoing by design.
The overarching interest of a few has jaundiced and beclouded the outlook of the many. We have accepted mediocrity as a national value and replaced robust debates on key national issues with religious and tribal sentiments and coyish acquiescence. Take, for example, the issue of the State Police, as far back as 2011; former President Goodluck Jonathan expressed the view of the National Council of State when he stated that the political state of the country as of that time was maladjusted for State Police. According to him: “State Police may be theoretically good, but looking at our political environment, it could be abused to the detriment of the country.” Since that time, the lie has been propagated, especially by people from one section of the country. And, they have done everything possible to ensure that the issue is never debated on the floor of both chambers of the National Assembly. You may recall that former Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Idris echoed the same sentiment, when in July 2017, he mooted that Nigeria, as yet, lacks the political maturity for state police.
Even when the governor under the platform of Southern Nigeria Governors Forum summoned the gumption to demand the creation of state police, President Buhari went on an interview on Channel Television to raise the issue of abuse by governors. Sadly, he is also cut into the same web of abuse, particularly in the manner with which he has relegated Federal Character to the dustbin in his tenure. The fear of the APC and certain puppet masters behind the curtains of power, and control in this country is not unfounded. In fact, the handwriting is on the wall. These men are afraid of one cardinal mantra of a thriving democracy: which is one man, one vote. As February 2023 draws near, it is becoming clearer to them that any popular candidate can win an election in any part of the country. They are on the edge because the era of vote trafficking and vote dump is over. Besides, 2023 is a different kind of election year since our return to democracy in 1999.
This time Mohammadu Buhari is not on the ballot, and again, the battleground is in the North, particularly in three key states of Katsina, Kano, and Kaduna. In Katsina and Kano, it shall be a 3-horse race, but in Kaduna, between the APC, PDP, and the NNPP. However, Kaduna will be different; it will be a 4-horse race, considering that Labour Party’s Vice Presidential Candidate is from that state. Sadly, because the puppet masters are about to lose the ability to stuff ballot boxes, and write election results as they choose, they have taken to farting in the public, while working underground to oust INEC Chairman, Professor Mahmood Yakubu. Unfortunately for them, it appears President Buhari looks to sculpt the 2023 General Election into his magnum opus, after his disastrous seven years of misrule.
Thankfully, the INEC Chairman has sensed President Buhari’s posture and has started to act and speak with renewed boldness. He said: “As I have said repeatedly, the Commission’s allegiance is to Nigeria.
Our loyalty is to Nigerians who want free, fair, credible, and verifiable elections supported by technology, which guarantees transparent accreditation and upload of polling unit results for citizens to view in real-time on Election Day. It is for these reasons that the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) and the INEC Result Viewing Portal (IReV) were introduced. There is no going back on the deployment of BVAS and IReV for the 2023 General Election.”
INEC will deploy a total of 176, 846 Bimodal Voter Accreditation System for the February 2023 general elections, and an additional 17,618 BVAS machines for back-up, with two devices per registration area according to its National Commissioner and Chairman, Information and Voter Education Committee, Festus Okoye recently in Abuja. And, in this case of INEC, the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System, the INEC Results Viewing Portal, and the 2023 General Elections, the time is ripe for a change. Would 2023 General Elections be completely hitched free? I do not know. But I know that the narrow way to political progress and national development is littered with honest imperfections.
By: Raphael Pepple
Underaged Voting: Going Beyond Rhetorics
It is always a delight listening to the popular and revered Kenyan orator, Prof. Patrice Loch Otieno Lumumba. He has a way of addressing the deep-rooted African problems including neocolonialism, corruption, poor leadership and others. A few days ago, for the umpteenth time, I listened to him on the radio talking about the greed and selfishness of African electorates who prefer crumbs from politicians’ tables to ideas that will guarantee a better future for their countries. According to the professor of law who once headed Kenya Anti Corruption Commission, “The electorates have an insatiable thirst and hunger for things that they have not worked for.
They have been trained and they no longer listen to ideas. “…Many times, when you address the electorates and you are waxing eloquently telling them ‘When I am elected, I am going to ensure that we have good health services; we are going to ensure good schools; we are going to ensure that we create opportunity for innovation and invention and create opportunity for young men and women.” They are waiting for you to finish. They will tell you, “We hear you. We know you are going to do all those beautiful things but in the intervening period, I must eat. And therefore, no matter how beautiful your ideas are, if you don’t carry money on that day, your ideal like the elephant will never fly.”
Is that not the key problem with electorates in Nigeria? Nigerians are good at complaining about the numerous ills in our society, the age-long poor leadership, the failure of those in authority to handle the lingering insecurity in the country, our dwindling economy, lack of adequate attention to the education, health and other sectors of the economy and many others. We lampoon our elected leaders for their greed and selfishness and lack of interest in the affairs of the citizens, yet when it is time for us to elect those who will manage the affairs of the country, we put behind all reasonable consideration about a better Nigeria and prioritize our selfish interests. We stop thinking about Nigeria but rather focus on me, myself and I. The questions will become, who will butter my bread? Through who shall I partake of the national cake. Hardly do people bother about what should be done to ensure that every Nigerian has a taste of the national cake .
Yes, Nigerian leaders, both past and present are largely responsible for the present sorry state of the nation but the led cannot be exonerated. Just look at the issue of underaged registered voters in the recently released preliminary voters register by the Independent Electoral Commission (INEC). There have been allegations by some Nigerians, including members of some political parties and Civil Society Organisations that there are obvious pictures of underaged persons on the register among other irregularities. Even the electoral body acknowledged that there are children voters on the register. “The essence of putting out this is for Nigerians to help the Commission further clean up the voter register. We want people to look at the register and assist the Commission to check whether their names have been properly spelt; whether their personal particulars have been properly captured; whether some pictures are not upside down; whether there are still names of deceased persons on the register; whether there are obviously underage persons on the register so that we can correct them,” said Mr. Festus Okoye, INEC’s National Commissioner in charge of voter education and publicity.
The problem of underaged voters is not novel to Nigeria’s politics. It rears its head during virtually all general elections in the country. During every election video clips and pictures of children below the approved voting age of 18, queuing up to cast their votes make the rounds in both social and traditional media. Initially, it was associated with the northern part of the country, today, like cancer, the menace has spread to other parts of the country. And a basic question that needs to be asked is, who are the parents of these children? Why should parents allow their underaged children to register as voters? Why should parents allow desperate, so-called selfish politicians who they despise for making life unbearable for them to use their children to achieve their ulterior motives and jeopardize the process of electing credible leaders that would take the country out of the woods? Is it possible that they were paid by some politicians for those children to be used to beef up the votes?
Early in the week, the Conference of United Political Parties of Nigeria (CUPP) raised an alarm over an alleged plan by the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC) to rig the forthcoming election through digital vote-buying, tagged ‘Operation Wire-Wire’. The alleged plan which has been denied by the APC is being perpetrated using various platforms and would see the party paying over 10 million voters electronically to purchase their votes. This huge number of people are still the same Nigerians groaning because of bad leadership and intense suffering in the country. Some people are quick to tell you that poverty and hunger are the major reasons why people sell their votes. But we have seen both in Nigeria and other countries where poor people of high moral standard and integrity would reject money and other forms of inducements and choose the path of honour and national progress.
The truth is that many Nigerians have lost their values. We teach our children to tell lies, to cheat and do other bad things because of money without seeing anything wrong with that. Recently, during a school’s common entrance examination, pupils that were less than 10 years old were asked not to take part in the exam because they were underaged and would not be admitted in that school. Shockingly, some parents, mothers for that matter, drew their children aside and started telling them to claim they were 10 years and above when they were not. If we must get it right in this country, if we must have a country of our dreams where things work well and the citizens are happy, we must begin to change our orientation and value system. We cannot continue to place money over integrity, human dignity, national unity, patriotism and values of the national ethics and integrity policy and expect things to go well in the country. The 2023 general election is by the corner. Politicians are going round selling their ideas, their vision and plan for the nation. Is it not high time Nigerians weigh through these ideas and queue behind the candidates who have the best plans for the nation, states, local governments and our various constituencies instead of focusing on the immediate “stomach infrastructure” they are able to provide?
And for INEC, they should go beyond the usual rhetoric and find a lasting solution to the reoccurring issue of underaged voting so as to gain the trust of Nigerians. It is not enough for Mr. Okoye and other top staff of the Commission to promise Nigerians that no underaged person will be allowed to vote. We heard such statements during previous elections but in the end, what happened? Nigerians will like to see INEC staff or whoever were responsible for the underaged registration punished for their illegal act. Citizens want to see INEC tackle this problem using technology as they promised. Most importantly, political offices should be made less attractive in Nigeria. Politicians go to any length, spend millions to get into power because of the enormous gains and privileges attached to political offices in the country. There is no doubt that when these positions are made less attractive, the desperation to clinch elected offices will reduce and selfless leaders will begin to emerge across all levels.
By: Calista Ezeaku
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