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I’m A militant In My Own Right – Ilagha

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Nengi Josef Ilagha, popularly known as Pope Pen The First, President of the Pen Pushers Talking Front, PPTF, has worked as a journalist, broadcaster and public relations consultant. Born in Nembe, Bayelsa State, on December 18, 1963, he took a degree in English & Literary Studies from the University of Port Harcourt. A one-time editor of The Tide On Sunday Nengi Josef Ilagha was Speech Writer to the Governor of Bayelsa State. He was later elevated to Special Adviser on Research & Documentation to the same government on account of his robust intellectual input to the resource control debate. His latest book, Goodluck To Bayelsa, a collection of speeches in honour of Dr Goodluck Jonathan, has been highly commended for putting the political records straight in Bayelsa and for speaking up eloquently for peace in the Niger Delta region. January Gestures, his new book of poems, was among the nine books in the race for the 2009 edition of the Nigeria Prize for Literature, sponsored by NLNG. In this revealing interview just before the event, the poet bares his mind.

What does it feel like to be shortlisted for the 2009 Nigeria Prize for Literature?

I am suitably gratified to have made it through to this point. Without doubt, Nigeria is blessed with a good number of poets, and the evidence was there for the panel of judges to see. To be in the first nine out of 163 poets, therefore, is indeed a remarkable feat. I am grateful that professional judgement has been given fairly, and that I have not fallen foul of the rules of poetic engagement so far. My entry for the competition, January Gestures, begins with a word of faith to the effect that I feel obliged to God for the life I live, and that I would dedicate my breath to praising the almightiness of my Maker, from day to day, for as long as I live. To be named in the shortlist, therefore, is like receiving a word of endorsement from above that my fervent prayers are being answered.

 Do you have previous commendations and awards?

Yes, indeed. Mantids, my first book of poems, won the Association of Nigerian Authors poetry prize in 1995, in manuscript. That was my opening glee, so to speak. That was the first time I received public confirmation that I was on the path of my true calling, and the assurance that I had not been wasting time scratching my feelings out on paper. After that, I took bolder steps towards poetry, and poetry practically took greater strides towards me. In 1998, I entered a collection of 54 fresh poems under the title, Apples & Serpents, and received honourable mention in the first edition of the Christopher Okigbo Prize for African Literature, endowed by Wole Soyinka. And then I went on a long sabbatical, writing speeches in the corridors of Creek Haven, and on the fringes of government.

 How many of your poetry collections have been published? Name them.

So far, I have four collections of poetry in print. After Mantids, I went back to work on Apples & Serpents, to explore the subject to the fullest possible limits, before publishing it. Today, it’s a much more sizeable book than it was in 1998, something far more satisfactory, and I’m proud to present it to the world the way it is. But I knew that I hadn’t quite exhausted myself. As a matter of fact, I was just taking the first tentative steps, like a chicken caught in the passage, on one leg standing, contemplating the long odyssey into the labyrinth of poetry. With the dawn of 2007, I embarked upon a more ambitious project, determined to write a book of poems dedicated to each month of the year, a rigorous labour of love undertaken from day to day, week after week, from January to December, stretching out like an interminable diary of pain. That’s how I began A Calendar of Faith, which is the composite title for the entire project. January Gestures is in print, and so is February Fabrics. The other ten months, March to December, are pending. That is to say, I have finished writing all twelve books of poetry, but I am awaiting funds from the IMF and the World Bank to have them published.

 In your opinion, what are the attributes of a good poem?

In the first place, a good poem should be able to communicate the feelings embodied in it. A poem is a poem because it seeks to express the feelings of the poet, its primary composer. It seeks to convey a message, to pass on a felt experience in a special way. That special way by which the message is conveyed is your style. It is your individuality. It cannot be taken from you. Content is everyone’s free party. It is how you say what everyone else can feel or say that marks you out from the crowd. The primary tool for doing that is imagery. Every good poem works with imagery, which is an all-embracing word for figures of speech.

For me, a poem is dry and arid if it does not leave me with an image that impresses itself on my mind sufficiently for me to want to go back to see exactly how the poet put it. In other words, an image must insist on being reckoned with. Every good poem deserves a second reading, and yet another, until the experience becomes a part of me. If I think of J.P. Clark’s “Ibadan,” for instance, the overriding image that I’m left with is “broken china in the sun.” Every other word in that poem builds up teasingly to that image. A truly gifted poet can harness a series of images in a single poem, line after line, without bungling his metaphors and without losing the admiration of the reader. I appreciate such poets.

When did you start writing poems?

I have always been fascinated by words for as long as I can remember. My venerable father, King Joseph Aye Ilagha, was widely recognised as the grammarian of the entire Nembe clan for several generations. He was fond of words, explosive in his use of words, and I was always ready to listen to him speak. As his first son, he took me everywhere he went, so I became his permanent audience. He also had a wonderful and majestic handwriting, and I wanted to be like him, so I started writing. But I consciously began crafting verse in form five, my last year at Nembe National Grammar School. That was in 1980. I was fascinated, in particular, by Shakespeare’s Macbeth. It overwhelmed my senses with mental pictures whenever I flipped through the pages, and I had a great teacher at that time, a youth corps member named Hassan Hassan, who dramatized it all for me in class. So, before long, I set out to recreate my own experiences on paper, attempting to sound like Shakespeare. I failed woefully, of course, but I’m glad to say that I didn’t give up. Thankfully, my love for words endures till this day, and this is just how far the excursion with my father has taken me.

Do you write any other genre apart from poetry?

Yes, I tried working with every genre that was introduced to me in class. I sketched some dialogue in the name of writing plays. I began a novel or two to test my capacity for endurance, and didn’t get far enough. Now, I’m much more at home with the short fiction medium because I have to deal with just a slice of life at a time. A Birthday Delight, my first collection of short stories, is already in print, and so is I Want To Be A Senator, my first collection of essays gathered from my years in journalism. I find the essay useful as an art form because, like the short story, it captures my opinion and gives it amplitude within a short spell of time, so to speak. But my favourite medium for self expression is the poem. It enables me to condense so much into a few words, if I want to. I just roll from image to image, and do well to keep my roller-coaster ride under control. I am the driver in every one of my poems. I am always at the steering wheel, conscious of the fact that if I don’t control my words, I stand the risk of crashing out of relevance, and I can’t afford to do that. So, I grab the first word and let it lead me to the very last word.

 Can you mention five foreign poets that you love to read? What makes them peculiar?

Frankly, I have never been comfortable with questions like this. I wish you would take one particular poet, one particular work, and ask my opinion. Then I would be more definite. I studied Literature in English at the University of Port Harcourt in the first half of the 80s, which is to say that I was obliged to read widely, and intensively too. And, in the course of that, I came across a whole lot of enchanting poets. To pick five of them is to be unfair to the lot who have had a composite influence on the body of world literature, through the ages and through time. I was engrossed with the narrative verse of Geoffrey Chaucer as with the sonnets of William Shakespeare. I identify with the lyrics of Lord George Gordon Byron as with the poems of Alexander Pushkin or Rabindranath Tagore or Jean-Joseph Rabiarivelo. I can locate common grounds in the poetry of Pablo Neruda or T.S. Eliot or Edgar Allan Poe in much the same way that I am at home with the poetry of Dennis Brutus or Augustino Neto. In all, I am grateful for every quirk of composition that I learnt from these poets, and I believe I have already counted beyond five.

 Well, can you mention five Nigerian poets that you love to read?

Yes, I can. In 1986, I moulded my opinion on the poetry of Gabriel Okara into what turned out to be my undergraduate project, drawing a linguistic continuum between his poetry, as embodied in The Fisherman’s Invocation and the quaint prose of his only novel, The Voice. I have come to the conclusion that it is not enough to say, for instance, that I like Okigbo’s poetry and leave it at that. Indeed I love to read Christopher Okigbo for his delicate imagery, his winning lines, so much so that I am currently undertaking a written appreciation of his poetry in a long essay entitled “Tiger Mask & Nude Spear.” Such an exhaustive study, self-imposed as it is and conducted outside of the ivory tower, would enable me to understand why I like Okigbo’s poetry. I have to get to the root of the matter. Frankly, I should do that for every poet I enjoy reading.

The poetry of Odia Ofeimun equally opened my soul to another kind of poetic temperament, namely the poet as a social warrior out to question every infelicity in governance, and I speak with particular reference to The Poet Lied. And then, of course, there is Niyi Osundare, the most prolific Nigerian poet to date, and the most daring in terms of sheer stylistic impetus. He parades a variegated sensibility that many of his admirers wish they could inherit. What’s more, among my contemporaries, I admire the poetic talents of Esiaba Irobi, Afam Akeh, Chiedu Ezeanah, Ogaga Ifowodo and Chijioke Amu-Nnadi. These are poets who deserve to be studied in their own rights, poets with a high-grade sensitivity of their own. I believe it is high time we began an exhaustive critical appreciation of these poets for the sake of our national literature, and I have resolved to do my part of this large assignment. If there are no critics of current Nigerian literature, as Professor Charles Nnolim maintains, perhaps it will not be out of place for the writers themselves to become their own critics so long as it serves the end of literature.

 Can you please outline your daily activities…?

I’m afraid I can’t do that. I will not do that. No one day is the same as the other, and that’s what I have tried to explore in A Calendar of Faith. Every day is a genuine gift from God. Between sleep and waking, so much happens that isn’t the same, from day to day, week after week, month after month.

It is my duty to take the lessons of each day in my stride, to consciously make the most of that gift, if I am to qualify as a better human being tomorrow, one aspiring to be worthy of redemption in the eyes of God. In short, I don’t see life as routine. If it were so, it would be boring. There is always something unique about each day, and I always look out for that unique element, and do well to date it. For instance, if you were to give me this same assignment tomorrow, expecting me to outline my activities, I’m not likely to use these same words. So, I take every day as it comes, and do well to be in charge of it. The poem I write on the first day of the year cannot possibly be the same as the poem I write in the middle of the year or on the last day of the year, because each day comes with its own challenges, its own blessings, its own promises, its own disappointments, its own sheer variety.

Q.X.    Is the ability to write poetry innate in every human being?

I believe it is. We all have access to breath. Poetry is breath, free utterance captured on paper. You are at liberty to express yourself, or else to deny yourself self-expression by hiding the plain images, the unadorned words that come to you, under an obscurantist bushel. If you feel pain, do well to express it in your own words, in clear terms appreciable to your neighbour. If you fall in love, nobody expresses it for you. It is up to you to dig deep into yourself to shore up the best possible choice of words that can tell the listening ear that you are in love. Isn’t it?

In short, you can be a poet if you want to. All you need do is summon the required presence of mind, pull up a chair, sit your butt down before a desk, place a blank sheet of paper before you, hold a pen, and write out the next poem that comes to your mind to the best of your ability. The duty of a writer is to write. I believe that’s what you call discipline. If you can take that position when you set out to write a letter, you can do the same for a poem. Or, this being the age of the computer, type out your feelings on your laptop. To a large extent, a poem is a letter you write to yourself, a personal experience you share with yourself, and if someone gets to read it and is affected by it, you have scored a bull’s eye.

I suppose that’s what William Wordsworth meant when he defined poetry as an act of self confession, confessing yourself to yourself. In much the same way, I believe that’s what Niyi Osundare meant when he defined a poem as “man meaning to man.” So long as you employ the tools of poetry, the figurative use of language to express your feelings, you can persuade the reader to relate with that experience from your own point of view. To varying degrees, therefore, every human being is a poet. As Vincent Egbuson would put it, “a poet is a man.” By extension, for that matter, a poet may jolly well be a woman.

Q.XI.   If you were to win the coveted NLNG poetry prize for 2009, what would you invest in?

I doubt if I would have problems with investing the prize money wisely. I have seen enough of this wicked world to know that there is an open market out there, waiting for the best ideas to transform lives. There is a whole range of hungry commitments just waiting for funds to meet them. Beyond the immediate celebration, however, I am consumed by the idea of setting up a credible private media outfit that would help to streamline the thinking of the militants in the Niger Delta for the best. As Obasanjo would say, the problem with Nigeria is the problem of the Niger Delta. Yet, after serving three terms as the number one citizen of Nigeria, first as military Head of State, and twice as civilian President within a twenty-year period, he failed to resolve the problem. If you were to ask Obasanjo afresh what the problem with Nigeria is today, he would probably say the same thing. Blame it on the Niger Delta.

In my humble opinion, as a creative writer and as an illustrious son of the Niger Delta, the militants in question have not been able to express themselves fully, in intellectual terms, to the understanding of their neighbours in other parts of the country. And I say this advisedly. They are yet to compel the attention of the world with graphic descriptions of conditions in the swamp. They are yet to evoke the sympathy of the men and women of good conscience with the kind of rousing rhetoric typical of an Obama. Ultimately, I don’t think the option of the gun and the bayonet is the best. It only depletes our ranks. It only ends up wasting our useable manpower. It was an option that Isaac Boro himself had already jettisoned, as anyone familiar with his book, The 12-Day Revolution, will attest to. If Boro were alive today, he would be a man of peace, not a man of war. To resort to violence in this day and age is to suffer from what Wole Soyinka calls “idiom closure,” the inability to develop an argument beyond the moment. I dare say that dialogue answers all things. A well-reasoned response is the best answer to a foolish question. Put simply, peace is the answer to all the problems of Nigeria. Ask Jesus Christ.

In short, the pen is mightier than the gun. So, I would like to invest in the pen. I would rather start a writing school, so that every militant in the Niger Delta will be sufficiently equipped to express themselves. I would reach out to every militant worth his name, and give each one of them ample space to explain why they felt compelled to carry a gun and to cover their faces like Mau Mau photographers until President Umar Yar’Adua persuaded them to lay down their weapons, and Governor Timipre Sylva brought them out into the open, on national television. On my honour, I would do well to let them know from the start how forbidden it is to shed blood in the open sight of God. These are the concerns of my forthcoming book entitled, The Militant Writes Back, a body of poems expressing what it feels like to live in a militant environment such as the Niger Delta. Take note. I am a militant in my own right, but nobody is negotiating with me. And that is because the pen is my weapon.

Q.XII.             When you say you want to establish a private press that would put the Niger Delta struggle in better perspective, what do you mean? And what’s this talk of a writing school? Could you please explain further?

Sure. What I mean is this. I have worked as a journalist for the better part of my adult life. I have been a reporter in the best sense of the word, a foot-soldier in the news gathering business. I also served as editor of a state newspaper for four years, and I am a tried and tested broadcaster, on radio and television. It doesn’t quite matter that, today, I am banned from practicing journalism in my own state. I am banned from the state radio, banned from the state television, banned from revamping the state newspaper, even in my capacity as General Manager. And all this because I told the incumbent head of the media machinery in the state, the Commissioner for Information, no less, that he was the wrong man for the job, because he doesn’t know what it means to harness all three arms of the media to work in the larger interest of the state and of the Sylva government. I told him at point-blank range that nobody knows Asara A. Asara in the Nigerian media industry, even if he parades three As in his name, and that he would be better off as a manager of his hotel business or simply remain a professional fisherman. Rather than reason with me in a mature and civilized manner, the man took offence and opted to send my pen on suspension. But, as Esiaba Irobi would ask, how do you pin down a cloud?

But all that is just by the way. In December 2006, I made a public presentation of my first four books all at once to mark my 43rd birthday, and the Bayelsa State Government (under Dr Goodluck Jonathan at that time) made a heart-warming promise to provide me with a digital press on account of the commendable feat I had accomplished, so that I would be even more productive. The four books in question are Mantids, A Birthday Delight, I Want To Be A Senator, and Apples & Serpents. As may be expected, I was overjoyed at that public pronouncement. It’s a good sign when a prophet is accepted in his own backyard. But three years after that event, the promise is yet to be redeemed. So, in the light of all this, I would like to set up a press that would serve the public interest, a medium that would specifically help to correct the erroneous impressions held by some people about the Niger Delta, if I have the wherewithal so to do. That is because, to quote Obasanjo again, if the problem of the Niger Delta region is resolved, then the problem of Nigeria is as good as solved.

Now, to the last part of your question. Once upon a time, I conceived the idea of establishing a writing school with the modest funds at my disposal. It is called Shalom School of Scripture, SSS. It advocates peace as its motto. I actually bought a small parcel of land in Yenagoa, laid the foundation stone on December 2, 2004, with a few close friends as witness, and built it up to a certain point. It is still awaiting completion. That is a project idea that I consider worthwhile, and I don’t mind going back to it, if I have funds. As you know, there is no formal school of writing in Nigeria. Mamman Vatsa’s dream is yet to materialize, in Abuja or outside Abuja. This private initiative would admit Nigerian writers into a residency programme for as long as they see fit, in the heart of the Niger Delta, in Bayelsa precisely, so that our creative writers can be better enlightened about the motives that led the ex-militants to become militants in the first place.

Take it from me. Bayelsa is a nice, quiet and peaceful land where any writer in the world can concentrate his talents and write twelve books in one year, just as I have done. Bayelsa is the glory of all lands. There is no disputing that. If Jesus Christ is to come suddenly upon the world, he would arise from Bayelsa, and step out like a tell-tale thief in the deep night of the world’s ignorance, like a weaverbird spelling judgment upon the sins of the world with the very breath of poetry. I hope that answers your question.

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Re: Wike, A Governor Possessed By Spirit Of Flyovers

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Our attention was drawn to an article titled: “Wike, a Governor Possessed By Spirit of Flyovers” published by Yemi Adebowale. It was in his ‘RingTrue’ column of the ThisDay Newspaper of August 6th, 2022.
The writer exhibited distasteful notoriety with his recluse to illogical offerings in public space of what he least knew about. The development audacity of Governor Nyesom Wike has remained all inclusive. The writer hardly grasped that extent. His piece depicted him as a sad minded and bitter man. Evidences of one soaked in skewed social media snippets abounded in his piece.
Publishers of such snippets, always, were backward looking critics. They feared to seek out the fact that would help them cease from misinformation. Yemi Adebowale, unfortunately so, had showed himself to be among such political opportunists and hack writers who politicise and trivialise issues of development with puerile logic.
As their stock-in-trade, they criticise blindly every genuine intention of Governor Wike. It is therefore, imperative for us to overcome the temptation of being silent over such snide and provocative innuendos in that obviously sponsored pervasive rant.
Stating it as it is, from inception of his administration on May 29th, 2015, up until now, Governor Wike has been dogged with issues of development . He started off with such urgency and accomplished so much within first few months in office. The drive was predicated on repairing the rot in all sectors that he inherited. The giant development strides were to rebuild the broken walls of social trust and vitalise the economy of the State. So, the well thought out development plan and its system implementation remained in focus and encompasses all sectors.
Perhaps, Yemi is oblivious of the fact that all across the globe, service-oriented governments are reinventing many cosmopolitan cities like Port Harcourt to become people friendly and sustainable.
Perennial traffic congestions in major cities like Lagos, Cairo, Port Harcourt have been identified as major bottleneck to economic growth and development.
And as part of his integrated urban renewal programme, Governor Wike decided to embark on the construction of flyovers to solve traffic snarls in major intersections within Port Harcourt and Obio-Akpor councils.
Until the Wike’s infrastructure revolution, residents of Port Harcourt and its environ will attest to the fact that driving or better still, commuting along the busy Port Harcourt-Aba Road Expressway, was harrowing due to traffic congestion. A ten minutes drive today, could take up to two hours thirty minutes. That was the reality of those who live and do business in the State capital before the Wike’s administration began to proffer solution to this problem.
The seven out of twelve flyovers already inaugurated have helped to streamline the traffic in Port Harcourt and its environs. A lot of irretrievable time, which is unit of life spent in congestion is avoided through these flyovers.
We are confident that these flyovers will tremendously help the business community to grow its business.
These flyovers have contributed significantly to the aesthetics of the Rivers State capital. Anyone driving through the flyovers any time of the day of course will relish a panoramic view of the Garden city.
Only narrow-minded people and those who must remain blind to any meaningful, genuine and concrete development take to mischief. They refused to see the connecting strings of each development towards the overall development of the state and its people.
But, why is the construction 12 flyovers by Governor Wike a pain to Yemi Adebowale? Without any contradiction, he is particularly averse to appreciating the benefits of the flyovers. They remained remarkable achievement. The record set would not be beaten for a long time. In contemporary times, no State government could dare.
Yemi Adebowale also had enthused that these flyovers are the only projects that are being executed. He lied. His assertions are robed with pale claims. It only proves that he had not been to Rivers State before or, maybe lately. If he had, he would be enthusiastic to do an independent search for facts. Such efforts would have espoused him to evidences of other shades of development ongoing. This is because, some levels of development are intangible. But he could still berth at shores of tangible others different from flyovers.
Governor Wike’s administration has turned and transformed not less than 20 major single lane roads into dual carriage. They include Igwuruta – Chokocho road, Saapkenwa – Bori road, Tam David West Boulevard, Rumuokwurishi – Eneka – Igwuruta road, Rumuepirikom – Rumuolumeni road, Rebisi – Trans-Amadi – Oginigba road, Justice Iche Ndu road, Eagle Island – Illoabuchi road, Elelenwo – Akpajo road, Birabi road, Emeyal road, Tombia road, Forces Avenue, Olumeni road, Abacha road, and Harley street, Tombia Extension, Eastern bypass, Ogbum-nu-Abali/Eastern bypass road,and the Ezimgbu road. They have street lights, pedestrian walkways and covered drains.
Already, a lot of roads connecting and interconnecting several communities across the State are ongoing. They include Phase one of the Ahoada – Omoku dual carriage way, the phase two Saakpenwa-Bori – Kono dual carriage way, the dualisation of Egbema- Omoku road, the Woji – Aleto – Alesa road and the Wakama – Ogu – Bolo road, are underway.
It is worthy to noted that Opobo axis of the Ogoni- Opobo-Andoni road has achieved, Andoni community is next and would soon be completed so that coastal communities of Ngo, Ikuru and other towns along that way can be accessed by road after decades of failed promises by the previous governments. It is in similar vein that the construction of phase one of the Trans-Kalabari road has commenced.
Governor Wike has also provided over 1200 classrooms and nearly 14,000 desks to over 200 primary and junior secondary schools. His administration has also reconstructed, furnished and equipped several secondary schools with modern classrooms, laboratories, libraries, sports facilities, staff quarters and paved interconnecting road networks.
The facts abound that at the tertiary level, the governor has elevated the structural quality of State’s tertiary institutions with new faculty, administrative and other buildings, strengthened the governance systems and enhanced staff welfare with the new salary structure.
Apart from the College of Medical Sciences, the Wike’s administration has also implemented a multi-campus structure for the Rivers State University with the establishment of new campuses at Emohua, Ahoada and Etche Local Government Areas, thereby increasing the carrying capacity of the University and providing more access to quality tertiary education for Rivers people and other Nigerians. The restoration of the multi-campus status of the Rivers State University opened a vista of engagement of more personnel.
In the health sector, the Wike’s administration has built some new primary healthcare centres for under-served communities, renovated some existing primary health centres and general hospitals, commissioned the 132-bed Mother and Child specialist hospital, established the Rivers State University Teaching Hospital, built the Senior Doctors’ Quarters and rebuilt and upgraded the Government House Specialist Clinic, while a Junior Doctors Quarters is also under construction
The Wike’s administration re-equipped and upgraded the Braithwaite Memorial Specialist Hospital. Today, it serves as the Teaching Hospital of the College of Medical Sciences. Manpower was engaged to ease provision of healthcare in expanded RSUTH.
The scholarship scheme established for Rivers indigenes studying at PAMO University of Medical Sciences subsists. Currently, over six hundred students are benefiting. This had ultimately provided medical education to Rivers children and other Nigerians. Notably, there were separate approval for an automatic employment of all Rivers State indigenes who bagged Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) during the 2018 Convocation Ceremony of the Rivers State University.
We wondered why these are not human capital development to Yemi Adebowale. Maybe, he would need to be reminded that in 2021, employment of teaching and non- teaching staff was concluded at the Rivers State University. There is an ongoing recruitment of teaching and non-teaching staff at the Ignatius Ajuru University of Education.
Yemi Adebowale least understood the implementation of the water reforms programmes, driven convincingly to specific and targeted communities. On the 15th April, 2016, the State Urban Water Sector reform programme was launched. The programme encapsulated the Port Harcourt Water Supply Scheme and the Sanitation Project.
Precisely on August 31st, 2020, the Rivers State government signed contracts for the rehabilitation and upgrading of water supply for Port Harcourt and Obio/Akpor Local Government Areas. 496 kilometers of pipeline which will produce 330,000 cubic metres of potable water per day are currently being upgraded. This project will equally create over 1,200 direct jobs and 5,000 indirect jobs for Rivers people.
Soon, water will flow in public taps. Besides the Port Harcourt and Obio/Akpor local government areas urban water scheme, the Wike’s administration rehabilitated moribund water projects in 18 of the 23 Local Government Areas of the state. These water projects are targeted at improving access to potable water in the respective communities.
The significance of these deliberate, yet strategic interventions in a critical sector of the State inclusive of the Flyovers underscores the determination of leader who changed the narrative of leadership that is committed to good governance.
Yemi Adebowale in his penchant for peddling falsehood, claimed governor Wike has not been paying pensions, even when ThisDay published this report in May, 2022, ‘Wike Orders Immediate Payment of Gratuities, Pensions to Rivers Retirees.’
Yemi Adebowale’s suggestion that Governor Wike ought to have completed the abandoned monorail projects clearly depicts as someone possessed by spirit of ignorance.
Is Yemi Adebowale aware that in the twilight of the immediate past administration in Rivers State, the technical consultant on the monorail had planned to unveil the contentious project specifically to mislead the people of Rivers State that the project that was abandoned after 2.6 km of the over 19 km phase one, after gulping over N33.9bn was still on course.
It is on record that the Managing Director of ARCUS GIBBS Nig Ltd, technical partners to the Rivers State government on the Monorail Project, Wiero Viguezang, in 2015 declared that the project was no longer tenable, considering the shortfall of the state’s revenue and the inability of its original technical and equity partners, TSI Nig Ltd, to fulfil its obligations to contribute 80 per cent of its equity holdings.
In April, 2015, ARCUS GIBBSS, had in a letter made a six-point recommendation to the Rivers State government on how to unbundle the monorail project by approaching the manufacturers of the mechanical components and rail tracks in Germany and exploit the possibility of reselling components at a lower price to the manufacturers.
It will interest him to know that no Rivers government will venture to complete the white elephant project.

 

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Strategic Positioning Of The Teaching Profession And Nation-Building

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The making of a nation is in the making of man. Where people are not developed; nations are not defined and are left underdeveloped.
Whereas, all men are created equal, not all human beings live in the same economy or the same level of development. There are superior economies and inferior economies. Whereas every human being has the right to live on the Earth, nations go through historical circles of rising and falling. Whereas God guarantees nations territorial integrity of having a defined place and space, every nation strives to reach the best, achieve the best and live in the best possible circumstances, by developing its human and natural resources within its territorial boundary.
It is stated that nations are products of a national call of shared history, shared culture, shared vision and shared identity. It is a deep-seated call in the hearts and souls of a people that creates a nation, backed with a strong determination to face the consequences, compelling a people to fight to determine their own identity.
Corroborating on this, Mahatma Gandhi stated that a nation’s culture resides in the hearts and souls of its people. Thus, according to the 19th Century Indian Philosopher, Swami Vivekananda, ‘Every nation has a message to deliver, a mission to fulfill and a destiny to reach’.
Reaching the destiny of a nation is a function of connecting with God whose presence and best is available for all to access to develop, nurture, and harness the human resources available in that territory guided by the established laws of the land.
It is imperative to state that the segment of the society upon which this solemn responsibility rests is the teaching profession.
Educationists have the eternal responsibility of building the capacities of the spirit of inquiry, creativity, entrepreneurship and moral leadership among the adult and younger generations.
Thus, Dr Myles Munroe stated clearly that the first and most important component in nation-building is the enthronement of national cohesion, by the establishment of godly Law, and the pursuit of divine principles as entrenched on earth before the creation of man. The earth is Lord’s and the fullness therein.
Thus, teachers build the future of a nation by building the youths, for the future.
In other words, the teaching component of nation building is empowered to bring out the full dignity of the human being as given and as created by God.
This philosophy is further enhanced by the National Policy on Education which is based on the general aspirations of Nigerians as contained in Section1, paragraph 3 of the policy. Going by the provisions of this policy; Nigeria is determined to build: A free and democratic society; a just and egalitarian society; a united, strong and self-reliant nation; a great and dynamic economy; a land full of bright opportunities for all citizens.
The National Policy on Education, Sections 5 & 9 further provides for the acquisition, development and inculcation of proper value-orientation for the survival of the individual and society; the development of the intellectual capacities of individuals to understand and appreciate their local and external environment ; the acquisition of both physical and intellectual skills which will enable individuals to be self-reliant and useful members of the society; the acquisition of an objective view of the local and external environments. promoting and encouraging scholarship and community service; forging and cementing national unity; promoting national and international understanding and interaction; and contributing to national development through high-level relevant manpower training.
What this means is that teaching is the process of bringing out the human potential and channelling the same to establish and enhance the human dignity in each generation.
In other words, teaching is not just a job; it is a way of life. It is not just a service and profession, it is a pillar of human society. It is a very noble profession that shapes the character, calibre and future of an individual. This is the reason, most scholars ascribe to the teaching profession as the profession that contributes more to the future of society than any other single profession.
The British Philosopher, Helen Caddies stressed that teachers are the most responsible and most important members of any society because their professional efforts affect the fate of the earth in all ways. Therefore, as Calvin Coolidge, the 19th Century Philosopher puts it, ‘the teaching profession requires adequate preparation and training, patience, devotion and a deep sense of responsibility. Those that mould the human mind influence, not for a time but eternity.
Teachers labour together with God in the making of the leaders, who in turn make the nation. Thus, teachers are expected to be wise master builders, who should receive their reward according to their labour.
It is on this background, that one examines the critical steps that have been taken in recent times to strategically position the teaching profession for the greater good of Nigeria.
Interestingly, after several years of agitations by professional teachers and other stakeholders for the establishment of a regulatory agency, the Teachers Registration Council of Nigeria, which is an agency of the Federal Ministry of Education, was established by Decree (31 of 1993, now TRCN Act CAP T3 of 2004).
TRCN is empowered by law to control and regulate teacher education, teacher training, and teacher practice at all levels in public and private sectors of the Nigeria Educational System, guided by international best practices. It is on record, that since its inception, TRCN has registered over 2.2 million qualified teachers as of last year and has identified from available statistics over 4 million persons in the teaching profession in Nigeria.
No doubt, this singular stroke of the pen has strategically positioned the teaching profession in the making of the nation. In other words, it is now mandatory and indeed required besides the mandatory certification of all teachers to acquire regular additional skills, particularly in teaching assisted learning to keep them in tune with world standards. This explains the introduction of the Professional Qualifying Examination and the Professional Standards for the teaching professionals in Nigeria.
It is therefore expected that with the establishment of TRCN, and as Prof. Agiboye the Registrar and Chief Executive of TRCN put it, ‘the hydra-headed crisis of quality and quantity of teachers which demands a strong Policy response would have been adequately addressed and the rebuilding of the once cherished and mother of all Professions opened up to attract and retain the best brains.
The point is that TRCN Policy innovative will in the long run galvanize and deepen the practice of teacher recruitment and teacher Professional enhancement in Nigeria if managed effectively.
Another strategic policy innovation that has the potential of promoting nation-building, in the long run, is the introduction of the Nigeria Learning Passport. With the launch of Nigeria’s first indigenous online school, every part of the Country now has direct access to over 52,000 online instructional videos of all topics in all subjects. What this means is that access to quality instruction is made open and permanent.
Teachers, Parents and students can educate themselves, taught by qualified teachers in case one is not opportuned to have one around. In a country with a complex religious and cultural diversity with deepened geographical, socio-political and economic limitations, one right and strategic step is to qualitatively open Nigeria’s learning space to all and sundry guided by TRCN certified specialist teachers, if the country is truly committed to nation-building.
An educated citizen is easy to govern, and indeed the key to sustainable development. Educated citizenship is a bedrock for sustainable infrastructural, socio-political and economic development guided by moral, sound and robust laws.
Indeed, with the strategic introduction of the Nigeria Learning Passport, the prevailing learning poverty gap in Nigeria will be a thing of the past in the nearest future. No matter how long, what is most important is that Nigeria has taken one right step going forward with a multiplying positive effect.
Truly, with the Nigeria Learning Passport on board, the teaching profession is elevated and digital literacy capacity enhanced tremendously in the years to come.
Another milestone with great impact recorded in recent times to strategically position the teaching profession is the establishment of the Harmonised Retirement Age of teachers Act in the country.
The Harmonised Retirement Age of Teachers in Nigeria Act 2022, clearly states that teachers in Nigeria shall now compulsorily retire only on the attainment of 65years of age or after 40years of pensionable service.
Specifically, the Act among other provisions provides that the Public Service Rule or any Legislation ration that requires a person to retire from the public at 60years or after 35years of service shall not apply to teachers in Nigeria.
Clearly, the Harmonised Retirement Age Teachers Act is a strong motivating strategy to support the Nigerian teacher executing the burden of nation building by passionately taking the lead in educating the future along the paths of the Nigerians’ dream-to live in a land of prosperity where peace and justice reign.
According to the Gates Foundation, the key to quality education is a good teacher in every classroom. And as a one-time American Secretary of Education said, ‘the Centre of a classroom is not a test, a textbook, or the posters on the wall. It is not a state or district policy, and it is most certainly not a Federal Law. If the heart of the classroom is found in the unique relationships between students, pupils/ students and teachers, then, the unique teacher deserves, the collective support of all.
The Harmonised Retirement Age for Teachers in Nigeria Act 2022, is certainly a strategic way to motivate the teachers in pre-primary, primary and secondary schools in Nigeria with multiplying productivity effect. The impact of this well-intended Act will raise the bar on primary and secondary school education through the additional five years of mentorship and guidance.
Indeed, as the Nigeria Union of Teachers noted, it is expected that this Law translates to more efficient service delivery, and higher commitment and productivity, which force, leaders to achieve sustainable development on the wheels of character and deepened learning.
For instance, according to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development Studies, over 90 per cent of teachers in primary, upper primary and vocational schools in Finland like their job. Only 2 per cent of teachers in secondary education regret having become a teacher.
Obviously, this study represents a higher, remarkable teacher- satisfaction rate and motivation. This is what is expected in Nigeria.
It is therefore expected that these newly introduced strategic support systems, policies and programmes, in the teaching profession will make for an enormous turnaround in Nigeria’s educational system soonest.
It should be noted that nation-building is largely dependent on robust enforcement of Law and efficient implementation of policies and programmes. Robust enforcement of Law and effective implementation may sometimes be inconveniencing and uncomfortable. A nation that is not built on proper and robust enforcement of Law and policies is a nation that is not going anywhere.
As strategic as these laudable Laws and policies are, if they are not strategically and robustly enforced, and effectively implemented, productivity would be far-fetched and nation-building would be greatly inhibited.

By: Emmanuel Kaldick-Jamabo

Dr. Kaidich-Jamabo is an educadtion leadershp expert and public affairs analyst.

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Nigeria’s Conduct Of National Population, Housing Census: How Feasible?

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The Oxford Advanced Dictionary has defined census as the process of officially counting of something, especially a country’s population and recording of various facts. When a series of census has been undertaken properly it becomes easier, using the rate of growth, to estimate the population between the periods of counts. The data that emanate from the census help countries in a fair distribution of national wealth and for planning; in formulation of policies towards population growth as well as in delineation of constituencies.
Researchers make constant use of the information made available through census, just as the data is helpful in revenue allocation to the various tiers of government.The Nigeria Population Commission (NPC) has identified a nationwide census as crucial for national development.  No doubt, since 2006 when the nation held her last census exercise, a lot has happened in terms of human population growth.
According to the Director-General of NPC, Nasir Isa-Kwarra, census generates data used by the government and the private sector for policy making, planning and development.  He added that demographic data is important for national development due to its influence on sectoral planning and direction of government priorities.
However, while the result of the census conducted in 2006 put the population of the country at 140.43 million comprising 71.3 million male and 69.0 million females, analysts are contending the propriety of conducting a new census in 2023 or otherwise.  They questioned the timing of the exercise and said that it may put a strain on the economy and political activities.
Despite the fact that the planned census is coming 16 years after the last headcount, it has constituted a major concern and challenge for the Federal Government, considering the economic and security challenges that have bedevilled the country in recent times.  Presently, Nigeria could be termed as an environment fraught with resource-demanding challenges ranging from educational instability, fuel scarcity and insecurity, among others.
Based on the above considerations,  some concerned Nigerians hold the view that the pilot census which is targeted in June 2022, after political parties must have held their primary elections, would create an avenue for the manipulation of population size for political gains. Others posit that it would create competition within states to inflate their population so as to get more government resources. The long list of problems plaguing the timing of the 2023 census and fear of an inaccurate census which might result in inappropriate planning and distribution of resources, have led many to call for its suspension.
The financial expenditure cost of the Enumeration Area Demarcation (EAD) in  772  local government areas of the federation, as well as the first and second census pretest in selected enumerations was pegged at N10 billion naira (about $US26million) , from the cost of the main census budgeted for the sum of 178.09 billion naira. “Conducting a census when Nigeria is deep in debt with visible challenges is a destructive oversight bearing consequences that would draw the country closer to extinction,’’ a financial expert, Mr Joe Gawo said.
According to Joe, in every economy there are needs and wants, as a nation, it is meaningless placing our wants over needs.  Highlighting the state of the nation at the moment, he said “ we can’t conduct a credible and meaningful census without adequate security, university brains are on strike, and the community is experiencing financial difficulties. He noted that though census could be  necessary, it is  not a daunting need at the moment. Thus, we can temporarily substitute the census data with information acquired through the national identification number.
“It is no secret that our national resources are scarce, therefore any mismanagement will eventually spell doom for the country,” Gawo cautioned.
Mr. Joseph Omeje, an economist and university lecturer, shared a similar view with Gawo. He said, “putting economic, political, religious and security factors into consideration, it will be very difficult for the country to conduct and obtain generally acceptable census results. The inflationary rate as at last week is about 16.8 percent which is an indicator that our economy is in a very precarious situation and as such, no reasonable government will be talking of  census while there is fire on the mountain”.
Meanwhile,  a public affairs analyst, Mr Gboyega Onadiran,  has said that population is the greatest asset in the development process. According to him, leaving our people uncounted for 17 years is not a good testimony to our commitment to planned and sustainable development of our country.
Nigeria has an estimated population of about 206 million, making it the seventh most populous country in the world. According to the United Nations, the country’s population is projected to increase to 263 million in 2030 and 401 million in 2050 when it will become the third most populous country in the world.
The report published in 2017 by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, which provides a comprehensive review of global demographic trends and prospects for the future, projected shifts in country population rankings. The new projections include some notable findings at the country level. China with 1.4 billion inhabitants and India 1.3 billion inhabitants remain the two most populous countries, comprising 19 and 18 per cent of the total global population. In roughly seven years, or around 2024, the population of India is expected to surpass that of China.
“Among the ten largest countries worldwide, Nigeria is growing the most rapidly. Consequently, the population of Nigeria, currently the world’s 7th largest, is projected to surpass that of the United States and become the third largest country in the world shortly before 2050,’’ the report said. Unfortunately, many seem not to pay attention to the implications of this, particularly on Nigeria’s economy. More attention is obviously paid to politics and electioneering activities ahead of the general elections coming up in February 2023.
No doubt, elections are critical to Nigeria’s democracy but  what is the assurance that the proposed  2022 census will not complicate the 2023 general elections?.
Apart from the perceived huge burden on the national economy and escalating insecurity, another reason being flaunted against the conduct of the 2022 population and housing census is its proximity to the 2023 general election. While some hold that census is politically relevant because of its use for delineation of constituencies and revenue allocation, others posit that the position of election which is about struggle for power does not make the two strange bedfellows. ‘This linkage does not necessarily make census and election strange bedfellows.
“It is indeed an exaggeration to place census on the same level of sensitivity with elections or to assume that census will complicate elections.
“This line of reasoning betrays a limited understanding of the complex factors that drive the level of sensitivity of census and election, which are different and definitely not mutually reinforcing as to make their conduct within a shared time frame a no-go area.
In examining the potential impact of census on the electoral process and outcome,  concerns on the need to divorce census from election have largely been raised in relation to security as a university lecturer and a political scientist,  Yusuf Dyep, believes that a joint or close implementation of the two activities might further compromise the fragile peace in the country,’’ Meanwhile, the National Population Commission (NPC) has resolved to conduct the 2023 population and housing census in accordance with the law. The Executive Chairman of NPC, Alhaji Nasir Kwarra stressed the need for a legal framework in place to enable the conduct of a digital census.
The Chairman said that the commission had spent considerable time preparing for a reliable and accurate census over the years. “The commission has successfully demarcated 772 local governments out of the 774 local governments. The commission is also proposing a preliminary census by June 2022,” he said.
Chairman, Senate Committee on National Population and Identity Management Senator Yau Sahabi, said that the National Assembly was determined to support NPC to conduct a successful digital census.
The House of Representatives was not left out. Chairman, House Committee on Legislative Compliance,   Mr Dennis Idahosah, said that the Muhammadu Buhari-led administration was committed to credible and reliable census. While commending NPC for embracing emerging technology, Idahosah said that it was critical in carrying out the exercise as was done in Ghana and South Africa. He explained that a digital census would not only guarantee speed, but drive an accurate census with lesser errors.
The Chairman, Legal Committee, NPC, Mr Audu Buratai, said  the commission would continue to take necessary steps in line with the law to ensure a successful digital census. Buratai maintained that any action taken outside the dictates of the law will amount to exercise in futility. He solicited the collaboration of the members of the legal community to drive a law-compliant digital census by 2023.
In addition to this, the Minister of Works and Housing, Mr Babatunde Fashola,  explained that the Federal Government will undertake enumeration of empty houses nationwide as part of measures to address housing deficit. According to him, the ministry has called on the NPC to help it in undertaking the task, while conducting the national population census. “Last week or two weeks ago, I called on the National Population Commission that as they are about to embark on a census in the country, they should assist us in collecting data about Nigeria’s housing needs.
“What kind of houses that they find in households whether it is owned or rented. If it is rented, do they want to buy or do they want to rent, let us build a body of data under the census exercise. Because we will be enumerating houses so that we can have a more precise need of Nigerians. I have copied that letter to collaborative ministries including planning and budget. So, I hope that they will help us in the next census exercise,’’ Fashola said.
Fashola said he was also engaging some consultants in his ministry to do sampling data on empty houses. He said this would be done to address concerns about the access to housing “we also see a lot of empty houses unoccupied, how many they are and why they are empty.” Speaking on workers benefiting from the National Housing Scheme, Fashola said an agreement had been reached with labour to allocate 10 per cent of the houses to workers.
“We have an agreement with the unions that 10 percent of the national housing project will be for them, but in order for them to do so, they still have to go to the housing portal. “Because we have created a portal on the web, people who are interested in acquiring the national housing programme in the 34 states, go to the ministry’s website. “You have the national housing portal there, download the form, you have to fill a form, show your ID card, show that you are a taxpayer and process the form online.
“We have eliminated the process where people are selling form with human interference.’’The minister said they have a lot of issues surrounding the housing sector hence the portal had helped in reducing such issues and unnecessary accusations by members of the public pertaining to sale of forms. He said that the ministry was also collaborating with the Head of Service under the FISH programme where workers contribute to the national housing fund for home renovation projects under the federal mortgage bank policy. According to him, this is also a way to ensure that workers get access to the national housing programme thereby reducing further the housing deficit.

By: Calista Ezeaku

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