This is a paper by Edetaen Ojo, Executive Director, Media Rights Agenda At the Awareness Seminar on the Press Ombudsman
Organized by the Newspapers Proprietors’ Association of Nigeria (NPAN) in association with the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) and other stakeholders on Tuesday, November 17, 2009 at Imperial Hall, Ikeja, Lagos
Let me start by thanking the Newspaper Proprietors Association of Nigeria (NPAN) and its principal partners in this project – the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) and the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) – for inviting me to share my thoughts with you on how we can make this very laudable and timely initiative work.
I consider this a great honour and I thank them for the privilege of addressing you. I know that there are a great variety of ideas in this hall about how we can achieve an effective and successful self-regulatory system in Nigeria. I hope that my comments here will trigger a discussion that can lead to an agreed set of principles and commitments that we can take away from this seminar.
I think we must acknowledge that over the last several years, there have been increasing criticisms of press behaviour, some of it legitimate, others orchestrated and designed to weaken the media institution by powerful interests that are uncomfortable with a vibrant press beaming its searchlight on their questionable activities.
In order to redress legitimate grievances which have the capacity to taint the entire industry and which can provide cover for the surreptitious and very current attempts to restrict media freedom, it is critically important that the media industry puts in place a framework for responding to the situation.
There can be no doubt in the mind of anyone here or, indeed, any enlightened person in this country that decades of attempts at statutory, government-backed or government-controlled regulation of the press have failed woefully. It seems clear to me that continuing on that path will be a futile effort.
The NPAN has therefore taken the lead, backed by other partners, in trying something else, which is more in accord with regional and international best practice, standards and principles of media regulation.
For this proposition, permit me to very quickly refer to the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa, adopted by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) in October 2002 and subsequently endorsed by Heads of State and Governments of the African Union at their summit in Maputo, Mozambique, in July 2003.
Article IX(3) of this uniquely African instrument states very clearly that “Effective self-regulation is the best system for promoting high standards in the media.”
I should add that the essence of the Declaration was to clarify and elaborate on Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, to which Nigeria is a state party and which it has gone further to domesticate as part of its laws by virtue of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act.1
By some coincidence, it was this same Honourable Justice Moronkeji Onalaja, who is now the Press Ombudsman, who ruled, quite courageously on May 5, 1993, that the African Charter, being an international law, is superior to Nigerian domestic laws2. I was a witness to that ruling then as Assistant Judicial Editor of The Guardian newspaper
There can therefore be no basis for hesitation on our part to move forward with this initiative. We have an obligation to make it work and the key question now is HOW?
There are some basic principles which characterize any truly self-regulatory media system. One of the most important principles is that the Government can have no part in formulating the framework or sustaining the mechanism, including in drawing up the applicable ethical codes and standards.
The rationale for this is obvious, but let me state it briefly. Since the Government is often at the receiving end of critical reports in the media, there is no doubt that many governments will be determined to find ways of either controlling the media or hitting back at journalists or media establishments which have carried critical or unfavourable reports about them.
A regulatory framework established, either wholly or in part, by the Government presents an opportunity for it to exercise such controls and puts journalists and media establishments, which are supposed to be holding the Government accountable to the people, at the mercy of the Government, and therefore, at risk.
I think it is very possible, as we have seen with the case of the Ombudsman, for professional bodies and associations within the media to organize themselves to draw up a framework for a self-regulatory system. All that is required is for the bodies to organize themselves properly and to have a unity of purpose.
Under our present democratic arrangement, we do not need the government’s permission or even cooperation to organize ourselves for this purpose. We do not need the Government’s blessings for the outcome of any such independent arrangement to govern us or to be binding on us, if we are all committed to it.
The second principle follows naturally from the first, but is a little bit more complicated. The principle is that such a self-regulatory mechanism, even if formulated by the professionals themselves, cannot be established by statute as this tends to bring the body under the control of the State once it is set up by law.
There is a tendency for people to feel that unless such an institution or a system is established by Law, it cannot work. In a situation like this, many people might feel that unless it is backed by Law, it cannot be effective. The truth is, if it requires state power to enforce, then it cannot be a self-regulatory.
The critical question here is: Do we really need the involvement of the Government to operate an effective system of self-regulation? If all or most media owners and managers as well as professional bodies within the media were to agree today to support and commit themselves to a credible framework for self-regulation in the form in which it has now been established, is there any reason why it will not work without legal backing for it? Can the Government insist that it will not recognize such an arrangement if it is not backed by Law and consequently proceed to impose its own framework on us?
I think such an arrangement is entirely workable, as experiences from elsewhere have shown. There are many examples of media self-regulatory systems around the world and many of them are working quite well. Everything would depend on the commitment within the industry to make it work.
We can perhaps draw inspiration from Britain where the media faced a similar situation in the 1980s, when following unethical conduct by some newspapers, Members of Parliament and other politically influential citizens resolved that the protection of the public required the enactment of law on privacy and a right of reply as well as a statutory press council empowered to enforce legal sanctions against any offending newspaper.
Concerns about this possibility resulted in a declaration in 1989 by the editors of all national newspapers, in a country with a highly competitive media industry, that: “We, having given due consideration to criticism of the Press by Parliament and the public, accept the need to improve methods of self-regulation. Accordingly, we declare today our unanimous commitment to a common Code of Practice to safeguard the independence of the Press from threats of official control”.3
Shortly afterwards, the Press Complaints Commission was set up in Britain and all publishers and editors made a public commitment to observe the Code of Practice.
While there is clearly a desire on the part of most governments to exercise and retain control over the media, governments often seek to justify their efforts at establishing press councils to regulate the media by arguing that the media is irresponsible and that there are no effective checks on its excesses.
If the media is able to operate a self-regulatory mechanism that is credible and effective, such arguments will no longer be tenable and I do not believe that under such circumstances, the Government will insist on imposing its own regulatory framework. In any event, a united media industry will be able to resist such a move.
The need for a self-regulatory system is dictated by the imperative of freedom of expression and a free press in a democratic society. Despite the absence in Britain of any constitution guaranteeing freedom of expression and press freedom, the British Government finally accepted the idea of a media free from government regulation because of its recognition that freedom of expression constitutes one of the essential foundations of any democratic society.
In Nigeria where we have a constitutional guarantee of freedom of expression as well as a constitutional provision which imposes duties on the press in a democracy, the idea of promoting the freedom and independence of the media in the exercise of that right and performance of the duties should be easier to sell.
The challenge here for us is to mobilize the entire industry to agree on and make a commitment to a common code of conduct and a self-regulatory mechanism which will eliminate the necessity of official regulation. It is a challenge which the leadership of the various professional bodies and associations within the media, particularly the NPAN, the NGE and the NUJ, assisted by individual journalists and media groups, must take up if we want to make this a reality.
A third principle is that the funding of the mechanism should be done independently of the Government or at least that the Government should not provide such a substantial portion of its funding that will enable it to control the system indirectly by manipulating the funding. The rationale for this principle is encapsulated in the saying that: He who pays the piper dictates the tune.
This principle is perhaps the most difficult to satisfy in Nigeria. The funding issue has sometimes been the reason why the media industry, both in Nigeria and elsewhere, have acquiesced to government-supported or controlled regulation of the media because many people feel that it is easier for the government to fund a regulatory agency or institution while it is not so easy for the media industry itself.
For any regulatory system to be independent and effective, it must be adequately funded. There can be no debate about this. Without adequate funding, the system cannot function. The solution in Britain was to raise a levy on the newspaper and periodical industries to finance the Press Complaints Commission to enable the industry to support a fully self-regulatory system. All publishers and editors made a public commitment to maintain secure funding for the Commission.
However, the media industry in Britain is a buoyant one. The same cannot be said of the industry in Nigeria. Many media establishments in Nigeria are barely able to survive. Only some of them are able to pay staff salaries regularly, while the facilities and infrastructure of many media organizations remain underdeveloped for lack of resources.
It might therefore not be completely realistic to expect that media establishments in Nigeria will willingly undertake to wholly fund a regulatory mechanism and even if they gave such an undertaking, that they will be able to abide by it in the face of their own financial difficulties.
Here again, we need to be resourceful and examine a combination of different funding options.
Without doubt, media house should be expected to make periodic, preferably annual, contributions to support the office and work of the Ombudsman. The amount of contributions from different media houses can be determined based on their circulation or the size of their businesses or other considerations as may be agreed.
In addition to levying newspapers and magazines to support the work of the Ombudsman, another option is that a portion of the check-off dues which journalists are supposed to pay should also go to supporting the work of the Ombudsman.
Given the number of journalists in Nigeria, the amount which can be raised from this option may be quite significant. But this might even necessitate some slight increase in the percentage of their salaries which journalists pay as check-off dues. I think it will be a price worth paying to secure one’s independence and to enhance credibility with the public.
A third option would be to actively raise funds to support the office and work of the Ombudsman from private donors and foundations. Non-governmental organizations may also be called upon to support this endeavour.
The possibility that corporate bodies might themselves be lodging complaints before the Ombudsman against journalists and media establishments does not make them attractive options to approach for the funding. But we may wish to discuss this further and explore ways in which any possible conflict of interest can be mitigated.
I am sure that there are others here who will also have some ideas on possible additional sources of funding and revenue for supporting the work of the Ombudsman. Let us put all the ideas on the table and explore them.
But whatever funding mechanisms are adopted, it is important that the process be clear and transparent so that the issue does not become mired in controversy, which can undermine the credibility of the Office. Administrative staff in the Office of the Ombudsman should keep proper records of contributions and donations received and the Ombudsman, who is the head of the office, should be insulated from these financial matters.
Elements of Effective Self-Regulation
There are some other basic elements by which we can assess the possibility for success and effectiveness of a self-regulatory mechanism. These elements include:
1.How adequately the underlying ethical and professional guidelines which the Ombudsman is applying balance the right and freedoms of the press to perform their functions against the interests of other sections of the society, including members of the public and the government.
This necessarily implies that there should be established a code of professional conduct to guide the work of the Ombudsman so that the standards by which the practitioners are judged are clear and generally agreed upon. This will eliminate arbitrariness from the process. It is therefore of absolute importance that the Ombudsman is given a clear set of rules to interpret and enforce.
The Code should encapsulate, at a minimum the principles of accuracy, fairness, balance and impartiality, independence and accountability.
We presently have in existence the Code of Ethics for Nigerian Journalists, adopted by the Nigerian Press Organisation (made up of the NUJ, the NGE and the NPAN), in collaboration with the Nigerian Press Council in Ilorin in March 1998. Should this be the applicable standard? If so, the Ombudsman needs to know that these are the standards that bind the practitioners and the standards that he is enforcing.
In interpreting and enforcing the Code, since the Ombudsman is not a media professional and has no background in the media, he should be assisted in his work by experienced media professionals who can give advice on the meaning, scope and application of the provisions of the rules to help him reach decisions which effectively balance professional requirements as well as the rights and freedoms of media practitioners, against the interests and rights of other sectors of the society.
2. The consistency and forcefulness with which the Ombudsman applies the ethical and professional guidelines.
While the specifics of each complaint may differ, it is important that the decisions of the Ombudsman in different cases are consistent and authoritative, with a common logic and uniform application or interpretation of the standards. This will help to clarify specific provisions in the Code of Ethics and establish a body of “jurisprudence” in this area of media practice.
Inconsistencies and contradictions in the decisions of the Ombudsman can severely undermine the confidence of both members of the public and members of the media community in the mechanism.
However, I believe that with an Ombudsman of the calibre of Honourable Justice Onalaja, there can be no anxiety whatsoever in this aspect.
3.The readiness with which the industry – newspapers and magazines (and, if applicable, the broadcast media) comply with the decisions of the Ombudsman.
For the Office of the Ombudsman to be effective and credible, media owners and managers must be fully committed to it and must undertake not only to abide by its decisions, but also to ensure that journalists working in their establishments do so and respect the Code of Ethics. Once media owners and managers demonstrate unequivocal commitment to the system, journalists in the employment will automatically fall in line.
Public confidence in the Ombudsman mechanism is an absolute imperative for its success. Such public confidence would be seriously undermined if media establishments refuse to or delay unnecessarily in complying with the decisions of the Ombudsman.
This is because public confidence will flow both from the media’s compliance with his decision as well as from the public’s view of the fairness of those decisions.
The professional associations and bodies which are behind this initiative, particularly the NPAN, must do everything possible to ensure that their members demonstrate total support and commitment to it. There can be no room for a half-hearted belief in this.
There are a number of other issues that will be important for the success of this mechanism. I will discuss some of these briefly:
Those who choose to use the Ombudsman mechanism must commit themselves fully to it. They should avoid taking issues which they have already submitted to the Ombudsman to the courts as this would clearly undermine the process. If complainants who submit their complaints to the Ombudsman thereafter take those same complaints to the law courts, then the media would not want to subject themselves to double jeopardy. They may also feel that their conciliatory efforts aimed at amicable resolution of difference might be used against them in court and this could inhibit the spirit of conciliation. Such a situation would result in the system progressively breaking down.
I appreciate that since the Ombudsman mechanism is voluntary and not statutory, it will be difficult to preclude complainants from subsequently exercising their legal rights where such rights exist or accrue. That is why members of the public who choose to use this mechanism must demonstrate their complete belief in the system and show good faith.
I think it is appropriate here to remind ourselves, as members of the public, of the intrinsic value of a self-regulatory mechanism, such as this, especially in a country like Nigeria where the alternative, which is the judicial system, is time-consuming, can be quite expensive and its outcome very uncertain.
If the real intention of a complainant is to vindicate his or her reputation or correct inaccuracies in a media report, the Ombudsman mechanism offers a quick and completely inexpensive process for achieving these objectives.
It is quite possible that if the system works perfectly and becomes a popular option with the public, the Office of the Ombudsman might become overwhelmed with the volume of complaints being brought before it. Other measures may therefore need to be taken to avoid this possibility.
One of such measures is to for individual media houses to make clear to the journalists working in their establishments what the standards are and to rigorously enforce those standards. This will send a clear message to journalists that brazen acts of professional misconduct will not be tolerated and I believe this will lessen the occurrence of such cases.
Media establishments can do this by adopting a practice of including the Code of Ethics in the terms and conditions of employment of reporters and editors. Such reporters and editors, in accepting the terms and conditions of the employment then undertake to abide by the Code of Ethics. Where a breach of the Code of Ethics and therefore the terms of employment of the journalist or editor is established, it would attract disciplinary measures from the employer.
Such a practice would also serve to create greater awareness among practitioners about the Code of Ethics and the standards to which they will be held. My interaction with professional colleagues over the past several years reveals that a shockingly large number of journalists have never seen, much less read, the Code of Ethics for Nigerian Journalists. I often wonder how they can be expected to comply with the standards if they do not even know what those standards are.
This problem needs to be seriously addressed because breaches of professional ethics and standards are also sometimes the result of ignorance among journalists rather than a deliberate desire to cause mischief. We therefore need to find other ways of raising awareness within the media community about the applicable code of ethics. Media managers should ensure that these professional standards are constantly referenced, regularly discussed and possibly taught in-house by more experienced reporters and editors.
It is also important that members of the public know and understand the standards that bind media professionals so that they can more effectively attempt to hold them to those standards. The code of ethics should therefore be publicized through articles and commentaries and should be published in newspapers and magazines as well as on their websites.
The practice proposed above of inserting the code of ethics in the employment contracts of reporters and editors would also make it far easier and possibly more expedient for media owners and managers to exercise such disciplinary control over individual reporters and editors in their employment who are proven to have violated the Code of Ethics than the Ombudsman may be able to do.
The ideas contained in this paper are my thoughts on how we can make self-regulation in the media sector in Nigeria work. They identify some of the critical principles we need to be aware of and the challenges we need to address.
They are in no way prescriptive, although they draw from experiences that have worked elsewhere and take cognizance of international human rights standards and principles.
I thank you for your attention.
Strategic Positioning Of The Teaching Profession And Nation-Building
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.
Nigeria’s Conduct Of National Population, Housing Census: How Feasible?
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
Tobacco Smoking And Threats On Public Health
The negative consequences of tobacco smoking to public health and consumers is no news. What is worrisome is the addiction to the tobacco smoking despite the unpleasant effects and the attendant hazards on first hand and second hand consumers.
About eight million cigarette smokers in the world die every year, while six of every 10 cigarette smokers are likely to die from heart-related diseases, with the second hand smokers being the worst hit according to medical statistics.
Who is a second hand smoker? A person who stays in an environment that is saturated by tobacco smoke.
Consequently, medical experts have warned Nigerians to desist from the intake of tobacco because about 17,500 Nigerians die yearly as a result of smoking cigarettes.
Peter Unekwu-Ojo is a crusader against cigarette consumption and has remained committed to this cause.
At a one-day workshop organised by a non-governmental organisation, Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC) with the theme, Tobacco Tax Digital Advocacy’ for Female Journalists in Rivers State held recently in Port Harcourt, as part of the organisation’s efforts to intensify advocacy on tobacco tax increase in order to reduce the high level of death rates as well as diseases associated with the intake of cigarettes in Nigeria, Unekwu-Ojo, who spoke on health and economic consequences of tobacco smoking, decried the increasing rate of tobacco smoking.
“Loking at the world statistics, you will discover that from Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS) carried out in Ukraine in 2017 for instance, we have it that more than eight million people die of tobacco issue. Smoking is addictive due to its natural chemical contents.
Frowning at the fact that Nigeria is one of the largest tobacco markets in Africa with many people addicted to smoking, Unekwu-Ojo advocated the upward review of tax on tobacco products.
“ECOWAS level of taxation is 59 per cent, WHO level is 79 percent, while in Nigeria it is just 16.4 per cent, this is too low as it is targeted at younger generation to easily get access to this drug and inhale without knowing how dangerous it is to their health.
”Government at all levels should increase tax on tobacco consumption, so as to drastically reduce patronage as well as reduce the high death rates in Nigeria. Who are the replacement smokers? The Children and they have a mandate, 50, 000 smokers on daily bases mostly from the children and this tells eventually of what becomes of our children in the future? that is why from today the government must take it as a duty to increase tax on all tobacco products.”
According to him, about 4.5 trillion sticks of cigarettes are littered on the ground worldwide, which is also responsible to the climate change being experienced in the world today, as cigarette sticks do not decompose, but rather stay in the ground for over 15 years.
On women smoking, Unekwu-Ojo emphasised that there are some major risk factors associated with women smoking cigarettes such as cardiovascular diseases, ammonia, complications arising during pregnancy, cancer, ulcer.
Also some diseases associated with the intake of tobacco by adults include: nasal irritation, lung cancer, urinary, heart diseases, among others.
“It equally affects women during child birth as their reproductive system have already been impaired by some of these chemicals that are capable of triggering the chemicals produced by the body system”.
According to him, “About 7,000 dangerous chemicals constitute one stick of cigarette and these 7,000 chemicals are classified into cambium used in the production of battery, nicotine used in the production of pesticide, ammonia used in the production of toilet cleaner, such as Harpic, among others, acetone used in the production of rat poison, radon is more like a radioactive gas, steric acid used in the production of candle wax, so you can imagine what people are really taking inside their body, coal tar used in the production of road surfaces, these are contents of a typical cigarette, methanol used in production of fuel, methane is a sewage gas and part of what people consume.
“If you are looking at the danger associated with the intake of cigarettes there are so many toxic gases, these are gases that are harmful to living things that pass through the lungs into the body system, among others just as a result of being exposed to tobacco. Let us be very sincere and specific about it, tobacco smoking is completely dangerous”.
Unekwu-Ojo claimed that about seven million deaths are as a result of direct intake of tobacco, while about 1.2million died as a result of what he called “second hand” smoking.
“Going back to the demography, you will discover that about 80 per cent of the world 1.1billion smokers are in low and medium income countries which Nigeria happens to be within this range as well as most African countries”.
Speaking on cigarettes effects on children, the medical expert says:
“If you look at it from the perspective just mentioned above, you will discover that even children are not left out in second hand smoking. An average child crawls on the ground making them closer to the floor where these residues are poured. A child is exposed to it either through the hands, legs, knee. You can imagine the danger as it affects both the middle ear disease in children, causes respiratory system diseases such as collapse of the lungs, among others.?
“Apart from direct smoking, there is also what we call second hand smoking; in this case one is exposed to inhaling smoke not necessarily because he smokes directly, but because he has either entered a room that a smoker was staying in. There is always the residue of that smoke, either on the bed, seat, or television and door handle, among others. It is also a very strong indication that once a non-smoker’s body is in touch with any of these other mentioned items, ordinarily the body system will absorb it, this means invariably the person is also smoking, so that is why I get that figure that non-smokers are about 1,2million dying as a result of exposure to tobacco smoke. This is a very dangerous trend and that is why we are saying that the media should come in because they are the fourth estate of the realm and they have a very strong representation and a very strong voice in, this circumstance,” the health expert added.
There are certain chemicals that are produced by the body namely, estrogen and progesterone, particularly these affect the women. The intake of cigarettes has a way of affecting the genes. Some of the diseases that adults are exposed to as a result of the intake of cigarettes are stroke, blindness, heart disease, pneumonia among others, so it is a big challenge when those hormones are affected.
On the role of the media to curb cigarettes smoking, he said, “as it is now, it seems journalists do not know their responsibilities any longer, let there be more knowledge, they need to step up their game because the people are waiting for them to manifest because people form public opinion as a result of what is junked out there by the journalists.
To discourage the tobacco production and desire to indulge into it, the Federal Government initiated Tobacco Tax.
According to Onekwu-Ojo, while teaching on the Topic: ‘Understanding Framework Conversation on Tobacco Control (FCTC) Article 6 And Nigeria Tobacco Tax’, the call for increased taxes and prices on Tobacco will reduce overall tobacco consumption and prevalence of tobacco use; prevent initiation among youth; as well as promote cessation among current users.
“The guided principle of Article 6 is an important source of revenue generation, tobacco taxes should be protected from vested interests.
With the involvement of more than ten percent of global population in Tobacco addiction, many people wonder if there is a way out.
To this end Unekwu-Ojo, however, recommended for adoption and implementation of Article 6, that parties should establish coherent long-time policies on their tobacco taxation structure, stressing that taxes rate should be increased, monitored or adjusted on a regular basis, potentially annually, taking into consideration inflation and income growth development.
Tobacco kills more than half of its users and more than eight million people each year as such, the use of tobacco should be discouraged”.
Also speaking, Mr Solomon Adoga, who spoke on the interference of tobacco industry, explained that the tobacco industry has power to weaken and threaten government by stopping them from putting policies that will negatively affect their tobacco business.
“Tobacco Industry does not care about the health consequences, hence the reason they are not really emphasising it even though in some of their adverts they say that ‘Tobacco smoking is dangerous to health’ on a lighter note, whereas push more on the patronage and use of tobacco.
On his part, Okeke Anya said “in CISLAC, we want to create more awareness fora through community engagement, so that we can know and ensure knowledge is passed around.
On the need to monitor tobacco industries, a resource person Mr. Solomon Wonah, said there was a long issue undermining public health policy that is built on deception, manipulation.
“As long as Tobacco Industry is concerned, all hands must be on deck to up their games”.
He charged media personnel to be versatile on enabling laws and issues relating to the well being of humanity so that they will be able to make proper use of their power to shame, and expose owners of tobacco industry and promoters.
One of the participants, Edith Chukwu, expressed satisfaction and joy for being chosen to benefit from the training, which she described as an eye opener, noting that she never understood the high-risk that a non-smoker would have, just by staying in an atmosphere saturated with cigarettes smoke.
She assured of her determination to ensure the use of tobacco is reduced to barest minimum.
For another participant, Dr Ngozi Anosike, “the training revealed many things to look out for on our children, especially teenagers in this digital age, “Parents should sit up to their responsibilities by knowing every detail about the type of friends their children keep as well as some sophisticated materials that look totally different from what it is intended for.
“As a journalist and a mother, I would ensure that my children stay far away from tobacco smoking, also I will not relent on writing on tobacco until the desired change we all want to see is achieved”.
By: Susan Serekara-Nwikhana
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