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Echoes Of The Locomotive Engine

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If the old ways of living our lives can be brought back, the much pressure on rural-urban shift will reduce. Besides, the euphoria and excitement associated with such glorious past will reduce the frustrations and hazards that go with our modern existence. Today, however, greed and lack of vision on the part of our political leaders has killed these euphoria and excitements.

 

The above frustration was expressed by a 63 year old Bonny-born fisherman, Mr Samuel Aderson who narrated his experience of seeing a locomotive engine coming in the past.

  “As a young school child, I and my siblings always rushed out on hearing the blaring sound blaize of trains. In those days, train usually arrived Port Harcourt terminal in the evening and took off as early as 4:30a.m, with passengers waving at us,” she said.

  Indeed, the longing for modern technology has made Nigerians forget the beauties of the past. For example, the modern transportation system has swept Nigerians off their feet and make them forget the beauty and excitement associated with other transportation systems like rail and marine transportation.

  In particular, road transportation has become so popular that the rail system seems to have been neglect of rail system in Nigeria.

  In Rivers State, for example, people only remember with nostalgia the excitement that usually accompanied traveling on train in the past. Unlike in the early 70s when journeying by train from Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital to Umuahia in the old Imo State (now Abia State) was a pleasurable ride for passengers, especially the rich merchant men and women, rail system, today, is no longer an attractive picturesque exercise. Most of the railway lines and terminals have become dumpsites. No thanks to the poor, and self-righteous vision of Nigerian leaders and the greed of the country’s political and economic cabal who feed fat by putting more lorries and trailers on the roads.

  The negligible profile of railway transportation system has made many Nigerians, especially the new generation, oblivious of the existence of the good old, safe days when passengers relished the comfort and excitement of travelling by train with huge luggages and without the harrowing experience and concomitant effects that are associated with road transportation.

  “I remember the good old days when we rushed from the railway market in Port Harcourt to railway terminals on hearing the blaring horn of train awaiting the arrival of train to transport our huge food stuffs and local merchandise to the North, and Eastern region like Umuahia, Owerri and Onitsha,” Mrs Owiyeba Amadi, a Port Harcourt based trader said.

  She noted that besides the beautiful experience of travelling in locomotive train and the attraction of rail blazed horn that used to awake and alert passengers, the mass transit system then provided cheap, reliable, and safe means of transportation to traders and local merchants, and provided jobs for hundreds of Nigerians. Today, all that seems to be part of a distant past.

  Given the sordid and horrible status of the Nigerian highways which has exposed travellers to untold and harrowing experiences, and the attendant effect of making them vulnerable to road accidents, and armed robbery attacks, people now find it difficult to move raw materials to industries within the country and to move finished products from industries to the market. Today, the journey that used to take about two days now take between five and seven days, thus leading to serious waste of man hours and heightened risk. This, without mincing words, is one of the major problems that have been bedeviling the Nigerian economy for more than two decades.

  Investigations revealed that given the enormous pressure on Nigerian roads, the bus rapid transit and the huge number of vehicles on the roads have not quelled the growing appetite of individuals and corporate organisations to use train for business transactions.

  Many people also argued that going to work has become a nightmare as a result of bad roads, heavy traffics and the menace of long vehicles on the roads. They believed that with the investment on mass transit system, rail haulage and freight would take the weight off the load.

  “If our railways system is quickly fixed, these trucks and long vehicles especially on Port Harcourt-Aba road, particularly along Elelenwo, Oil Mills, Oyigbo axis that use to constitute menace on our roads and give passengers and travelers a nightmare will have no business on our roads,” another Port Harcourt based trader, Mr. Emeka Elechi told The Tide.

  This perharps explains why the trend around the world is tailored towards mass transit system. Rail system is used in most developed countries to reduce congestions in the cities following urbanization. Canadian government, for example has invested nearly $1 billion in rail system over the past two years.

  Nigeria, however, has not developed the rails in line with its population growth. For more than one decade now, the rail based system is a conundrum the country has been seeking ways to unravel. Sometimes in 2008, the federal government promised to resuscitate the moribund Nigeria Railways Corporation (NRC) before the end of last year to reduce pressure on roads. This vision is yet to manifest.

  Mr. George Fubara, a  retired federal civil servant, said railway infrastructure is supposed to be a priority in Nigerian economy, especially now that the country’s poor road network cannot sufficiently handle the huge logistics need of the Nigerian economy. Besides delivering fast, comfortable, safe and cost effective rural and urban mobility, he stated that collective investments on rail system would create hundreds of jobs for Nigerians, as well as staving off pressures on the roads.

  “I remember the good old times when we used to go to railway terminals at Lulu Briggs Station in Port Harcourt town where we used to off-load goods and get paid. The Railway market that is now being occupied by school children was a place traders bought cheap goods and local wares to transport to the North via train. We expect the good old times to return to mass transit life not only to reduce pressures on our roads, but also to provide employment for many Nigerians and cater for the huge logistic needs of our economy. Besides, rail system is not commonly known for accidents and therefore will provide cheap and save transportation for people, especially local merchants,” Mr. Fubara said.

  A Kalabari-born old man who grew up in Port Harcourt, however, noted that Nigeria’s rail system is being circumvented by the country’s political cum economic cabal who feed fat on road transportation.

  “Our political leaders, especially our big businessmen who have many buses, trailers and huge lorries on the road are responsible for the collapse of  the Nigeria’s railway system. And this collapse has led to about 90 per cent escalation of food prices in the country,” he stated.

  The consensus is that the huge investment made in rail system by past Nigerian governments enabled citizens in those days to enjoy less, stressful transportation and cheaper and more comfortable way of transacting business. But with the collapse of the rail system today and the challenges posed by Nigeria’s huge population growth and the country’s poor road network, human lives and Nigeria’s socio-economic life have been at a risk. This, therefore, suggests that the moribund railway system begs for urgent revival.

  But whether or not the euphoria and excitement of pleasurable travelling on train with huge goods and merchandise in the past will be brought back to the people is a question that requires urgent answer from Nigerian government. How soon do people await answer?

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…Creates Two New Offices In Govt House

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The Rivers State Governor, Chief Nyesom Wike has announced the creation of two new executive offices to guarantee efficiency and effectiveness of activities at the Government House, in Port Harcourt.
The governor’s action was made known in a statement signed by the Special Assistant on Media to the Rivers State Governor, Kelvin Ebiri in Government House, Port Harcourt, last Monday.
The terse statement reads, “To ensure activities are functioning efficiently and effectively, the Rivers State Governor, Chief Nyesom Wike has announced the creation of the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff, Government House, Port Harcourt.
“The Deputy Chief of Staff will be in charge of the Logistics, Correspondence of the Governor and Legal Matters.
“Similarly, he has also announced the creation of the Office of the Special Adviser on Aviation”.

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Accelerating Gender Parity In Nigeria

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In virtually all societies, women are in an inferior position to men. Sex or gender determines  more rights and dignity for men in legal, social and cultural situations, These are reflected on unequal access to or enjoyment of rights in favour of men.
There are also the assumption of stereotype social and cultural roles.
In Nigeria, gender inequality has been for decades in spite of modernization and the fact that many females have done better than men in many spheres.
Analysts are convinced that gender inequality is largely influenced by religious and cultural beliefs, as some cultures and religions still hold strongly that women are the weaker vessels created mainly to be home keepers and child bearers.
Analysts are also worried that gender inequality negatively affects status in all areas of life in society, whether public or private, in the family or labour market.
Although the Global Gender Gap Report 2018 by the World Economic Forum (WEF) shows some progress amongst the 149 countries that were indexed, the progress toward closing the gender gap is slow, because it will take 108 years to close the gender gap and another 202 years to achieve parity in the workforce, according to the report.
The report benchmarks the 149 countries on their progress toward gender parity across four dimensions – economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health and survival, and political empowerment.
A number of initiatives have been made by corporate organisations and governmental and non-governmental organisations  to address gender imbalance in Nigeria.
One of the latest is the launch of First Women Network  (FWN) by the First Bank of Nigeria Ltd., in commemoration of the 2019 International Women’s Day (IWD).
IWD is celebrated globally every March 8 to recognise social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women.
The celebration is also a call to action for accelerating gender parity.
The global theme for the 2019 celebration is “Think Equal, Build Smart, Innovate for Change” while the theme for the social media campaign is “#BalanceforBetter”.
According to the bank, the FWN initiative is an avenue for career management and mentoring for women to enable them to balance their career with private endeavours.
The aim,  according to the bank, is to address gender gap and increase women representation in its senior and executive levels, as well as encourage women to tap into opportunities and contribute to nation-building.
The bank’s Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Dr Adesola Adeduntan,  explains that First Women Network is targeted at the banks’ staff and customers, among others.
He believes that women can achieve more if given the necessary strategic support, hoping that the initiative
will increase the bank’s productivity and profitability.
Adeduntan notes that the initiative is  also a demonstration of First Bank’s adherence to the Central Bank of Nigeria’s Sustainable Development Goals which mandate increased women representation in all banks.
The sustainable goals require that the financial services sector should adopt a quota system to increase women representation on boards to 30 per cent and that of senior management level to 40 per cent by 2014.
Adeduntan is optimistic that the FWN will address six key area –  career management, personal branding, mentoring, welfare, financial planning and empowerment.
He is convinced that the initiative will address gender disparity at the workplace.
“It is commonly agreed that gender parity is an essential factor influencing the advancement of institutions, economies and societies.
“Studies have shown that gender parity in corporations promotes increased performance and returns on investment.
“The need to invest in composite women empowerment and enhance their contributions at senior management levels to achieve organisational goals cannot be over-emphasised,” the CEO says.
For him,  it is paradoxical that the presence of women in paid employments continues to increase, yet the progression of professional women to positions of leadership and management remains slow.
“Gender gaps persist in economic opportunities and political participation in many countries.
“This is part of the reasons for this women network initiative,” he notes.
The chief executive officer wants employers of labour and the entire society to encourage women to advance, excel and contribute optimally in  workplaces and communities.
Mr Abiodun  Famuyiwa, group head, Products and Marketing Support, promises that First Bank  will continue to promote female entrepreneurship for national growth and development.
“We recognise that promoting female entrepreneurship and independence is key to economic viability of every home in the country,” he says.
 According to him, FWN is a further demonstration of the bank’s commitment to women empowerment after the launch  of FirstGem in 2016.
He is satisfied that FirstGem is providing opportunities for women to achieve their financial goals and aspirations through with access to support funds, free business advice, specialised trainings on business development and insight on business development.
For Mr Lampe Omoyele, managing director, Nitro 121, an integrated marketing communications agency,  points out that courage is important in addressing gender imbalance.
“For gender imbalance to be resolved, there has to be courage, vision, values and character,” he says.
He is convinced that women should  have courage and confidence in taking risks within  organisations.
Omoyele advises that women must not play the victims.
“Ultimately, whether you are a female or male, what is going to sustain you is your character and values.
“You need to have values; character is important in the balance that we live to, and it sustains you as you move into the future,” he adds.
The Chief Executive Officer,  Standard  Chartered Bank, Mrs Bola Adesola, wants women to take advantage of FWN to make their lives better.
 She urges women to aspire to grow in their endeavours and refuse be limited because of their gender, stressing that they should use all resources at their disposal to grow.
 For the bank chief, FWN is not a silver bullet to creating the first female chief executive officer of First Bank, but  about opportunity.
“So, it is important that as women, we take advantage of it,” she urges.
 Ms Cecilia Akintomide, independent non-executive director, FBN Holdings Plc, is dissatisfied that Nigeria is still far in gender balancing.
Akintomide says Nigerian  women are still being restricted from working in some places and owning some property.
According to her, restrictions are rendering 50 per cent of Nigeria’s population –  mainly women –  economically unviable.
 A First Bank customer,  Mrs Ifeyinwa Okoye, lauds the FWN, and urges the bank to ensure that its customers – the secondary target of FWN –  benefit from it.
Okoye describes women as critical to economic growth and development but regrets that many women were lagging behind in their endeavours because of gender inequality.
She wants the banks to enlighten its customers on FWN for maximum results.
 “If you empower a woman, you empower a nation.
“Empowering women is especially effective because the benefits are felt throughout the whole community,” she argues.
Analysts call for more strategic support for Nigerian women to  enhance gender parity.


By: Chinyere Joel-Nwokeoma
Joel-Nwokeoma is of the News Agency of Nigeria.

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Covid-19 Vaccination: Role Of Local Leaders

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It was a matter of time, but Covid-19 vaccination has already started to generate heated arguments following a hint that the Federal Government could start sanctioning anybody who refused to be vaccinated.
Dr Faisal Shuaib, Executive Director,  National Primary Health Care Development Agency, NPHCDA, disclosed this at a recent press conference in Abuja. He, however, said that implementation was dependent on availability of the vaccines.
“The Presidential Steering Committee and the Federal Ministry of Health are exploring ways of making vaccines more available to all Nigerians, including federal civil servants and corporate entities.
“Once these vaccines are made equitably available to all Nigerians, then we will need to have a frank discussion about justice, fairness and liberty that exist around vaccine hesitancy.
“So, you have a right to refuse vaccines, but you do not have the right to endanger the health of others,” he said.
Already, attempts have been made by two states – Ondo and Edo – to make Covid-19 vaccination compulsory, especially for public servants and members of the public who wish to gain access to certain places.
These places include religious worship centres, banks and public buildings.
However, those attempts and the suggestion that the Federal Government might sanction those who refuse vaccination have been criticised by some trade, professional and religious associations.
 The Nigeria Medical Association (NMA) and Joint Health Sector Union (JOHESU) that kicked against the compulsory vaccination, said that government should rather embark on advocacy and persuasion, than coerce citizens into getting vaccinated.
The spokesman for JOHESU, Mr Olumide Akintayo, said the policy would only be sensible if there were enough vaccines to inoculate eligible citizens.
Akintayo stated: “If you are thinking of it in terms of responsibility, it makes sense; but practically, we all know it is an impossible task.
“ If all the doses that have been sent to Nigeria since this outbreak is less than 10 million, how do you enforce that kind of policy in a country of over 200 million people?
“You don’t just come up with policies that are not backed by common sense; you don’t just say things because you want to talk. It would have made some sense if the vaccines are available for everyone.”
The General Secretary of the NMA, Philips Ekpe, said citizens could not be forced to be vaccinated against Covid-19 the same way they had the right to reject medical treatment.
Rather than being forced, he said Nigerians should be made to understand the need to be vaccinated. 
According to him, although they cannot be forced, citizens who refuse vaccination should stay in their houses so that they don’t endanger others.
He said: “The Federal Government needs to make people understand the reason why they need to be vaccinated. They have the right to say no. You cannot force people. People have the right to say no to medical treatment.
“But you should let them understand the dangers of not getting vaccinated.
“For example, if you want to travel out of the country, if you are not vaccinated, you will not be let in. The reason is because the other country you are going to won’t want to endanger the lives of its citizens.
“Let them understand the importance, but then if they refuse, they should stay in their houses and not go out and endanger others.”
Experts believe that properly communicating the advantages of being vaccinated, through the use of existing structures, such as religious and cultural institutions, would yield better results than subtle threats.
Communication connotes persuasion, even on occasions when the purpose of a piece of communication is not to persuade, there is still the need to win over the audience to accept the message.
In this era of fake news, and when the social media is awash with conspiracy theories against vaccination, persuasion must first be deployed to get the attention of citizens.
The burden increases tremendously when there are cultural and religious stereotypes which could prevent many adherents from accepting that being vaccinated is safe.
This challenge is not peculiar to Nigeria. In the U.S. for instance, vaccine hesitancy is responsible for over 90 per cent of all Covid-19 related hospitalisation.
Getting some Americans vaccinated has been so challenging that many people have been offered monetary incentives to convince them to get vaccinated in an unusual case of persuasion.
In Nigeria, where religious and traditional leaders are custodians of faith and culture respectively, they wield great influence on devotees and those institutions can be deployed to boost vaccination drive.
Historically, religious and traditional rulers often employ the cognitive process of persuasive communication to change an entrenched social perception or public opinion hindering required public support for relevant people-oriented policies.
Leaders have the influence to subtly appeal to the target to listen, accept, comprehend and act.
Therefore, before considering the stick, government should first explore the use of carrot.
Religious and traditional leaders can help in giving correct messages on vaccination as well as being role models, making sure that they and their loved ones too are vaccinated.
Faith-based and culture-based organisations can also collaborate with other leaders to sensitise communities on the benefits of vaccination and to also dispel the many myths and disinformation about it.
King Bubaraye Dakolo of Epetiama Kingdom in Bayelsa has been putting this practice to use, since vaccination was first rolled out in Nigeria in March.
“The arrival of the vaccine brought a huge relief to our kingdom. I mobilised my people to carry out awareness campaigns in the various communities to guard against apathy.
“My council chiefs and I led by example in being vaccinated early. When the people saw that, they were fully convinced that the vaccine is not harmful.
“We made it clear to our people through town hall meetings that the vaccine is safe and is designed to save humanity.
“We equally reminded them how some persons who refused to be vaccinated for poliomyelitis in the past are suffering the consequences of their actions today,” the traditional ruler said. 
According to the WHO Covid-19 Dashboard, Nigeria had administered 4.4 million Covid-19 vaccine doses as at Aug. 31, 2021. Out of that number, 2.9 million Nigerians have been fully vaccinated, according to the NPHCDA.
With a fairly efficient vaccination structure, owing to many years of immunisation against polio, the Nigerian government should activate collaboration with religious and traditional bodies in its vaccination drive.
Experts, including health professionals and public administrators, believe that involving these leaders in advocacy and public enlightenment will lead to more people accepting to voluntarily get Covid-19 vaccination.
Of course, with just a paltry 0.7 per cent of the population vaccinated, the key indicator for any punitive measure for avoiding vaccination will be subject to availability of the vaccines.
However, to achieve the goal of vaccinating 40 per cent of its 200 million population before the end of 2021 and 70 per cent by the end of 2022, Nigeria will need more than availability of vaccines.
There has to be the acceptance and willingness of the majority of its population to be vaccinated.
One of the crucial and effective way to achieve that is to work with religious and traditional leaders.

By: Kayode Adebiyi

Adebiyi writes for News Agency of Nigeria.

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