That Row Over Health Minister’s Job
Over the years, it has become a convention for serving Nigerian Presidents to appoint medical doctors into the Executive Council of the Federation (EXCOF) to serve as Minister of Health, although the discretion is not backed by law.
It has instead, been done on account of the impressive lobby power of the Nigeria Medical Association (NMA) the umbrella body of doctors, and indeed the often acceptable arguments regularly put up by the body.
But with the increasing expansion of the medical minefield, there appears to be growing dissent over the exclusive appointment of doctors into such high executive position, in total disregard to many other branches of the larger health practice.
This, has created a very disturbing rivalry between medical doctors on the one hand and other health sector professionals on the other, with each group threatening to declare industrial dispute should the Federal Government appoint the other into the Ministerial office.
The NMA repeatedly has insisted that none other than a qualified medical doctor is best suited to superintend the highly professional health sector, with a warning that any deviation from that expectation would negatively affect the practice and services delivery.
Unwilling to be outdone, the healthcare providers and health workers in Nigeria has also vowed to down tools should the Federal government succumb to NMA pressure and appoint a medical doctor this time also.
National Vice President of the Medical Laboratory Scientists of Nigeria, Dr. Godwill Okara, blamed the poor states of healthcare delivery on such rivalry and decried manipulations of the NMA to get the ministerial slot.
The Tide views this rivalry as unnecessary and vexatious because the choice of who becomes a member of EXCOF is entirely the prerogative of the appointing authority, in this case, Acting President Goodluck Jonathan.
Besides, there is no constitutional provision that determines the choice of what professional to be appointed a Minister of Health, since it is mainly a cabinet position. Infact, the only position exclusively assigned to a set of professionals is that of Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, as contained in Section 150 (1 and 2) of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution, which states clearly:
“There shall be an Attorney General of the Federation who shall also be the Chief Law Officer of the Federation and a Minister of the Government of the Federation.
Section 150 (2), which specifically precludes all other professionals except competent law practitioners reads, “A person shall not be qualified to hold or perform the functions of the office of the Attorney-General of the Federation unless he is qualified to practice as a legal practitioner in Nigeria and has been so qualified for not less than ten years.
Conversely, all other ministerial positions are defined in Article 147 (5), which merely insists, No person shall be appointed as Minister of the Government of the Federation unless he is qualified for election as a member of the House of Representatives. So what are the qualifications? Specifically, Section 65 1(B), states that subject to provisions of Section 66 of the Constitution, a person shall be qualified for election as a member of “the House of Representatives, if he is a citizen of Nigeria and has attained the age of thirty years, while Section 65, (2) A and B hammer on educational qualification and membership of a political party.
Section 65 (2)A: states A person shall be qualified for election under Section 11 of this section if – (a) he has been educated up to at least school certificate level or its equivalent and (b) he is a member of a political party.
What these clearly state is that the decision of who or from which profession to pick a ministerial nominee is not the responsibility of trade or professional bodies, but entirely that of the Presidency with the confirmation of the Senate.
These are why The Tide sues for calm, in order to avoid any form of rancour capable of crippling the very important health sector. The NMA and other professionals must realise the need for dialogue, in the realisation that the position of health minister is not by law, the exclusive preserve of any single profession.
While this is no, The Tide wishes to suggest that the Federal Government should encourage dialogue among the leadership of the disputing associations, if for nothing else, to avoid any disruptions in health services delivery.
Water, Most Precious Resource
On the 21st of March, the world marked World Water Day. The day is an annual event that is celebrated to focus on the primacy of water and the need to preserve it. Water is significant for a healthy body. This is why the United Nations General Assembly designated this day in 1993, twenty-five years ago, to call attention to the water-related challenges we face.
This year, the theme for World Water Day is “Accelerating the Change to Solve the Water and Sanitation Crisis”. The quantity and quality of water that is available for human consumption today have been affected by damaged ecosystems. Now, 2.1 billion people live without safe drinking water at home; it impacts their health, education, and general livelihood.
Following this knowledge, the UN member states and agencies and various other Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) have become involved in the promotion of clean water conservation and have helped focus the attention of people on all the critical issues of water. They also promote the supply of clean and purified water.
Global access to safe water, adequate sanitation, and hygiene resources reduce illness and death from disease and leads to improved health, poverty reduction, and socio-economic development. The COVID-19 pandemic has further demonstrated the urgent need for universal access to safe water, as frequent and proper handwashing with soap and water is one of the most effective actions to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Unfortunately, even so, many people lack access to these necessities, leaving them at risk for diseases related to water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH). Globally, 2.2 billion people do not have safe drinking water, 3.6 billion do not have safe sanitation services, and 2.3 billion do not have access to a handwashing facility.
Many diarrheal diseases, such as typhoid fever and cholera, spread through unsafe water and sanitation. Protecting water sources and developing and maintaining WASH systems to keep human waste out of the water, food, and environment are critical to preventing diarrheal diseases. In areas without a consistent source of safe water, people often resort to using untreated water that can make them sick.
Like many other countries, Nigeria also joined the rest of the world to commemorate 2023 World Water Day. Marking the occasion, the Federal Government, last Wednesday, lamented over worsening water-related disasters. The Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Water Resources, Didi Walson-Jack, made the statement during a media briefing to mark the day.
The essence of commemorating World Water Day is basically to raise awareness of the poor and vulnerable populations living without access to safe and clean water, said Walson-Jack. And its objective is to galvanize action towards active response to the water crisis and seek innovative measures to improve access to potable water supply while achieving the targets set out in the Sustainable Development Goal 6 – Water and Sanitation for all by 2030.
However, the Federal Government’s statement is uninspiring, as the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund declared that about two-thirds of the population of citizens in Nigeria lacked access to potable water. Nigeria has an estimated population of about 200 million or slightly more, and two-thirds of this figure represents over 133 million persons without access to potable water across the country.
Although the Federal Ministry of Water Resources and states are investing in water, the sustainability of these investments has remained a major challenge. Unfortunately, in Nigeria, the progress is static, which is why two-thirds of the Nigerian population do not have access to potable water and that is a lot of people when compared with the population.
There is an urgent need for adequate improvement in investments, particularly given that the lack of enough access to water has massive implications for the country. Shockingly, Nigeria’s level of investment is one of the lowest in the region. The nation is less than three per cent in terms of investments, so there is still a lot more to be done.
This year’s World Water Day should galvanise the federal and state governments to create synergies by joining hands and working together. We must value every drop of water and keep our planet blue and clean. We have to make every day World Water Day. Hence, the Federal Ministry of Water Resources should promote drip irrigation systems as a way of sustainable water management in selected irrigation schemes.
It is against this backdrop that the Rivers State Government recognises water and sanitation as essential for maintaining a healthy life and environment. Both are fundamental for the socio-economic development of the state. This conviction is responsible for the intervention in improving water and sanitation coverage in the state.
Consequently, the state government, through the Port Harcourt Water Corporation (PHWC), is implementing the Urban Water Sector Reform and Port Harcourt Water Supply and Sanitation Project (UWSR & PHWSSP), and the Third National Urban Water Sector Reform Project (NUWSRP3). The project is to provide improved water and sanitation services for the entire population of Port Harcourt and Obio/Akpor Local Government Areas.
And in a short time from now, water will begin to run in homes in Port Harcourt. Already, elevated water tanks in Rumuola, Diobu & Borikiri are seen including modern treatment/chlorination plants and extensive citywide reticulation. This project is part of Governor Nyesom Wike’s programme in Rivers State and is expected to be delivered soon.
When completed, beneficiaries of the project will include over 1.5 million inhabitants of the Port Harcourt metropolitan city. The project is co-financed by the Rivers State Government (RVSG), African Development Bank (AfDB), and the World Bank (WB). Rivers’ model is worthy of emulation. States should collaborate with development partners and donors to properly execute water policies in Nigeria.
That March Stillborn Census
After a long period of indecision, Nigeria will now hold its first census in 17 years in May this year instead of April as earlier scheduled. The Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, made this known to newsmen last Wednesday at the end of the weekly meeting of the Federal Executive Council.
The Minister explained that the decision to move the date was necessitated by the rescheduling of the gubernatorial election to March 18. He also disclosed that the Council approved a whopping N2.8 billion for the National Population Commission (NPC) to procure some software to be used for the conduct of the census.
Recall that in the July 20, 2022 editorial of this paper, we observed that the planned census initially scheduled for April 2023 was ill-timed and therefore should not have been mulled over in the first place, given that the general election had been slated for an adjoining period; moreover at a time of very significant security problems bedeviling virtually the whole country.
These situations would impact the census result adversely. Even by its acknowledgement, the NPC’s pre-census tests which were performed in some areas of the country were stymied by overwhelming safety issues in some states.
We also argued that if the present administration did not conduct the census, at least, a year before the end of its tenure, it had no reason to rush to conduct the exercise two months before exit. Expectedly, with the postponement, and the reasons adduced thereto, we have been vindicated.
It would have been inconceivable for the NPC to proceed with the process when it was apparent that the agency was yet unprepared to conduct a credible and acceptable census. To justify their lack of readiness, the NPC has just submitted and secured approval of N2.8 billion to award a contract to procure software it will use for the exercise.
We insist that even the new May date for the exercise is still unrealistic. First, the contract has to be awarded for the procurement of the software. Second, the contractor has to order and take delivery of the software. The NPC will then take delivery and begin training staff and ad-hoc personnel to be able to effectively deploy and efficiently use the software. We can conjecture that this will take not less than, at least, six months from now.
This is why we demand that the Federal Government, and indeed the NPC, should stop deceiving Nigerians on the conduct of a hitch-free census at this time. The NPC should conduct the exercise later this year or even in 2024. It was for this reason the House of Representatives advised the commission to put off the exercise to a more convenient period because of the unstable state of affairs in the country. Sadly, the commission disdained the well-intentioned advice of the House.
The horrendous security conditions are elevating concerns about the accurate count. The Federal Government should not venture on a wild goose chase. Census generally is a massive endeavour that requires a long time of organisation and planning. The truth, however, is that insecurity in the country is far more horrible than the image projected by the NPC. And given the deplorable economic condition of the nation, it is time the commission explored other means outside headcount to execute its obligation of extrapolating Nigeria’s population to intensify planning and growth.
The manual procedure being adopted by the NPC is becoming anachronistic, error-ridden, and vulnerable to manipulation. It should give way to new technologies for enumeration and data collection. According to a recent survey by the United Nations, more than 30 countries or areas are providing an option for Internet-based self-enumeration given that “new technologies contribute to improving the completeness, timeliness, and quality of census results.” That is the way forward.
Ordinarily, the plan to hold a national census would have been a welcome development. This is especially so because the planned census is coming some 17 years after the last headcount. But executing the project in May will be grossly unfitting because it will come too close to the end of the general election. The timing is wrong completely.
The government should not set innocent citizens in harm’s way for conducting a headcount. Consequently, President Muhammadu Buhari should not submit to scare tactics from the commission to authorise or discharge funds for the census. Already, the NPC management is ruing the endorsement and even anticipating that if the money required for the activity from the government is inadequate, it would get reasonable appropriation from global backers.
Clearly, the quandary at hand is a very auspicious prescription for a failure of any headcount presently, which is better circumvented than added to the many miseries that had depicted census in this country. All the earlier censuses were contentious, and it does not make any sense to carry out one just for it when all the indicators demonstrate apparent unfavourable aftermath.
The question is: Why is the NPC bent on having a census despite the odds? Is the commission out to do a good job, or just to spend the gigantic money being budgeted for the project? No doubt, a valid census is crucial for planning and development objectives for the country. But it should be executed properly and timely. The count had been put off twice in 2016 and 2018 following several controversial factors that have still not abated but intensified instead and worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic.
We think that the Federal Government should shun the idea of a census for the next government, which should tackle insecurity first before the census. A country that is facing existential challenges cannot have as one of its priorities the conduct of a national census. The current administration should discontinue what will aggregate to misadventure and waste of scarce national resources.
What should disconcert the Buhari regime is reviving the credence of a large section of citizens in the Nigerian project, resuscitating peace in areas held by criminal elements, and dousing tension in the country to foster favourable buy-in and participation. A national census now is necessarily not a preference; its conduct is entirely not feasible.
Black Sea Saga: Let Peace Reign
Tensions between Moscow and Washington reached an all-time high, as a Russian fighter jet forced down a United States Air Force drone over the Black Sea last Tuesday after damaging the propeller of the American MQ-9 Reaper drone. The U.S. military confirmed.
The Reaper drone and two Russian Su-27 aircraft were flying over international waters over the Black Sea when one of the Russian jets intentionally flew in front of and dumped fuel on the unmanned drone several times. The aircraft then hit the propeller of the drone, prompting U.S. forces to bring the MQ-9 drone down. A statement from U.S. European Command said.
“Our MQ-9 aircraft was conducting routine operations in international airspace when it was intercepted and hit by a Russian aircraft, resulting in a crash and complete loss of the MQ-9,” Air Force General James Hecker, commander of U.S. Air Forces Europe and Air Forces Africa, said in the statement.
Recall that in June 2021, the Russia – U.S. summit witnessed the first in-person meeting between Presidents Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin to ease the mounting tensions between Washington and Moscow. Even though both presidents expressed cautious optimism about the future trajectory of U.S. – Russia affairs, what followed was anything but positive.
In 2021, tensions between Moscow and Washington reached an all-time high, when Russia repeatedly accused the United States and NATO of providing military assistance to Ukraine and nudging the country closer to NATO and the European Union. As the conflict escalated, Washington and its allies expressed concerns regarding Russia’s nuclear arsenal and political ambitions. This pushed Western officials to impose sanctions on Russia and provide support to the Ukrainian military.
In light of this continuing support, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accused NATO of waging a “proxy” war against Russia by supporting Ukraine. In its turn, Moscow continued to solidify its partnerships with key powers in the Middle East and to deepen its political and economic ties with China. This has created tensions that may lead to serious geopolitical rivalry between the great powers.
Last month, the U.S. military shot down a suspected Chinese spy balloon off the Carolina coast after it traversed sensitive military sites across North America. But China insisted the flyover was an accident involving a civilian aircraft and threatened repercussions. It responded that it reserved the right to “take further actions” and criticised the U.S. for “an obvious overreaction and a serious violation of international practice.”
These developments are obvious threats to world peace. Gradually, the superpowers are getting involved in the Ukraine war with these attacks. We advise all parties to thread with caution to avert the escalation of the various provocative acts. Already, the Russian war with Ukraine is threatening the stability of the world economy and peace. With these attacks, there is a need for an urgent reassessment of global surveillance and security.
Violations of airspace by foreign unmanned reconnaissance balloons, drones, and other means are utterly unacceptable. Unfortunately, since the Chinese balloon incident, there have been numerous other occurrences involving flying objects, raising even more concern. The world powers must establish communication channels or maintain existing ones to properly handle these incidents in the interest of global peace.
In a world that is rapidly becoming a “global village”, security issues respect no national borders. The vulnerability of any one country may create a security “swamp” attracting multiple risks from outside. The insecurity of one country may build up and spill over to the region and beyond. Currently, no one can stay unscathed from external risks or achieve so-called “absolute security” on their own. Hence, nations must stick together.
Since the Russia – Ukraine war is at the heart of the conflicts, pressure should be brought to bear on both sides to end the hostilities, whose negative impact has been felt across the world. China, a major power and UN Security Council member allied with Russia need to persuade Putin to de-escalate. President Xi Jinping and the ruling Communist Party have to look beyond their ongoing rivalry with the U.S. and NATO and their preoccupation with China’s geostrategic calculations, especially unification with Taiwan and control of the South China Sea.
The war in Ukraine has to stop. This must not escalate into World War III. No one will be free from nuclear war. If hostilities intensify beyond Ukraine, its course and outcome will be unforeseeable. It is therefore essential that Putin be deprived of power. Mischief-making by Iran and North Korea is another matter; the two pariah states have been supplying Russia with weapons in furtherance of their permanent bellicosity against the U.S. and its allies. Deterring them will require stiffer sanctions against both.
Developing countries such as Nigeria’s and indeed the whole of Africa should avoid taking sides in the war. As the continent is heavily dependent on food and energy imports from Russia and Ukraine, the Norwegian-based Peace Research Institute in Oslo said war “has resulted in extreme price shocks and a disruption of the supply chains of various commodities across Africa, ranging from wheat and sunflower oil to crude oil.” The earlier this war ends, the better for the world.
The belligerents suffer the most: apart from the humanitarian displacement. The World Bank estimates that Ukraine will require $349 billion for reconstruction; the Foreign Policy Research Institute also forecasts Russia’s economy to contract by 15 per cent this year. Given the estimate and forecast, it is expedient that the senseless war ends.
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