First, it was her left breast that was removed. Now the tumour has affected the other breast and doctors say in a matter of months it will be cut off as well. Mastectomy is the only hope of living a less painful life for Catherine Nzoba, a 32-year old woman.
Incidentally, Catherine’s case would have been different if she had gone to the hospital for treatment three years ago when she discovered a lump in her breast. But instead of seeking medical advice early, she kept the discovery to herself and resorted to seeking only spiritual solution to her problem.
Today, Catherine lives in pain and agony but still conceals her health condition from her friends and colleagues for fear of stigmatisation. She bears the nagging pain all alone and regrets that if she had known, she would have started treatment early.
Catherine’s case is one of the many cancer cases that would have been made less grievous if early medical advice was sought. Experts say early detection of cancer helps in its successful treatment.
Cancer is a leading cause of death around the world. To create awareness about this deadly disease, different days and months are set aside by The World Health Organisation, (WHO), for different types of cancer.
On February 4 every year, WHO supports International Union Against Cancer to promote ways to ease the global burden of cancer. In the same vein, the month of October every year is chosen worldwide to promote breast cancer awareness campaign among women and men.
Breast cancer awareness month is an annual international health campaign organised by major breast cancer charities to increase awareness of the disease and to raise funds for research into its causes, prevention, diagnosis, treatment and cure.
The campaign also offers information and support to those affected by breast cancer. It is also a prime opportunity to remind women to examine their breasts for early detection.
The increasing global focus on breast cancer is because it is the second most common type diagnosed in women after skin cancer and the second cause of death in women after lung cancer.
There are about 1.38 million new cases and 458,000 deaths from breast cancer each year, according to WHO’s report. Records also show that every year breast cancer kills more women in Nigeria than any other form of cancer.
The majority of deaths occur in low and middle income countries, where most women with breast cancer are diagnosed in late stages due mainly to lack of awareness on early detection, barriers to health services and other factors.
Men are not left out of the disease as record shows that one out of every one thousand men is diagnosed with breast cancer.
Why are women afraid of being screened for breast cancer? A breast cancer survivor, Mrs. Emilia Samuel, said breast cancer is dreaded by women because it is a very expensive ailment to manage, coupled with the stigma attached to the disease.
She narrated a story of where a preacher was alleged to have said that breast cancer and other forms of cancer were punishment from God for evil deeds.
The programme coordinator of a non-governmental organization, Preventive Health Care Initiative, Dr. Dorothy Okoh, has this to say:
“For a woman, the breast is a symbol of beauty and womanhood, the phrase, breast cancer, therefore, is frightening and most women do not want to hear or talk about it. Most of our women are ignorant about the disease, and, therefore, seek medical attention very late when nothing much can be done”
She informed that breast cancer today is no longer an automatic death sentence but the key to survival depends on early detection, adding that when breast cancer is detected early and promptly treated, survival rate is increased.
The haematologist advised that to detect breast cancer, a woman needs to be breast health aware and carry out the following screening test routinely: breast self-examination, clinical breast examination, breast ultrasonography and mamography.
Similarly, a medical practitioner, Dr. Ephraim Ogbaji, said death cases from breast cancer can be drastically reduced if systems of promoting and protecting women’s health in Nigeria are improved upon.
He regretted that while HIV/AIDS infection and other killer diseases get adequate publicity and attention, breast cancer receives little attention and resources.
He advocated support from corporate organisations, especially by providing mammography centres in hospitals to make treatment less expensive for breast cancer patients.
A teacher, Miss Iminabo Tariah, says the key to ridding the society of breast cancer and other forms of cancer is education of the young people about the disease and its prevention.
She believes that if young people who are the future of the nation are aware of what they should do to prevent cancer and abide by it, cases of cancer will reduce drastically in the nearest future.
She asked mothers to properly advise their children on health issues and also pay attention to the diet of their family and pointed out that unhealthy living is a major cause of cancer.
She also called on the public, particularly women, to be supportive of fellow women who are suffering from cancer. “We should encourage each other, help each other, and be your sisters’ keeper because they are going through a lot emotionally and financially” she said.
As Nigeria joins other countries of the world to mark this year’s International Breast Cancer Month, experts advocate healthy lifestyle, regular exercise, improved personal hygiene, proper dieting, regular breast examination, regular pap smear and other practices which will help in curtailing the growing rate of breast cancer both among men and women.
They say though there is insufficient knowledge on the causes of breast cancer, if more women, particularly those in the rural areas, have adequate information about their health conditions and seek medical attention as at when due, the number of death cases from the disease will reduce thereby making Nigeria a healthier, happier society.
Another Look At Contributory Pension Act… (1)
The Pension Reform Act 2014, that midwifed the Contributory Pension Scheme is one legislation in Nigeria that poses great concern and apprehensions to Public Servants in particular. Though the Contributory Pension Scheme was designed to remedy or mitigate the alleged deficiencies and inadequate funding of the Defined Benefit Scheme, (DBS) by pooling funds from employers and employees’ contributions to Pension Funds Custodians, retirees under the Scheme, have not fared better than those who retired under the Defined Benefit Scheme. Conversely, the implementation of the Contributory Pension Scheme, is a far cry from what its proponents lulled employees to believe.
Complaints ranging from under payment of retirees under the Contributory Pension Scheme, despite several years of service (Some of whom served 35 maximum years), corruption, non compliance of State governments and other Employers of Labour to provisions of the extant Reform Act, 2014, characterise implementation of the scheme, which Labour leaders in the country describe as anti-workers and retirees welfare.
So the Contributory Pension Scheme which purports welfare and blessedness to retired workers under the scheme, seems obnoxious, counter-productive, shrouded in uncertainty and a failed mission.
Dissatisfied with the scheme, the Association of Senior Civil Servants of Nigeria called on the Federal Government to scrap the scheme, describing it as a “huge fraud”. The group made the appeal in Port Harcourt during its Annual Delegates Seminar for South-South Zone.
“The Present Contributory Pension Policy of the Federal Government should be scrapped. We discovered lately that the Pension Policy is a fraud on workers”, posited Yusuf Emmanuel, Chairman-General, Ministry of Defence Unit 2, Lagos Outstations.
In the same vein, the River State Chairman of Nigeria’s Mother Labour Unions – Nigerian Civil Service Union has appealed to the Rivers State Governor, Sir Siminalayi Fubara to “outrightly repeal” the Contributory Pension Scheme in Rivers State, because “It is not in the interest of civil servants”.
Comrade Chuks Osummah, the Rivers State Chairman of the Nigeria Civil Service Union, who made the appeal at the event to mark the Union’s 111 years of existence in Nigeria, expressed worry over the fate of workers who will retire under the Contributory Pension Scheme.
“We are calling on the Executive Governor of Rivers State to abolish the Contributory Pension Act as it is not in the interest of Rivers State civil servants”, a worried Osummah said.
Meanwhile, the National Assembly workers have left the scheme. The exit of workers of the highest law making organ in Nigeria further lends credibility to the agitations that all is not well with the Contributory Pension Scheme.
Less than 24 hours to abdicating office, former President Muhammadu Buhari removed the National Assembly workers from the scheme by assenting to the National Assembly Service Pensions Board Bill. Former President Buhari’s decision to remove the National Assembly workers from the Contributory Pension Scheme no doubt, does not only smack proof of reality of workers displeasure over the scheme but is a window for State.
Governments or other sectors that the Scheme covers, to opt out. A major reason that the National Assembly workers advanced was that the monthly stipends paid is low and paltry. And that pensioners under the Contributory Pension Scheme are lacking in many other benefits. In the Scheme, retirees are only entitled to what they saved from their contributions into Retirement Savings Account with the Pension Fund Administrators.
The fears of public/civil servants are not unfounded because though over 25 States of the Federation have adopted the Contributory Pension Scheme in principle by enacting relevant legislation, only six states of the Federation and the Federal Capital Territory — Abuja, have fully complied with the provisions of the extant laws on the Pension Reform Act. Full compliance and implementation of the Scheme has remained an uphill task denting the integrity of the scheme and its purported benefits for workers in the public, private and informal sectors the scheme was designed to cover.
According to PenCom website, “Full compliance by State governments with the implementation parameters such as remittance of both employer and employee Pension Contributions, payment of accrued rights, institution of the Group Life, are still relatively low”. It is also evident that while some State governments deduct and remit workers’ contributions, the states have failed to contribute their counterpart fund to the scheme; This violates provision of Contributors’ right as enshrined in Section 4(1) of the Pension Reform Act 2014. The Section provides that as an employee’s right, the employer shall contribute a minimum of 10 percent of the employee’s monthly emolument to his/her Pension Fund Custodian.
Under Section 11(1) of the Pension Reform Act, employers are required to “not later than seven working days from the day the employee is paid his salary, remit an amount comprising the employee’s contribution and employer’s contribution to the Pension Fund Custodian specified by the Pension Fund Administrators of the employee. The failure of State governments to act according to the express and unambiguous dictates of such extant provisions poses a grave and bleak future for the employees on retirement.By the refusal of State governments and other employers to make their counterpart contributions, no doubt, the scheme can not guarantee security for the welfare of the workers on retirement. The fate of employees, especially those working before the enactment and implementation, seems to hang on the balance; an aura and premonition of uncertainty on the seamless disbursement of what is legitimately their entitlement remains a puzzle, since they are likely to lose financial benefits for all the years they have served before the implementation of the Act in the State. Another misgiving that workers have with the Pension Scheme is the effective date of the Act.
Some workers argue that since the Pension Reform Act was enacted in 2014, it should have excluded workers already employed in the Public Sector before 2014, when the law was enacted. They argue that the effective date is “Pre-emptive” and retrospective, adding that laws are not implemented in retrospect.
According to a unionist and a Port-Harcourt based lawyer, Tamunobarasua Omoni, the effective date of implementation can shortchange workers employed before the effective date.
“You know that there are people that have been working in the public sector before the Reform Act was enacted in 2014. And their employer started remitting their contribution in 2018, what happens to the several years they have worked without contributions?
“The crux of the matter is the inclusion of those who are already working before the effective date. Such pre-emptive legislation could deprive workers their entitlements because benefits accruing to workers are dependent on amount employers and employees contributed.”
Barrister Omoni is of the view that all employees before the enactment of the Reformed Pension Act 2014 should remain under the Defined Benefit Scheme while the Contributory Pension Scheme should function with those employed after 2014.
To be continued in our next edition.
By: Igbiki Benibo
Palliative And Sustainable Economy
The President Bola Ahmed Tinubu-led Federal Government last Thursday, 16th August 2023, announced a N5 billion palliative for each of the 36 states of the Federation and and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) (FCT), Abuja to cushion the harsh socio-economic realities of the removal of subsidy on petroleum products, on the groaning masses. The governor of Borno State, Babagana Zulum, made the announcement in Abuja when he spoke to State House correspondents after a National Economic Council meeting presided by the Vice President of Nigeria, Alhaji Kashim Shettima. The Federal Government’ had initially announced its plan to give a paltry N8,000 to 12 million vulnerable households every month under a six-month purported welfare scheme.
However, such plan did not go down well with the masses as the removal of subsidy on Petroleum products has dealt untold hardship on the people. The cost of living has quadrupled. Transport fares, house rents, prices of material necessities, cost of education and doing business such as small and medium scale enterprises and other businesses that depend on petroleum products, have further increased. The consumer of the goods and services bears the brunt of it all. For instance, the cost of photocopying a page document that was N5 is now N50, about 500 percent increase. However, the upwardly reviewed N5 billion palliative to each of the 36 states of the Federation and the FCT Abuja appears to elicit a flicker of hope and earns the approval of some Nigerians when compared with the N8,000 for each of the target 12 million households across the country which some people described as “assault on the sensibility of Nigerians” and “anti-poor poor” policy.
In fact, the organised labour, under the aegis of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC), had insisted that the palliative proposed by the Federal Government’ was far from being enough and insignificant to cushion the sufferings in Nigeria, following the removal of subsidy on petroleum products. However, as commendable as the N5 billion palliative to states and the FCT would appear, will the reviewed Palliative translate to a sustainable economic impact on the masses? How long will such harsh economy cushioning measures last in a country where proactive economic measures to fundamentally address the spiking poverty level in Nigeria, is elusive?
Speaking on the palliative, a small business operator in Port Harcourt, Mr. John Chukwudi, did not believe that the palliative measure will address the multi-dimensional problems faced by the citizens without putting in place basic infrastructure like refineries and electricity as well as upward review of salaries of workers.
According to Chukwudi, the sad experiences of the Ebola and COVID-19 intervention schemes further cast doubt on the possibility of palliative on subsidy removal getting down the vulnerable people. “I don’t believe that this money released by the Federal Government’ to ease the sufferings of the people will really get to them. Were you not in this country during the Ebola, COVID-19 and flood periods, did money or relief materials really get to vulnerable people? Some of the materials were stocked in warehouses in some states while the people wallow in poverty and pains”. Mr. Chukwudi, who was pessimistic about the implementation of palliative scheme in the States, said “ For me, seeing is believing”. For Mrs. Sopakirite Lily-West, an agro-allied economist, palliatives without basic infrastructure is a defective measure of addressing a socio-economic problem like the one Nigeria is into presently. She said palliative is only a temporary, stop-gap measure while lasting measures are being put in place.According to her, spending N185 billion Naira on palliative, if not well invested will translate to a colossal and monumental waste.
“Imagine that the Federal Government’ had put such N185 billion on an infrastructure to boost the economy, what that will yeild to, in five years.The present administration would have put in place infrastructure like improved electricity, functional refineries and friendly business environment before removal of petroleum subsidy. “For me what the Federal Government under President Bola Ahmed Tinubu has done is putting the cart before the horse. There must be a collision and counter-productivity”.
A Port Harcourt based lawyer is of the opinion that giving N5 billion to each of the 36 States and the FCT is a covert way of increasing the capacity of some State governors to spend frivolously, waste, siphon public. funds.According to Mr. Sobere, “ You know that some State governors don’t have a sustainable economic development blueprint for the state they are governing.
So when such special money which is actually meant to make the people heave a sigh of relief comes, it is like an imprest for the governors. We are here in Nigeria, we saw what happened when relief materials given to flood victims by donor organisations including multinational companies did not get to most of them. You should also not forget the COVID -19 intervention schemes, and Ebola intervention, how many vulnerable people benefitted? Rather, it was a smokescreen for some of those in Government to share it among themselves to the exclusion of the needy”. In his view, a Christian cleric in Rivers State, Rev. Dr. Daddy Ibulubo, that the Federal Government’ dropped the proposal to give only N8,000 for each of the 12 million target households in the country and released N5 billion to each state and Abuja, shows it is listening to the people.
According to Dr. Ibulubo who is the Rivers District Superintendent of Assemblies of God, Nigeria, “frankly speaking the initial amount of N8,000 palliative was grossly inadequate considering the high cost of living in the country. The Federal Government’ is spending N185 billion as against about N480 million on the initial plan. I hope that State Governors who are trustees and stewards of the people’s resources will give value to every kobo received to alleviate the plight of the suffering people of the country. The people are really suffering. And the suffering is man-made. So they should be proactive to address it “ For its part the central Labour organisations, the NLC and TUC have urged the Federal Government’ to make upward review of workers’ salaries and wages as an integral factor of the palliative scheme.
The umbrella unions had proposed a N200,000 National Minimum Wage for the Nigerian worker. Joe Ajaero of the Nigeria Labour Congress in a speech recently gave President Tinubu a knock for not working the talk on public servants’ salaries.
“Labour is disturbed that while President Tinubu in his speech lavishly praised the private sector for quickly dispensing wage awards to their employees, the Federal Government’ has failed to do the same for public workers in its employment. This is a case of failing woefully to live up the standard it has set for others to meet”, Comrade Ajaero said.As measures to cushion the effect of removal of subsidy on petroleum products on public servants, some State Governors and Government institutions have also announced the reduction of official work days from five to three. The governors include those of Edo, Borno, Bayelsa, etc. The management of University of Ibadan has also reduced its working days.
However, the Rivers State Governor, Sir Siminalayi Fubara has purchased and put on various routes in Port Harcourt metropolis and its environs a fleet of vehicles to ease movement at no cost to the commuters with a view to cushion the effect of the subsidy removal on the residents of the State. This is aside other relief packages the Rivers State Governor has promised to roll out soonest, while the promotion to various salary grade levels of more than 4,000 workers in the State public service, had been implemented by Governor Fubara with assurances of improving on the welfare of workers. Meanwhile, the Rivers State Government has also commenced rehabilitation of the State Secretariat in keeping with its Civil Service friendly policy. The President, Bola Ahmed Tinubu had in his maiden address to the people said the removal of subsidy on petroleum products is a necessity to prevent the country from “going under” and deliver the economy of the nation from the stranglehold of a few unpatriotic elements in the country.
While many agree with the present and successive administrations that the removal of subsidy is necessary to free and channel funds accruing from the subsidy removal into critical areas of infrastructure, the implementation of policy is hasty and ill-timed.Economists and Labour leaders have advocated for the rehabilitation of nation’s four refineries to make them work at installed capacities, regular power supply, provision of welfare packages for workers and others The unavailability of pre-subsidy removal incentives have triggered among several other challenges, high cost of living and outrageous hike in the pump price of petroleum products. A litre of premium motor spirit known as petrol, is now sold for about N700. While the masses associate high pump price of petroleum products to the moribund state of Nigerian refineries, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Public Affairs, Aguri Ngelale told Nigerians “to disregard the myth that more refineries in Nigeria would translate to cheaper fuel price”
He said having more refineries would save Nigeria the cost that would have gone into importing fuel products. According to Ngelale, “that is a myth, it does not happen anywhere in the world, even if we had the most refineries producing the most PMS in the world, you would find that the most prolific PMS producers with their refineries do not charge differently from the countries without refineries”, Ngegale said in an interview on TVC. The kernel of it all is that making all refineries in Nigeria work at installed capacities will not scale down the pump price of petroleum products. That would suggest that Nigerians are living at the mercy of market forces. So Nigerians should cultivate the frame of mind of adjusting to new increases as may be dictated by the market forces.
If refineries are fixed to work at installed capacities and the anticipated relief is not realistic, if “PMS producers with their refineries do not charge differently from countries without refineries”, then huge amount of money put in building and maintaining the refineries is a colossal waste. And Nigerians should be ready to live with the multi-dimensional challenges, pain and hardship posed by removal of subsidy on petroleum products. No wonder Mr. President did not include fixing refineries as part of his administration’s plan to solve the economy problem. His inclusion of the refineries following a knock by the NLC president was an after-thought designed to soothe frayed nerves. Let the palliative stimulate a sustainable economic growth for States and the country. A sustainable economic growth is the bedrock for national development, and massive job creation.
By: Igbiki Benibo
PWDs: Need For Improved Welfare In Rivers
Every child is born with inherent potentials for development, but the visicitudes and inexplicable ways of life sometimes pose grave challenges to the physical growth and development of some individuals, a pathetic situation that requires extra attention and care to forestall the loss of such rosy potentials. Coping with physical disabilities is a traumatic experience that no one would like to go through, as it may result in the total capitulation of life, if the social, emotional and psychological needs of the victims are not attended to. The disability community is therefore a delicate segment of the society that requires more than a passive attention but deep concern from the government, other relevant authorities and the private sector to make them active participants in the process of development. In recognition of this important segment of the society, the United Nations formulated laws that protect the rights, dignity, and interests of persons with disabilities and other life threatening challenges, globally. This is known as the “United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities”. Nigeria is a signatory to this charter.
In Nigeria, Persons with Disabilities(PWDs) operate under the Joint National Association of Persons with Disabilities, an umbrella body that coordinates the activities and interest of members. The association is domesticated across the 36 states of the federation, with structured leadership affiliated to the National body. The Joint National Association of Persons with Disabilities is made up of eight clusters: 1. Visually impaired (blind) 2. Hearing impaired (deaf) 3.Albinism 4. Leprosy 5. Spinal Cord. 6. Physical 7. Intellectual (autism, Down Syndrome, 8. Learning disability).
A worrisome and misconstrued aspect of disability management in our society has been the placement of the fate and fortunes of affected persons on charity and sheer benevolence, rather than deliberate interventionist policies to better their lots. Beyond the threshold of charity and benevolence, there are glaring cases where fully mobilised and determined persons with disabilities have achieved exceptional feats in their various careers and fields of endeavour.
A glaring example is the talented musician, that won the keenly contested American Idol. Kodi Taehyun Lee is an American singer, songwriter, and pianist, who rose to fame after participating in, and ultimately winning, the 14th Season of America’s Got Talent. In 2019, Lee auditioned for AGT, and within weeks his performance had over 50 million viewers on the internet Wikipedia. Kodi Lee is autistic and blind but rose beyond his physical challenges to stardom because of self determination and a motivating environment. The articulation of the needs, development and welfare of the community of PWDs through deliberate policy formulation and implementation is therefore a major task before every society and the government. The organised private sector is also expected to play pivotal role in providing a self-sustainability model of empowerment for PWDs through its Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) policies. Also of importance is the implementation of disability laws to criminalise unwholesome, discriminatory practices and stigmatisation of Persons with disabilities in the society.
In pursuance of these objectives, the Rivers State Disability Welfare Enhancement Law No 3, was enacted in the state and signed into law in 2011, but the legislation has not been most effective in terms of its implementation and impact. Thus making the disability community in the state endangered species. An upward review of the law to be in conformity with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of PWDs is therefore, most imperative for proper inclusiveness of the disability community in the polity. In a bid to enhance the standards of living of people living with physical disabilities, pundits and critical stakeholders have called for a more proactive and workable model in managing disability related issues in Rivers State. One of such proponents and advocates of the sustainability model is the current chairman of the Rivers State Chapter of the Joint National Association of Persons With Disabilities, Comrade Kie Obomanu. Comrade Obomanu, who expressed his views during an exclusive interview with The Tide recently, called for the review of the Rivers State Disability Welfare Enhancement Law No. 3, to reflect the dynamics of the United Nations Charter on disability management.
He emphasised the need for the establishment of the Rivers State Disability Commission, which is a critical component of the Rivers State Persons With Disability Welfare Enhancement Law No. 11 of 2012. According to Kie Obomanu, the flagrant deviation from the implementation of disability Law by the Government poses severe threats to the daily existence of persons with disabilities in the state. He noted that the building code, section 3 of the National Disability Law 2018, makes it compulsory, “that all public buildings must adapt their structures to be disability friendly, through the provision of ramps, elevators, lifts for easy access to enter and freely move around public buildings”. He further decried a situation where their members who are lawyers lose their briefs because they can not access courts rooms at the State Judiciary Complex, adding that its members cannot also attend Public Hearings and observe plenary in Rivers State House of Assembly, because of inaccessibility. The chairman was particularly dismayed that some obnoxious traditional practices are still used to deprive Persons with Disabilities in the state of their rights in different communities of the State.
To cope with the present economic exigencies, Obomanu also called for the establishment of the Rivers State Disability Trust Fund and an Enterprise Development Centre with inclusive equipment for the training of its members in various skills and entrepreneurial development schemes for economic development, self reliance and sustainability. He pointed out that such interventions would be accommodative of the eight disability clusters and guarantee their self reliance.
Another area of concern raised by the chairman of Joint National Association of Persons with Disabilities in Rivers State is the proper collection of data and numerical documentation of persons with disabilities in the state as this will help the government, private sector and development partners (international donor organisations) to know how to key into sectoral aid work. Comrade Obomanu said the association was able to collate a sample of 8,000 persons from the different disability clusters across the various LGAS, but this figure does not reflect the actual number of persons with disabilities in the state.
He explained that the rigorousness of the self-sponsored exercises which ended mostly at the Local Government Headquarters and few adjoining communities stunted the association’s efforts in getting the real number of persons with disabilities in the state. “The complexities and remoteness of some localities and communities where our members are located make it difficult to reach out to them and get actual results in head counts, the one done so far does not reflect the totality of persons living with physical disabilities in Rivers State.
“I want to appeal to the Rivers State Government to assist us with sponsorship to reach out to remote communities where our members are.”
He also appealed to Governor Siminalayi Fubara to come to the aid of students of the School of Handicapped at Creek Road, Port Harcourt, as the classrooms and dormitories are in a qualid condition for the students to engage in conducive learning, and called for the establishment of a new school with inclusive equipment, accessible facilities and mainstreaming of educational policy.
For proper interface, effective response and alleviation of the plight of the disability community in Rivers State, Kie Obomanu appealed to the Rivers State Governor, Sir Siminalayi Fubara to appoint a Special Adviser on disability matters.
By: Taneh Beemene
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