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How Accessible Is National Health Insurance Scheme?

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Since it became operational in 2005, the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) has been contending with many challenges in the course of defining its objective of making healthcare accessible and affordable to Nigerians.
The scheme has Formal Sector Social Health Insurance Programme which covers the federal, state and local governments as well as the organised private sector.
It also has Informal Sector Social Health Insurance Programme which covers the Community-Based Social Health Insurance Programme and the Voluntary Contributors Social Health Insurance Programme.
The third category is the Vulnerable Group Social Health Insurance Programme which covers the physically challenged persons, prison inmates, children under five, pregnant women and immigrants, among others.
Analysts, however, note that lack of political will, inefficiency of the regulatory agency, the Health Maintenance Organisations (HMOs) and optional enrollment policy, among others, remain contending issues that the scheme has been grappling with in recent times.
According to them, one of the issues is the role of HMOs that are privately owned but play an important role in the operation of the scheme.
They note also that there is a service-gap with the public hospitals that have the distribution of enrollees, playing a dominant role in its healthcare delivery.
They cite instances when enrollees have complained of poor service delivery with long waiting time, use of substandard drugs and poor attitude of healthcare providers.
Concerned citizens have also expressed grave concern that the primary purpose of the scheme, which is to make healthcare financially available and affordable to all Nigerians, is seemed to have been compromised.
Besides this, they note that out-of-pocket payment for healthcare services has, indeed, been a challenge in Nigeria as such affects the ability of households and individuals to meet basic needs.
However, the management of NHIS says it has been making efforts at ensuring commitment and political will to achieve Universal Health Coverage as recommended by the World Health Organisation.
Malam Attahiru Ibrahim, former Executive Secretary of NHIS, said that 98 per cent of the Formal Sector Social Health Insurance Programme has been covered.
“One of our mandates in the scheme is to cover the formal sector and presently we have covered 98 per cent of the work force at the federal level.
“The formal sector consists of the public sector, organised private sector, armed forces, police and other uniformed services,’’ Ibrahim said.
Prof. Usman Yusuf, Executive Secretary, NHIS, nonetheless, acknowledged that the major challenge in the accessibility of health insurance to many Nigerians was the inability to extend the benefit package to the informal sector.
Yusuf also expressed his determination to reposition the scheme to deliver healthcare for all Nigerians, especially to the poor and vulnerable in the society.
He said that the scheme would design and implement strategies that would make NHIS a good steward of the nation’s commonwealth.
He stated that the Community-Based Social Health Insurance Programme with a well-developed design and implementation manual in place was a strategy to reach out to the informal sector.
“So far, more than 48 Community-Based Social Health Insurance Programmes are operational in Nigeria.
“The scheme has inaugurated the programmes in Emoriko and Egbe both in Kogi State, Nkana West Ward 11 of Akwa Ibom, Lamodi-Offa in Kwara and Igarra in Edo, among others.
“The Tertiary Institutions Social Health Insurance Programme, Voluntary Contributors Social Health Insurance Programme and private health plans are part of the programmes to boost health coverage by the scheme,’’ he said.
According to him, the Federal Capital Territory, Kwara, Lagos, Delta, Cross River, Kano, Kebbi, Plateau, Gombe, Osun, Imo and Rivers States have adopted the scheme to boost access to healthcare services.
Similarly, Dr Emmanuel Uba, General Manager, Formal Sector Department, said that the Vital Contributor’s Social Health Insurance Programme was designed to cover the healthcare needs of senior citizens, retirees, aged and Nigerians who are not on the platform of NHIS.
“The programme allows individuals to pay N15, 000 annually for their own contributions, renewable annually and provides access to quality healthcare services for the enrollees.
“NHIS is a contributory scheme, which means, is either you contribute or someone else contributes on your behalf which keeps you covered.
“When people retire from service, they are out of government payroll and they do not contribute to the contributory fund. This programme, therefore, enables them to have access to healthcare after retirement.
“Also for the vulnerable groups to have access to healthcare insurance there is need for equity funds that would cater for the vulnerable group such as the physically challenged persons, prison inmates, children less than five years of age, pregnant women and immigrants, among others.
“There is also need to explore Innovative Financing where various companies such as telecommunications, beverages and alcohol companies can be taxed and some percentage could go into the pool for the vulnerable groups.
“For this to work we will need a legislation by the National Assembly, the president’s assent to it as well as the support from stakeholders and political will from the state government,’’ Uba said.
To ensure unhindered access to healthcare services, Mr Roberts Ukeje, FCT Chapter Manager, Managed Healthcare Services, a HMO, sought the cooperation of enrollees to give feedback on service delivery in healthcare facilities and to insist on their rights to quality healthcare.
He said that regular feedback by enrollees would enhance improvement on services as well as quality standard in hospitals across the country.
He noted that there ought to be feedback from enrollees on their experiences at service delivery points and health facilities to assist the scheme in sustaining and improving quality healthcare.
Ukeje also said that every enrollee registered in the scheme had a right to access medical treatment as outlined in the NHIS benefit package, “such as the right to select a healthcare facility of their choice as long as the facility is accredited by the scheme.
“The right to change a primary healthcare facility after six months of access if not satisfied with the services provided and the right to choose an alternative facility for dependents if they are living in a different location, among others’’
Tola writes for the News Agency of Nigeria.

Mohammad Tola

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Strategic Positioning Of The Teaching Profession And Nation-Building

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

By: Emmanuel Kaldick-Jamabo

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

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

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

By: Calista Ezeaku

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Tobacco Smoking And Threats On Public Health

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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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