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Govt, Society And The Disabled

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Sometime ago, I was the host of a television programme, “Wake Up Nigeria Show”, designed to discuss the challenges facing Nigeria on a daily basis. This show featured experts as guests. One feature I invested so much energy in was the disability segment titled, “breaking beyond the barriers.”
That segment showcased people with disabilities to our teeming viewers, the challenge(s) they face, how they broke the hoops on their paths to be what they were. Guests on the show provided solutions to the problems faced by special people in Nigeria.
Not one of my guests had anything positive to say about government. Theirs were cases of self-help. They achieved what they could without government support.
I have seen many with lack of faith in themselves. You wouldn’t blame them. Nigeria is not a caring society. It is one where people with disability are without significance by religious persons who claim to know God, but make room only for those with full limbs and government policies tilted to the so-called fit people.
At a summit for people with disabilities, my path crossed that of Margaret Uko Ekanem . She gave a wonderful speech at the occasion and I invited her after to the TV program. Thankfully, she obliged and we had a good show.
I found her to be bold, with zest for life. She managed, at the time, a cosmetic company with a high turn-over of staff, many of whom were sacked because they took advantage of her visual impairment to steal many of her cosmetic products.
Ekanem lost her eyes suddenly as a JSS 3 student of Federal Government Girls College, Abuloma, Port Harcourt. The school, like others, built for the able, had no facility for the blind and so she had to go to the school for the blind at Afara Uku in Umuahia, Abia State, where she was taught all she needed to know so as to cope with life as a blind girl.
She ventured out from there to Queens College, Lagos,  and obtained a Diploma in Mass Communication, from Our Saviours Institute of Science, Agriculture and Technology (OSISATECH) in Enugu State.
She was happily married to a journalist with a private radio station in Port Harcourt. On my program, she mentioned her daring moves to see a former governor of Akwa Ibom State, her home state.
Both the governor and his wife were at Nsukka to be honoured by the University of Nigeria. Security was tight as usual but she hung around the arena where the vehicles of the first family were parked. Thanks to fate, she caught the attention of the governor’s wife who asked her security detail to allow her journey in a car in her convoy and thereafter introduced her to her female special assistant.
That became her waterloo as the same assistant made sure her demands never got to the governor’s wife until they left Government House. Although, the governor’s wife was kind enough to give her some money at their first meeting. Helping the vulnerable, for me, goes beyond the piquant-symbolism of handing out nickels.
Ekanem wasn’t looking for a  human mustard-plaster. All she wanted was a job in Nigeria or scholarship to school abroad. The PA to the governor’s wife talked her out of scholarship and never gave her the opportunity to meet with her principal, save for that time she rail-roaded their convoy.
We discussed all these in 2016 and we hadn’t met each other since then, until recently.  She heard my voice as a guest on a radio station and asked that I visit her which I did for the first time at her Koko-Ama residence near Marine Base in Port Harcourt.
Shockingly, I discovered that her husband had moved away from the house. He said he was no longer keen on the union. She said she went to FIDA (Federation of Women Lawyers) to report him, and he was told to provide sustenance money for her and their daughter and pay rent for their accommodation.
I think a journalist should know better. Instead of leaving a visually-impaired person in the lurch, why not do the needful? Even though I am no saint, conscience wouldn’t allow me steal into my house, move out my belongings and take my child, who is less than six years, away from her mother and play evasive games knowing that the mother is visually-impaired. Shouldn’t a journalist know better?
As at my last visit (so far), the landlord had cut power and water from Margaret’s apartment because of her rent which was due. The landlord seems to be joining issues with Margaret instead of her husband who  signed the lease-holding document. Why join issues with a visually-impaired lady who is mistreated.
There are many Margaret Uko Ekanems out there, who are not ready to be a burden to anyone but society doesn’t care about them. Can’t anyone out there give this lady a job? Akwa Ibom State where Margaret hails from, can at least give her a job.
According to George Washington, “let us therefore animate and encourage each other, and show the whole world that a freeman, contending for liberty on his own ground, is superior to any slavish mercenary on earth.”
I would like to end this essay with some questions for government and society. Can there ever be a place for humour in the life of the disabled? Is there disabled friendly environment in Nigeria? Do we have barrier-free restaurants and alternative routes for the disabled? How do the disabled manage to deal with self-confidence? How do they feel when they have to ask for help? Are people with disability lawless?
Abah writes from Port Harcourt.

 

Simon Abah

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Opinion

 Building Collapse: One Too Many

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The recent collapse  of Saint Academy Secondary School building in Jos, Plateau State, which claimed the lives of 22 persons among whom were innocent pupils and their teachers, has again brought to the fore, the menace of continuous building collapses in Nigeria. Sadly, that same Friday, a three-storey building still under construction in the students’ hostel area of the Nnamdi Azikiwe University at Ifite Awka, Anambra State, also crashed. Yet, following closely on the next morning, a two-storey building collapsed at Phase two, Site Two of the Kubwa area of Abuja, a former Al-Hilal Hotel that recently got reconstructed into residential quarters. Building collapse is becoming a daily phenomenon in Nigeria. If you live in a high-rise building, beware!
According to preliminary reports, the Saint Academy School tragedy is a sad out-come of a former bungalow which got converted into a two-storey building. The tragedy came at the ten-year anniversary of an earlier one in the same city of Jos when in September 2014, Abu Naima Primary and Secondary School, Bukuru, in Jos North LGA, had collapsed killing 30 pupils. As jarring and condemnable, the reccurrence of building collapses become, the regrettable losses have not elicited appropriate actions that would make them avoidable. Rather, after every incident, stakeholders react in routine knee-jerk rescue efforts, count human and material losses, wail and pour outward expressions of sympathy for victims, while some officials harp on the need to maintain guidelines on building standards, or even issue some mere threats that amount to no tangible solutions.
Though the history of building collapses is as old as Nigeria, its propensity has jumped in the last ten years, involving  especially new or on-going projects in Nigeria’s growimg mega cities, as developers in the face of poor building regulations try to reap inordinate profits from property boom. There has been virtually no one held culpable to deter perpetrators of unsafe building practices.On September 12, 2014, a six storey guest house within the Synagogue Church of All Nations at the Ikotun area of Lagos State, collapsed upon 300 victims leading to 116 deaths, among whom were 85 South Africans. The accident occurred despite forewarnings to church founder, Pastor TB Joshua, of observed structural defects. However, despite the Coroner’s Inquest inditing Pastor Joshua in the incident, he was never prosecuted.
On March 8, 2016 at Lekki, an on-going storey building being erected by the Lekki Worldwide Gardens collapsed killing 34 construction workers. This was despite allegations that Lagos State officials had issued a Stop Work Order on the construction site for contravening building approval terms. The developers were alleged to have recalcitrantly raised the building beyond the approved number of floors to the point of crashing. The crash on November 1, 2021, of another on-going construction of 21-storey Ikoyi Towers, which killed 44 persons, including the owner, Mr Femi Osibona, his personal assistant, Oyinye Enekwe and a US-based Nigerian business mogul and Managing Director of Foursquare Heights Ltd, Mr Wale Bob-Oseni, was also a consequence of adding more floors above the approved design levels. Disappointingly, these incidents and that at Banana Island, Lagos, of April 2023, ocurred despite projects being handled by supposed experts.
In recent times, Anambra State has been in the news more for building collapses than for anything else, though with lesser fatalities, but the crash on June 12, 2024, of an on-going five-storey Centenary Building in Onitsha, a building being erected by the Old Boys’ Association of Dennis Memorial Grammar School (DMGS) for its centenary anniversary, is worrisome given the calibre of professionals involved in the project. However, the collapse of Ochanja Market stalls in Onitsha, being constructed by Anambra State Government was the most disappointing of all, being handled by a regulator that should set the pace. Within weeks, another on-going construction of a two-storey market stalls collapsed on about 200 traders just last week, killing four at Eke Oyibo Market of Amawbia in the Awka metropolis, in close proximity of city planning officials.
Rivers state also is not left out in this ugly tally considering the sad crash of then on-going seven-storey building on November 23, 2018, at Woji Road, GRA Phase 2 of Port Harcourt, followed by the recent spike in on-going building collapses which include the February, 2023 crash of on-going two-storey building at Mbodo-Aluu, two separate callapses in June, 2023 of two-storey buildings at Okilton Drive and Ada-George areas of Port Harcourt, and the collapse weeks ago of a two-storey building at Okporo area of Rumuodara in Port Harcourt. While it is difficult to enumerate all incidents across the country, it is remarkable that the menace became worse within the last ten years. What may cause a building to collapse? Experts say, structural failures as a result of flaws in building design process, or improper project implementation, lead to collapse, but there is more to it from prevailing conditions in the country.
Though, present day developers use software tools to model building designs, the inability to interpret results with respect to erecting high rise buildings with currently available construction materials in the Nigerian market, raises questions of expertise. While many practitioners still resort to using structural formulation templates established from colonial days, when construction materials found in the Nigerian open markets were of standards specified in structural design handbooks, the use of prevailing poor materials for such designs creates vulnerability. Today, due to standards enforcement failures, the construction materials market is chaotic with regard to getting actual nominal dimensions of specific material quality, in view particularly of reinforcement rods.
For instance, what is nominally a 12mm rod in the market today, could range in real rod diameters from 10mm, 11mm to 11.5mm if one insists on taking actual measurements with a calliper, but a dealer would rate them small guage, medium gauge or full gauge 12mm rods, saying that size depends on manufacturer. But gauge should be gauge without intermediates because any reduction in diameter of rods leads to exponential reduction in cross-sectional area and shear strength. Also more unascertain is the alloy make-up which determines important metallurgical properties of rods, and one may seem out from the moon to ask a trader. The confusion cuts across all rod sizes, and buying materials has become an art in itself. For sawn woods, it is difficult to get any nominal dimension except one undertakes to saw customised dimensions, which is unusual. Also, some experts say current cement qualities are incomparable to former ones.
The consequence is that rebars configured according to specifications from handbook templates, but done with ‘Nigerian materials,’ may not bear the intended loads, or do so with very marginal factor of safety. In a country where budget has become a major decisive factor in construction, these considerations may be secondary in the absence of strict regulations even to ‘professional’ practitioners, let alone expecting some to employ qualified on-site supervisors. The solution to building collapses is that Nigeria should, no matter how difficult it is, revert to upholding general standards. The strict enforcement of the National Building Code of 2006 should be a good starting point. A regime in which concrete tests and certifications at every critical stage of construction are mandatorily required as pre-conditions for project continuation, should be strictly introduced, while the Standards Organisation of Nigeria should deploy materials test laboratories to certify and provide technical data of prevailing building materials to help operators make informed decisions.
Moreso, a situation where regulatory officials, city planners, supervisors and approval officers, allow themselves to be compromised should be discouraged by ensuring that prosecutions were conclusively pursued in every collapse to involve developers and culpable regulatory officials.

Joseph Nwankwor

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Opinion

Mrs Fubara: Model Of Selfless Leadership

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As part of her commitment to domesticate the Renewed Hope Initiative, Food Security Programme (RHI-FSP) of the Federal Government, the wife of the Rivers State Governor, Mrs Valerie Siminalayi Fubara, on Tuesday July 2, 2024, doled out 2,400 bags of rice and cash to the “poor, physically challenged and vulnerable residents” in the 23 Local Government Areas of Rivers State. This largesse and hospitality demonstrated by the wife of the State Governor at a time people wallow in abject poverty, is to say the least highly commendable. The seamless implementation of the hardship cushioning programme by the Governor’s wife in Rivers State remains a credit to her because in the recent past there were media reports that relief materials meant for flood victims in one of the States in Nigeria (not Rivers) were stocked in a warehouse until they expired, while in some cases they were diverted, instead of being distributed to the vulnerable groups and victims of flood. This was one of the several cases of callousness to the plight of the needy by some privileged leaders. But Mrs Fubara chose to touch lives and put smiles on the faces of the teeming poor.
The unfriendly Nigerian economy has reduced everyone, perhaps with exception of our political leaders, to a beggars. The socio-economic realities in the country pose great challenge to both civil/public servants, and those in the private sector. It is more traumatic for those who are unemployed. The Governor’s wife has shown that it is good to support the needy and less-privileged in society. What the First Lady has done is an expression of selflessness.
Selflessness is a priceless virtue. It is the act of putting others first without an ulterior motive, strings, cost or importunate demands on the beneficiary.
Selflessness, synonymous with mercy is a virtue not common in practice in a society where virtually everyone wants to grab and assert relevance even to the detriment of others in the society.
This is why the saying, “nothing goes for nothing” has been coined into the lexicon of our polity and social relationship.
One imagines how some wealthy people think they can still live happily, peacefully and stress-free seeing their neighbours live in the pains of abject poverty. Certainly, it is only a state of sadism that can dispose to such callous state.
Selflessness demands nothing in return for good deeds. It does not accept worship and unnecessary “godfather” maniac, neither does it insist that beneficiaries of favours should be under the dictatorial control or slave to the obnoxious whims and caprice of their benefactor.
Imagine how the world would look like if everyone who had at one time or the other offered help to someone, plays a god and wants to be worshipped.
As pencil in the hand of God, the Bible teaches that when used by God to favour a person, we should say, we are “unprofitable servant”. To be in a position to help others, is exclusively a function of Grace because in God, “we live and have our being”. So, when a person thinks he or she is self-made, they are not only living in delusions but tottering on the brink of self destruct, like Nebuchadnezzar.
Bible writes of the ancient king, whom God called “king of kings”, “The king spake, and said, Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for the house of the kingdom by the might of my majesty? While the word was in the king’s mouth, there fell a voice from heaven, saying, O king Nebuchadnezzar, to thee it is spoken; The kingdom is departed from thee. And they shall drive from men, and thy dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field: they shall make thee to eat grass as oxen, and seven times shall pass over thee, until thou know that the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will. The same hour was the thing fulfilled upon Nebuchadnezzar and he was driven from men and did eat grass as oxen, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven, till his hairs were grown like eagles’ feathers, and his nails like birds’ claws”. (Daniel 4: 30-33).
Imagine how inferior and subservient everyone who has received help or favour from someone else would have looked like if those who gave help had insisted on controlling their beneficiaries. Those who are well-to-do in society should realise that they are also beneficiaries of God’s unmerited favour and should humbly give support to the needy.
Paul told the church at Rome, “…he that giveth, let him do it with simplicity…..he that showeth mercy, with cheerfulness (Romans. 12:8). To Timothy, he instructed, “Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not high-minded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy” (1 Timothy 6:17). Therefore, the concept and practice of godfatherism is alien to selfless works. If God used one to raise another instead of playing a god, he or she should be grateful to God that by him, God has raised or blessed someone.
Real joy is not living for self but for others. History is replete with men and women who immortalised their names through selfless works. John D. Rockefeller is one whose selfless services to humanity are still speaking for him years after his death.
The Rockefeller Foundation was established in 1913 by Standard Oil Magnate, John D. Rockefeller to “promote the well-being of mankind throughout the world”. His efforts were part of a new American movement of scientific philanthropy, launched by Scottish-born steel mogul, Andrew Carnegie in his 1889 essay, “The Gospel of Wealth”.
We need selfless men and women like Rockefeller in our politics. The spirit of godfatherism is selfish and unnecessary considering the emptiness of life and the uncertainty of wealth.

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Opinion

Still On Corruption In Nigeria

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The recent report by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) which revealed that about N721billion was received as bribe by public officials in Nigeria in 2023 has once again drawn attention to the level of corruption in the country. The report titled “Corruption in Nigeria: Patterns and Trends”, stated, “Overall, it is estimated that a total of roughly NGN 721 billion (US$1.26 billion) was paid in cash bribes to public officials in Nigeria in 2023, corresponding to 0.35 per cent of the entire Gross Domestic Product of Nigeria.”
As usual, all accusing fingers are now on those in government. Some have told the familiar tale of how Nigeria is in quagmire presently because of the corrupt acts of present and past leaders across the three tiers and three arms of government.
There is no disputing the fact that corruption is the greatest problem of Nigeria. Every challenge in every sector of the society, law enforcement – education, health, agriculture, manufacturing and others, can be traced to corruption.
The level of nepotism and favouritism seen in government in recent years is unprecedented. The norm now seems to be that the people from the same ethnic group with the head of some ministries, agencies and parastatals should “own” such organs. That is why you go to some offices and virtually everybody is from one tribe or ethnic group. There has been this continuous outcry that the majority of the federal agencies and parastatals are headed by people from a particular part of the country despite the federal character principle.  Yet, nothing has changed.
The issue of the recruitment process is another thing. Merit has been thrown to the winds and favouritism and nepotism are now the order of the day. A very brilliant applicant may not secure a job despite his excellent performance at both written and oral interviews. But the job will be given to another person who may not have attended the interviews or may have performed poorly during the exercise, just because he has a note from one senator or any other influential person in government. The issue of job racketeering is also there, staring us at the face.
However, corruption is not restricted to only politicians or those in authority.  It has permeated all facets of the society including the police, the judiciary, the business sector, the education and health sector, the civil service, the military and so on. Traders, artisans, housewives and many others cannot be exonerated.
Imagine where our markets and shops are now filled up with adulterated edible products. A greater percentage of “palm oil” we have in our markets and shops today is highly adulterated. You add oil to your food and instead of the irresistible taste and aroma that the original palm oil is known for; it gives the food an offensive smell and awful taste.
A plumber tells you that a part of your water pumping machine that went bad will cost N30,000 for the original one and N15,000 for the “Taiwan”. You give him money for the original one and he buys the part and couples the machine. After a short while, the pumping machine parks up again, you call another plumber who finds out the first plumber bought neither the origin part you paid for nor the “Taiwan”. What he bought was a refurbished engine part which did not cost more than N5000, 00.
Your house help cries to you that she just got a call that her grandmother has kicked the bucket, and that she needs to travel to her village for the burial. You take pity on her and give her money for transportation and some burial expenses. Later you find out that she was not bereaved and that she instead spent the time and money with her boyfriend in another part of the town.
Is the government to blame when workers take bribes to perform their statutory duties? People take bribes for issuing passports or visas, for providing permits and licences. For a file to move from one table or office to another, the owner of the file must “settle” the messenger. How does the government come in all these?
Citizens are supposed to be honoured based on their industry, intellect and integrity. But in our communities, men are recognised based on their movable and immovable assets. A man who embezzles public funds is given chieftaincy title, while the one who serves government diligently without amassing illegal wealth is regarded as a dullard or a good-for-nothing fellow.
Wealthy people who are alleged to be corrupt are regularly courted and honoured by communities, religious bodies, social clubs and private organisations. The visible riches of the corrupt and greedy, spur the poor to imitate their lifestyle and mode of acquisition of wealth.
It used to be said that a good name is better than gold. Today, the reverse seems to be the case in Nigeria. People now prefer to acquire gold through any means than maintain a good name
Recently, the former prime minister of Fiji, Frank Bainimarama was jailed for one year by the country’s High Court for obstructing a police investigation into corruption. Not a few Nigerians applauded the high court judgment describing it as the beauty of democracy. But the same Nigerians will condemn and protest against the efforts of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) towards the fight against corruption especially when they have any affiliation with the alleged corrupt person.
Therefore, the sooner we begin to look inward and think of how we can fight this cankerworm starting from ourselves, the better. In 2016, the former president, Mohammadu Buhari launched the national reorientation campaign tagged, “Change Begins with Me” which was geared towards reorienting Nigerians on whose responsibility it is to bring on the positive changes they crave for, pointing out that if Nigerians want “change”, they should be the change themselves. Is it not time this campaign was revived?
No doubt, the government has a huge role to play by being deliberate about the fight, showing more commitment and particularly through exemplary leadership. But without the citizens saying no to corruption and living corrupt free lives, the government’s efforts might yield little or no fruit
Perpetrators of the fraudulent acts earlier cited were all ordinary citizens engaging in dishonest acts, which they feel will benefit them, not minding the consequences of such actions on their fellow human beings and the nation. In the case of the adulterated palm oil for instance, the substance(s) or chemical used in the adulteration at various levels of the value chain until it finally gets to the consumer, might be more harmful to human life than the effect of the sum amount stolen by a politician.
Painfully, these sociological and cultural causes of corruption are likely to continue for a long time in this country, unless some practical actions are taken to encourage sound moral values in the society. The rulers, politicians, students, academics, civil servants, traders and the entire society should be re-orientated
The civil society organisations, the media, the religious organisations, schools and most importantly, families have crucial roles in fighting corruption through re-orientation of Nigerians, exposing corruption and advocating for accountability and transparency. The value system of many Nigerians that places the acquisition of wealth at all cost above integrity self-dignity and other vital values must change.,
Fostering a culture of accountability among leaders and citizens alike is essential for sustainable progress in combating corruption in Nigeria. This includes promoting ethical leadership, ensuring fair and transparent electoral processes, and empowering citizens to hold their leaders accountable for their actions.
To eradicate or minimise corruption in Nigeria, there is a need for credible and legal enforcement measures to be put in place. The need to strengthen and further empower the EFCC and other anti-corruption agencies, to carry out their job effectively, without interference from any quarter or undue judicial setbacks cannot be over-emphasised. Offenders should be punished, no matter who they are. Most importantly, everybody must get involved.

Calista Ezeaku

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