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Leveraging E-Payments, Digital Innovation For Trade

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There is no doubt that technology has revolutionised the banking industry, particularly mobile and the Internet, as bank customers continue to embrace electronic payment for financial transactions.
Indeed, individuals and businesses now crave e-payment platforms mainly due to the immense economic benefits they derive from them, which include convenience, affordability, availability and customer retention.
For instance, a recent report of the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) on “Selected Banking Sector Data: Sectoral Breakdown of Credit, ePayment Channels and Staff Strength” for first quarter, shows that a total of 557,083,712 electronic payment transactions valued at N34.02 trillion were recorded in selected banks across the country.
The e-payment channels include: the Nigeria Inter-Bank Settlement System Instant Payments (NIP), Automated Teller Machine (ATM), Point of Sale (PoS), electronic cheque truncation, mobile cash, electronic bills pay, web and mobile payment, among others.
Statistics indicate that cash and cheque use are declining as the world is swiftly becoming the age of digital payments, push payments and instant payments.
Analysts say the rise of different e-payment channels continues to have a direct impact on local economies, especially Nigeria.
In 2016, a report by Moody’s Analytics commissioned by Visa Incorporated showed that increased use of electronic payment products, including credit, debit and prepaid cards, added 296 billion dollars to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), while raising household consumption of goods and services by an average of 0.18 per cent per year.
The report: “The Impact of Electronic Payments on Economic Growth” was conducted in 70 countries between 2011 and 2015.
The report also showed that e-payments added 640 million dollars to Nigeria’s GDP and an average of 16,880 jobs per year within the review period.
The benefits of e-payment to Nigeria’s economy are unquantifiable as it is evolving into a cashless society, deepening financial inclusion, reducing poverty and contributing to the effectiveness and stability of the financial system.
Director, Payments System Management, Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Sam Okojere, said the Nigerian Payments System had evolved over the years from primitive barter system to the use of cowries, metals, notes and to the present electronic payments system.
Okojere disclosed that CBN, as the regulator of the payments system, had been implementing various policies and initiatives towards the development of the Nigerian Payments System.
According to him, the strategic objective of the payments system is to migrate Nigeria from cash-based economy to an electronic payments inclined market. Thus, the bank’s strategic priorities have been to achieve a credible, reliable and efficient payments system.
Okojere disclosed this during a recent Joint Seminar for Banking and Telecom Regulators from the Sub-Saharan Africa Locations on Digital Products and Payment Systems in Lagos.
The seminar which had the theme: “Advancing ePayment and digital innovations in Africa – Evolution of Nigeria’s payment systems” was to promote financial inclusion through digital innovations in sub-Saharan Africa.
The seminar was organised to provide key officers of regulatory authorities in African Markets – notably locations with FirstBank subsidiaries; Ghana, Senegal, DRC, Gambia, Sierra Leone and Guinea – a platform to get familiar with developments in the Nigerian Payment Systems and Digital Products Industry.
Thereon replicating and adopting the knowledge from the seminar with a view to bolster the finance industry in their respective countries.
Speaking on how other countries can learn from the Nigerian experience, Okojere emphasised the need for strong collaboration, especially in the areas of intelligence gathering and information exchange to fight fraud.
“The Nigeria Electronic Fraud Forum is working on extending its partnership to other African countries.
“Also, periodic exchange of staff to learn on the job is very crucial to the development of competence,” Okojere said.
Notably, he stressed the need to start organising Intra-African Conferences with themes that reflected local challenges.
Specifically, he said the CBN continued to demonstrate its resolve to shape a more trusted and efficient payments landscape in Nigeria through its strong commitment to collaboration and stakeholder engagement.
Speaking on FirstBank’s leading role in promoting digital banking and financial inclusion across the country, Adesola Adeduntan, CEO, First Bank of Nigeria Ltd., said the bank had been a success story as far as digital banking was concerned.
He restated that economic growth and development of host communities was important to the bank, and that assisting Nigeria and the continent at large address poverty was imperative and reason for financial inclusion being at the core of its business strategy.
Adeduntan said First Bank was also committed to financial inclusion and would continue to improve the lives of Nigerians through the provision of innovative financial services.
Also, Mr Chuma Ezirim, Group Executive, e-Business & Retail Products, First Bank, noted that the bank was pursuing sustainable financial inclusion by leveraging its unparalleled experience in serving the low income segments.
“Our agent banking offering with focus on serving financially excluded individuals and small businesses in rural areas is experiencing exponential growth with significant revenue and social impact,” he said.
Ezirim disclosed that First Bank had over 28, 000 agent banking network located in 754 local government areas, processing N240 billion worth of transactions monthly.
“The agent banking asides creating employment has made banking easier and closer to people, and the testimony of the people is that their communities has been turned to city,” he said.
He highlighted the challenges faced by the agents as poor infrastructure, trust, lack of awareness, low income/literacy level and identity management, among others.
Corroborating the First Bank boss, Mr Mike Ogbalu, Chief Executive Officer, Verve International, said Nigeria’s payments system had evolved over the last 20 years with amazing impact on the economy, industries and the lives of Nigerians.
Ogbalu said the August 2005 banking sector recapitalisation redefined competition within the industry and set off a technology ‘arms race,’ which positively impacted the growth of the industry.
Also, Managing Director, Nigeria InterBank Settlement System (NIBSS), Premier Oiwoh, disclosed that Nigeria was one of the few countries in Africa and the world to have deployed an Instant Payment platform solution.
According to Oiwoh, the NIBSS Instant Payment (NIP) is the first and only point-to-point funds transfer service that guarantees instant value to the beneficiary.
He disclosed that the NIP experienced exponential growth value from N3.9 trillion in 2012 to N39.9 trillion as at June 2018.
Oiwoh noted that benefits of improved payment system would facilitate the entry of new players into the financial industry, faster turnaround time with inter-bank transactions, convenient banking and improved innovations from mobile and internet banking.
Others include: next day settlement of merchants for Point of Sale (POS) transactions, availability and uniform functionality of the terminals and uniformed card acceptability across the network.
However, he itemised fear of fraud and security issues, infrastructural challenges and low level of card usage on POS as some of the impediments to Nigeria’s electronic payment system.
Furthermore, Mr Agada Apochi, Managing Director, Unified Payment Services Ltd., urged operators in the payment system to evolve a scheme whereby various African currencies would be acceptable both as transaction, settlement and billing currencies.
“Otherwise, we would continue to depend on the dollars or pounds; because there is no national currency in African today that is allowed as a global currency for settlements or billing,” he said.
He also advised telecoms companies to reduce their roaming rates in Africa to deepen digitalisation, thus allow more businesses utilise their USSD for transactions during trips. He added that present roaming rates of telecoms companies in Africa was prohibitive.
Ishola writes for the News Agency of Nigeria.

 

Oluwafunke Ishola

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FGM  In Nigeria: Need For Its Eradication 

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Female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) is defined by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as all procedures which involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia and/or injury to the female genital organs, whether for cultural or any other non-therapeutic reasons.
According to the World Health Organisation, some 19-20 million women have undergone FGM/C in Nigeria. It occurs both in urban and rural communities. The United Nations Population Fund UNFPA reports that in Nigeria, 25per cent of women and girls aged 15-49, have undergone some form of FGM/C. Nigeria has the world’s third-highest FGM/C prevalence rate, and due to its large population, has the highest absolute number of cases. It is estimated that 25per cent or 19.9 million Nigerian girls and women 15 to 49 years old underwent FGM/C between 2004 and 2015. The effect of population growth in Nigeria is that increasing numbers of girls and women are likely to be cut in Nigeria, even if overall FGM/C prevalence remains the same. Statistics have revealed that this harmful practice is most dominant in the Yoruba land, Igbo land and South/South, including most parts of the North Central.
The reasons why FGM/C is performed vary from one region to another. It is often considered as a necessary part of raising a girl, and a way to prepare her for adulthood and marriage. FGM/C is a social convention (social norm), there is social pressure to comply with the expectations of society, and the need to be accepted socially, and the fear of being rejected by the community leads to FGM/C being performed in these localities. FGM/C is often motivated by beliefs about what is considered as acceptable sexual behaviour. Generally, proponents advance social and cultural conformity, community and ethnic identity, traditional ways of preserving chastity, means of purification, cutting down on sexual promiscuity rate etc. as reasons for the practice.
Currently, it is debatable as to the ages at which this harmful practice are carried out. While some schools of thought are of the position that it is done from child birth up to end of teenage age, another school of thought has it to be far beyond that. Generally, it can be carried out at any age of a woman. Recent reports by UNFPA suggest that the age has been dropping in some areas with most FGM/C carried out on girls between ages of 0 and 15.
The social, health, physical and psychological effects of FGM/C on girls and women both immediate and long term,  can not be over emphsised. The most disturbing and important of it all is the health implications which are highlighted extensively below. Adverse consequences of FGM/C are shock from pain and hemorrhage, infection, acute urinary retention following such trauma, damage to the urethra or anus in the struggle of the victim during the procedure.
The mental and psychological agony attached with FGM/C is deemed the most serious complication because the problem does not manifest outwardly for help to be offered. The young girl is in constant fear of the procedure and after the ritual, she dreads sex because of anticipated pain and dreads childbirth because of complications caused by FGM/C. Such girls may not complain but end up becoming frigid and withdrawn resulting in marital disharmony.
In addition to its harmful effects, FGM/C is recognised worldwide as a fundamental violation of the human rights of girls and women. It reflects deep-rooted inequality between the sexes and constitutes an extreme form of discrimination against women. It involves violation of rights of the children and violation of a person’s right to health, security, and physical integrity, the right to be free from torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment, and the right to life when the procedure results in death. Furthermore, girls usually undergo the practice without their informed consent, depriving them of the opportunity to make independent decision about their bodies.
The Nigerian governments at all levels have done little or nothing in the drastic eradication of this harmful and dehumanising primitive practice. However, a couple of legal frame works (though there is no specific federal law prohibiting the practice of FGM/C in Nigeria) have been proposed, adopted and enacted  but implementation, follow-up, monitoring, inforcements and political will to prosecute offenders are not there or adequate. Legal frame works and actions already in place are Violence against Persons Prohibition Act, National Policy and Plan of Action for the elimination of FGM 2013 and 2018, The 2004 Nigerian ratified Maputo Protocol etc. In spite of these legal frame works and measures  to address this seemingly intractable harmful practice, no commensurate results have been obtained in view of the persistent high prevalence rate.
In Nigeria, International agencies like World Health Organisations (WHO), United Nations International Children Emergency Fund (UNICEF), Federation of International Obstetrics and Gynaecology (FIGO), African Union (AU), the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), etc, have done so much in creating awareness on the dangers of FGM/C and its eradication through sustainable advocacy, provision of funding, putting pressures on National governments in enacting laws that would aid in the eradication of the scourge, but more are needed in using their far reaching platforms in getting National governments put the fight on the front burner and also in developing the lacking political will.
While we commend the efforts of local advocacy groups and other Non-governmental organisations  like Circus point, International Federation Of Women Lawyers (FIDA), African Women Lawyers Association etc, who have been locally leading in the advocacy for the eradication of the practice, there is  great need for advocacy synergy amongst the groups and improvements in their operations. Level of awareness shall be increased especially in villages and schools.
Paucity of funds is a major draw back in the FGM/C eradication project. The Nigerian government needs to allocate resources towards advocacy efforts to end FGM/C. Profound and sustainable advocacy requires a lot of funds given the capital intensive nature of it, especially in the area of logistics.
Advocacy groups and the citizenry with other stake holders should be able to hold governments to account and put pressure on them towards ensuring that specific laws are passed prohibiting the practice with strong penalties attached. Government should be made to develop the political will to enforce such laws.
Law enforcement agencies are to be  specially trained in the investigations of matters relating to FGM/C with much awareness created within the agencies while Community, Opinion and Religious leaders should be incorporated into advocacy groups wherein they can deploy their robust platforms to create the much needed awareness.
Conclusively, there is urgent need for the eradication of this unhealthy practice. A multidisciplinary approach involving legislation, empowerment of the women in the society, funding, education of the general public at all levels with emphasise on dangers and undesirability of FGM is paramount.
Okereke Esq is an FGM/C activist based in Port Harcourt.

Callistus Okereke

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Worsening Food Crisis In Nigeria

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Hunger is widespread and chronic in Nigeria, and its prevalence is one phenomenon that statistics cannot fully capture, not even the Global Hunger Index (GHI), does justice to it. Statistics deals with numbers, but hunger deals with humans. Relying on quantitative data alone to assess the state of hunger in Nigeria is the worst mistake anybody could make. Quantitative data and analysis only show patterns and spread of hunger without delving into the experiences of those affected and its influences on their existence in all ramifications. Therefore, as bad as the statistics are, they are still child’s play compared to the rich information from qualitative data chronicling the dehumanising  experience of many poor and hungry Nigerians. Combining quantitative and qualitative data paints a horrifying picture of Nigeria’s food crisis and hunger. Twenty five (25) million Nigerians was said by UNICEF to be at high risk of food insecurity in 2023, this was a projected increase from the estimated 17 million people who were at risk of food in 2022. Humanitarian organisations fear that more people may be affected.
Hunger is the major problem affecting the Nigerian masses now. According to the Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Nigeria,  Mr Matthias Schmale, “the food security and nutrition situation across Nigeria is deeply concerning. “Those who visited the Nutrition Stabilisation Centers(NSC) filled with children, said “those Children fight to stay alive”. Children are the most vulnerable to food insecurity. There is a serious risk of mortality among children attributed to acute malnutrition. The number of children suffering from acute malnutrition was estimated to increase from 1.74 million in 2022 and two million in 2023.Worse still, it is estimated that 35 million people are currently critically facing food insecurity. The present predicament of Nigerians never seems to be real until people realized  that a “Congo” of Garri now costs between N1,900 to N2,500 naira, depending on the place you are buying from and the type you have to buy.
There is a systematic downfall in the economy, and those at the receiving end of its manifestation are the masses. Well, some may say that it is too early to judge the government of president Tinubu, but when starvation becomes a point of reference, they might just make an exception for that rule.”A government is a failure if it has not been able to fulfill its primary duties and its published agenda, it  is useless if its people suffer endlessly from starvation. Recently, the video of a man who was caught in agony and lamentation attracted people’s attention. He was in the market to buy a “Congo” of rice but was told that it now costs N3,500.The man started crying, lamenting the harsh condition and confused as to what he and his family would eat. He had just N1,800 with him, and only God knows how much effort he had to put together to get that amount. Some people tried to locate the man to give him some money.
Bodija market in Ibadan, Oyo State, has a reputation for cheap consumable commodities, and the cost of food products there is considered slightly reasonable. However, this reputation is no longer possible as basic commodities now cost even more than they could be imagined. A lady lamented having bought her usual loaf of bread for 500 naira 3 weeks ago, and within that period, it had skyrocketed from N800 to N1, 200 and now at N1, 500 for a loaf that is as light as foam. Beans and other cheap foods that have been saving people experiencing poverty are no longer affordable. The cost of a “congo” of beans has risen to between N2,500 and N3,500 depending on the location and type. It is not only the price of the common foods that has risen, it is the same case for other staple foods. Today, a sachet of water costs around N50, and one barely see a bag of it at anything less than N300. This leaves the people to drink unclean well water or find their drinking water through other sources.
The price increase was expected, but it seems that the progression of price increase  for food items is at a higher rate than the supposed inflation. The economy is imploding and affecting the livelihood of the Nigerian citizens. First, the excessive price of petrol within the range of N700 to N1000 across the nation has an impact on the final prices. In addition, the roads have become outrageously insecure, with different stories of kidnapping, highway attacks, terrorism, and other vices. These have jointly jacked up the calculative cost of production, and the masses are paying heavily for it. The above reasons affect business, and most importantly, the irregular supply of power has become another foundational cause of the hike in prices and yet the government is still threatening to hike electricity tariff. Today, many small and medium-scale businesses do not have access to a stable power supply, and in some cases, the tariffs are  so outrageous to the detriment of the business. They, therefore, resort to generating their power, which causes another extra cost. The result is that the products keep increasing in price as the costs skyrocket.
Another factor is the decline in  the value of naira to dollars. The dollar is the major currency for international trade, and many of the household items in the country are imported. This means that the prices of those commodities in Nigeria are expected to increase the more with the value of dollars, causing difficulties for the citizens. So, when a market woman insults people in the market for negotiating lower prices for her wares, it is not because she is merely disrespectful but because she believes you are ignorant of the costs of putting her products on the market. What would N30,000  minimum wage do in the current economy? There is almost no average-class individual in the country as the condition affects every social stratum. Nigeria produces about 8.4 million tons of local rice, but it is still not sufficient for consumption in the country. During the past administration of President Muhammadu Buhari, policies that discouraged the importation of rice and some other products in Nigeria in a bid to encourage local production were made, and that was one of the starting points of suffering and starvation in Nigeria, because the development made the price of local rice increase by 200 percent.
It is worthy of note, that such policies were a product of hypocrisy, foreign rice is not good for the poor Nigerians but foreign medical care is good for the Nigerian political elites. Currently, the prices of local and foreign rice are not too far from each other. This is because the price gap that would have been made necessary has been reduced by other local and internal issues fighting against local productions. It means that the government must make efforts to first increase the productivity of local items as well as ensure that there is an unhindered channel of distribution of the same across the country. Poverty cannot be eradicated without collaborative efforts between the Federal Government and the State Governments. Agricultural schemes and strategies are not the sole work of the Federal Government, as eradication of poverty should be the watchword of every reasonable government.
State-wide agricultural strategies and blueprints that would reduce the propensity of hunger and starvation in each state are important. It is a known fact that the food insecurity in Nigeria can be traceable to the relentless wave of attacks against farmers in Nigeria by armed groups in the last decade which has hindered critical food supplies and has pushed the country deeper into a devastating hunger crisis. Increased attacks against farmers across parts of the country have led to displacement of people, market disruptions and loss of livelihoods. Armed groups killed more than 128 farmers and kidnapped 37 others across Nigeria between January and June 2023 …To be continued.

Inabo Is a regular contributor from Radio Rivers.

 

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 Malaria Burden And Public Health In Nigeria 

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It is worrisome that Nigeria has  the largest  Malaria deaths in the world. According  to the  2022  World.Malaria Report, Nigeria  contributes about  27 percent of  the global burden of Malaria disease, and about 31.3 percent of deaths , the highest in the world.
Malaria accounts for 30 percent of childhood deaths,.60 percent  of outpatient visits to health facilities   across Nigeria.
According  to statistics  reeled out by the Federal Ministry  of Health and Social Welfare,  “Globally,  there are an estimated 249million  malaria cases  and 608,000 malaria deaths among 85 countries.
Such reports leave much to be desired in a nation so blessed  with natural resources and manpower. While Nigeria  is struggling  with Malaria burden, Cape de Verde, today live Malaria-free, according to the
World Health Organization (WHO) certification  and rating.
This declaration by the global health Organisation about Cape Verde  is very cheery and means so much to me considering the economy, size and polity of the country.
Unlike Nigeria with more than 44 mineral resources spread across 500 locations  in the country,  Cape de Verde, has no natural resources. Its developing resources is mostly Service-oriented with growing focus on tourism and foreign investment.
My worry is that even with abounding natural and human resources of unimaginable quantity in Nigeria,  Malaria programmes are either grossly underfunded, misappropriated or   embezzled with impunity.
According  to a Senior Associate  at the John Hopkins Bloomberg  School of Public.Health, Soji  Adeyi, Nigeria  should begin  to increase internal funding.for malaria elimination.
Nigerian citizens still wallow in the orgy of leadership-induced pain, poverty and sorrow more than 63 years after political independence.
Malaria that is alien to the natural resources-barren Cape de Verde is endemic in Nigeria and is one of the leading causes of death of children under the age of six and pregnant women. Malaria is an household name in Nigeria so much so that its drugs and treatment have skyrocketed like a phoenix and outrageously outside the reach of the teeming less privileged citizens of Nigeria. The situation was so alarming that the National Assembly, some time last year urged the Federal Government to declare Malaria an emergency in Nigeria as matter of urgent national interest. Because it is an ailment that only the poor and vulnerable suffer, that motion is treated with levity and perhaps consigned to the trashcan of not-feasible declarations.
Without any iota of doubt, Nigeria has the resources to fight and conquer malaria. If Cape de Verde could, Nigeria can as well if the leadership of the country is committed to do so.
At.an event organised  by.the Federal  Ministry of Health and Social Welfare recently,  themed “Ministerial  Roundtable  Meeting: Rethinking  Malaria Elimination in Nigeria “representatives of national and international  health organisations, analysed the country’s  anti-malaria strategies  over the past years.
Experts recommended new approaches to fighting  the malaria epidemic in Nigeria which seems to have defied continuous attempts to reduce the Malaria burden in Nigeria to zero.
Adeyi of the John Hopkins Bloomberg  School of Public Health advocates increased internal funding.of all Malaria programmes to eliminate Malaria. According  to him,, “Each year reliance on external funding  needs to be reduced. I looked at the summary of  Malaria reports from 2008 till now and what has been common is the complaint about the lack of funding.  If this is a  recurring  problem, what should be done is to  find  a new approach.”
In his view, Abdu Muktar,  National  Coordinator  of the Presidential  Healthcare Initiative,  called for the local production  and manufacturing  of medical supplies as well as reducing Nigeria’s  dependence on drugs imports.
According to him, the local production  of anti-malaria and.related.medication will consider.the peculiarity of the country’s  terrain, population  and burden  and.would improve access to effective  treatment.
For his part, the regional. Director of World Health Organisation  (W.H.O.),  African Region, Matshiddiso  Moretti, advised Nigeria  to accelerate  its efforts to end Malaria  by relying  on  adequate data for the implementation  of health policies.
It has been rightly  said that Nigeria is rich but its people are abjectly poor because of the abysmally poor leadership that has characterised governance in the country since the inception of self-rule.
If the millions of public funds stashed in private and foreign accounts, misappropriated and or embezzled are judiciously used, no doubt, the issues of malaria, unemployment, decaying and dilapidated infrastructure and marginal underdevelopment with the attendant multi-dimensional socio-economic challenges, would have since been addressed.
How will Nigeria ascribe to herself “Giant of Africa” when she has not been able to achieve the healthcare demands and requirements of Nigerians? How can Nigerian leaders audaciously lull its citizens to believe that they are working for the welfare of Nigerians when the seeming little things that matter are not attended to. Even welfare-oriented programmes are being truncated by greed and inordinate desire to amass wealth at the expense of the public.
The  anomaly of diversions, misappropriation, outright embezzlement, and several others are the reasons Nigeria’s present and successive governments could not win the fight against malaria which health and medical practitioners say  poses the greatest threat to life than the dreaded HIV/AIDS. This suggests to me that the mortality rate caused by HIV/AIDS is grossly disproportionate to deaths caused by malaria.
Malaria is commonly believed to be caused by mosquitoes which breed in  dirty environment, especially where there is stagnant water. A lot of communities in Nigeria even the Sandfilled area of Borikiri in Port Harcourt is so mosquito-infested that residents cannot sleep without nets. It is a nightmare to sleep without a net.
The Federal, State, and Local Government should initiate programmes to end malaria scourge in the country. They should intentionally and proactively channel the people’s money to their welfare. Malaria eradication is a public welfare-oriented programme so government at all levels must prosecute it with adequate funding that must be supervised and accounted for, to avoid the unfortunate incidents of the Humanitarian Affairs Ministry and several other Ministries, Departments and Agencies that have used programmes and projects as smokescreen to siphon public funds.
While there should be a dedicated funds to fight malaria and defeat it over  a period of time, environmental sanitation exercises, to clear the drains, gutters and grass should be stepped up. This consciousness should be cultivated and imbibed by all.
The legitimacy of any Government is derived from the people, so Government exists for the people. No amount of money spent on the welfare of the people is too much for them. After all, the people remain the benefactors that those in Government, who in an ideal situation are stewards, are supposed to be accountable to.
The administration of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu should ensure that no stone is left unturned in achieving this lofty and laudable project.

Igbiki Benibo

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