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OSPAC As A Tainted Brand

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When it came to organised vigilante security in Rivers State, OSPAC once stood out as a preferred model. For those who are yet to understand it, the acronym stands for ONELGA Security and Peace Advisory Committee; while ONELGA itself is a short way of saying Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni Local Government Area.
A few years ago, this local council area and the communities around it constituted a battle ground for rival youth bodies, cult gangs, kidnappers, oil thieves and sundry criminals. It was particularly more so in the lead up to the 2015 General Elections when they were recruited by politicians to undertake various types of infamy. And as was observed in several places across the country, reining in such armed thugs became extremely difficult after the polls. Here in the state, government’s appeals and amnesty initiatives to pacify the boys could be described as successful, if only just.
Criminality became the order of the day not only in ONELGA but also Ahoada East, Ahoada West, Eleme, Emohua, Etche, Ikwerre, Khana and Omuma LGAs. The marauding gangs unleashed mayhem on lives and property in these areas as obviously overwhelmed security agents gazed helplessly from relative safety. People fled their communities for fear of direct attacks or being caught in the line of fire. Traditional rulers were stripped of their charges as rival war lords demanded loyalty, food royalties and payment of other types of homage from the traumatised natives. Any attempt by the Port Harcourt-based elite to visit home often took the form of a stealthy and hasty round trip.
In ONELGA, it was reported that attempts by the then Caretaker Council Chairman, Hon. Osi Olisa, to reconcile some rival youth groups from the area were rebuffed due to pressures from their respective political patrons. Meanwhile, the late militia kingpin, Ejima Johnson Igwedibia (aka Don Waney), and his group held sway in the LGA, buoyed mainly by kidnap ransoms, illegal bunkering proceeds and protection monies from oil and gas firms operating in the area.
The former militant leader began to roam large after the shooting to death of another notorious cult kingpin, ‘General Igbudu’, and his men by a police anti-robbery squad on East-West Road in 2016. Igbudu’s gang had been dominant in the two Ahoada LGAs and parts of ONELGA.
Matters got to a head when Olisa reportedly lost one of his trusted aides to Waney’s gang. The obviously distraught council boss was said to have invited some external hands to help found OSPAC and rout out Waney and his boys. The outfit was a more reformed version of the highly dreaded Bakassi Boys of Aba and Onitsha fame in the early 2000s. For leader, it had no less a personality than the late Dr Maxwell Ahiakwo, a senior academic in the state.
In one of their encounters with the notorious killer gang, it was reported that no fewer than 10 persons were gunned down, with the late kingpin making a narrow escape. He, however, returned to vent his anger on innocent persons at a Crossover Night church service on New Year Day 2019, killing more than 20 worshippers in Omoku, the council headquarters.
Provoked by this misdirected killing spree, a combined team of soldiers, police and DSS men was said to have traced Waney to a rented apartment somewhere in Enugu State where he and two of his henchmen were shot dead before they could execute their rumoured plan to attack another worship centre in the LGA.
With the two war lords out of circulation and the remainder of their top commanders going underground, OSPAC quickly positioned itself to restore peace in much of the Orashi area. Its activities included constant patrols, stop-and-search, distress call response, community dispute resolution using decent and unorthodox methods to extract confessions.
So dreadful was this vigilante outfit that fleeing criminals, rather than regroup and fight back, ran to swell the ranks of their affiliates in other LGAs; thus forcing such councils to consider floating their own equivalents of OSPAC. Some even opted to still retain the OSPAC name.
Before long, their decisions began to yield results as news of successful outings by the different ‘OSPACs’ made headlines. For example, on March 19, 2019, a newspaper reported how OSPAC raided criminal hideouts in Egbeda, Omudioga and Ubimini communities of Emohua LGA and rescued kidnap victims. Also, on June 16, 2019, it was reported that 10 suspected kidnappers were nabbed by OSPAC at Ndele where they mounted road block on East-West Road. We surely haven’t forgotten how notorious that axis of the popular interstate road was back then.
Unfortunately, it seems the spark has now gone from OSPAC. What is left is a brand name that smells of filth and appears garbled beyond recovery. Of late, the outfit has been accused of carrying out illegal detentions, torture and extra-judicial killings of suspects in brazen violation of Section 36 (5) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended), which states that an accused person shall be deemed innocent until proven guilty by a court of competent jurisdiction.
Sometime in April last year, it was reported that police arrested eight members of ‘Diobu OSPAC’ for alleged kidnap, torture and rape. The following month, members of OSPAC were said to have invaded Isiokpo in Ikwerre LGA and had, while combing for a criminal syndicate, arrested some youths, including daily paid farm labourers who were returning from work. The report said the innocent victims were subjected to physical torture and starvation, among other inhuman treatments. Though many still think the prevailing peace compensates for all that.
The ugly tales have continued to come; the latest being that the leader of the disbanded OSPAC in Omudioga was killed last week by suspected cultists who danced around with his severed head. Too bad!
But no matter the offence, why disband such outfit without quickly assembling a replacement?

By: Ibelema Jumbo

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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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Opinion

Checking Diabetes Burden In Nigeria 

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Diabetes, a “group of diseases that result in sugar in the blood”, has posed a great challenge to humans over the years. The disease which is classified in “types” thrives on ignorance, superstition and myths in traditional societies, especially the Sub-Saharan Africa, including Nigeria.
While modern medical and health sciences have demystified the uncertainties that shroud the disease, many stigmatise victims because they see the disease as a bad omen, so people who die from the disease are not given befitting burial in many traditional societies. This is very unfortunate and should be unheard of, at a time knowledge is increasing like a phoenix.
The crux of the problem is that even in the advent of Orthodox medicine practitioning, the disease seems not  to be given the maximum attention it deserves to nip it in the bud. That is why it seems that the disease is defying medication. Federal, State, Local Government Areas operating tertiary, secondary and primary health services may not have done enough to curb the rising cases of the disease in Nigeria.
The prevalence of the disease not just in Nigeria and Africa but also in Second World countries with growing economies and promising democratic governments is a concern to medical professionals and experts.
Former Chief Medical Director of University of Port Harcourt Teaching Hospital, a Professor of Chemical Pathology, Aaron Ojule, has warned against complacency in handling of diabetic situation in Nigeria.
Prof Ojule is also a member of the board of trustees of the Diabetes Association of Nigeria (DAN), Rivers State.
Prof. Ojule raised alarm last weekend at the University of Port Harcourt Teaching Hospital (UPTH) grounds where Diabetes Association of Nigeria members met as part of their monthly activities.
According to him, diabetes is now an epidemic of global proportion and  that it has attacked the economies of many  families.
“The whole idea of the Association is to give diabetes education to people living with diabetes (PLWD) and members of their families so at the end of the day, we would have better diabetes management.
Diabetes has become a global epidemic, he said. “It is not just Nigeria, it is an international problem and that is why we have organisations such as the International Diabetes Federation (IDF). The World Health Organisation (WHO) is involving itself in tracking this menace, the nations are involved, and everybody is involved.”
This, he said, is because diabetes is such an illness that when once it sets in, it affects every organ in the body and causes a lot of complications. “The economic cost has become unbearable for all economies, worse for families.
“That is why organisations like DAN are there to educate patients and families on how best to manage it and harvest latest research findings on how best to manage it. There is a lot of misinformation and complicated myths about diabetes and we are here to untangle these misinformation networks to bring out clarity for better management of the disease. We need to work with the media and more people to work with us.:
Many people that have come down with diabetes do not have sufficient resources to manage it. The tests, drugs, and proper food are expensive. Average balanced diet now is over N1,000. So, diabetic patients need support.”
He queried: “If people living with HIV get free drugs, what offence have those living with diabetes committed that they can’t get help? We need a lot of support from the government, Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and individuals to fight to restore the health of patients and stop others from going down with it. Diabetes has destroyed the health of many sufferers without adequate care. Many die young because of diabetes.”
His view was supported by the chairman of DAN, Rivers State, Dr Hamilton Opurum, who said major challenge was lack of adequate advocacy to create enough awareness and education. “Most persons need information about diabetic condition; they need to know whether they are at risk, and if they are not, how to keep a healthy lifestyle. If they are, they need to know how to delay the onset of its worst effects. If they are already diabetic, we encourage them to manage themselves properly. This is so because besides going to hospital to get treatment, they need to manage their nutrition properly and keep fit. So, nutrition, exercise, and medical attention are all very important in the management of diabetes.”
The Federal, State and Local Government Areas should deploy resources to address the diabetic menace. Enlightenment and public education is critical to overcome the ravaging trend. People need to be enlightened on dietary culture.
Medical and health care providers should up the purchase of facilities and diabetes-related equipment to check the burden. “Prevention”, they say “is better than cure”. For prevention to be effective, information and education are key. The Government at all levels and other medical and health care providers should use all available media: Social, Electronic  and Print, to drive home the danger inherent in contracting the disease.

Igbiki Benibo

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Opinion

 Learning From China’s Educational System

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As the world grapples with the complexities of the 21st century, it is essential to recognise the distinction between education and learning. While often used interchangeably, these terms have distinct meanings that impact our approach to personal and professional development. Education refers to the formal instruction and certification process, typically within a school or university setting. It provides a foundation in various subjects and disciplines, preparing students for future careers. Learning, on the other hand, encompasses the broader process of acquiring knowledge, skills, and values throughout one’s life. It extends far beyond the classroom, incorporating experiences, challenges, and opportunities that shape our perspectives and abilities.
The primary goal of education is to equip students with the necessary credentials and knowledge to enter the workforce. In contrast, learning focuses on personal growth, self-improvement, and adaptability in an ever-changing world. Education provides a solid foundation, but learning is what truly empowers individuals to thrive. It enables us to develop new skills, explore innovative ideas, and navigate complex challenges. Unfortunately, many individuals confuse education with learning, assuming that a degree or certification guarantees success. However, the reality is that learning is a lifelong journey, requiring continuous effort and dedication.
To truly succeed, we must embrace a culture of learning, fostering curiosity, creativity, and critical thinking. This involves seeking out new experiences, asking questions, and embracing challenges as opportunities for growth.In today’s fast-paced, technology-driven world, learning is more essential than ever. It enables us to stay adaptable, innovative, and relevant, unlocking our full potential and driving progress.As we move forward, it is crucial to recognise the difference between education and learning. By prioritising learning as a lifelong pursuit, we can unlock our true potential and create a brighter future for ourselves and generations to come.While education provides a foundation, learning is the key to unlocking our full potential. China’s remarkable rise to global prominence offers a compelling case study. Her unimaginable economic growth and technological advancements are often attributed to its emphasis on education. However, a closer examination reveals that the country’s true strength lies in its culture of learning.
It is no gainsaying the fact that  education is highly valued in China, and the gaokao (national college entrance examination) is a high-stakes test that determines one’s academic and professional trajectory, yet, it is the informal learning processes that occur outside the classroom that have driven China’s innovation and progress. From a young age, Chinese students are encouraged to engage in extracurricular activities, such as music, art, and sports, which foster creativity, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills. These skills are essential for success in a rapidly changing world. Moreover, China’s cultural heritage places a strong emphasis on self-cultivation and lifelong learning. The concept of “xuéxí” (learning) is deeply ingrained in Chinese philosophy, emphasising personal growth and development throughout one’s life.The Chinese government has also invested heavily in vocational training and adult education programmes, recognising that learning is a continuous process that extends far beyond formal education
. In contrast, Nigeria’s education system is such that  focuses  on rote memorisation over critical thinking. Nigeria’s curriculum prioritizes core subjects like mathematics, English, and science, but often neglects essential skills like creativity, problem-solving, and emotional intelligence even as it  faces  numerous challenges, including inadequate funding and outdated curricula.One major bane of  Nigeria’s education system has been the  placement of a high premium on certification and paper qualifications, often at the expense of genuine learning and skill acquisition, instead of a  curriculum designed to foster innovation, creativity, and adaptability, with a strong emphasis on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education where students are encouraged to explore, experiment, and learn from failure. Nigerian students are rather discouraged from taking risks or challenging authority.
Moreover, China’s education system is constantly evolving, with a focus on lifelong learning and continuous skill acquisition, whereas Nigeria’s education system has remained largely static, with few opportunities for professional development or skill upgrading. While both China and Nigeria face unique challenges in their education systems, China’s emphasis on learning, innovation, and skill acquisition has positioned it for success in the 21st century. Nigeria, on the other hand, must urgently reform its education system to prioritise learning over certification, creativity over memorisation, and skills acquisition over mere paper qualifications. Like China, Nigeria’s education system needs to prioritise social-emotional learning, including skills like empathy, self-awareness, and conflict resolution, which are essential for success in the modern world. Truth be said, while education provides a solid foundation, it is learning that truly empowers individuals and societies to thrive.
Navigating  the complexities of the 21st century, truly requires learning from China’s example to  prioritise learning as a lifelong pursuit. By learning from China’s example, Nigeria can unlock the potential of its youth and leapfrog its way to economic prosperity and global relevance.The future belongs to those who learn, adapt, and innovate – let us choose the path of wisdom.

By: Sylvia ThankGod-Amadi

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