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Opinion

Underaged Voting: Going Beyond Rhetorics

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It is always a delight listening to the popular and revered Kenyan orator, Prof. Patrice Loch Otieno Lumumba. He has a way of addressing the deep-rooted African problems including neocolonialism, corruption, poor leadership and others. A few days ago, for the umpteenth time, I listened to him on the radio talking about the greed and selfishness of African electorate who prefer crumbs from politicians’ tables to ideas that will guarantee a better future for their countries. According to the professor of law who once headed Kenya Anti Corruption Commission, “The electorate have an insatiable thirst and hunger for things that they have not worked for.
They have been trained and they no longer listen to ideas. “…Many times, when you address the electorate and you are waxing eloquently telling them: ‘When I am elected, I am going to ensure that we have good health services; we are going to ensure good schools; we are going to ensure that we create opportunity for innovation and invention and create opportunity for young men and women.” They are waiting for you to finish. They will tell you: ‘We hear you. We know you are going to do all those beautiful things but in the intervening period, I must eat.’“And therefore, no matter how beautiful your ideas are, if you do not carry money on that day, your ideal, like the elephant will never fly.”
Is that not the key problem with electorates in Nigeria? Nigerians are good at complaining about the numerous ill in our society, the age long poor leadership, the failure of those in authority to handle the lingering insecurity in the country, our dwindling economy, lack of adequate attention to the education, health and other sectors of the economy and many others. We lampoon our elected leaders for their greed and selfishness and lack of interest in the affairs of the citizens, yet when it is time for us to elect those who will manage the affairs of the country, we put behind all reasonable considerations about a better Nigeria and prioritise our selfish interests. We stop thinking about Nigeria but rather focus on me, myself and I. The questions will become, who will butter my bread? Through who shall partake of the national cake. Hardly do people bother about what should be done to ensure that every Nigerian has a taste of the national cake .
Yes, Nigerian leaders, both past and present are largely responsible for the present sorry state of the nation but the led cannot be exonerated. Just look at the issue of underaged registered voters in the recently released preliminary voters register by the Independent Electoral Commission (INEC). There have been allegations by some Nigerians including members of some political parties and Civil Society Organisations that there are obvious pictures of underaged persons on the register among other irregularities. Even the electoral body acknowledged that there are children voters on the register. “The essence of putting out this is for Nigerians to help the Commission further clean up the voters register. We want people to look at the register and assist the Commission to check whether their names have been properly spelt; whether their personal particulars have been properly captured; whether some pictures are not upside down; whether there are still names of deceased persons on the register; whether there are obviously underage persons on the register so that we can correct them,” said INEC’s National Commissioner in charge of voter education and publicity, Mr. Festus Okoye.
The problem of underaged voters is not novel to Nigeria’s politics. It rears its head during virtually all general elections in the country. During every election, video clips and pictures of children below the approved voting age of 18, queuing up to cast their votes make the rounds in both social and traditional media. Initially, it was associated with the northern part of the country, today, like cancer, the menace has spread to other parts of the country. And a basic question that needs to be asked is, who are the parents of these children? Why should parents allow their underaged children to register as voters? Why should parents allow desperate, so-called selfish politicians, who they despise for making life unbearable for them, to use their children to achieve their ulterior motives and jeopardise the process of electing credible leaders that would take the country out of the woods? Is it possible that they were paid by some politicians for those children to be used to beef up the votes?
The truth is that many Nigerians have lost their values. We teach our children to tell lies, to cheat and do others bad things because of money without seeing anything wrong with that. Recently, during a school’s common entrance examination, pupils that were less than 10 years old were asked not to take part in the exam because they were underaged and would not be admitted in that school. Shockingly, some parents, mothers for that matter, drew their children aside and started telling them to claim they were 10 years and above when they were not. If we must get it right in this country, if we must have a country of our dreams where things work well and the citizens are happy, we must begin to change our orientation and value system. We cannot continue to place money over integrity, human dignity, national unity, patriotism and values of the national ethics and integrity policy and expect things to go well in the country. The 2023 general election is by the corner. Politicians are going round selling their ideas, their vision and plan for the nation. Is it not high time Nigerians weighed through these ideas and queue behind the candidates who have the best plans for the nation, states, local governments and our various constituencies instead of focusing on the immediate “stomach infrastructure” they are able to provide?
And for INEC, they should go beyond the usual rhetoric and find a lasting solution to the recurring issue of underaged voting so as to gain the trust of Nigerians. It is not enough for Mr. Okoye and other top staff of the Commission to promise Nigerians that no underaged person will be allowed to vote. We heard such statements during previous elections but in the end, what happened? Nigerians will like to see INEC staff or whoever were responsible for the underaged registration punished for their illegal act. Citizens want to see INEC tackle this problem using technology as they promised. Most importantly, political offices should be made less attractive in Nigeria. Politicians go to any length, spend millions to get into power because of the enormous gains and privileges attached to political offices in the country. There is no doubt that when these positions are made less attractive, the desperation to clinch elected offices will reduce and selfless leaders will begin to emerge across all levels.

By: Calista Ezeaku

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Opinion

The Mother Tongue Teaching Policy

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The call for the promotion of Nigeria’s indigenous languages has been on for decades. Knowing the importance of language and going by recent warnings about some Nigerian dialects going extinct, language experts and some other citizens have canvassed for measures towards ensuring that the culture and languages of the various ethnic groups in the country do not die. Recent local and international reports had revealed that most Nigerian indigenous languages would be extinct in the next three decades, while about 90 per cent of them were projected to be replaced by dominant languages. The reports further disclosed that the percentage of children that speak local dialects is thinning down and may result in loss of identity, culture, moral values and heritage of many communities in the country. So, the recent disclosure of the federal government’s approval of a new National Language Policy which would make mother tongue a compulsory medium of instruction for public primary school pupils was well received by many people.
According to the Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu, who made the plan known, mother tongue will be used exclusively for the first six years of education, while it will be combined with English Language from Junior Secondary School. He said that the mother tongue to be used in each school will be the dominant language spoken by the community where it is located, assuring of the government’s preparedness to protect the over 600 local languages in the country. Government must be commended for this initiative which if well implemented and sustained, will make a great difference in the preservation and promotion of indigenous languages in the country. Researches have shown that native language deepens knowledge.  A great deal of research has confirmed that types of education based on the mother tongue significantly increase the chances of educational success and give better results.  I have not forgotten my experience as a youth corps member in a school in Numan, Adamawa State. Some of the students would hardly understand what they were taught in English language but when the same topic was taught or interpreted in their local language, they would grab it.
However, this policy needs to be thoroughly interrogated. In the first place, why should the use of the mother tongue for teaching be made compulsory only in public schools? What about the millions of children in private schools?  Is the Minister telling us that only the children in public primary schools are good enough to be taught in their mother tongue? Or, the children in private schools are too sophisticated or civilized to learn their mother tongues? Again, did the government take into the consideration the huge financial cost of producing the instructional materials and training of teachers.  Do we have teachers that can teach in all the over 600 languages we have in Nigeria.? Are there plans to train more teachers on these languages? How many teachers can communicate effectively in their mother tongue? A teacher -friend of mine told me that the policy could be the government’s plan of sacking teachers because a good number of teachers are deficient in mother tongue proficiency. Wouldn’t this education policy compound the numerous problems in the education sector where there is no adequate fund to fix infrastructures, pay teachers, provide instructional material for the pupils and many more?
The greatest fear is about continuity. Ours is a country where incumbent political office holders hardly continue  projects or policies initiated by their predecessors. Anyone that comes into power will introduce new policies, new projects, jettisoning the ones he inherited from the person before him. So, what is the assurance that the person that will occupy Aso Rock Villa in May 2023 and the subsequent administrations will deem it fit to carry on with the policy?  Nigeria is a country with about 600 languages. Some states like Kaduna have about 57 languages, Rivers State 28 languages not to talk of Taraba State that is made up of 40 tribes and about 73 languages.  We will be deceiving ourselves if we claim that we can instruct the pupils in all these languages. Even choosing the predominant language in every locality might pose a great challenge and may lead to serious problems if not well handled.
Surely, this is a good initiative but it requires long-term planning.  Let us not be in a hurry to start what we cannot sustain. Already the 6-3-3-4 system of education which was started in 1982 with the aim of ensuring that secondary school students acquire skills through vocational training that would enable them to be self-reliant upon graduation is not yielding the expected result primarily because of the issue of funding, lack of infrastructure and inadequate instructional facilities and other.  So, rather than plunge into the teaching in mother tongue head long, why not choose some schools (pilot/model schools) kind of, one or two in each state, see how successful the policy will be in those schools, note the challenges and work on them and ascertain the possibility of its continuity before taking it to the entire country. At that point, it might be necessary to back the policy with legislation. Such a law should make instruction in mother tongue compulsory in primary schools in Nigeria rather than public schools only.
There is the need to adopt practicable measures in the quest to promote our local languages. An important step is to end the attitude of making the speaking of local languages or vernacular as it is mostly called in schools, a punishable offence. Students and pupils should be encouraged to freely communicate in their dialects within the school. A credit in any Nigerian language should be a prerequisite for gaining admission into any tertiary institution in Nigeria just like English Language and Mathematics. This way, both students, parents and schools will take the study of Nigerian languages more seriously. Essay and quiz competitions in Nigerian languages should be encouraged and supported by the government, organisations and individuals.Most importantly, parents should form the habit of communicating with their children in their native languages. Observations show that many people no longer speak their dialects. Many parents, especially the educated ones, do not communicate with their children in their dialects and really don’t care if their children speak their language or not.
All they want is for their children to speak English and other foreign languages. Parents of different ethnic groups most times decide to speak a neutral language, especially to their children, thereby denying them the identities of their parents.The truth is that the English and other foreign languages we promote can never be our language. No matter how proficient you are in English and speak it with the English accent, you are not an English man or woman. You remain a Nigerian. Many parents spend thousands of naira to hire English and French teachers for their children, (which is not bad), how much do we spend to teach them their native languages which is their identity? The responsibility of rejuvenating our native languages, culture and tradition is not that of government alone. Parents, adults, schools and organisations have big roles to play. Our culture and traditions are our unique identity, we must not lose it.  The policy on teaching in mother tongue is most desirable as it will encourage young Nigerians to learn their mother tongue  but If practical steps are not taken by the authorities and all concerned to make it realistic, the idea, like a big elephant will definitely not fly.

By: Calista Ezeaku

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Opinion

 Time To Embrace Technical Education

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Human beings from creation, were made to believe that the only way forward in life to frantic development in all ramifications is through creative imagination. Though, if you want to be close to nature, and perhaps appreciate its endowed loaded responsibility accruing to man and humanity,  then you need to improve on your daily level of thinking, positive awareness and consciousness.Therefore, the concept, technical vocational education and training (TVET) is a means through which one can conveniently and convincingly improve on his or her creative imaginations and level of positive awareness as to achieve its positive potential capacities in life, with the high functional manipulative skills of the three domains of learning. In addition to the above, technical vocational education and training (TVET) has helped to create new league of technologies, discoveries, life-changing breakthroughs and new ways of doing things.
In fact, education is the only formal means through which man’s cultural heritage as well as occupational skills could be transmitted from one generation to another. Nevertheless, in every defined traditional African society, the purpose of education is to enable the individual to become functional member of the society, to give training and re-retraining as well as improve the necessary skills leading to the production of craftsmen, technicians and other skilled manpower personnel who will be enterprising and self-reliant. Of a truth, no nation can develop without efficient harnessing of her resources (human and material) and putting them into appropriate use, for maximum productivity.
Moreso, education has always been seen as a tool that enables the individual to become a functional member of the society and has almost and always served as an instrument for elevating people from one level to the next, and equally enabling them contribute more meaningfully to the development of their communities, state and nations.The idea of technical/vocational education and training (TVET) is to change and improve our youths in apprenticeship programmes as to enable them acquire the skills necessary to become proficient in a trade, craft or a profession under the tutelage of a master. This kind of programme will increase the country’s human resources for effective utilization of the available natural resources.
However, professing industrialization is an aspect of economic development. This can be achieved by making almost seventy percent (70%) of our youths to enroll into courses that will lead to the acquisition of technical/vocational skills in our tertiary institutions of higher learning.Certainly, graduates of any technical related course are expected to be trained and re-trained by their employers to drive-out the potentials deposited in them by GOD Almighty that will help them to balance effectively in their individuals world of work.
Indeed, USA and all other developed countries of the world attained high level of infrastructural development and advancement through the proper application of the theories and practice of technical vocational education and training (TVET) in their research and development scheme of events.Moreso, even some of the software developers and computer system as well as internet information technologist, like William Bill-Gates of America, Lawrence Jellison of Callifonia, Steve jobs of USA, Carlos Slim of Mexico and a USA-based Nigerian-born Philip Emeagwali, the list is endless, had made it in life through the proper usage and application of technical vocational education and training (TVET) in all spheres of human endeavour.
As a matter of fact, this idea of technical vocational education and training (TVET) should be seen by every well-meaning Nigerian as a major means of our industrial and socio-economic break-through.Every individual who understands the psychology and philosophy of TVET should try as much as possible to reach out to people by preaching it like gospel within and outside our environment, pointing out more of the practical application of the philosophy of TVET to the entire populace. This is true because, this crop of men that TVET had produced have seriously propelled industrial tremendous development and technological advancement of their nation to its barest minimum positively.
According to John F. Kennedy of USA, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country”. He went further to say, that “when you stop contributing to your environment, you are no longer living, but merely existing. Nevertheless, Nigeria took off the race of socio-industrial revolution long time ago, but we are still crawling in terms of socio-industrial economic development up till now, because of lack of proper implementation of our policies, which is what is making it to move at a very slow rate. Sincerely speaking, it is often said that, if someone wants to know how to dance very well, he/she will watch how good dancers throw their legs and swing their hands, or put their dancing steps during dancing.
Which implies that, if the developed countries of the world have attained the level they are now enjoying today through the proper application of TVET theories and practices, Nigeria through the efforts of individuals, NGOs, companies and government agencies alike etc can be developed through the same way by applying working TVET and proper implementations of policies ever made to the positive consumption of the populace. On this note, Proper TVET application therefore, leads to self-reliance and actualisation, adequate investment in your future life, bringing out of God deposited potentials in people, blessings designed by God for our destiny, technological development and advancement and economic boom and stability of individuals and that of the country.
Inspite of the above fact, Nigeria began its journey to initiate, acquire and stabilize sound socio-economic and industrial revolution foundations so early, but the problem of poor leadership and bad governance which have eaten very deep into the fabrics of a very mature  and bad Nigerian citizen have collectively robbed the nation of diverse opportunities to progress to the next level. Specifically put, corruption has been a major bane of the nation’s development. And it is only natural that the nation turns a new leaf today by jettisoning those vices that have worked to scuttle efforts to advance Nigeria’s development paradigm and conscientiously implement policies that focus on Technical/Vocational Education And Training (TVET),  which is a tool in accelerating socio-industrial development and equally boosting and sustaining Nigerian economy, if properly embraced will automatically lead to permanent development of the country’s economy.
All well-meaning Nigerians, individuals, NGOs, companies and government agencies, who have the country’s interest at heart have to embrace the idea, as to enhance the philosophy of TVET and its applications, so that Nigeria can be grouped among the developed countries of the world in the next five years.

By: Rogers Odoi
Odoi wrote  from Nsukka.

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Opinion

Spare A Nest For The Birds

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The cry of the kite is all I can hear outside my house, and this is not normal. Not in the traditional African sense, relating to beliefs in omens; rather, it is not normal because kites are high-flying birds of prey. It is more common to hear the chirping of weaver birds devouring branches of any palm trees on your property to build or repair their nests,  or to hear the occasional cooing of doves playing in large flower trees than to hear the cry of a solitary kite sitting on a water tank because its habitation is gone. My compassion for this bird of prey is reflective of my general observation of the plight of the resident birds of our original biodiversity, and the disappointment of the migratory birds that fly in from Europe to enjoy the bounties of the tropical rainforest while they wait out the winter. I am also saddened by the fact that our native birds are no longer able to titivate the garden city.

There is no gainsaying the fact that the beautiful landscape known in the 80s and 90s as the Garden City is long gone – the beautiful gardens and trees of Old Port Harcourt Township; the array of trees in Old GRA; and, the trees and manicured lawns of Amadi-Flats. In those days you could hear the birds singing, and going about the business of being birds, mating, and building their nests. There was a sense of balance between nature and real estate development. In that era, the major forests, and the mangroves around Port Harcourt were still in pristine condition to provide a home for giant birds of prey like the kites and eagles that make their nest high up in the trees. Also within these forests were streams where the migrating geese make their home when they come to town. Today, most of what used to be pristine woodland has been transformed into prime real estate. Sadly, no one spared a thought for the birds or any other animal for that matter.

There are beautiful state-of-the-art estates springing up in every part Port Harcourt, including what is called the greater Port Harcourt City stretching as far as Omagwa, in Ikwere Local Government Area; but the story is the same. Development goes on without any plan for the integration of nature and the preservation of biodiversity. The resultant effect is that before long, the whole city will become a concrete jungle bereft of trees that form an oasis of cool, and calming breeze where birds sing all year round.Port Harcourt people, and indeed Rivers people in general love to enjoy life, and they are well-traveled. That was why the old Garden City had the serenity of such an incredible picturesque panorama.

The real estate developers of today are only motivated by money, but it is my belief that an appropriate government policy can change the narrative, and spare a nest for the birds. For instance, the state can institute a policy whereby developers must dedicate a percentage of their acreage for the preservation of biodiversity; such that even if development is going on, there is an intermingling of nature. Beyond laws for real estate developers, the state should be deliberate in its approach to biodiversity preservation. There is already a very successful pilot project in Bonny Local Government Area called the Finima Nature Park (FNP). It has been a biodiversity marvel even to us natives because we never thought it was possible due to poaching and the felling of trees. To my reckoning, the FNP is currently the only place in Rivers State that affords indigenous wildlife species a near pristine tropical rainforest habitation that is protected day and night.

The Finima Nature Park is a 1,000-hectare land of freshwater swamp forest established in 1999 by the NLNG. According to its website, the nature park was established in response to growing global environmental concerns and the need for corporate organisations to be environmentally responsible in other to achieve a more sustainable environmental future. Currently, the park is being managed by Nigerian Conservation Foundation. According to a 2022 research, the tropical rain forest preserve of the FNP could offer the keen bird watcher above 1400 individual birds, from about 93 different species, and 33 classes in just 48 hours. Birds like the Black Heron, Black-Headed Heron, Great Egret, White-faced Whistling Duck, African Pygmy Goose, Osprey, Yellow-billed Kite, African Jacana, Eurasian Curlew, African Crake, just to mention a few.

Some of the birds are resident, while others are migratory birds that still fry in spite of the massive industrial complex being occupied by Shell, NLNG, and Mobil. Within the park also, the monkeys, crocodiles, iguanas, monitor lizards, tortoises, pythons, and other species of snakes are allowed to roam free in the park. However, the Finima Nature Park is one of a plethora of nature parks across the country that Rivers State can learn a thing or two from. For example, a day of bird watching at the Amurum Forest Reserve in Jos, Plateau State will offer sightings of between 50 to 305 different bird species. The reserve was established in conjunction with AP Leventis Ornithological Research Institute, for the purpose of research, education, and conservation. It has also been recognised as an Important Bird Area in Nigeria.

The Baturiya Bird Sanctuary located in the Kiri Kassma area of Jigawa State is another major bird haven the state can ape from because of its expanse and assortment of bird species. It covers an area of 320 square km and is surrounded by a buffer zone of a half kilometer. The natural wetland habitat is home to around 378 migratory bird species from as far away as Europe and Australia. Similarly, the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA) Forest Reserve and Lake located in the city of Ibadan, Oyo state is also a bird watchers paradise that so much could be learned. It covers over 350 hectares of land, a tropical forest, and a 3KM long lake, attracting as many as 272 different bird species, including the Ibadan Malimbe.
All the above nature parks and sanctuaries attract both local and international tourists every year because people paid attention, and consistent efforts were made at conserving these blessings of biodiversity; and for a state like Rivers State that is at the heart of the rain forest with diverse flora and fauna. We stand to lose a lot if deliberate effort is not made at conservation, particularly considering the speed at which real estate development is licking up the existing forests. Another challenge for resident birds especially, may also not be unconnected to excessive felling of timber, and the activities of illegal refiners that have made the remaining forest in most pipeline communities too polluted, and therefore non-inhabitable for birds.

Moreover, most of the wetlands in the Rivers State, particularly along the Ahoada Axis suffered major secondary oil spills due to the carrying and spreading of industrial form of illegal refining waste by the 2022 flood. The state has to ascertain the extent of damage caused by the flood of the forest, wetlands, and farmlands. Nevertheless, while detailed programmes are being developed to create a nature reserve befitting the status of Rivers State and its diverse bird population, something has to be done to ameliorate the loneliness of the solitary kite outside my window and other birds finding it hard to build a nest due to the lack of tall trees.

By: Raphael Pepple

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