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Press Freedom Day: Beyond Information For Public Good

World Press Freedom Day is celebrated on May 3rd each year. The day proclaimed by the UN General Assembly in 1993, acting on the recommendation of UNESCO, to “celebrate the fundamental principles of press freedom; assess the state of press freedom throughout the world; defend the media from attacks on their independence, and pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the line of duty.”

Importantly, World Press Freedom Day is a day of support for media which are targets for the restraint, or abridgment of freedom. Stressing the importance of Press Freedom Day, Director-General of UNESCO, Auderey Azoulay said, “Press Freedom is the cornerstone of democratic societies. All states, all nations, are strengthened by information, debate and exchange of opinions. At a time of growing discourse of mistrust and delegitimization of the press and journalism, it is essential that we guarantee freedom of opinion through the free exchange of ideas and information based on factual truth.”

This year’s World Press Freedom Day theme “Information as a Public Good” serves as a call to affirm the importance of cherishing information as a public good, and exploring what can be done in the production, distribution and reception of content to strengthen journalism, and to advance transparency and empowerment while leaving no one behind. The theme recognizes the changing communications system that is impacting on our health, our human rights, democracies and sustainable development.

UNESCO Director General, Audrey Azulay in her message stated said, “The theme of this year’s World Press Freedom Day, Information as a Public Good, underlines the indisputable importance of verified and reliable information. It calls attention to the essential role of free and professional journalists in producing and disseminating this information, by tackling misinformation and other harmful content”.

This year’s World Press Freedom Day, marks the 30th Anniversary of the UNESCO Windhoek Declaration for the Development of a Free, Independent and Pluralistic Press. That declaration led to the recognition by the UN of the World Press Freedom Day to be celebrated every 3rd of May.

After 30 years, the historic connection made between the freedom to seek, impart and receive information and the public good remains as relevant as it was at the time of its signing. The importance of freely accessing reliable information, particularly through journalism, has been demonstrated by the COVID-19 pandemic: in times of crisis, information can be a matter of life or death.

The COVID-19 crisis has placed journalists and quality journalism and public interest media once again at the center of the global discourse. Reporting on the crisis, through initiatives such as the popularization of scientific facts, the compilation and frequent updating of data, fact-checking or monitoring spending, has proved vital. Around the world the covid-19 pandemic has forced the closure of media houses, reporters have been harassed and attacked for their reporting on the handling of the pandemic, and the public struggled to discern verified information from the falsehoods that have flooded the internet.

Ensuring the safety of journalists is the primary way by which we can foster the independence and freedom of the press, as crucial for democracy. Such a goal is also vital to ensure public access to information.

In performing its many functions in a democratic society, the press derives its general power and support from Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which unequivocally guarantees the right to freedom of expression to all human beings: that, “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

Although freedom of expression is a universal right, it is a special collective right for the journalist. In a democracy, for instance, if the journalist is denied this right, which is exercised through freedom of the press, the entire electorate is denied their right to information on the goings-on in their constituencies. Consequently, democracy can neither grow nor be consolidated.

The press is an indispensable part of any liberal society or democracy. It can, in fact, be described as the ‘oxygen of democracy’. In addition to its numerous other functions, the press is the principal tool for the dissemination of information on politics in this Information Age, ensuring that society is adequately informed to enable the people understand political issues and effectively participate in politics and the democratic process.

The press is also expected to be the watchdog of the society, keeping an eye on political leaders who are governing with the mandate of the people. In this regard, it serves as the mechanism for ‘watching’ political office holders, with the aim of encouraging them to pursue the fundamental objectives of the state. In addition, the press does not only set the political agenda, it also purveys and moulds public opinion by providing the platform for the expression of opinions that could enhance participation in the public sphere and enhance democratic principles.

The Nigerian Constitution has always obligated the press to perform the statutory roles of upholding the fundamental objectives of the state as well as upholding the responsibility and accountability of the government to the people. Sections 21 and 36 of the 1979 Constitution and 22 and 38 of the 1989 Constitution guaranteed freedom of expression and statutory roles for the press, while such guarantees are enshrined in Sections 22 and 39 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).

Specifically, Section 22 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) guarantees freedom of expression by giving everybody the right to own any medium of communication, while Section 39 states the statutory roles of the press in upholding the accountability and responsibility of the government to the people. In spite of these constitutional provisions, there is no clear indication of strong and special forms of protection for the press to carry out its constitutional obligations without interference, threats to life, or extra-judicial repercussions.

In Nigeria, Section 39 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), which gives the press the statutory role of watchdog, is curtailed by Section 45 of the Constitution that unequivocally states that the role of the Press as provided in Section 22 can be abrogated by any law reasonably justifiable in a democracy.

Nigerian press has faced several challenges since 1960 but no challenge has been more of a problem than the menace of military rule and threats to the freedom of the press and the capacity of the press to fulfill its mission as the voice of the voiceless and defender of the oppressed. So serious is press censorship in Nigeria that between 1903 and 1998, there have been 29 anti-press legislations in the books. No other industry has been confronted with such a degree of official antagonism.

Perhaps, this is why many media professionals believe that there is no absolute freedom for the Nigerian press as there have been many instances of brutalization of journalists and impunity against the press in Nigeria. Even the Freedom of Information Act that supposedly gives the press and individuals the freedom to gather information does not enhance absolute freedom of the press because some sections of the Act indirectly curtail free access to information.

It is incontrovertible that the functions of the Press cannot be performed without the guarantee of the safety of journalists and media workers. Indeed, the safety of journalists is essential to the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, as well as the right to development.

Freedom of the press, in its true sense, protects journalists and other media professionals from all forms of impunity. Thus, a high degree of press freedom is essential for building inclusive-knowledge societies and democracies and for fostering dialogue, peace and good governance Strong freedom of the press is essential to ensure the safety of journalists and to eradicate impunity and violation of human rights. Without freedom of the Press and adequate safety for journalists, it is impossible to have an informed, active and engaged citizenry. In a climate where journalists are safe, citizens find it easier to access quality information.

Therefore, the special protection that strong freedom of the press should provide journalists and media workers should be holistic to include preventive, protective and pre-emptive measures. Sadly, such freedom of the press, and the safety it should guarantee for journalists, is still largely a mirage. Instead, the Controversy on whether or not freedom of the press should be distinct from the general freedom of speech or expression remains unabated.

In Nigeria apparently, the paradigm is that press freedom is derived from the freedom of expression, and, therefore, the press does not need any special protection. This position might be the explanation for why the Press continues to operate in dangerous environments. Thus, journalists all over the world, and particularly in developing countries like Nigeria, continue to work under risks of intimidation harassment, violence, arbitrary arrest, kidnapping and even extra-judicial killings.

Nigeria is one of West Africa’s “most dangerous and difficult countries for journalists,” an international media watchdog has said.   Expanded state surveillance, the spread of disinformation, and arbitrary arrests of journalists who report critically on the ruling political establishment were cited as the main obstacles to press freedom by Reporters Without Borders (RSF). 

A free press makes for a free society. The work journalists do is critical for everyone in Nigeria and the law should never silence the truth.

As Nigerians joined the rest of the world to mark the day with President Muhammadu Buhari felicitating with journalists, there should be greater understanding for the duties and responsibilities of journalists and the need to ensure that press freedom becomes a culture in the interest of the greater good of Nigeria.

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Human Capacity, Pivotal To National Dev. – Adeyemi

The International Easter Youth Conference of Church of God Mission International is an initiative organized annually for influencing the lives of young people around the world with the unique message of the ministry’s drive towards global leadership.

In the heart of every youth is a God given dream and destiny. Many young people around the world engage in various activities in pursuit of their dreams. Success and true fulfillment in life is however a product of God’s word. The International Easter Conference is specially packaged with the Youth in mind to satisfy the hunger in their spirit to fulfill their God given dream and destiny.

While the coronavirus pandemic lead to the cancellation of 2020 edition, youths around the globe anticipated with so much excitement the Easter conference 2021 with the theme, “Focus On Christ To Discover and Fulfill Purpose”.

Senior Pastor of Daystar Christian Center, Rev. Sam Adeyemi says the country’s development requires resourceful youths in leadership and entrepreneurship with ability to provide solutions to problems.

Adeyemi spoke in Benin while addressing youths at the Easter Conference organized by the Christian Youth Fellowship of Church of God Mission International.

He observed that building the next generation of good leaders and credible entrepreneurs would involve improving the quality of youths through critical thinking solutions.

“We need to increase the quality of our youths by increasing their problem solving mindset and qualitative synopsis.

“This could be achieved by leveraging on diverse opportunities provided by technology and science, engaging in purposeful leadership and standing for God’s purpose on earth,” he said.

Adeyemi charged the youths to be intentional and have “a can-do- mindset and live uprightly at all times to bring the desired change in Nigeria.

“Don’t be afraid but have the core values that align with your vision. Be excellent, be healthy and follow your purpose with precision and detailing; if you fail, rise up and move forward. Creating values for yourself and others require that you be intentional with life decisions from choosing your career to building networks as well as nurturing relationships. Importantly, do not forget the necessity of being at the center of God’s will”, he said.

He called on Nigeria youths to take advantage of any legitimate process to secure deep change for the nation’s development.

“You must use every legitimate opportunity to secure deep changes that will lead to Nigeria’s development. The systems you confront are strategic and tactical. They may be steps ahead. You need to think long term and pace yourself. Speak forcefully but peacefully. Don’t be provoked to violence. Don’t act somebody else’s script. Lightning has enough power to light a city, but it destroys because it has no structure. Shift gear into participation in the political process when the time comes soon.

“Some of you will be governors, senators, president, CEOs, etc., in 10 to 20 years. Hold the vision of a developed Nigeria in your heart. Commit to value human life, be honest, promote justice, serve with excellence, and cultivate leadership skills. God will help you.” he ended.

In his address, Bishop FEB Idahosa II, congratulated participants of the conference, urging them to be good ambassadors of God, the Church and Nation.

“Having gone through days of trainings, life-transforming messages and teachings, I congratulate you. The responsibility is now on you to be worthy examples of the words you’ve heard to be change catalysts in your spheres of influence,” he said.

Sector Director, South-South Sector 2 of the Christian Youth Fellowship, Pst. Manasseh Worika said Christian Youths should rise up and enforce kingdom principles across all sectors of the economy, adding that they must be stewards of the faith and avoid compromising standards.

“We should stop shifting blame on our leaders. Each individual should be able to give accounts of their stewardship in every area of life. As Christian youths, we must inject Christian values into our affairs to grapple with the many vices that accompany ill behaviors in Nigeria, such as corruption, ethnicism, statism, arson, looting, hooliganism, and various forms of un-ethnical behaviors. The youth who operate in the nooks and corners of the society must endeavor to become the leaven of the society. Be a God-Class Youth wherever you find yourself, standing for the truth and what is right.”

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Of Social Media Activism And #EndSARS Protests

Over the past week, young Nigerians have ramped up widespread protests-online and offline-against rampant brutality by the police.

The core of the protests have included a call for President Muhammadu Buhari to scrap SARS, a notorious “special” police unit designated to combat armed robbery but is largely known for blatant extortion and in some cases, extra-judicial killings.

SARS officers typically target and detain young men by accusing them of being online fraudsters, simply on the evidence of owning a laptop or a Smartphone, and then request arbitrary and exorbitant bail fees before they regain their freedom. In more extreme cases, SARS officers abduct civilian targets and force them to make withdrawals at ATM in exchange for their freedom.

The unit also targets young women as well, often claiming, again with scant evidence that they are prostitutes, which is illegal in some parts of Nigeria. There have been several reports of women being sexually assaulted while in detention.

The latest round of anti-SARS protests have morphed organically from online hashtags into street protests in what feels like a tipping point for a generation of young Nigerians.

One of the core components of the protests has been the seamless transition between online and offline campaigns. Mainly using Twitter and WhatsApp, young people have rallied and mobilized waves of protests to locations across the country with pretty simple formulas.

For instance, when dozens of people converge on a location to host their own protests, they share their location on Twitter asking for “reinforcements”-a move that has seen crowds go from a few dozens to hundreds within hours in some places.

Alternatively, strategic locations are pre-identified online with people then encouraged to come out and protest. In one such case, thousands of young people responded to calls to come out before 8am on October 13th to protest against police brutality in Port Harcourt despite the state Government’s ban on protests. The move resulted in miles-long lines of traffic jam in some parts of the city. It also proved effective as it forced the Rivers state governor to show up and address the protesters in person a few hours later.

The protests have spread to other states across the country in similar fashion with social media also deployed as a key tool for organizing. And there has been little reason to offer extra motivation to galvanize young people to show up for these protests. The notoriety of SARS is such that millions of young Nigerians have either had gory personal experiences or know someone who has.

The campaigns have also been sustained online where they initially began. The #EndSARS hash tag  yielded 28 million tweets over the past weekend alone, according to social media analytics firm, AfriquesConnectées.

Wise to the power of amplification and allies, a core part of the campaign has included pushing hashtags  to global figures to tap into larger, international platforms. The move has yielded fruit with celebrities, from Premier League footballers in England and American hip hop stars to Oscar-winning Hollywood actresses also sharing the hashtag and lending their support on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

But it’s not just celebrities, young Nigerians believe the Buhari government is uninterested in engaging with key social issues until the international press shines an embarrassing or inconvenient spotlight on a problem. To that end many of the early hashtagged tweets were all concerted efforts to catch the attention of big media organizations including the BBC, CNN, Al Jazeera and New York Times. Most of those media houses have indeed obliged and covered the biggest social protest news event since “Occupy Nigeria” protests in January 2012.

While some prominent individuals have been involved in the protests, it’s key to note that much of the organization have happened organically online, without any stated campaign “leaders”-a dynamic similar to the US Black Lives Matter movement which represents a problem of sorts for governments.

With protests in the country typically fronted by local Nigerian groups like the National Labour Congress or student unions, political leaders often try to resolve them by “negotiating” with leaders of this groups which often leads to accusations of compromise or even corruption.

Just like its organization, the funding of the protests have also been decentralized. The costs of the protests are being funded primarily through donations coming from Nigerians at home and abroad. Funke Akindele donated data for protesters. But local tech startups-most of which are led by and have young people as a key customer base-have also become prominent actors in the campaign as well: in addition to making donations, fintech startups have also set up donation links to ease the crowdfunding process.

One such donation drive managed by Feminist Coalition, a weeks-old group of young Nigerian feminists that was formed in the wake of the protests, raised around $55,000 in four days through cash and bitcoin donations.

So far, donations have been dedicated to providing protesters with food and water as well ensuring first aid and other medical supplies are available at protest venues across the country. In severe cases of police brutality against protesters, donations are also being used to pay off hospital bills.

Young lawyers are also working pro-bono across the country, offering legal representation to arrested protesters. It’s a key service given the real threat of being unlawfully detained without a sentence and without access to legal representation. Indeed, 72.5% of inmates in Nigerian prisons are serving time without being sentenced.

The intensity of the protests highlight a key cultural shift in Nigeria: while older Nigerians may have been conditioned against public protests given their lived experiences under successive brutal military regimes in the 1980s and 1990s, Nigerians below the age of 35 either never experienced those years of dictatorships or were too young to understand what they lived through.

Essentially, younger Nigerians are speaking up without fear and tapping into digital tools to make themselves heard by an older generation of leaders.

It’s a developing trend that is being accelerated by social media. With their low bandwidth consumption which is ideal for slower networks, Twitter and Whatsapp have become vital platforms for raising political awareness not just in Nigeria but across the continent. African governments are responding by stepping up online censorship plans through questionable social media laws.

There are signs the Nigerian government is also wary of the power of social media and technology as there have already been several unsuccessful attempts to regulate social media in Nigeria. However, online advocacy will only get louder given current trends: Nigeria will account for more than a fifth of the 475 million mobile internet users in sub-Saharan Africa and will also welcome 25 million new mobile subscribers by 2025.

But unlike some other African countries, Nigeria has yet to shut down internet access as a response to dissent from citizens and one likely reason is the potential steep economic cost: a total, nationwide internet shutdown will cost Nigeria an estimated $134 million daily.

The protests can be said to have already yielded fruit. Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu has already announced SARS has been disbanded. However, it comes with the caveat that SARS officers may be transferred to other units in the police force-a decision that undermines the call to root out impunity from the police force.

Recent evidence also provides little reason to believe that the Inspector General’s directive will yield tangible on-ground results. The latest announcement is the third time the police leadership has placed restrictions on the unit’s operations in four years. And so the protests have intensified even after news that the unit has been “disbanded.” Protesters are now calling for President Buhari to take more tangible action for legitimate investigations to bring errant officers to book in a bid to instill a measure of accountability in the police force.

Over the past days, unarmed protesters have been met with teargas, water-cannons and live rounds from police. There has also been widespread reports of arbitrary arrests of protesters who are being slapped with trumped up charge. Even worse, at least 10 unarmed protesters have been killed since the start of the protests, according to Amnesty International.

So far the government’s calls for an end to protests and promises of reforms have been ignored as protesters continue to organize across the country. And there is little indication that will change soon with Nigerian youths, desirous of a brighter future and a better country.

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Beyond The Prejudice Over Herbal Drugs

He jumped down from the bus ignoring enraged passengers demanding their change on getting to their destination. He awkwardly gave a female passenger standing before him N200, ‘marrying’ her with another young man whose change was also N100.

The driver, known as Action, dashed into a small stand displaying a collection of herbal mixtures some metres away. He collected a N100 note from Mrs Bolanle Adisa popularly called Iya Abbey – a short slim woman running the herbal stall – and handed it over to the last commuter yelling at him.

As Action and his departing angry passenger traded insults, Adisa randomly picked from a line of 150cl plastic bottles housing varieties of soaked herbal concoctions. Without waiting for further directive from the restless driver, she poured some drops into a piece of small white nylon.

“Mama, put more of ale (aphrodisiac),” he ordered as the woman reached for the sixth bottle.

After completing the collections, she shook the content and served it to Action who, without much ado, gulped the mixture at once and sauntered back to where his bus was parked. Adisa called the mixture gbobo’nise; (all disease-healing herb).

 “It will flush out all the dirt in your body system and make you satisfy madam (on bed) very well,” she said wryly, persuading other commuters to give it a try. “It has alcohol which makes it powerful. That young man (referring to Action) and many other youths take it every day,” she declared.

Interest in traditional herbal medicines is assuming an upward trend globally according to the World Health Organization, with about 80 per cent of the African population using them.

Easily accessible and usually cheap, herbal products are well preferred by the vast majority of the poor who cannot afford orthodox health care.

While herbal mixtures like gbogbo’nise might have served the needs of Action and many others, their safety remains a source of concerns due to unregulated dosage and high risk of contamination.

Some kilometers away, a herbal vendor whose stand overlooks a bank along the road boasts of cures to various health challenges. From aphrodisiac to ‘anti-malaria’ and jedi (haemorrhoids) herbs, Lukman as he prefers to be identified, has endeared himself to many customers – young and old.

One of them is Mr Salaki Sola popularly called “Baba”, a carpenter.

“I buy agunmu jedi (haemorrhoids powder) and ale (aphrodisiac) in bulk every month,” Sola revealed. “I take two small spoons of both with water or pap every three days to stay fit and be manly enough,” he grinned, picking up two small white packs of his favorites’ after paying N800.

Experts have expressed worry over health risks posed by consumption of poorly prepared herbal mixtures. Contaminants, especially those toxic to the body system, and lack of dosage for most herbal medicines have continually raised concerns.

Four samples of herbal products comprising aphrodisiac, jedi and “anti-malaria” bought from Adisa, Lukman and some other vendors in Rumueme, Mile 3 and Mile 1 areas in Port Harcourt.

The products, two of which bear NAFDAC numbers, were subjected to microbial analysis at the Rivers State University Teaching Hospital. Bacteria and fungi isolated from a gram of jedi bought from Lukman include Bacillius subtilis, Penicillium, Aspergillus niger and Aspergillus flavus.

Dr. Akpofure Ovienime, a microbiologist at the University of Benin, noted that Aspergillus flavus produces aflatoxin which could be harmful to the liver.

Ovienime stated, “Aspergillus flavus should not be present in herbal products. However, if its load is minimal, the immune system can fight it. Some strains of Penicillium also produce toxins.”

Aspergillus flavus is also present in Lukman’s gbogbo’nise while Penicillum is isolated in the supposed anti-malaria herbal mixture bought at a popular joint in Mile 3.

WHO’s guidelines for assessing the quality of herbal medicines specify the maximum limit of yeasts and molds (fungi) present in a plant material for use as teas and infusions – soaking – as 104 CFU/g. In other words, the microbial counts must not exceed 10,000 cells.

A microbiologist at the Rivers State University, Mr Lawrence George, observed that organisms such as Aspergillus and Penicillum are opportunistic pathogens, especially when the contamination occurs after herbal production, adding that they usually cause diseases in people with deficient immunity.

 “Aspergillus flavus produces aflatoxin. Its presence gives a red flag and it is possible that such product can contain some harmful substances. Very little load of such organisms will cause problem for consumers that have immuno deficiency. But for normal healthy people, the spores of those organisms have to be in large quantity before they can elicit disease condition. ” George said.

In an interview with The Vortex, a Port Harcourt based public health consultant, Dr. John Ephraim Monday, said most of the manpower mixtures contained high percentage of alcohol, thereby constituting a potential risk factor for high blood pressure, cancer, heart and liver diseases.

He said, “Manpower contains high percentage of alcohol which has effects on virtually all the organs of the body, especially the heart and the liver. Liver is what detoxifies the body. Once the alcohol intake is much, it affects the liver and the person begins to have abdominal pains and yellowness of eyes. The liver can break down leading to a chronic liver disease.

“The alcohol also has effects on the brain. It can affect the central nervous system and lead to withdrawal syndrome like tremor of the hands, lack of concentration and inability to make good judgments. That is why we advise people that are into it to quit instead of reducing the amount they consume.”

As a result of increased use, traditional herbal medicines have received significant attention in global health debate. In China, for instance, they played a prominent role in containing and treating severe acute respiratory syndrome, (SARS), according to a report in the 2016 bulletin of WHO.

It is claimed that 80 per cent of African population use some form of traditional herbal medicines with the worldwide annual market for the products nearing $60bn.

In the global research on herbal medicines, Nigeria is regarded to have also made substantial contributions. However, ethical issues bordering on safety standards continue to plague the use of herbs, especially a high number of those sold on the streets without screening.

To be  continued.

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Church and The CAMA Controversy (2)

Charity Commission, the regulator of charities in England and Wales, in 2018, opened a statutory inquiry into the activities of Mountain of Fire and Miracles Ministries International owned by Dr. Daniel Olukoya.

A post by the commission on its website, partly read: “The Charity Commission, the independent regulator of charities in England and Wales, has opened a statutory inquiry into Mountain of Fire and Miracles Ministries International 1100416. The inquiry was opened on 27 March 2018.

“The charity’s objects include propagating Christianity through various channels including seminars and conventions, counseling programmes for the distressed, bereaved and the vulnerable, education through bible studies, evangelical training and teaching, as well as the publication and distribution of educational print and media.

“The charity has repeatedly failed to submit returns and financial information to the Commission on time and its accounts for 2014 and 2015 were qualified by its auditors. The Commission has been in active engagement with the trustees of the charity since September 2017 having been made aware of potentially significant losses to the charity. The Commission is concerned about the apparent failures within the administration and management of the charity which have resulted in an environment in which such losses could occur, and continued to occur over a prolonged period.

“The charity operates through a network of approximately 40 separate branches, which are allowed a degree of autonomy from the main charity in respect of administration and financial matters. However, the Commission has identified concerns as to the adequacy of the trustees’ oversight and control over the individual branches. The Commission also has concerns about the trustees’ failure to promptly report serious incidents to the Commission and to the police.”

The commission eventually suspended the church’s Board of Trustees led by Dr. Daniel Olukoya and appointed Adam Stephens of Smith & Williamson as Interim Manager.

 “Adam Stephens remains in post as Interim Manager of Mountain of Fire and Miracles Ministries International where his duties include reviewing the charity’s financial and governance processes, inspecting a number of the charity’s branches and their handling of serious incidents.

The General Overseer of Mountain of Fire and Miracles Ministries (MFM), Dr. Daniel Olukoya has denied any link to fraudulent activities allegedly involving the London branch of the church.

Olukoya, also, added that the seven allegations leveled against him and the MFM were without foundation, but intent to damage his reputation and destroy the global image of the church. He made these clarifications in a statement his media aide, Mr. Collins Edomaruse issued in response to the fraud allegations.

Olukoya said: “It has become pertinent for the purpose of clarity to respond to the false allegations being peddled against MFM and Olukoya in the social media particularly sponsored by SaharaReporters.”

He denied that he falsely “claimed residence of the US city of Maryland. Nothing can be further from the truth. Olukoya is a public figure nationally and internationally. His domicile is therefore a fact of public knowledge. The true position is that the pastor who wanted to register MFM in Maryland inserted Olukoya name without prior consultation with or knowledge of the G.O because he believed that Olukoya should be involved.

“But after he consulted a lawyer and received advice that a person’s name cannot be on the incorporation documents unless he is resident in Maryland, that registration was put in abeyance and allowed to lapse. The pastor is still alive and all the evidence is there for all to see at the Company Registry in Maryland,” the statement explained.

The UK Charity Commission also indicted the country’s branch of Christ Embassy and its board of trustees of alleged fraud following a five-year investigation into the church’s finances and administration.

The commission in a post on its website stated that inquiry concluded that there were serious misconduct and mismanagement in the church’s administration, inadequate recording of its decision-making processes and failure to comply with its grant-making policy.

The commission said it opened an inquiry into Christ Embassy to investigate issues ranging from transactions between the church and “partner organizations”, administration; governance and management of the charity; financial controls and management of the charity and if the trustees had complied with their responsibilities under the charity law.

The commission found out that the church, between 2009 and 2011, paid substantial grants to organizations classified as “partner organization”.

According to the report, the church’s account showed grants amounting to £1,281,666 were paid to Love World Television Ministry; £118,995 to Healing School, £186,616 to International School of Ministry, £10,000 to Christ Embassy Canada, £10,566 to Christ Embassy France, £37,216 to IPPC Conference and £77,266 to Rhapsody of Realities.

However, after examining the church’s records, the interim manager (IM) found no evidence of compliance with the church’s grant-making policy in the documents examined.

“Documents examined showed a lack of records and receipts to account for grants made and there appeared to be little consideration given to whether the receiving parties had expended grants appropriately and for intended purposes, as was required by the policy,” the report said.

The commission in its conclusion said: “In light of the findings and evidence of misconduct and/or mismanagement, the Inquiry exercised its legal powers under section 79(2) (a) of the Act to remove two of the trustees of the charity. However the trustees subject to regulatory action resigned prior to the Commission being able to complete the process. Section 79(5) and 82 of The Charities (Protection and Social Investment) Act 2016 has closed this loophole, thereby allowing the Commission to proceed to remove a charity trustee who has resigned following the Commission having given notice to the charity trustees of its intention to make a removal order. The law has since been amended so that resignations following the Commission issuing a notice of intention to remove a trustee would not prohibit the trustee’s removal and consequent disqualification from action as a trustee in the future.

Kingsway International Christian Centre (KICC) led by Pastor Matthew Ashimolowo, was caught in a similar web in 2009 when he filed company accounts, which revealed a £4.9 million profit over 18 months.

BBC News reports that, The Charity Commission launched its investigation in March 2002 after noticing an annual return stated £76,000 had been paid to trustees. It found that the board of trustees was comprised of Pastor Ashimolowo, his wife, two of his employees and two US-based trustees.

Most board meetings were attended by only the UK-based trustees, who, according to the report, “lacked independence from the senior pastor”. The report also found that hundreds of thousands of pounds had been transferred overseas, with little documentary evidence to explain how the money supported the charity’s objectives.

Responding to allegations of financial mismanagement, Pastor Ashimolowo said; “if you use £1.2 million to investigate a man and you couldn’t find fraud, then I’m proud to be black. I’m proud to be a Nigerian and I’m proud I’m blessed”.

He told the church that when the 30-month inquiry was rounded off in March, Charity Commission said they were satisfied that KICC had put in place a new structure, which would allow it to be run effectively.

Although Ashimolowo admitted that the church made a couple of mistakes in the way some transactions were conducted, he was quick to add that Charity Commission wrote an adverse report because, despite spending £1.2 million from KICC’s money, their inquiry did not achieve what might have been their original intention.

We understand the skepticism. Our experience with law and prosecution has been a mixed one. In more ways than one, we have seen rape of justice when government is a party. We have seen judges lower the standards to accommodate government excesses and we have seen government go against laid down process of obtaining justice.

But does religious freedom mean religious people get special rights? No. So what is behind the outrage? The church sees governmental assertions of authority through CAMA as unreasonable intrusions into the life of the church because it is a known fact that due process of law is a big problem in Nigeria.

Did government cross a line with CAMA? No. I believe the church needs the law. There’s need to ensure our churches have a structure. CAMA is not averse to the interest of the church, where there’s due process of law. CAMA will change the way churches operate if its implementation is not political. CAMA will improve transparency and accountability. CAMA will cause reorganization and revamp of church administration regarding income and expenditure, if pastors know there is a prying eye.

The legal thresholds required to lawfully undertake action against any church under CAMA is the reasonable ground to believe a misconduct or mismanagement has happened.

CAMA will inspire vigilance on the part of the church. More than ever, it is time for the church to do things decently and in order, as the Holy Scripture says. It seems odd that the church should be afraid of the government on this issue of CAMA.

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Expectations Of Bayelsans As New Dawn Beckons

On Friday, 14 February 2020, history was made in the oil-rich Bayelsa State, when Senator Douye Diri was sworn in as the fifth democratically elected governor of the state.

While the outgoing Governor Henry Seriake Dickson will enjoy the tag of being the longest serving governor under the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), who served eight years of two terms and handed over to his preferred candidate.

Diri’s emergence as governor, although shrouded in a controversial Supreme Court judgment, has opened a new vista for the state. The Supreme Court’s decision left many Bayelsans deflated and such that violent protests almost brought Yenagoa, the state capital, to a standstill.

A young state with enormous potential yet challenges due to maladministration and corruption, Diri has his task cut out for him on how to change the narrative of failure of past administrations. There are huge expectations from Bayelsans and other stakeholders given Diri’s antecedents as one of the founding fathers of one of the most vibrant youth organizations in Nigeria, Ijaw Youth Congress (IYC).

Bayelsa State has one of the lowest populations in the country. But in terms of revenue accruals from the Federation Account, it receives relatively large chunk of funds, including the 13 per cent due to its oil producing status. The state is richly endowed with the black gold. So, Diri will have no excuse if he failed to develop Bayelsa State.

One of the major challenges Diri would face and which he would need to tackle fast may come from his party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the state and the expected overbearing influence his predecessor, Mr. Henry Seriake Dickson, who foisted him on the people.

There is also the issue of settling the party’s faithful. Many will soon start jostling for the different positions and opportunities.

Bayelsa with eight local government areas, is perhaps the least developed among states created same year, economically and infrastructurally despite the huge accruals from the federal allocation. With high level of insecurity, epileptic power supply (even in the state capital in the last six years), hunger, poverty, cultism and other problems, Bayelsans first expectation from Diri, will be power supply. The lack of power supply has crippled the state’s economy as many businesses left the state in the last four years.

According to a human rights activist, Comrade Tabowei Oyintarila, the expectations from the incoming administration of Diri by Bayelsans are very high, “considering the huge gap between the needs of the people and what has been given to them so far”.

“There is no need crying over spilt milk, Diri should learn from the reactions of Bayelsans in the latter days of Dickson as governor. I have just gone to the Garrison Area of Port Harcourt to take a look at the flyover project ongoing there. Yesterday as I got into Port Harcourt, l saw same thing at Rumuokoro – a flyover. This is a testament to the fact that development is a continuum. In as much as Dickson has done his best, it isn’t good enough as the basic amenities such as light (power), water, functional health and educational facilities are still a far cry for Bayelsans”, Oyintarila said.

Re-echoing the advice of Oyintarila, a social commentator, Mr. Ernest Uzevie, said, “the expectations of Bayelsans from the incoming administration are very high. Let him fix electricity because light is life; let him tackle insecurity that has become a monster and a great source of worry to all. We want industrialization. Our great state needs to move away from her present civil service status”.

“Let him complete the 5-star hotel, which has become an embarrassment to the state. He should complete the Glory Drive from Igbogene down to Yenagoa, complete Bayelsa Palm Road, Isaac Boro Expressway, Opolo-Elebele Road, Yenagoa-Oporoma Road, and Sagbama-Ekeremor Road. Building of Agge Seaport, payment of student bursary, prompt payment of gratuity, development of the Bayelsa Palm that will generate billions of naira for the state, and provision of water and canalization of Epie Creek. These should also be some of his priorities if he must succeed and gain the people’s trust.”

Despite the huge investment in education by Dickson’s administration, the new governor still needs to do a lot more in this sector, especially as regards school enrollment in the rural communities. In most of the rural communities, school attendance in both primary and secondary schools ranks among the lowest in country as the previous government failed to do the needful.

Also, the quality of education needs improvement while school fees for higher education is beyond the reach of common Bayelsans. Diri needs to provide bursary for students in tertiary institutions and not the loan scheme Dickson introduced at the end of his tenure. Bayelsans are canvassing that this should be one of Diri’s priorities so as to help students who are not from rich homes acquire decent education.

Perhaps, one of the many “sins” of Dickson is his unfulfilled promise. He would be remembered as the governor with the highest number of initiated but unfinished infrastructural projects, including roads and many others.

Many businesses closed down in the state capital. As businesses closed for lack of patronage, families left the city with their businesses. Suddenly, houses became vacant leading to general inactivity in the economic sector.

In his second term, Dickson travelled around the world looking for foreign investors after shutting out local investors. Ironically, these investors came to a state capital that has no power supply with a high level of insecurity.

These investors simply left and never came back.

Dickson was a passionate governor who was desirous to work and provide basic infrastructure for the state. But he was consumed by his ambition, to be the ‘generalissimo’ of Bayelsa politics. Dickson and PDP nearly paid for this ambition but for the intervention of the Supreme Court.

Just like Oyintarila said, Diri should learn from the mistakes of Dickson and listen to the voice of the people and critical stakeholders and provide amenities for the state.

Notwithstanding the herculean task before him, Diri, the 60 years old Senator has rich credentials that put him in great stead to excel if political gladiators in the state allow him to work.

Before joining active politics, he taught in several government schools in the rural areas of old Rivers State and was the first National Organizing Secretary of Ijaw National Congress (INC). He was also the Executive Secretary, Centre for Youth Development in Bayelsa State between 2000 to 2002 and later Commissioner for Youth and Sports (2005-2006) before his appointment as Council member, University of Maiduguri (2008-2012). 

He was also the Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party’s (PDP) Disciplinary Council, Bayelsa State (2012). In 2012, when Dickson emerged as the governor of the state, he was appointed Deputy Chief of Staff, Government House in 2012, and then Principal Executive Secretary (2013-2014).

Diri won election to the House of Representatives to represent Kolokuma/Opokuma and Yenagoa Federal Constituency in 2015, and later a Senator representing Bayelsa West Senatorial District before he won the primaries of PDP, albeit in controversial circumstances. Besides all these, Diri has a good track record to his credit in terms administrative performance.

At his swearing-in ceremony, Diri was emphatic on the need for reconciliation and uniting all Bayelsans across political divides and called for calm and peace.

In an inauguration address, Diri declared that he would always work to achieve peace, love and prosperity for the people.

He described the swearing in day as “a day made by God and marvelous in the eye of the people of Bayelsa.

“I have been sworn in today as your new governor; my advice is that we have to be magnanimous in victory. We have to forget the bitterness, and the acrimony, because if we kill ourselves, who are we going to lead? Of course, we are not going to lead animals. I, therefore, bring to you message of love, hope and prosperity for Bayelsa. Let us eschew all the bitterness and acrimony and learn to love ourselves irrespective of political parties.”

Diri also declared that he would run an all-inclusive government, hence the need for the cooperation and support of all leaders of the state, including former President Goodluck Jonathan.

The new governor, urged the Minister of Petroleum Resources, Chief Timipre Sylva, APC governorship candidate in the last election, Chief David Lyon, and other opposition parties to join hands with him in building the state.

He also reemphasized the need for peace and reconciliation.

With the Supreme Court finally bringing the anxious moments of the judicial review to an end, the time is now for Governor Douye Diri to hit the ground running for Bayelsa to see fruitful actions.

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“Betting Requires Analytic Ability”

Bettors stake money or other items on a game of chance aiming to win a fortune. For those who are lucky, betting has offered them a means of surviving the harsh economic climate in the country.

The Vortex correspondent, Manasseh F. Paul-Worika speaks with Mr. Okon Edidiong an automobile engineer from Abak in Akwa Ibom State. Edidiong, on his experience with sports betting.

What’s your view on Sports betting?

I believe it’s a game of chance that offers individuals an opportunity to survive when times are hard. Beyond the game, betting is one way of providing an alternative means of income to people who have huge responsibilities with low income. It’s simply an investment like Forex trading and the likes.

How long have you been in the game?

 I started betting in 2015. It was with Nairabet but I never won so I decided to try other options I believed could favor me.

Which betting outfit is the best for you?

I’ve tried Nairabet, Winners Golden Bet and Access Bet. The best for me is Bet9ja. Bet9ja offers many options to choose from. It’s easier to win with Bet9ja because the options provided are so comfortable that one wouldn’t need to struggle to win. The bonus on winnings are enormous and attractive, reason you find people trooping in to Bet9ja shops anywhere they are located. Bet9ja is accessible and close to customers. In a street, for instance, you can find two or more Bet9ja shops strategically positioned to serve customers. And there’s no delay in paying a winning. Bet9ja wins it for me.

Have you won on any bet?

Severally! Most recent of my winning came two weeks ago when I won two slips #15,000 and #27,000 with just #200. I can’t count how many times I’ve emerged victorious but I know God has been on my side.

How has Betting helped you?

In July 2019, my house rent was due and I tried every way I could to raise the money #150,000. A week to the end of my quit notice, I got 5 correct predictions in my dream which I believe came from God. I woke up the next morning, wrote out the games and prediction and staked it with #300. I was praying in the shop that day when somebody told me that the last team in my ticket won their match. I was startled because I couldn’t believe that my fortune had adjusted. I won exactly #150,000 needed for my house rent and I was saved from that embarrassing situation. This is no story, it happened live. There were other times when business wasn’t working, I resorted in staking games and I emerged victorious. Betting has helped me in ways I can’t begin to expain.

Has it been always winning for you?

Like I said earlier, it’s a game of chance. There are uncertainties in the game. There are times I’ve lost heavily and fell sick as a result. I remember on one occasion, I lost a ticket worth #10million to just one match. I took ill for almost a month because I knew what that amount would have done for me, my business and family. It hasn’t been always winning; I’ve lost on several occasions too.

How do you manage gambling as a Christian?

I try as much as I can to create a limit and not let gambling affect my spiritual life and relationship with God. I can’t be in a bet shop when it’s time for church service or fellowship. I don’t place betting above God and that’s what has helped me. Each time I win, I pay my tithe, give offerings and contribute to church projects. I don’t use winnings for any illegal, immoral or fraudulent activity.

Effects of betting?

Everything has both good and bad side. I know it has the negative effect of being addictive, brain draining and depressing especially when you lose. Some persons even starve just to play a slip and that’s bad in all totality. We’ve heard of people who committed suicide because they lost a game. My advice to people has always been for them to take the game as fun and not a full time job.

How can you get the best from betting?

It isn’t difficult as it appears. It only requires a lot of brain work and analytical ability. To get the best, you have to be a high staker. It’s easier to win when you stake high. It’s only on few occasions you find low stakers win huge amounts. Sometimes I laugh when I see some people who want to win #20million with just #100. It is easier to win that amount with #5000 or #10,000. Some people have also been scammed by fraudulent individuals who promise “sure odds”. They pay these individuals who supply fake games after collecting huge amounts of money. To get the best, predict your games yourself, analyze team performance and stake high.

Betting as a source of Livelihood             

The worst thing anyone can do is to make betting a source of livelihood. It will bring frustration and depression. I’ve always advised people to take betting as a game of fun and chance and not as a source of livelihood.

On betting and criminal activities?

Most persons who would have engaged in social vices now put in time to forecast games and those who are lucky win. Predicting takes a lot of energy, brain work and time, and youths now channel their time into forecasting games than engage in criminal activities.

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Betting: A Mixture Of Fun And Risks

Various forms of betting, lotteries, pool, raffle draws, etc are simply forms of gambling as participants stake money or other valuables on a game of chance with the aim of winning a fortune.

A visit to a popular betting shop would reveal the diverse views on the subject. From a distance, one could see young men huddled over television screens and simultaneously scanning their phones hoping and praying for that “big break”.

Daily, Nigerians who want to get rich through betting shops wager their money in one form or the other, with the believe that such move would give them instant financial success.

The Vortex engaged some bettors and their responses were fascinating.

Mr. Alex Enezegile a sports enthusiast said betting is not a sin, but offers a source of livelihood.

He said, “The reason most people involved in sports betting is simply to cater for daily needs and an alternative source of livelihood. If some persons feel it’s a sin, I guess forex trading and other investment that promises high returns is sin too. Although, we know any habit that takes the place of God in our life is sin. If a person can regulate his betting habit then I see no reason why he or she should be called a sinner. Such person feels Bet9ja is the alternative source of making money to cater for daily needs. Las Las Bet9ja na investment!

Engineer Chinenye Douglas explained that although betting cannot be termed a sin, caution has to be taken to avoid getting addicted to it.

He said, “Everyone is entitled to his or her opinion. Betting is a game of chance. You forecast the outcome of an event based on past occurrences and results. If you’re right, you win, when your predictions are wrong you lose.

 “Forecasting and probability is applied in many disciplines like the financial sector by investors, etc. I don’t see why betting is different. I no steal money play am. It’s bad when one is addicted to it or sees it as a “god”. Idolatry is what is sin, not sports betting,” he stated.

Okon Edidiong explained that playing Bet9ja or Nairabet is not a sin but a means of livelihood, especially in the harsh economic climate of the country.

He said, “I dey play Bet9ja nobi today. I know how e don help me to settle some problems I face. See now, I just win 15,000. I be Christian and worker for my church sef. I never see wey Bible talk say to play na sin. As I dey this shop now, if rapture happen, I go follow God go. See as the country dey, no money anywhere, this one wey we dey take hold ourself naim people dey call sin. God go help us.”

When asked if sports betting affects his spiritual life, he said, “as I win this money now, I go pay my tithe, from here I go put offering and also give for any church project. This thing no dey affect my spiritual life. I no fit dey this shop when church service dey on, e no fit happen. Where e fit be sin na wen person place bet pass God.”

Edidiong went on to make a revelation of how he received an accurate bet prediction in a dream.

He said, “last year July, God give me some games as I been dey sleep. And na dat month my house rent expire. As I wake up, I rush come here play the game and I win N150,000 exactly the amount for my house rent.”

Branch manager of a betting shop in Port Harcourt, Philemon Okwa, explained that people should begin to appreciate the role sports betting plays in taking the attention of youths off criminal activities and giving people an alternative source of income.

He said, “The advent of bet9ja like every other betting platform is a welcome development. I see it as a means of helping unemployed youths. If you observe critically, you’ll see that most youths who engage in social vices like robbery, cultism etc have now diverted their attention to sports prediction and have so much hope they come out winners.”

When asked on possible negative effects of the game, he said, “Everything has both good and bad side. I know it has the negative effect of being addictive, because as a manager I’ve seen persons who would rather starve or borrow than miss playing a slip. My advice to people has always been for them to take the game as fun and not a full time job.”

Speaking with The Vortex, manager of a Nairabet shop in Port-Harcourt, Nkechi Joseph said that irrespective of what people think about sports betting, it is empowering many Nigerians, especially the youth and helping to curb crime among them.

She said, “The issue of unemployment cannot be over emphasized. Lots of youths are jobless and that has led to a high crime rate. Sports betting has drastically reduced the crime rate. Most persons who would have engaged in social vices now put in time to forecast games and those who are lucky win. Most people think forecasting is easy, but to predict 10 odds requires a high level of intelligence and brain work.”

A Koretbet agent, Benjamin Oghenetega said that sports betting offered him an opportunity of being his own boss.

He said, “I graduated from the university five years ago and was unable to get a job. One of my friends introduced me to KoretBet and even though I was reluctant initially, this is what I want to do with my life now. I’m a registered agent and I’m blessed to have several shops under me.”

Speaking further, he revealed that online betting has given succor to thousands of Nigerians, predicting that “many youths will find it difficult to survive if anything happens to these betting companies.”

Reverend Shadrach Bob-Manuel, in a chat with The Vortex explained that although the Bible does not explicitly mention gambling, money should not be wasted adding that excess money should be saved for future needs or given to the Lord’s work, not gambled away.

He said, “Many Christians wonder if sports betting is a sin and what the Bible has to say about it. While gambling, lotteries, and other today’s get rich quick games aren’t specifically mentioned within the Bible, God has still warned against the temptation. Often when people gamble, it is because they become addicted to the love of money. A simple game can become a sin when it takes over our minds and hearts and leads us down a road of never being satisfied.”

Rev. Bob-Manuel noted that when properly controlled, bets could have positive aspects, such as the provision of legitimate recreation, generation of funds for acceptable courses, and in some cases, the enhancement of local economies.

Irrespective of the view you have about sports betting, there seem to be an increase in sports betting outlets nationwide as a lot of people have considered it a means to survive the harsh economic conditions in Nigeria.

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Rebranding Nigeria’s Public School System

Behind dilapidated school buildings, gathered with my peers during leisure period, we ransacked heaps of broken chairs and desks like scavengers. In a school of over 1800 students, each student is responsible for his chair and table as the available ones are insufficient for the huge number of students. Like cavemen, we apply stone to rotten nails on damage school furniture, crafting chairs and tables on which to sit. The unlucky one would have to place placards and cartons on the floor when there are no more seats in a classroom where we sit jam-packed like sardines.

Under these terrible conditions, we acquired knowledge that scarcely managed to take root. No wonder mass failure appears inevitable in public schools. At the ring of the bell for close of school, we burst out of our various classes like convicts on prison break, excited that another day’s sentence is over.

Almost every child in public school in Nigeria faces these conditions. During the ‘’hands across the ears’’ days of education, passion burned in the eyes of the students. Seeing the benevolent red chalk mark on a child’s wooden slate brought immense joy to the hearts of their parents. The biggest accomplishment of every child then was to return home from school with that precious pass mark; knowing pretty well his good grade earns him or her praise from a father and a jolly plate of food from the mother. This past standard of Nigeria’s public school reflects the impact of the missionaries and the schools they established across the country. But the value and prestige of public schools has drastically declined; from the decrease in the quality of learning to the dwindling education budget.

One factor responsible for the deterioration of the country’s education sector is the inability of government at various levels to take responsibility for public schools. For instance, primary schools are rarely established by the Federal Government. The state government on the other hand, places more importance on accrediting private schools which they consider one of their major sources of revenue. Thus, the burden of public schools falls on the local government, who also offload this burden to host communities where these schools are situated.

Sadly, the Universal Basic Education suffers most from this negligence because primary education is in practice not fully controlled by Federal, State, or local government. Another factor hindering the efficacy of public schools is overpopulation. In a country where birth rate is higher than death rate, where majority live below poverty line, educating an average Nigerian child becomes a heavy task to his or her parents.

Despite an increase in the establishment of private schools across the country, due to their humongous fees, their addition cannot relieve public schools of over population. Subsequently, over-population, results to overuse of academic infrastructures and facilities. With resources scarcely given to public schools, learning become a matter of survival of the fittest. Students compete for facilities, compete for teachers’ attention, and compete for the usage of academic materials.

Only few can navigate this jungle for knowledge acquisition. The unfortunate students must repeat classes over and over again. After repeating a class for three consecutive years, they will be flushed out into the stream of out-of-school kids; resulting in more half-baked literates that constitute nuisance and tarnish the image of the country.

Under the recommendation of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), at least 15% to 20% of the nation’s budget should be allocated to the education sector which, positively impacts national development. However, our education sector has languished below 10% of the national budget for several years. We treat education like a stray dog waiting patiently for bones to drop from the rich man’s table. Thus, the poor budgeting gives birth to poor funding which educates poor citizens in poorly equipped schools across our poverty stricken communities.

Lack of dedicated teachers adds to the woes of public schools in Nigeria. As the saying goes, “a hungry man is an angry man.” You can’t expect productivity and good performance from a teacher who uses a belt to suppress his starvation. Teachers are poorly motivated; salaries are poor and so untimely that it is unsurprising for teachers to rally and wail into the ears of the government before getting paid.

According to research, in 2015, of the more than 1.7 million applications for university admission, less than 5% applied for courses in education. The teaching profession has become one of the most “rebuked” jobs in the country. Sadly, some of these teachers, who deserve favor, value, and respect, must do secondary menial jobs to make ends meet. So staff rooms are mini-markets where wares are paraded from desk to desk in what is best described as ‘’staff room hawking’’.

However, teachers should not be held responsible for the decadence among public school students. Charity begins at home. Thus, the first set of people to influence a child’s personality is the parents. Unfortunately, many children are victims of poor parenting. Some parents fail to engage their children to ensure they are raised morally and psychologically and they unleash their untrained wards to the school.

Truth is everyone, students, teachers, parents, and government, see education as a burden imposed on them rather than as the path towards a brighter future. Nothing keeps them motivated. Nothing fuels their synergy and nothing boosts their morale. They see no reason to embrace anymore. This is a great risk that must be addressed with urgency.

Government and other stakeholders must take responsibility and change the poor state of the educational sector. It should be noted that well- educated citizens foster national growth while the poorly educated will bring about national disaster. The effort should go beyond the current policy of registering professional teachers. Good as it is, what is required is total rebranding to make education worth the while from the primary to tertiary level and provide jobs thereafter.

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NAWOJ: Leading The Campaign Against Sexual Harassment

The plights of the womenfolk in many parts of the world especially in third world nations have continued to elicit concern. In every fora, seminar and talks-hops, issues relating to violence, marginalization and sexual harassment against women have always been on the front burner to drum support for women through awareness and sensitization campaign.

It was on this note that the United Nations General Assembly by its Resolution 48/104 of December 20, 1993 proclaimed an International Day to mark the struggle for the elimination of all forms of violence against women in the world.

The 2019 campaign for the elimination of violence against the female gender was marked in Nigeria on November 25, through organized seminars and workshop by many groups and organizations.

In Rivers State, the National Association of Women Journalists (NAWOJ) under the auspices of its National body and in collaboration with the Norwegian Union of Journalists organized a two-day workshop on “Gender Equity and Safety/Gender Sensitivity Reporting”, at the NUJ Press Centre in Port Harcourt, Rivers State.

The workshop featured two prominent and prolific women journalists, Hajuja Rafat Salani and Mrs. Veronica Ogbole from the national office of NAWOJ.

These women demonstrated capacity as they lectured and drilled the participants on various topics including combating sexual harassment in the work place, challenges in gender reporting in newsrooms and safety in the field gendering standard operating manuals.

The importance of the event was not lost on the stakeholders and participants who were all dressed in the beautifully designed NAWOJ T-Shirt outfits.

In attendance were the cream of stakeholders in the media and journalism profession including, the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Information and Communications, Pastor Paulinus Nsirim, Chairman, Rivers State House of Assembly Committee on Information and Training, Hon. Ememi Alabo George who was Special Guest of Honour, Mr. Chidi Okoroh as chairman of the occasion, former and current State Chairmen of NUJ, Mr. Opaka Dokubo and Stanley Job Stanley, and a Representative of the State Ministry of Women Affairs among others.

Setting the ball rolling, the chairperson of Rivers State Chapter of NAWOJ Chief, Mrs. Lillian Okonkwo said the workshop was organized to build the capacity of female journalists on issues affecting the female gender within and outside the work environment.

She said the training is to equip them to contend with challenges of the profession, stressing that they need such to be able to speak out on issues affecting them.

Chairman of the event, Chidi Okoroh commended the NAWOJ for the sensitization to expose their capacity to challenge the facts that militate against their progression and growth in the society.

Okoro regretted that gender biase has resulted in the relegation of women in the society, emphasizing that women are as equally capable as the menfolk.

However, the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Information and Communications, Pastor Paulinus Nsirim took the confrontational approach in his speech when he expressed disappointment that despite the various efforts of NAWOJ in advocating for the rights of the female gender, not much can be said to have been achieved by the Rivers chapter in its almost 30 years of existence.

The permanent secretary also regretted that NAWOJ has demonstrated clear weakness in projecting and sustaining burning social issues especially those affecting the state, stressing that NAWOJ should begin to celebrate men of honour who have initiated policies to promote the female gender in the state.

He said NAWOJ should publicly celebrate Governor Nyesom Wike who made it compulsory to have only women as deputy chairman of all the 23 local councils in the state.

Pastor Nsirim ended his address with a charge on the state NAWOJ to think sincerely and act.

Sharing his experiences with the womenfolk, Hon. Enemi Alabo George, said women including his mother had played prominent role in moulding his profile, adding that it is the women that take the greatest responsibility in the raising of children.

Hon. George charged the women to break barrirs rather than complaining of being held back by the men.

He called on NAWOJ to continue to expand the horizon though the strengthening of the capacities, adding that if they decide to take the lead, the men will willingly follow.

The Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Women Affairs, represented by Dr (Mrs.) Carmelita Agborubere, charged the women to eschew what she termed the sticking thinking attitude of always operating from the position of weakness, saying women should reinvent their identity and self esteem.

Former state chairman of Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Mr. Opaka Dokubo who enjoined women to use their population advantages to key into position of leadership rather than play second fiddle in the society.

Chairman of the state NUJ, Mr. Stanley Job Stanley, commended NAWOJ for the initiative describing the workshop as appropriate as it came at a time, issues of violence against women in the country is on the increase.

The success and impact of the workshop on the members of the association is obvious as it no doubt was timely and incisive. The issues raised during the workshop are no doubt sensitive as they touch on the peculiar circumstances which many of the women experience daily as media workers and home makers.

It is also important to commend the national office of NAWOJ for putting such programme together especially with the calibre of resource persons that handled discussions and practical demonstrations at the workshop. Kudos to Rivers NAWOJ and its leadership for the turn out and organization of the event. Yes, raise the capacity of the women and the nation will be better for it. More fluid to the pen that is mightier than the sword, as they always say.

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