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Dr Joe Obi-Njoku : Rising from the Grassroots

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Imagine him chopping wood with an axe.  Imagine him also shirtless, barefoot, a climbing robe “akpi” on his left shoulder and a machete in his right hand, dividing the bush and heading for the nearest palm tree to cut down the ripe fruits for sale, so he and his family could eat.

 

Imagine him again taking bamboos from the raffia palm and carefully weaving the traditional bamboo bed – “okpukpo,” (agada in some dialet)  also to make a living. Finally, see him riding an old bicycle from his home at Umueme, Uzagba, in Ikeduru local government, to Mbaise to go to college.

 

That’s the life of Dr Joe Obi-Njoku, as a young man, growing up, with eight siblings and a widowed mum. The man who now occupies the top office at the Ministry of Health was formerly a school teacher, then a medical doctor, local Government chairman and, now, Commissioner of Health. But that elevation didn’t come without much sweat.

 

To some people, he is a “nice and amiable man”. But to some others, especially those healthcare workers whose salaries have not been paid for over five months, he is  “wicked and selfish like all politicians.”

 

Either way, however, Dr Obi-Njoku has more friends than foes, admirers than critics, encouragers than detractor. For one, it doesn’t take aeons to see him at his big office, as most politicians and there is no fanfare around him. He is simple, unassuming and seemingly genuine. He looks like someone who has come to work as opposed to “come to steal,” like most of our politicians.  Although looks can deceive, the doctor’s community activities over the years and grassroots involvement are exemplary.  He lives in his community, runs a clinic there and helps resolve major conflicts.

 

“I have been in community service for long. I have one philosophy, creation is a design; not an accident.  Wherever you’re born is your place of primary assignment and whatever you do, you do there and that is where your achievements and activities will be best noticed and that is why since I graduated from the university, I’ve lived in my village. I have lived and served in that village,” said the father of six.

 

“Even as a medical doctor, I started my clinic there and I have maintained that clinic, not minding that I have a bigger clinic in Owerri, to make sure I meet up with the motto of the university where I was trained – knowledge for service. That’s the motto of the University of Benin. I live there to serve. I got involved with other activities of the community to keep up with development trends, helping to keep the peace, helping to lead the people to appreciate the values of society. In so doing, I ventured into politics – because once you are doing something and people are appreciating, they will say, ‘come and represent us’. That is how I came to what I am today.”

 

Today, he is a commissioner of health. As a medical practitioner and chief health scribe, he is evidently at home. But no one who goes to any hospital in Imo is likely going to clap for him, worse still if they visit the embattled Imo specialist Hospital at Umuguma, where Government seems to be playing Russian roulette with itself. Patients and staff of the Orlu Teaching Hospital are also not jumping up or clapping for the commissioner either.  Everybody is complaining.

 

Even so, the Commissioner and his government are barely two years on the job and could not be blamed for all the problems. Truly, they cannot be expected to clear up all the mess that has accumulated in the sector for years. Even if the Government builds a hospital everywhere it has built a hotel; the rescue mission would still not have worked enough miracles in two years to revive moribund institutions. But the people know when Government is working and when it’s talking.

 

The Commissioner insists that the rescue mission is doing a good job, however. It is building 27 new general hospitals and the old ones, too expensive to refurbish according to him, are being given out to private concerns.

 

“We have been doing our best. We are on a rescue mission, trying to make things better. Prior to our coming, the health sector was moribund. We’re building 27 new general hospitals in the state. We are building a diagnostic centre that will stop the capital flight in the name of medical tourism. The diagnostic centre will enable accurate diagnosis of diseases. It will have such equipment as MRI, CT scan, ultra sound, X-rays, mammography, which you need to make accurate diagnosis.

 

“The old hospitals are still there; they won’t meet the standards of health sector improvement we want. We want to make Imo the health care destination for Nigerians… the old ones are in such a deplorable state that it will mean a great loss of expenditure to bring them to the standard we want. We are not discontinuing them; we are concessioning them out to private management while the new ones will key into abroad ideas about health sector improvement,” he explained.

 

The Commissioner admitted that all is not well at the specialist hospital but it’s only for a time.

 

“We are putting the specialist hospital together and it will not mature overnight. It was moribund before but we are reactivating it. At least today, it is admitting patients. Yes, the nurses are being paid even though there is a backlog.  Regarding the collapsed facility, we have rehabilitated it. There was a wind storm that removed it but we have rehabilitated it – that’s a natural disaster,” he added.

 

The urologist insisted that the health care sector is a lot better today than before. I believe him but whether patients are seeing a change is a different kettle of fish.

 

“What we want to do is to make Imo a health care destination. For us to think like that means that we have a focus in mind. We are building this 27 general hospitals … we are building medical cold stores to ensure that everything that is required is in place. We are also going to build pharmaceutical warehouses to ensure that drugs that are brought here are wholesome. When these things come into effect, we are sure the health centre here will be second to none in this country,” the commissioner promised.

ARTICLES

Open Letter to Gov. Rochas Okorocha

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In a meeting of Retired Permanent Secretaries held on December, 2015, it was decided that the payment of only three months of pension to some pensioners by the Imo State Government be acknowledged. However, the arrears left to be paid vary from individual to individual as the minimum arrears yet to be paid is nine months. The government is therefore urged to pay the outstanding arrears immediately.

 

It is important to note that section 210 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended does not permit withholding of pensions for even one day unless in accordance with a law. Sub-section 2 of the said section stated clearly as follows:

“Any benefit to which a person is entitled in accordance with or under such law as is referred to in Sub-section (1) of this section shall not be withheld or altered to his disadvantage except to such extent as is permissible under any law including the code of Conduct”

 

Also in section 2 of the Pension Act which is the law under which civil servants are retired it stipulates that “there shall be charged on and paid out of the consolidated Revenue Fund of the (state) such sums of money as may from time to time be granted by (State) Government by way of pension and gratuity”.

 

It is on account of the above quoted statutes that pensions and gratuities are treated as the first charge on the State Consolidated Revenue Fund. They guarantee these entitlements of retired public servants; and that is why they take precedence over any other government expenditure.

Every Pensioner in Imo state expected the Governor to clear the back log of pension owed to them before the Christmas of 2015; but this did not happen.

 

Finally, it is unfortunate that several letters written to the Governor and requests for audience with him by the Association did not get any response. Since all these efforts and avenues explored to reach the Governor did not yield any positive fruit, the Association has no option than to address him by an open letter.

 

It is hoped that he will read this and act expeditiously to save the lives of these senior citizens.

 

We assure the Governor of our untainted loyalty to the State Government, and still request that he grants audience to the Association so that our collective expertise will be placed at the disposal of his administration for the benefit of Imo people.

 

Yours faithfully,

 

F.I. Agba

Secretary

Association of Retired Permanent Secretaries,

Owerri, Imo State.


 

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COMMENTARY

The Need To Establish Fire-fighting Volunteers Corps In Nigeria

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Fire out-break is a world-wide phenomenon. No nation, no State, no community is exempted. The resultant loss of life and property cannot therefore be totally eliminated. But the important thing is that they can be reduced. The purpose of this piece Is to invite attention to an aspect of combating fire out-breaks which is yet to be meaningfully undertaken in this country.

We must start by accepting that fire-fighting is too enormous and prevalent a societal challenge to be left only to Government fire services departments. That is why some forward looking countries have considered it a matter of crucial importance to enlist the assistance of their general citizenry to compliment Government effort in this matter. That aspect of assistance to Government fire services departments is in the area of human resources, that is by augmenting available career fire-fighting personnel with a corps of fire-fighting volunteers. This is the crux of this presentation.

A typical example is the United States of America which in spite of employing 350,000 career fire-fighters personnel, has organized and put in place over 800,000 fire-fighting volunteers. This is in realization of the fact that effective fire-fighting even in a fully developed country is not a matter of improved machinery only. The need for comparable human resources is equally critical

In our country Nigeria, major fire outbreaks evoke total reliance on the Federal or State fire service facilities which even at the best of times have difficulty in coping with normal challenges. We need to embrace the new approach demanding attitudinal change to tackle the problem.

The new approach is to accept right away the idea of establishing firefighting volunteers in this country, starting from major cities, towns, and key suburban areas. The virile manpower is there, most of which can be drawn from already existing organized bodies.

For example, personnel of the Nigerian Civil Defence Corps, Vigilante Groups, State Orientation Agencies, Members of Major Market Associations, and others can readily constitute the immediate source for the fire-fighting volunteers.

Fortunately also, there are serving and retired fire service officers who can be easily augmented with firefighting experts from oil companies, commercial and industrial establishments to be the pilot trainers.

Re-emphasizing the obvious is reminding ourselves that losses through fire worldwide are generally incalculable. Occurrences in the United States are mind-bugling. In China a deadly out-break killed more than 112 people in a poultry farm in June 2013.

Coming nearer home, 223 people died in fire incidents in Rivers State in 2011. Lagos State, without adding the most recent ones, lost 39billion naira to fire incidents in 2012.  In February 2014, Kara Market in Sokoto was reduced to ashes. In Ose Okwuodu market in Onitsha, goods valued 100million naira went as fire gutted 200.  In Umuisiedo market in Anambra State, 11 shops were razed in April 2014. Similar incidents of fire outrages have been occurring in virtually all other States.

Time and space make it difficult for this writer to outline here all the basic requirements like points for the enabling legislation, training modules, programming, and expected sources of support for the Firefighting Volunteers. These will be contributed as the proposal develops positively.

The important thing at this stage is to recognize the need, and for our governments at various levels to accept and facilitate the formation of fire-fighting volunteers properly prepared and motivated to join hands with the professional ones to respond quickly and efficiently whenever a fire occurs.

Now is the moment to start. Join in the crusade for positive reaction on this matter of Nigeria Fire-Fighters Volunteers Corps. It will turn out to be meaningful and exciting for all concerned.


Chief Nwozuzu wrote from Mbari Street, Ikenegbu Layout, Owerri.

 

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COMMENTARY

Revisiting Electricity Privatization

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Privatization! Privatization! Privatization! That was what Nigerians were told will solve the problems of power generation and electricity. Nigerians received this news of electricity privatization with much hope. They breathed a sigh of relief in hopes that “selling NEPA” and putting it into private hands would mean better electricity supply and better life for all Nigerians. Unfortunately, that has not happened and the country is still in darkness.

Electricity is not called power for nothing; it is, indeed, power and it is power that drives much of what we know, today, as development.  It is the discovery of electricity in Europe that sparked off industrial revolution and opened up new opportunities for the world. The industrial revolution in Europe is actually a revolution in Electricity / Power generation. Obviously, constant and adequate power supply is an important condition for industrialization, which is primarily what separates the so-called developed countries from the rest of the world.

Electricity is, indeed, power and this is what has eluded Nigeria these many years and stalled every attempt to rise to the challenge of industrialization and development.

When Nigerians thought they were getting close to acquiring “real power” through the privatization of the power sector initiated by the Jonathan administration, and that there will be light at the end of the long tunnel of darkness, what they got instead was shock, real shock! The long-awaited exercise which has gulped billions of Naira has not produced anything except more noise and higher electricity bills, without corresponding service. Even hopes that things would soon be better were dashed by the Jonathan government, on the eve of their departure, when the Minister of Power, Prof. Chinedu Nebo, seemingly threw up his hands and announced that “sabotage” was responsible for the problems in the sector. It should be recalled that the same minister at inauguration told Nigerians that “evil forces” were responsible for the problems and that he had the ability, as an Anglican cleric, to exorcise them, so we can have electricity. Apparently his exorcism failed, suggesting that much more than spiritual abracadabra was needed to make Nigeria work.

The question now is, can Buhari and his government save the nation? Can they successfully wrestle with the so-called “evil forces” or “saboteurs” and rescue Nigeria from chronic and embarrassing darkness, given the mess that has already been made in the privatization process?

The average Nigerian does not want to know who the investors were, who borrowed money from where or acquired NEPA assets. What they want is regular electricity like the rest of the world. They do not even want to know what is involved in the generation and distribution of gas, they leave that to the Federal Government. What they want is power, power to do what can be best done with regular electricity.   They are tired of paying bills for electricity they did not even see far more consume.

The issues and challenges may be huge but it is a shame that despite privatization, electricity generation has declined from what it used to be. If sabotage is, indeed, the problem, then the Federal Government should deal with it head-on. That is what Governments do. They should use every possible means to end the sabotage, in the interest of the nation. More so, they should revisit the privatization exercise to ensure that what it delivers is what it promises on paper.

It is obvious that inadequate power supply is at the heart of Nigeria’s industrial morass and much of its under-development. Our “generator economy” cannot sustain any meaningful industrial development. Buhari and his government must do everything possible to dispel the darkness that has enveloped this country for long. Only then can they open the door to real growth and development.


 

 

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