According to an old adage, ‘in every challenge there is an opportunity’. In crises situations the human mind is usually open to new thinking and new ways of doing things once thought impossible or too bold to imagine. The world has witnessed a spate of innovations on the back of the COVID-19 pandemic, which also brings another well-worn saying to mind, that ‘necessity is the mother of invention’.
The COVID-19 crisis has not only been disruptive, but has created a “big reset” as the rapid changes taking place will last for years to come.
In just a few months, the world has changed, with the advent of the pandemic, rendering humans, economies, social life weak and fragile in a ravaging wave of viral global attack.
However, the crises has also offered some vital lessons in human existence going forward; lessons which are a mixed bag of the good, the bad and the ugly.
For the good, the pandemic brought out the humanity in a whole lot of people, who hitherto may not have known they possess the milk of kindness, helping one another in a time of dire need. It also extended to nations, laying differences aside to come to the aid of others needing help. The pandemic showed that humanity can indeed stay in peace, with even warring nations, or warring factions within nations all sheathing their swords to face a common enemy with one resolve. Humanity seemed far more connected than ever before the crisis. Every single story has been that of courage, collaboration, and action.
The importance of savings was brought to the fore, especially for the rainy day, which COVID-19 happened to be. Nigerians lack a savings culture and more people were financially caught off-guard by the pandemic. Given the fact that in this part of the world, savings is observed more in the breach, it only made a bad situation worse.
With the lockdown of economic activities occasioned by the crises, though now gradually being relaxed globally, working online has become quite comely and profitable for a number of firms. Going digital has become imperative with several companies urgently doing a digital transformation; involving tools, norms, culture, and behaviors.
Remote work has become a ‘new normal’ with a number of companies adopting the novel way to work. It has also opened up the prospect of having physically challenged people, many of whom are wizards in their vocation, but who up until now were mostly found unfit for regular work employment by a host of firms, now a very viable option for employment, with the prospect of increased quality and work output.
Online learning is also becoming a convenient alternative for a number of schools, that are providing tutorials for pupils and students all over the world; a defining experience in education going forward. People have learnt how to use their phones for multiple functions, they most likely would not have cared to before the pandemic; with many already profiting therefrom.
COVID-19 exposed some chinks in our armor as a nation, with particular reference to the great despondency birthed by a lack of health infrastructure and capacity to deal with seen and unforeseen health crises. There is a global consensus that human, health, and safety issues are paramount. This has manifested in subtle ways during this pandemic, with the shaking of hands going extinct, social distancing in every circle of human endeavor, wearing of face masks, etc.,
Preventing diseases is better than having to try and cure them. The pandemic has forced us to think about our mortality more than at any other time. It reminds us how important certain health safety nets are, especially in dire circumstances.
People are forcibly faced with the fear of death, making the place of health one important lesson to be taken from all of these.
To have a well-designed and functioning health system demands a deliberate policy and effort. It requires a large amount of investment and long-term planning. In 2001, African leaders pledged to invest around 15% of their budgets in health. Sadly by 2020, only five countries have fulfilled this promise, excluding Nigeria.
Seeing how we reacted to the COVID-19 outbreak shows just how little prepared we were for this pandemic. This is why it is crucial to take seriously the need to begin working at a comprehensive health system in the country. This is not for the benefit of the poor masses but for the benefit of all, as lessons from COVID-19 have offered. The situation could have been different with some high-profile deaths in the country of the disease.
Africa’s poor pharmaceutical capacity has been a source of ridicule, especially by foreigners, and no better time to address this anomaly than now. Bangladesh, a poorer country than many African countries, produces 97% of the national demand for medicines, in contrast to Africa which is almost 100% dependent on imports.
Things just have to change. The health sector in Africa and Nigeria particularly, should be strengthened by COVID-19. This is a decision that can no longer be postponed.
Crisis response is another big lesson from the pandemic. Crises response is something that our country will have to urgently embrace going forward. The COVID-19 pandemic is a Black Swan for African nations, as it speaks to health and the economy.
Even when there was a willingness by some states and the Federal Government to provide palliatives to cushion the effects of the disease, the lack of a comprehensive data base, was inimical to the exercise.
A continent feared for the worst in the pandemic, Africa was still deprived access to COVID-19 essentials, given the excessive global demand, which relegated it to the back of the queue. This is an early warning and lesson for Africa. Nigeria as with a host of African nations, needs to have in place social protection systems to mitigate the suffering of the continent’s most disadvantaged, especially in times of crises .
Coming on the back of the pandemic was a crash in global oil prices, which made nonsense of the country’s budget, passed less than two months earlier, once again pointing to the important lesson of agriculture as the mainstay of the country’s economy.
According to The African Development Bank (AfDB), Africa will lose between $35 and $100 billion due to the fall in raw material prices caused by the pandemic, while the World Economic Forum (WEF) puts the continent’s global losses at $275 billion, which all show that Africa’s inequality gap will worsen in the coming years.
There will be layoffs, restructuring, and many difficult financial and human decisions ahead. Indeed, there will be many difficult decisions to make. But there must be plans in place for “things going wrong” as part of our everyday life going forward.
In the aftermath of the pandemic, the world’s social, economic and political resilience is surely going to be tested. Leaders will have to rethink many prior assumptions and find new balances for individual and collective behaviour.
As terrible as COVID-19 has been, we have to recognize that this may be the new normal. It may not be out of place to say that “Black Swan” events are here to stay, considering also the continuous looming impact of global warming and sea water rise, for example.
As a nation, we must be deliberately be geared in readiness for responses to other future threats that have equal or greater potential for disruption. The present pandemic provides us the opportunity to once again take a peek into the causes of our underdevelopment and come up with strategic and in-depth approaches to human development, digitalization, industrialization and economic diversification.
Needless to say that opportunities will also emerge, with innovative minds enervated to the challenges that we collectively face, if the will to move forward is mustered and sustained, with lessons learnt from COVID-19.
Enugu State Government and the Quest for Growth
…with a special focus on rural development and the execution of feasible policies)
Enugu State got recently recognized in the National news as one of the top six states of the Nigerian Federation surviving on its internally generated revenue. This news sparked off debates among people from resident citizens to political stakeholders and diaspora communities straddling the fence in either support or opposition
The management of funding in Nigerian states is an ongoing uphill task, as evidenced by the low number of 6 out of 36 states that survive without the monthly federal allocation and reflects a major achievement by the Enugu State government.
This feat is due to the combined efforts of the leaders who have shown consistency in pushing and prioritizing top policies that positively affect the state both in real-time and future long term.
Right from the inception of the fourth republic in Enugu State in 1999, Enugu continues to recover from the history of military-style administration and repression which has existed for over two decades. There have been noticeable improvements in the state’s administration that continues to date in the Ugwuanyi’s administration.
In Enugu State, Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi popularly addressed by the moniker, GburuGburu is the third democratically elected governor since 1999 who came into power in the 2015 general elections, after he defeated competitors to emerge as the winner.
He was sworn into power to succeed Governor Sullivan Chime on the 29th of May 2015 at the Michael Okpara Square, Enugu.
On resumption of duty, he instituted his cabinet and members of the current administration. Subsequently, they continue working to grow and build the state with a special focus on rural development and the execution of feasible policies.
In addressing the varied policies of the Enugu State government that strives to impact all the sectors of the state ranging from education, business, and security among others. From the court of public opinion, these policies rank on different levels of effectiveness with positive and negative responses. We explore the verifiable facts on ground.
Enugu State Policies
As earlier mentioned, the policies of the state government have been varied and cover most sectors of the state’s economy. The most important of these policies which are highlighted below are those that have positively impacted the standard of living and quality of life for Enugu State’s residents and indigenes.
One wonderful aspect of the democratic government since 1999 is its continuous focus on human capital development with the policies on:
The most important policy that shows governance focus is its provision of affordable and quality education for the children and youth populations. “Education is a weapon through which people can become better or fight subjugation” – Nelson Mandela.
The Enugu State Government is continually funding, expanding and improving access to quality education. By making basic education relatively free and affordable, the state literacy rate has risen to nearly 89%.
This was done by broadening the foundations set by past governments for public schools through the provision of over 50 new classrooms and the renovation of more than 150 old classrooms across several of the public schools scattered through the entire state.
Furthermore, the government of Ugwuanyi, in a bold and unprecedented move to close out competence gaps, also employed an additional 2000 teachers who were posted largely to rural areas.
The consistent payment of teachers’ salaries, building new classrooms, provision of numerous school supplies, students’ scholarships and staff training are among some of the ongoing measures been driven by the government to improve literary levels within just the Basic Education level. Complementary efforts in secondary, tertiary and adult education levels would be examined in the future.
- Business Development/Investment Attraction
The ease of doing business in Enugu is another aspect that has borne fruition due to efforts by the current administration. The Ugwuanyi led government has fully improved the available resources and facilities that help establish businesses. With Enugu State’s huge available workforce that allows interested parties to tap into available markets. For instance, ICT which holds more than 20% of the world market share and is currently the largest biggest sector worldwide has risen in Enugu with organizations like the Genesys Tech Hub and TechX Innovation Hub who have set up headquarters in the state to train skilled software developers and programmers with support from the government.
The government also established the SME center that connects young people and small-scale businesses to entrepreneurial opportunities. This center provides loans at minimal rates to small scale businesses and conducts training for skilled and unskilled participants interested in setting up businesses.
This focus on business drivers for the state is sure to yield positive results as these SME startups begin to set up, grow and expand in the future.
Moreover, there exists low, effective and transparent taxation, good security and accessible road networks that help boost businesses within the state.
Despite the set governance limitations in not getting directly involved in the establishment and running of industries, the Enugu government seems to have largely focused on creating a more secure and business-friendly environment to encourage private-sector investments.
- Skill Acquisition Programs/Youth Empowerment
Youth unemployment in Nigeria has reached crisis proportions and Enugu is also affected by this national issue. Although the resident youths are vibrant, skilled and intelligent, too many remain unemployed or under-employed and poses a challenge for the government. This crisis is being managed with targeted collaborative efforts to provide skill acquisition programs as well as offering business aid to young entrepreneurs. This is evidenced by the over 400 traders who are beneficiaries of the popular Ugwuanyi market traders’ initiative, promos and grants.
The health status in Nigeria is another area of national crisis and this has been brought to light with the ongoing COVID 19 pandemic. At the State level, Enugu is better suited in comparison to neighbouring states in the South East region in the management of health care with reports of coordinated efforts by the government in managing the pandemic.
Under primary and tertiary health care, there are over 360 primary health care centres, 35 cottage hospitals, several district hospitals, and this is topped with the State university teaching hospital, Parklane.
The current government has consolidated on the achievements of the past governments by building new clinics and hospitals alongside improving health infrastructures for existing ones.
The government continues to prioritize the health system of the state to meet the needs and demands of public healthcare which takes a huge chunk of the state’s funding and budget.
This support is further reflected through its offering of free antenatal care and treatment of children under 5 years and free treatment for special cases like HIV and Tuberculosis.
There are ongoing studies in academia on the impact of these health infrastructural developments in the health statistics of the state and these will likely be explored in the future.
“Good roads breed good development”. This oft-quoted phrase perfectly describes the status of roads within Enugu State. Considering the cost implications, yet building public roads is one major infrastructure that the state government continue to invest.
The efforts by the Ugwuanyi’s government in constructing roads that cover most parts of the state to connect rural and urban areas has been extensively extolled.
These roads have given the impacted rural communities a sense of belonging and pride in their state. With farming as the major occupation for most rural indigenes, the improved transportation routes ensure agricultural produce are less likely to perish. Thus food items are easily processed, effectively supplied and made accessible to the public at affordable market worthy prices without complications.
A cursory examination of the human interest perspectives will provide numerous anecdotal evidence as this focus on rural communities has strongly impacted the state’s agricultural industry growth.
The final aspect worthy of commendation is the management of security within the state. Across the years, successive governments have enacted policies and procedures that help boost the security levels in the state.
Recently, the government created the Enugu State Neighborhood Watch that works in tandem with community policing and this has reduced the crime rate in numerous communities.
Furthermore, with public outcry and complaints about herdsmen invasion of the state’s forests and farmlands, the Enugu State government created and continues to finance Forest Guards who help police the state’s lands and their efforts have helped immensely.
Also, the government set up channels of communication through the aid of community stakeholders to foster bonds among the Hausa and Fulani migrants where they encourage self-monitoring in these communities to help security agencies fish out deviants who try to threaten the peace.
Finally, the Ugwuanyi’s government has constantly provided automobiles such as cars and trucks from local suppliers like the Innoson Group for the state security agencies to aid their monitoring and safety measures.
Despite these highlighted good policies being driven by this administration, it is not without criticism.
As this administration focuses on improving Enugu State’s capacity, there are some decisions in need of execution to ensure consistent progress.
For instance, in their attempt to get effective government delivery to the people and manage public expectations, the state spends a large part of its funding in employing civil servants and managing political stakeholders. Too many people seem to be the government’s payroll.
Besides, constant acquisition of some non-essential items like cars for public convoys seems to take a toll on the state’s finances. The governor and other politicians need to reduce the number of cars in their convoys and stop buying more.
Lastly is the defensive way most of the government’s criticisms and decisions are handled. Too often, politicians with personal interests, who sometimes are in the same ruling party seem to constantly be on the attack.
Honest and constructive criticism is good for the development of the state, but malicious attacks without evidence seek to divide the state and create bad public opinion among the citizenry.
This distracts the people in government and can better be managed by sharing more stories, facts, figures and information of the collaborative efforts they take in reaching decisions that affect the public.
Adopting these suggestions will help all who are working towards the state’s peace, unity and development.
Edited by Ese Okereka
NDDC Acting MD, Daniel Pondei lists contracts allegedly paid for
Acting Managing Director of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Prof. Kemebradikumo Daniel Pondei, has listed some contracts the commission allegedly paid for under duress before its 2019 annual budget was approved.
Pondei who alleged that some lawmakers, especially members of adhoc Committees have held the Commission hostage over the years with the annual budget approval, also disclosed that they were arm-twisted to pay for some contracts that “were never done or sometimes, never completed.”
In a statement released by his Special Adviser on Media, Edgar Ebigoni, the contracts and benefiting firms were listed as follows;
Kith Global Ventures Ltd; Remedial Works at New Ogorode Roads Lot 3, at the cost of N493,684,169.00 and paid on the 17/03/2020, 301 Constr. Ltd; Remedial Works at Nja Road to Akoku Uno Lot 1, at the cost of N350,027,919.80 and paid on the 17/03/2020. Cracked Stone Constr. Ltd; Remedial Works at Ajaolubeti Road Environs Lot 2 at the cost of N394,010,952.10 and paid on the 17/03/2020. Collincrystal Energy Ltd; Emergency at Benin Township Road Lot 7, at the cost of N 431,053.035.20 and paid on the 17/03/2020. Collincrystal Energy Ltd; Emergency at Benin Township Road Lot 3, at the cost of N361,357,276.20 and paid on the 17/03/2020 and Grapik Ltd; Emergency at Umudee Internal Road, at the cost of N207,673,107.70 and paid the 17/03/2020.
Others were, Southland Constr. Ltd; Remedial Works at Umuduru Chukwu Umuorlu Road, at the cost of N518,409,089.30 and paid on paid on the17/03/2020. Southland Constr. Ltd; Remedial Works at Umuduru, at the cost of N519,949,949.10 and paid on the 17/03/2020.
Grandfox Global Services Ltd; Emergency at Ope Road Okigwe LGA, at the cost of N580,438,578.00 and paid on the 17/03/2020. Collincrystal Energy Ltd; Emergency at Benin Town Road Lot 6, at the cost of N348,853,184.60 and paid on the 7/03/2020 and Crism Constr. Building Ltd; Emergency at Eziama Osuama International Roads Isiala Mbano LGA, at the cost of N561,592,377.80 and paid on the17/03/2020.
Also paid were, Argento Ltd; Emergency at Benin Township Road Lot 4, at the cost of N382,805,411.60 and paid on the 18/03/2020. Two Rocks Cont. Ltd; Remedial Works at New Ogorode Road Lot 4, N500,875,848.00 and paid on the 18/03/2020. Elkan Zibson Ltd; Emergency Repairs of failed and unmotorable sections of Ezumoha Internal Roads Isiala Mbano LGA, at the cost of N531,150,414.29 and paid on the 19/03/2020. Cracked Stone Constr. Ltd; Remedial works on Failed and Unmotorable sections of Benin Township Road Lot 8, at the cost of N417,806,787.01 and paid on the 19/03/2020. PDH Global Logistics Ltd; Emergency Repairs of Failed and Unmotorable sections of Umuezuo Umuagbavu Road Remedy Failed and unmotorable sections of Chikwe Orlu Street Environment, at the cost of N543,247,587.35 and paid on the 20/03/2020. Aritel Oil and Gas; Remedy Failed and Motorable sections of Chikwe Orlu Street Environment, at the cost of N550,100,132.34 and paid on the 24/03/202.
Dis Concept and Solutions Ltd; Urgently Remedy Failed and Un motorable sections of Jessy and Jenny Road off peter Odily Road PHC, at the cost of N476,794,367.22 and paid on the 26/03/2020. Ogugo Concept and Solutions Ltd; Emergency Repairs of Failed and Unmotorable sections of Environs Yenagoa LGA, at the cost of N300,029,695.14 and paid on the 26/03/2020. Webster Global ventures Ltd; Instruction of emergency Repairs of failed and unmotorable sections Benin Township Road Lot 2 Oredo LGA, at the cost of N357,242,054.35 and paid on the 26/03/2020. Webster Global ventures Ltd; Remedial Works of Failed and unmotorable sections of Akuku Illah Road Oshimili North LGA, at the cost of N 463,489,890.13 and paid on the 26/03/2020 and Webster Global ventures Ltd; Remedial Works of failed and Unmotorable sections of New Ogorode Road Lot2 Sapele LGA, at the cost of N 466,416,380.71 and paid on the 26/03/2020.
The statement added;
“This blackmail scheme explains why the 2019 Budget of the NDDC was passed by the NASS Committee in March, 2020”, adding that, “we are talking about a budget that was billed to expire in May, 2020. This implication is that the management of the NDDC had only five weeks, to implement the budget of one fiscal year, and present a performance report on the same budget.
“This scheme has continued to play out, because as at this Month of August 2020, the budget of the NDDC for the 2020 fiscal year has not been passed by the Joint National Assembly Committee on NDDC. Sadly, nobody seems to care to ask questions because people are falling for the well-scripted smokescreen playing out in the two Chambers of the National Assembly.
“This document, is among the many others tendered before the NASS Committee, which never saw the light of the day, and which the NDDC Committee were never allowed to speak on, when they eventually appeared before the Committee, during the public hearing. It was based on this evidential claim that the IMC of NDDC staged a walk-out, on the first day they were to testify before the Committee.
“The details of this list can be verified from the Central Bank of Nigeria, through a Freedom Of Information (FOI) request.
“Indeed, the same allegation informed the reason all well-meaning Nigerians urged the Committee Chairman, Hon. Tunji-Ojo to recuse himself from the Chairmanship of that hearing. This is in keeping with the Nemo judex in causa sua, which is a Latin phrase that upholds the principle of natural justice that no one can judge a case in which they have an interest”.
“It is very unfortunate that against all objective appeals and moral persuasions, Hon. Olubunmi Tunji-Ojo, alongside some other accused members of the House Committee on NDDC, proceeded to hold a public hearing, which was initially slated for two days, being the 15th and 16th of July 2020, but which effectively ran till 20th of the month, only for him to decide, at his own pace and time, to recuse himself from the hearing, on the last day, an action which cast a dark shade on the entire public.
“This is because, the same reason for which he recused himself on the last day was enough for him to steer clear from the matter, ab initio. The foregoing points to a clear fact that the Committee set out to do a bidding, that was never in the interest of the public. They obviously needed a public hearing to tell the public what they wanted the public to hear, rather than the facts of the matter.
“The Spokesperson the House of Representatives, Hon. Benjamin Kalu, on a National Television Programme, recently, admitted publicly, that Contractors often approached Chairmen of the House Committees and the members, to use their office to compel MDAs to pay them. This definitely should be the new height of the abuse of the oath of office they swore, not to allow their personal interest interfere with the discharge of their official duties.
“Recall that since these allegations were first made by the Acting Executive Director, Projects, Dr. Cairo Ojougboh on National Television, Hon. Olubumni Tunji-Ojo has not deemed it fit to discountenance the allegations by way of a law suit”.
DRC gets $7.5m additional US aid to combat Ebola
The United States, through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), is providing more than $7.5 million in additional humanitarian assistance to help end the 11th outbreak of Ebola in Équateur Province in Northwestern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The funding also will support Ebola survivors and maintain a rapid-response capacity in Eastern DRC, where the DRC’s 10th outbreak, also the second-largest outbreak of the disease in history was declared over in June 2020. The U.S. Government remains the DRC’s principal partner in countering Ebola: USAID has provided nearly $350 million since August 2018, including for preparedness and response activities in the DRC and neighboring countries. The funding announced today is in addition to contributions from other U.S. Departments and Agencies and the U.S. private sector.
Through USAID’s NGO and UN partners on the ground, the United States is scaling up to providing life-saving assistance in Northwestern DRC’s Équateur Province, where a new outbreak of Ebola was declared on June 1. This assistance includes support for the deployment of rapid-response teams to remote areas, surveillance for cases of the disease, and treatment facilities. Additionally, this assistance will help survivors facing stigmatization, as well as fund continued engagement with communities on prevention and post-outbreak training on safe and dignified burials.
The U.S. Government is the largest-single bilateral donor to the response to Ebola in the DRC. U.S. support and expertise played a major role in helping the Government of the DRC and its partners bring an end to Ebola outbreaks across the country, including the recent epidemic in South Kivu and Ituri Provinces. USAID’s Disaster-Assistance Response Team, made up of disaster and health experts, continues to work with the U.S. Embassy in Kinshasa, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, humanitarian partners, and the Government of the DRC to help contain the latest outbreak and bring it under control.
Stopping the spread of Ebola requires a concerted, unified effort from the international community – all in close partnership with the Government of the DRC and affected local populations. USAID strongly encourages other donors to provide additional financial and technical support to help end the outbreak in Équateur Province.
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