All posts by Ahmad Salkida

In Search Of Role Models, By Ahmad Salkida

Ahmad Salkida

As my parents would say; when they were growing up and getting married in the 60′s, they revered great leaders and wished that their children would grow up to emulate these leaders. They proudly recalled Nigeria’s past heroes as if ‘they once walked on water’.

The Sardauna of Sokoto, Tafawa Balewa, the Nnamdi Azikiwe and their likes were wonderful role models. Our parents looked up to them, and so do we today because of their accomplishments. These leaders, it would appear, placed the needs of their subjects ahead of theirs and made selfless sacrifices their ethos in public service.

Great thinkers like Aristotle believes that we learn to be moral (virtuous) by modeling the behavior of moral people, and depending on the role models we have, people can learn both good and bad habits.

Today, many Nigerians feel betrayed whenever our leaders stand on podiums to extol the excellent work of our heroes past. At the funeral of late Chinua Achebe, Nigeria’s literary icon, the follies of our leaders played out glaringly when President Goodluck Jonathan recounted reading ‘Things Fall Apart’ in 1971. Many in the audience that evening felt the President did not learn any lessons from the book.

And so, for me and numerous other countrymen, the question rings profoundly: Who are the role models in Nigeria’s contemporary political leadership? There’s hardly any voice that speaks hope. Both from the camps of those occupying the various Government Houses today and the ones in opposition you routinely receive in different decibels the voices of deceit. There’s nothing in the open pointing towards affordable housing, healthcare, quality education, electricity, and access to potable water.

Steadily, it has been more of those that uphold ethical precepts that are routinely losing out and those with dubious characters are heavily on the ascendancy. Merit and hard work are hardly any qualification for elevation in any field of endeavour. Instead, nepotism and crass political patronage are the rule.

Journalism that ought to be the ground of cultivated values is up to the dogs, sadly. This is the case in many spheres of our public life, where many that decided not to thread the path of corrupt and retrogressive leaders, and chose to adhere to the highest ethical conducts are silenced and hounded into submission or passivity. I have asked myself who among today’s rulers could inspire and not despair. Who could be a leader and not be a dealer? Who could be a real refreshing breath of fresh air, not a grandstanding, dubious claimant? I can only think of one or maybe two but I couldn’t think of a third person in a country with over 160 million people.

Although, a role model can vary from one person to another however my focus here is; are today’s leaders as selfless and committed to the overall good of Nigeria like what we see in some of the names mentioned here? Why is the disconnect between today’s leaders and their followers so wide that they have to protect themselves with armoured vehicles and heavily armed guards? Can a leader serve without accumulating questionable wealth for himself and for his family?

Can we have a Madiba in Nigeria whose mission in governance was not the institutionalization of self, who served a single term and stepped down without being heckled? Who left power willingly for the younger generation of South Africans at a time he could command a landslide win in any national election?

There was something about most of Nigeria and Africa’s founding fathers that made them very special. They led by example, raised the bar for us and we wished to be like them. But today, I doubt if I want my children to be like any of the Governors or Presidents that emerge today.

A look at one of my favorite pictures of our founding fathers, the picture of Nigeria’s Prime Minister, Tafawa Balewa with his two children eating sugarcane in his farm. He sat on the mat with very modest clothes during a vacation in 1963. Such modesty was glaring when these leaders were found to have near empty bank accounts when they were killed in 1966.

Can our local council chairmen today live a modest lifestyle? Today’s leaders at all levels of governance in Nigeria are in a race to have the fattest foreign bank accounts, the most palatial mansions, who will be treated in the best hospitals in the world when they or members of their families fall sick.

Today’s leaders or ‘bad’ role models have no compunction with the way they globetrot with their private jets amidst the squalor and indignation of the people they claim to be working for. Apart from the general despair of any likelihood that things will ever change for the better in our lifetime, the generality of Nigerians have not witness practical dividends of democracy other than the strange cute scorecards that are published regularly.

Today, the absence of role models has made it practically difficult for our traditional rulers, religious leaders, elders, or political leaders to ask restive or irate youths to rest their fists and shun violence. Many youths will say “we have never seen your kids in the schools we attended, under trees, with no instructional manuals, no teachers, where we have to stay at home many times due to strikes”.
Many youths will say; “how can they stop violence when in fact, it was you, politicians that provided them with money to buy hard drugs, money for training, provided them with weapons and charms to kill or intimidate people especially their opponents for them to win elections”.

Today’s political elites erect  high parameter fences around their houses, build private boreholes while the community in which they live is bereft of any public amenity. These rulers siphon the resources meant to build hospitals, roads and schools to support the industrialization drive and real estates of many developed countries and invest heavily in their companies and banks, while our industries that can provide jobs to teeming youths are in ruins. Nigeria is indeed, in need of role models.

Salkida writes from the United Arab Emirate and can be reached at: salkida@gmail.com / @contactSalkida

Phone-for-farmers slides into new controversies, By Ahmad Salkida

Ahmad Salkida

Ahmad-Salkida-photoLast December, Ibukun Odusote, Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, saw a need to let Nigerians know what impressive work her ministry was doing. She disclosed that they were in the process of procuring some 10 million mobile phones worth about N60 billion from China and the US for free distribution to rural farmers across the country.

According to Mrs. Odusote, the funds had already been appropriated with distribution expected to take off first quarter of 2013. She pointed that the plan was part of the e-wallet project under which her ministry planned to educate, inform and communicate with the farmers in the rural areas on the latest and best agricultural practices, as well as the current prices of commodities in the market.

To the ears of the technocrats, Mrs. Odusote’s words sounded like music. But to Nigerians, long-accustomed to being ruled by a thieving, wasteful class, this was a further evidence to confirm their fears. There was a national outcry on all media platforms regarding the size of the appropriation, and the purpose for which it is budgeted.

Sensing that could potentially backfire, the Minister of Agriculture, Akinwunmi Adeshina, hastily took the podium, and argued that the agricultural transformation agenda was carried out with the aim of connecting farmers to information, expanding their access to markets, improving their access to savings and loans, and helping them adapt to climate change dynamics affecting them and their livelihoods.

With its hand most likely forced by the criticism, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development eventually released more details about the project. Initial reports had indicated that the government planned to spend NGN60 billion (US$381 million) to buy phones and distribute them to farmers; but the minister in charge has since stated that there will be no direct procurement of phones by the federal government and that there is “no NGN60 billion anywhere to be used to buy cell phones.”

According to the minister, farmers will acquire mobile phones through network operators in their locality, paying for the devices with vouchers issued by the government. Mr. Adesina did not state how much value in monetary terms could be placed on the vouchers that government would issue to the estimated 10 million farmers. The authorities say they will work in partnership with mobile operators, which will sell the devices through their retail outlets. Once a farmer buys a phone and a SIM card, an e-wallet account will be opened through which he can receive vouchers to buy fertilizers, seeds at subsidized rates and access certain information.

The Minister’s explanations sounded better thought-out than the initial press reports of random distribution of free mobile phones to farmers, but the details failed to altogether wipe out the public misgivings on the project. The initiative seems not targeted at benefiting the already funded federal government rural development projects. For example, the Nigerian Communications Commission runs the Universal Service Provision Fund, which is dedicated to improving information and communications technology in underserved areas, including rural zones, yet at the time the project was conceived, it appears, there was no interface between the two offices.

Strangely, inquiries at the ministry over the procurement process have revealed little information. Officials at the procurement unit of the ministry are not involved in any part of the process. In fact, an official who spoke here on condition of anonymity said that “the whole thing is between the minister’s office and the Presidency. It is actually called presidential project” and at such, procurement processes are never followed. This is part of why the public procurement statute was enacted to ensure that all public procurement processes followed clear and transparent steps.

Beyond the zero public procurement process attributable to this “phone-for-farmers” controversy, the Public and Private Development Centre, (PPDC) that monitors adherence, or lack of it, in procurements made by government agencies, has found out that a swirl of additional controversy is building dramatically around the project. Two other public agencies have literally drawn a line in the sand over the project. The Federal ministries of Women Affairs as well as Communications have petitioned the Presidency over the implementation of the project. In effect, the project is bedeviled by official intrigues and power-play.

The Communication ministry has argued that irrespective of who the target beneficiaries of the project are, they consider themselves better equipped technically to implement the project and bring value to the end users. On its part, the Women Affairs ministry has raised issues with focus on the number of women targeted to benefit. Not only, according to findings by our investigation, is the Women Affairs contending for a size able percentage of beneficiaries to be of the womenfolk, officials of the ministry argue in their petition to the Presidency that they are the only ministry capable of ensuring that justice on this matter was meted out to the womenfolk.

Our inquiries suggest that the Women Affairs ministry may have obtained the valuable listening ears of the wife of the President, Patience Jonathan, making further progress by the Agriculture ministry nearly unattainable.

A 2007 World Bank report on developing countries including Nigeria, seems to have strengthened the argument in favour of the project along the lines developed by the Federal Ministry of Agriculture. The report affirms that most small-scale farming systems in the third world would be much more productive and profitable than they presently are if they obtain access to inputs and credit as well as the ability to bear risks. It concludes that access to information was key for farmers to overcoming their unproductive status.

Irrespective of which of the ministries gets the final Presidential nod to handle the project implementation, it has become obvious that the project will not benefit from any transparent public procurement process. The traditional procurement units in these ministries seem ill-equipped. Nor do they have the requisite political clout to subject to scrutiny and question a project over which the serving minister had endorsed as being central in the President’s transformation Agenda.

Several organizations have requested from the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development copies of procurement records with regards to the ministry’s procurement process under the GES Scheme. Documents made available to this writer showed a duly acknowledged request for information was made using the combined provisions of the Public Procurement Act, 2007 and the Freedom of Information Act, 2011 on the 21st of January, 2013 PPDC. As of date, the PPDC is yet to receive a response from the Ministry which is a clear contravention of the provisions of the FOI Act.

For Mr. Adesina, farming is becoming a more time-critical and information-intense business. A push towards higher productivity will require an information-based decision-making agricultural system. Farmers must get information at the right time and place. Research in Sri Lanka recently found that the cost of information, from planting decision to selling at the wholesale market, can make up to 11% of total production costs.

An official of the ministry, in agreeing with the minister’s understanding of agriculture as a business, puts the farming cycle – and the use of mobile applications in agriculture – into a broader perspective and adopts a view of agricultural activities within their entire economic, social and institutional environment. It tries to understand existing initiatives and experiences as well as the potential of mobile technologies to foster the productivity and performance of individual farmers, of the agro-food value chain including its supporting services, and the agricultural sector as a whole.

However, Nkem Ilo, the team leader at PPDC, it is not entirely so much of technological application as it is about the evident “secrecy” surrounding the process. She argues that even the absence of commodity stock market in Nigeria makes the tracking of process to productivity as well as profit untenable and therefore bound to fall short on goals achievement. She argues that countries that have successfully placed climate change and food security within their policy purview in agricultural initiatives have tended to be more successful, indicating an inclination towards a ‘bottom-up’ approach rather than ‘top-bottom’ approach indicative of this policy.

Dr. Bukar Usman of Srilgroup limited, an agricultural company based in northeastern Nigeria, sees the ‘phone for farmers scheme’ differently, agreeing with the minister that ‘it is the next best thing for farmers in Nigeria’. “It is no doubt a brilliant step to transform agriculture in the country to compete with oil revenue but my fear is the initiative seeks to address the problem of agriculture from the top to bottom instead of from bottom to the top. They also need to eliminate corruption, build infrastructure, create enabling environment for grassroots farmers in Nigeria to compete with their counterparts in developed countries”.

For Mrs. Nkem, people should not lose sight of cost and sustainability of the project. “Averagely, it will cost the Ministry at least 70 kobo per SMS and when you multiply that to 10 million farmers it gives you N700 million for only a batch of SMS. The average months for the raining season in Nigeria is 6 months, a time the farmers may require frequent information flow, at least, twice a week. This will give us a minimum of N33.6billion”.

Salkida is an independent investigative journalist. He can be reached at salkida@gmail.com and on twitter – @contactSalkida

24 Boko Haram members killed by self-instigated attack, JTF

Boko_Haram_JTF_916319224

Several explosives and gun battle, on Monday evening, against security operatives in Borno State, by Boko Haram insurgents, led to the death of 24 insurgents, the Joint Task Force has said.

The spokesperson of the Joint Task Force, JTF, in Maiduguri, Sagir Musa, stated this in a statement on Tuesday.

“Boko Haram terrorists launched attacks with rocket propelled grenades, improvised explosive devices and gun fire at different locations of JTF in Zannari ward and Lagos street along Gwange general area” Mr. Musa said.

He said “the attackers used civilian residences, and homes as launching areas for the attacks at different times of the night of monday 15th october, 2012″.

Mr. Musa said all the attacks were repelled by security forces, and “24 Boko Haram members were killed,” while “there was no civilian casualty, but one soldier was wounded.”

However, some residents of Maiduguri said many residents took their loved ones to the hospitals with several gunshot wounds after the attack; while the Gwange cemetery was unusually busy, Tuesday, as many residents prefer to quietly bury their dead than report to the authorities who often deny them the corpses of their loved ones.

A staff of the University of Maiduguri Teaching Hospital claimed that when he arrived for duty, Tuesday morning, he saw corpses of uniformed men and civilians. He however could not give a specific number of the dead and the wounded. Another resident claimed that at least 20 civilians were killed in the encounter.

Ammunition recovered

Mr. Musa also said various arms and ammunition were recovered after the encounter. The recovered items include: “1xRPG tube, 4 RPG charges, 1 General Purpose Machine Gun, 7 AK 47 rifles, 1 FNC rifle, 24 assorted empty magazines, 950 assorted ammunitions, 2 pistols, large quantity  of assorted IED materials and several bows, arrows and cutlasses.”

He said things have returned to normal in Maiduguri, since the early hours of Tuesday, as people were seen going about their normal businesses.

Mr. Musa, however, warned residents of Borno to “desist from allowing their homes to be used as launching pads for attacks on troops and civilians as such action would be dealt with appropriately.”

Yobe’s ecological sanctuary dies as climate change chases birds away

Yobe_State_map

It is late October 2008, in the remote, rusty and rural Dagona, in Bade local government area of Yobe State, north-east Nigeria. The Dagona waterfowl’s sanctuary is luxuriant. The sky is clear, and the clouds float mapping some enchanting artistic imprints on the celestial canvas. Nature is loudly expressive as seen in the vast ecological splendor. It is a season of visitation by large colonies of colorful, beautiful amazing birds

The presence of the birds spreads a unique pull on this wetland, further enriching the already beautiful scenery and elegantly underlining the rare tourist attraction to this incredible location.It is exactly four years now and the elements have dramatically changed. Yobe state is troubled and held captive by visceral violence and terror. So also is Yobe’s only ecological sanctuary.In the last few years, the villagers have been concerned about the drought that has turned water and wetlands into sand and dust. The drought is drying up the wetland vegetation with incredible speed. The local birds have become scarce.

“We observed the migrant have stopped coming in greater numbers,”  Musa Dagona, a local farmer in the area, said.

This year, the inhabitants prayed for rainfall, but the rain came with floods and destroyed houses, farmlands and killed many people. The flood also washed away most of the rich ecosystem on its part, including bird nest, eggs and small animals.

“When what the habitats migratory birds depend on are disappearing, they will look for other options where the ecosystem is rich,” said Mohammed Abba, a professor of climatology at the University of Maiduguri.

The village head of Dagona, Abubakar Gambo, recounted the rich environment where he grew up during the colonial era. Mr. Dagona said it was after a hunter caught a large bird with his hunting gear, which had an inscription, Queen of England, that the villagers began to appreciate the eco-spectacular values of their environment.

A flip at the visitor’s book to the wetlands illustrated the potentials of the Chad Basin National Park as a world class ecological splendor that can attract revenue for growth and development.

The book bore the names of Prince Bernhard of Netherlands who was at Dagona in 1987, to Prince Philips, in 1989, and Prince Charles and late Princes Diana in 1990 and many other prominent visitors, tourists and researchers.

The migratory birds are as diverse as the guests and tourists to the wetlands. Birds leave the winters in Israel, Italy, Germany, Netherlands, England,  and North America to spend months in the primitive village of Dagona.

One of the fastest migrant birds mostly found in the Yobe wetlands and was in great numbers in the past is the Golden Plover. It is now scarcely sighted. A golden plover makes 150 – 200 kilometres per hour in flight

The grim reality of climate change…

The ecosystem in Dagona and many Fadamas in Yobe state is said to play host to a large variety of food for birds. These foods include insects, fish and other aquatic creatures. And each year, between October/November to March, the environment receives these visitors.

“But now I am worried, even a child knows that all is not well with our environment,” Mr. Gambo said. “The land is sterile and most of the vegetation have gone.”

The Director General of the Nigeria Emergency Management Agency, NEMA, Muhammad Sani-Sidi, during a visit to the wetland districts said, “We are now living witnesses to the reality of climate change and global warming where areas considered as dry savannah are daily witnessing excessive torrential rainfall.”

This year, heavy rainfalls have caused havoc across  Nigeria. “The inevitability of changes occurring due to climate change is now a well-established reality,” Mr. Muhammed says.

For these migrant birds, increasing temperatures disrupt their annual migration rhythm. A lot of the birds change their routes, shorten or completely cancel their journey as a result of changing temperatures.

Even the villagers that are not scientists observe that the local and migrant birds that always formed an incalculable horde at the last quarter of the year and the first quarter of each year, have been reduced to sets of thin clusters.

During this trip, PREMIUM TIMES reporter found that many parts of the Bade-Nguru wetlands are submerged by flood waters. The few places with low volume of water have been overgrown with grass. Therefore, it is likely that when the visiting birds come, they will not find food.

“Only the few local birds that are familiar with the environment can feed,” said a consultant to the National Park Service, Maiduguri, George Stopfords.

Two traditional rulers, the Emir of Nguru, Mustafha Jari, and the Emir of Gashua, Abubakar Suleiman, while welcoming officials of NEMA to their respective palaces in the wetlands during a recent duty tour, stated that the torrential rain in the areas is unprecedented. Mr. Jari said over 4000 households were affected in two towns as they recorded several deaths.

Many expert accounts predict that with the floods in many parts of the world and unpredictable weather patterns, interruption of bird migration is imminent. A flight of hundreds or thousands of miles from Israel to the north-east of Nigeria is already hazardous, and storms that require detours can exhaust birds and create much higher migration mortality, experts say.

What is worse, with the destruction of nest, eggs and chicks by floods, the future population of birds are threatened.

Human activities to blame…

Interestingly, the reasons tourists give for not being able to make it to the Yobe wetlands anymore are the same reasons given for the disappearance of the migrant birds. Tourists say that climatic change and terrorism have resulted to them staying back.

“Today, the fear of terrorism attack has engulfed the whole world and Africa cannot be left behind. The governments and the people of West Africa have been attacked in the recent past, particularly in Nigeria, Guinea, Niger and Cote d’Ivoire,” a tourism expert in Nigeria, Donald Akwara, said.

Yobe State and indeed all of Northern Nigeria is embroiled in violence. This has robbed the poor people of Dagona the benefits that every community that play host to tourists get. When the tourists and researchers stopped coming to the park, the revenues also stopped. The park can no longer provide the social amenities it once provided for the host communities of these precious migrants.

The wetlands play a vital role in the economy of the semi-nomadic Fulani pastoralists, who graze their livestock during the dry season. Evidently, the blend of crop farming, fishing, grazing and bird-watching tourists in the wetlands brings a serious ecological conflict especially between livestock grazing and conservation of migratory birds.

The prominent feature in this conflict is in the area of common water use between water-related migrant birds and the cattle. At Dagona waterfowls sanctuary for example, all the open water bodies have been covered by Echnochloa stignina grass brought in by cattle. The pastoralists themselves also lop vegetation to feed their livestock.

Several studies carried out by scientist from the University of Maiduguri highlighted the devastating effects of fertilizers and pesticides use by farmers in the wetlands as they end up in the water, destroying the aquatic life in it. This in turn, poisons the birds and sometimes man that is on top of the food chain.

For many observers interviewed for this report, governments and conservationists must braze up by constantly educating people on the best approach to manage the environment. Also, many lovers of the environment in Yobe said, the punishment for poachers and those trading in endangered species must be harsh like the one for the terrorists that have taken away their freedom.