Saturday, 25 May 2013

Groups Task Government on the Rising Cases of Baby Factories

On the occasion of this year’s International Children’s Day, a group of Nigerian and international non-governmental organisations, children and human rights organisations has condemned the rising commercialization of new born babies in parts of the country. 

Africans Unite Against Child Abuse (AFRUCA)-UK, the Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN), Media Concern Initiative for Women & Children (MediaCon), Healing Hearts Foundation, Spaces for Change, Project Alert on Violence Against Women, the Charles and Doosurh Abaagu Foundation, and the Women Environmental Programme (WEP) in a joint release called for decisive steps by government and stakeholders to curb the menace popularly referred to as ‘baby factories’ boom.

‘This year’s Children’s Day celebration calls for sober reflection because more than ever before, our beloved country is again being made the laughing stock of the whole world’, said the statement, signed by AFRUCA’s Executive Director, Debbie Ariyo, Betty Abah, Gender Focal Person of the Environmental Rights Action, Spaces for Change’s Victoria Ibezim-Ohaeri, Josephine Effah-Chukwumah of Project Alert, Dr. Princess Olufemi-Kayode, Executive Director of MediaCon, WEP’s Priscilla Achakpa, Sophie Mbanisi and other rights activists.

The statement cited the recent clamp-down on a home in Imo State where 22 pregnant teenagers were rescued, waiting, according to media reports, to sell their babies each for between N50, 000 (Fifty Thousand Naira) to N350, 000 (Three Hundred and Fifty Thousand Naira), several police raids in Abia State of similar finds, more recently , the case in Lagos where an unborn baby’s sale had even been negotiated, increasing cases of rape of minors as well as and the recent discovery of a village near the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, where, in the 21st Century, twin babies are killed at birth, and the recent arrests of Britons who allegedly entered the country to buy babies, as disheartening.

“In the light of this”, asks the statement, “any reason why anyone would doubt the rating by the Save the Children, an international organisation in Nigeria as one of the most endangered countries to be born?”

The release, while commending the prompt action of the Imo State governor, Rochas Okorocha in closing down all illegal motherless and adoption homes in his state, called on all other affected states, the Federal Ministry of Women Affairs, the National Agency for the Traffic in Persons (NAPTIP), the police and other relevant agencies to take urgent steps to bring the abominable act to a permanent halt.

“A nation can only beat its chest and look the world in the face when its most vulnerable groups are guaranteed safety and welfare, where children and indeed, humans are accorded the sanctity of life befitting humans everywhere. But what obtains in our nation today is a far cry and government must stop all its rhetoric and attend to this as a matter of urgency,” added Ariyo who was awarded an OBE by the Queen of England last year for her work for African children at home and in the Diaspora.”

“Nigeria is a country with laws regardless of what impressions people have, the problem has always been with enforcement,” noted Princess Olufemi-Kayode of MediaCon. “We do have the Child Rights Act at National level and at least most states in the country have enacted their Child Rights Law and the current Act defines a new child protective system that covers Nigeria’s ratification and agreement to the United Nations Child Rights Convention (CRC) and to the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACRWC). Another question would be: what criminal charges are being levied against the hired virile men who were paid to pregnant these underage children? Definitely charges of rape should also be included in their charge! We have to make an example that this kind of human atrocity would no longer be tolerated in our country,” added Princess Olufemi-Kayode.

Photo credit: Herald Sun News

Saturday, 18 May 2013

Chinua Achebe and the Nobel Prize for Literature

In the last 24 hours, and unfortunately less than a week to the burial of Prof Chinua Achebe, there has been an upsurge in some quarters about the place of Chinua Achebe in Literature, African Literature to be precise, and the fact that his works as great as they are did not qualify him to win a Noble Laureate. So all those who love and revere Achebe should start crying over this sense of loss, that is more than even losing the great literary icon itself. I consider the dusts being raised by this two issues as quite unnecessary and either the handiwork of people looking for something to do or that of mischief makers lurking behind 'genuine' desire to re-educate us all on what we already know.

There are certain things that are uniquely Nigerian, and this is one of them. Creating controversies out of settled issues.

First, those who are of the belief that Achebe should have got the Nobel Prize in Literature have the right to air their views, those who believe it does not pan out that way are equally right. Whether they both know so is another subject of discussion. But I am disappointed at those who are making an issue out of this, same as those calling for a posthumous Nobel Award for him as if Achebe is less without the Nobel Prize. Such calls in my opinion tantamount to an insult on the name,person, and the globally acknowledged brand that is Achebe.

Indeed,it would have been good for Achebe to have been a Nobel Laureate. But it is better that he is Chinualumogu Achebe, which is far greater an honour and achievement than being a Nobel Laureate. Achebe has left a big indelible mark in the sands of time, generations yet unborn across Africa will always remain grateful to this man who told the story of who they are in a way they understood.

Nobel Prize?

There are several outstanding writers in history that never made it to the roll call of the Nobel Committee, controversial as those decisions were,most of which have reduced the Prize instead of elevating it, these writers were never lessened by that inability to be so chosen.

Great names that have been etched into the immortality of Literature's hall of fame such as Marcel Proust (I read his book, Albert Camus as a first year student at Nsukka, it changed something in me), Ezra Pound, James Joyce, Vladimir Nabokov, Virginia Woolf, Jorge Luis Borges, Gertrude Stein, August Strindberg, John Updike, Arthur Miller, Bertolt Brecht, Yannis Ritsos did not win the Prize. Those who have followed the Nobel controversies in literature know so well that all these names mentioned here were sidelined for reasons that has nothing to do with the quality, or lack of it, of their works. Can we forget that influential names in the field of Literature such as Mark Twain, Leo Tolstoy, Henrik Ibsen, Émile Zola never won the Prize?

The controversies that have trailed the Committee's decision in Literature stems from the uniqueness of arts, unlike say Medicine, Chemistry, Physics or even Economics where inventions , discoveries and even theories are easily identifiable for all to see. But not in literature, which brings us to the question of who decides what is "a lofty and sound idealism" as contained in the Will of Sir Alfred Nobel being the basis for choosing who wins the Prize. And this rests with the Nobel Committee some of whom cannot write a one liner.

Should we use the Prize to decide the best the world has to offer in literature when majority of the laureates have been European. Can we simply wave that off and say there is no European bias in deciding who becomes a Literary Laureate? Is it not on record that Swedes have received more prizes than all of Asia put together, is that a reflection of the intellectual prowess of the Swedes over Asians, or a mark that Asians have no literature that could be said to have '' a lofty and sound idealism''?

Is it not on record that Horace Engdahl, one time permanent secretary of the Academy, was quoted as saying that "Europe still is the center of the literary world" and that "the US is too isolated, too insular. They don't translate enough and don't really participate in the big dialogue of literature. A claim which his successor tried to water down saying that "In most language areas ... there are authors that really deserve and could get the Nobel Prize and that goes for the United States and the Americas, as well,", but he never made any attempt to deny that there is European bias in the selection process, acknowledging that "I think that is a problem. We tend to relate more easily to literature written in Europe and in the European tradition''.

So next time you try to mass market the sentiments of a few old men in Sweden the standard the entire world should defer to, please keep it to yourself.

The Nobel Prize would not have made Achebe more popular,more read or more respected. And without it, he is not lesser.

Chinua Achebe,we owe you a debt that can never be repaid!

Jee nke oma.

Kelechi Deca,

Abuja Land Swap Initiative: The Challenges Within

Under the Land Swap Initiative (LSI), 3302.49 hectares of land belonging to 22 (Twenty Two) predominantly poor indigenous villages and communities in the  Federal Capital Territory (FCT) have been compulsorily taken away,  partitioned and parceled out to 13 (Thirteen) private property developers despite heightened due-process concerns regarding the handling of important issues around land, resettlement, compensation and livelihoods in the community.

Recently introduced by Honourable Bala Mohammed-led Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA), the Abuja  land swap scheme is garbed with the comforting rhetoric about “delivering decent and affordable mass housing in a well-planned city for all Abuja residents including the original inhabitants of the FCT”. The essence of the LSI is to give an investor a particular percentage of land in a district in exchange for the provision of infrastructure in the earmarked district comprising Kabusa, Waru, Zhindna, PigbaI, PigbaII, TakusharaI, Burum, TakalafiyaI, TakalafiyaII, Chafuyi, Shape, Yimitu, Burum, Gbagyi, Dakibiu, Zokoyakwo, Sheretti, Ketti, Anaknayita, Dnako, Lokogoma, Wumba, and Wasa within the Ketti and Waru community in Abuja Municipal Area Council. Even though the landowning rural dwellers are still in occupation of those districts, the title to their ancestral lands and farmlands has been transferred to the private developers.

Palpable fear and tension pervades the villages affected by the land swap scheme. This fear is well founded: development projects of this nature are often preludes to forced evictions and large-scale displacement of the urban poor, including indigenous communities. Within the 22 villages that make up the Ketti and Warru districts–known as Sector “O” District, Phase IV - in Abuja Municipal Area Council of the FCT, inhabitants reiterate that the land acquisitions had happened without their consent; without notices of intention to acquire and/or of revocation of our existing customary rights; without any comprehensive plan for resettlement and /or integration of the affected communities; without provision for payment of adequate compensation; without provision for alternative farmlands; and in total disregard of the constitutionally-guaranteed right to fair hearing.

Despite assurances by the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Senator Bala A. Mohammed that affected communities would be carried along in the implementation of the programme, recent events show that the FCTA has no interest and will to engage the local people and communities in fulfillment of that promise. For instance, it was not until after the FCTA had executed MOUs with private developers, and distributed partitioned communal lands among the contracted investors that it then announced to communities of its intention to carry out survey work and to subsequently commence enumeration of, and valuation of crops and economic trees within Ketti and Waru Districts. 

Later efforts to engage inhabitants of the already-distributed districts apparently fall short of stipulated legal rules and due process procedures pertaining to land takings by the government. Queries raised by community representatives regarding the nature, character and modalities for transferring the allocated lands to foreign investors have been ignored and remain unanswered. At an April 26, 2013 town hall meeting involving predominantly  Hausa-speaking FCDA officials and the community representatives, the president of the Original Inhabitants Development Association of Abuja demanded an explanation of the land swap scheme in Hausa so that majority of the locals in attendance would fully understand the nature of the scheme. FCDA officials declined that request. Likewise, the FCDA has not responded to similar demands contained in petitions, position papers and press statements issued by the local youth wing, Ketti District Community Youth Forum.  

Rather than provide relevant information on the precise nature, scope and content of the project and establish processes for effective consultations and participation of the affected communities, the FCDA resorted to using force to suppress local agitations. The arrest and unlawful detention of four local youths involved in the organization of the Cultural Heritage Day is quite illustrative. The cultural event had presented an opportunity to mobilize and sensitize local youths and inhabitants on the implications on the LSI on their collective wellbeing. 

While efforts to improve housing and urban infrastructure within the city metropolis are welcome, pushing people from inadequate housing into homelessness is not the solution to the acute housing shortage currently witnessed in the federal capital.  Spaces for Change supports the right of the inhabitants of Ketti and Warru to have a say in decisions that affect their lives. Genuine consultation with, and participation by the affected residents in the design of FCTA’s housing development strategies and programmes are indispensable strategies for ensuring that the human rights of the indigenous communities are respected.

To download Spaces for Change's full report: Abuja Land Swap Initiative: The Challenges Within, click here

Monday, 6 May 2013

Victoria Ibezim-Ohaeri: An Ode to a Nightingale

By Valentine Uche Chukwuma 

I have met a lot of Nigerians over the last two years through social media, majority of whom are very passionate about the current state of our nation. While differences exist in politics and perspectives, these Nigerians many of whom are under 40 all love their country in their own way. I have been exposed to all kinds of Nigerians; from those with rare levels of intelligence, to those with burning passion when it comes to discourses about the issues of the day. The desire for a better nation, the commitment to fighting for a better future for our children, the ideas on how to move the nation forward, and the "courage" to contribute their own quota to advancing the national dialogue defines the characters of these Nigerians.

Courage is a rare trait. People who have dealt with me personally would tell you that I am fearless, but way too cerebral to engage in certain actions that would define "rare courage". Cerebral not in the sense of intelligence, but in terms of always weighing consequences. If I think it's too dangerous or not worth it, then I will not be doing it any time soon. I am not a model for courage, especially when the obvious risks outweigh the benefits. Knowing this about myself gives me a great sense of admiration and appreciation for those who have shown exemplary courage that should serve as a model for ours and future generations of Nigerians.

Victoria Ibezim-Ohaeri is one of the finest Nigerians of our generation. I have tremendous respect for her, and great admiration for her courage. She should have been given a medal representing the highest civilian honor recognizing rare courage and patriotism by our Commander in Chief, as well as all kinds of journalistic awards by our media executives in appreciation for what she did.

For those who do not know what she did, let me give a brief synopsis.

This young Nigerian, at a time when people were running out of Maiduguri because of Boko Haram, and there was an information blackout because journalists were not reporting from the city, left her husband and children and departed for Maiduguri alone, accompanied only by her camera man. As I later found out, she traveled to Maiduguri by bus and by taxi because no public buses were going into the town at the time. People along the way including bus drivers told her she was crazy for going into that town. She was only able to find one taxi driver who agreed to drive her to Maiduguri. Talk about courage.

Her mission was simple. To tell the stories of victims of the Boko Haram crisis living in Maiduguri. She visited Gomari, London Chiki, Kaleri, and Budum areas of Maiduguri town and reported the perspectives of residents of those areas. One of her visits is captured here.

The courage she exhibited by going into that city to report, at a time when even the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan; Former Heads of State Muhammadu Buhari, Ibrahim Babangida, Abdulsalami Abubakar, Yakubu Gowon; Governors, Senators and House of Representative members from the other 35 States of the federation; and even Former President Olusegun Obasanjo, and even our famous investigative journalists had not visited that city is something worthy of admiration and commendation.

I saw one of Victoria's video's in Maiduguri before we became friends and remember telling myself that this woman is courageous. I would never try this even though I grew up in that city, know it like the back of my hand, understand the culture and speak the language.

Even after we became friends and spent a lot of time discussing the state of our nation and the challenges of Igbo's in relation to our leadership, I still did not realize she was the lady in that video.

Last Friday, I was watching a Boko Haram video on Youtube and that video popped up again on the side, and of course I watched it. At that moment I realized she was the one, and immediately told her how impressed I was with her courage.

99% of those I have met on social media who profess their love for Nigeria and Nigerians including myself would never dare walk into Maiduguri to report anything happening there. On that level alone, what she did is impressive.

When you also consider the fact that this young Igbo woman who did not speak the language, had never been there before and of course did not understand the culture, went into Maiduguri without security at a time when her fellow Igbo's and fellow Nigerian citizens were running out of that town, you can only but admire that courage.

I decided to share her story because I believe that people like this are our real heroes, and not those who come on social media to talk from morning to night about how they love Nigeria more than everyone else, without any actions to back their verbosity.

She is a hero and a model of courage, patriotism and good citizenship.

I am proud to have her as a friend and sister.
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