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For Ebonyi residents, it’s donkey business

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Producing ceramics, meals from donkey

Donkey is a common and ‘forbidden’ animal in some parts of the country. But in Ebonyi State, it has become precious, UCHENNA INYA reports

 

In the past, donkey meat was common. It was forbidden for people to consume it let alone the parts including the skin, blood, bones and other parts scrambled for as it is today.

Nobody ventured into donkey business in Ebonyi State. It was not largely consumed by the people; those who were eating the animal did so secretly to avoid being ridiculed by others. But today, it has become a lucrative business.

Donkey meat business has served as a source of revenue to the poor, rich and government.

Donkey has become a king of animals in Ebonyi State. It is openly consumed by people and also sold in hotels and restaurants where it is served to customers who eat it knowingly or unknowingly. Its parts including the skin, bone and blood, have become hot cake.

The faeces is hotly demanded by farmers who use it as organic fertiliser.

The parts are usually exported by Chinese and local manufacturers who use them to manufacture different goods. Ebonyi State has the largest donkey market in West Africa.

The market known as Nkwo Jakki, which came into existence in 1997, is located at Ezzamgbo in Ohaukwu Local Government Area of the state. It was a small market when it was established but it has become so large today apparently because of the lucrative nature of the donkey business.

A minimum of 20 trailerloads of donkeys are taken to the Ohaukwu depot on a daily basis from Maiduguri, Kastina and Kano as it has proved to be the highest source of revenue to the people of the state.

Chinese are always found in the donkey depot loading the skins in large quantity to their places where they convert them to raw materials for production of different goods.

The skin is used by the Chinese for many purposes including manufacturing of shoes, waist belts, wristwatches and handbags among others. Donkey’s bone is used to produce ceramics, including plates while the blood is used to produce fish and fowl meals.

A special part of the meat known as Gelatin is obtained from the skin of the donkey by soaking and stewing. It is also used as an ingredient in traditional Chinese medicine called Ejiao.

 

Chairman of the donkey sellers, Abdullahi Oladipo Yinusa, told our correspondent that donkey business had provided job opportunities to numerous people including those selling water and grasses.

According to him, donkey business is the highest job creator in Ohaukwu Local Government Area in particular and the state in general.

 

Chinese agents, he said, were everywhere in and around Ohaukwu Local Government Area to buy donkey skin which is sold at the rate of N24,000 per unit. He disclosed that people throng the market from Port Harcourt and Owerri to buy donkey, describing the patronage as vibrant.

 

Abdullahi appealed to the state government to provide them with residential area where they could call their own. According to him, elsewhere where such depot exits, the operators of the market are provided with befitting residence since their business is a blessing to their host communities.

 

The chairman, however, commended government for providing them with adequate security in the market.

 

He said: “The market came to be on June 28, 1997. When we came down here, there was nothing like these houses; there were only thatched houses.

“Luckily, we are inside the depot because these donkeys come from Maiduguri, Kastina, Kano and other border towns in the North. “This market has been the greatest revenue-earner for the state and local government. It is the highest job creator for the state and local government.

“The challenge we have is that they have refused to provide for us a place that we can call our own as it is the case in other places where they have Hausa community.

The market here is our residence. Apart from that, we have been living peacefully with our host. “You can find out that we are a blessing to them. You can see the people selling grasses and water.

It is a source of revenue to them. This is because we do not have the means and access to these facilities. “It is a money spinner.

The skin, not only the meat, generates revenue for the state and local government. It is on a high demand now. I do not know what the Chinese use it for. “It is a daily market. The sales we make depend on the demand.

We have two major market days here which is Orie and Eke. Those days we sell highest because people come as far as from Port Harcourt, Rivers State and Imo State. If you look at these vehicles they come from far.”

 

A butcher, Paschal Ogwa, said donkey business had created jobs for the people in the area.

According to him, for each donkey killed, he is paid between N500 and N700 while he slaughters about 30 or more a day. He disclosed that over 200 youths are in the slaughter business and make handful sums each day as about 2,500 to 4,000 donkeys are killed each day.

According to him, each butcher kills between 30 and 50 donkeys per day, while some men and women make money by fetching water, grass and even firewood for the animals and are usually paid fatly and instantly. One of the dealers, Ebenyi Mathew, said the business had assisted him in big measures. He said: “I have used this business and got married.

Also, I was able to build my house with the proceeds from the business and it is still moving on fine. “We have high demand of the meat now than before.

Even in the consumption which was very low, people prefer it now to other types of meat because it is not costly. If you have like N200 or N300 you will buy enough meat that can serve you. But for others like cow and goat meat, you must have at least N500 before you can buy meat that can serve you.

“The skin is where we make our gains because some Chinese always come here to buy them off and even stay by the side waiting for buyers. “Even the skin is costlier than the meat. The skin is sold between N30,000 and N35,000 while the meat is sold between N20,000 and N25,000.’’

On the amount required to join the business, Mathew explained that one could use between N250,000 and N300,000. He said: “It is a business that if you start it, within three to six months, you will recover the amount you used to start it. You can see that the market is expanding unlike before and it is because the business is moving fine.’’

A pregnant woman, Mrs. Esther Umeh, a native of Ngbo Court in Ohaukwu Local Government Area who came from Lagos where she was living with her husband, said the business was still moving smoothly.

Umeh disclosed that she came from Lagos after getting the information that donkey business was very lucrative. She said: “The donkey business is good. Chinese have made it to be a moving business that one can enter and survive. Donkey meat is like bush meat and it has no disease.

Chinese came in and said the skin was very useful to them and started exporting it to their country. They said the skin was used to manufacture drugs and other things in their area.

“The demand for the skin is very high that we made good gains. Every day, donkeys in four trailers are slaughtered in this market, Nkwo Jakki. I have been in the business for two years. I joined when the Chinese started exporting the skin. My husband and I came down from Lagos to join the business because it is very lucrative and it is moving very fast.

“Donkey skin is costlier than its meat because it is hotly demanded by the Chinese.

When the Chinese started exporting it, it became very expensive. The skin was sold N60,000 per donkey that time but the price has crashed to N12,000. Despite this, the skin business is still moving very well.

The Chinese that usually come for the skin lodge in a hotel; they no longer come into the donkey market to buy off the skin.

“The Chinese now have contractors who are part of us and who arrange the skin and take to them at the airport from where they go to their country. “Before now, the Chinese used to hang around us for the donkey skin to be arranged for them but they now have contractors who they deal with directly. When the contractors take the skin to them, the Chinese will use kilo and measure the skin and buy it.

The contractors sell the skin to the Chinese at N3,000 per kilo. The contractors buy from us and take it to the Chinese. The price of jakki is not fixed. You can get the big one at N40,000 or N50,000. You also get the small size at N20,000, N15,000 and N10,000.

After preparing the meat, you will find it difficult to differentiate it from cow meat. “When you come here at 5a.m., you will see many buses lined up by buyers who buy in any quantity.

They come from Enugu, Anambra, Cross River and other states. They use it in restaurants; they normally mix it with cow meat and sell to their customers in the restaurants and hotels. I eat donkey meat and it is very sweet. It is diseasefree because veterinary doctors come here every Wednesday to immunize the donkeys against diseases.

Even, our governor used to come here to check the environment. “Every part of donkey is useful. Monkey bone is used to produce ceramic plates while the blood is used to prepare pig and fowl meals.

No part of the donkey is a waste. We usually prepare the bones for people who come from neighbouring Enugu and Anambra state to buy them. When they grind the bones, they will mix it with something and produce ceramic plates. It is only our chairman that sells the bones; no other person is allowed to sell it. He sells it and owns the money. You can take some bones to your home but if you take it in large quantity and you are caught, you will be in trouble.

“I used to kill 12 donkeys in a day but I am killing only two per day because of money. I am running short of money now and I can’t kill the number I used to kill in a day. In this business, you can make profit and you can also suffer losses especially now that they have destroyed the business.”

The Chairman, Organised Butchers Association in the market, Onwe Valentine, lamented that the business was no longer profitable as it used to be. He added that many people had joined the business which made the Chinese that used to buy the skins with big amount of money to reduce the skin price.

Valentine, however, acknowledged that despite the current challenges in the business, it has provided jobs to teeming youths, men and women. Onwe explained that Chinese no longer come to the market to buy the skin because of men of immigration who arrest them for illegal trading.

He said: “This business is good but that was then. The reason is that things are no longer the way it used to be, women are running at a loss and the state government now has eyes on the business. Government has raised the tax they are collecting from us and it is making women to run at a loss. Before we were paying N150 per donkey but now it is N400.

This is different from other revenues government collect from us. “The skin was hot cake before now. There was a time the skin was sold between N52,000 and N57,000 per donkey but now it is between N8,000 and N14,000. Women were making gains the time it was sold N52,000 and they were happy in the business. The bone from the donkey is used to produce plates and ceramics while the blood is used to prepare chicken and fish feeds.

Everything about donkey is very useful. We normally burn the bone, bag it and sell to people who use it to produce the ceram-ic plates. It is sold by kilogram between N25 and N30. After burning and bagging the bones, I move them to Enugu. There is no gain in the bone business but we do it because it is needed by the people who want it.”

The Secretary of the association, Prince Amadi Okechukwu, told our correspondent that multiple taxation by the government had negative effects on the business. He explained that the market had no good facilities and called on the government to provide necessary facilities in the market since government was generating money as Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) from the market. Okechukwu said the business was no longer lucrative as it used to be. He said: “This market is an international market. People from far and near come here for business.

This market has created jobs for our youths, women and aged. Thousands of people of this state work here as you can see. This market offers money to government. We have two sections in this market.

In my own section we have over 40 butchers. Meat sellers are over 200 while those that watch the meat intestines are over 50. Those who wash the intestine charge between N20 and N25 per donkey skin. Each month, government makes at least N3 million as IGR and we don’t feel any government impact in the market. All the facilities we have here were installed by us with our money.

If government is taking from us here, it should provide facilities for us because the one we constructed by ourselves are not enough. We are not feeling any government impact in this market.

They should help us to  put this place in order because they are generating income from here. “Government collects N400 per donkey. The government also collects N200 per skin while the Ministry of Environment collects N100 per donkey. There are other revenues government collects here; we are paying heavy tax here and it is affecting the business..

 

“People come from near and far to buy donkey meat, skin, bones, blood and other parts which they use for different purposes. Everything about donkey is business. The skin is actually depreciating; it was sold N60,000 before but now it is sold between N15,000 and N20,000. We sell the blood meal in kilograms. Each kilogram costs between N25 and N30. “The demand for the donkey skin is actually no longer high as it used to be.

The cause is a result of dollar rise; when dollar goes up, the price will go up. But when dollar depreciates, the business will come down. Multiple taxation has sent several people away from the business.”

When contacted, the Chairman of Ohaukwu Local Government Area, Clement Odah, said the position of government on the donkey market remained positive. Odah said the donkey market had become serious and important market.

He added: “The position of government in respect of the donkey market is positive because we support the market in the aspect of local market economy. Before now, Ohaukwu has been popular for industrial setting. The donkey market in Ezzamgbo is the regional headquarters for donkey market in the whole of the South-East.

Also, other states in the South-South including the North make their supplies from the Ezzamgbo donkey market. The demand for the meat has increased in the sense that Chinese have been coming into the market to buy the skin.

The donkey market is a serious business and every part of the animal is useful, from the headto- toe. “Before now, it was just the edible part, that is the flesh of the donkey that was so important but now with the discovery by Chinese, the skin has become more important than the flesh and it has increased the demand for donkey.”

 

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Delta Steel Company: Dashed hope of a nation

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Sick workers, comatose firm, helpless stakeholders

Two years after the Federal Government handed over the Delta Steel Company (DSC) to Premium Steel and Mines Company Limited – a consortium of private investors – to revive the company and start production of steel for local and export purposes, the multibillion-naira outfit is yet to take off. YEKEEN AKINWALE, who visited the company situated at Owvian, Aladja town, Delta State, finds out that the company is still grappling with crises which look intractable

 

“Warri no dey carry last, na wetin we dey always talk, but for this Delta Steel Company matter, we don carry last,” quips Justice Iyasere, who looks towards the massive structure of the steel company with disappointment clearly etched on his face.

Although Iyasere, a community leader and local government chairman aspirant in Udu Local Government, is not one to give in to pessimism, he admits that it will take more actions than precepts to get the company running again – especially in the face of unending crises ranging from war by ex-workers, to huge debts to suppliers and threats from other interest groups.

Years of politicking, mismanagement and lack of interest by the Federal Government, he says, led to the collapse of what was once the pride of Delta State. If it were alive and running, Nigeria’s reliance on imported steel and aluminium products ought to have significantly reduced.

Its sales to Premium Steel and Mines Limited under the Federal Government’s privatisation programme, besides being opaque, is already a subject of litigation – communities hosting the company in Udu have instituted a law suit against Federal Government and Premium Steel and Mines Limited, to contest the sale.

At the moment, Nigeria spends N887 billion (about $4.5 billion) annually to import 25 million tons of steel and aluminium products. This is not going to end soon except steel plants such as DSC start producing steel locally.

In 1980, when the plant was established and inaugurated under the leadership of Fred Aghogho Brume, pioneer general manager, it was designed to produce one million tons of liquid steel per year. It never attained this maximum production output. Its best performance was in 1983, when it produced 500,000 tons. Since then, the plant has been aground.

“In 1985, the highest steel production a day was 23 heats in the whole of Africa and that year, Delta Steel was producing 21,” says Sam Agberhiere, one of its pioneer staff.

“If government is actually serious about steel making, by now we should have been one of the leading countries in the business. But the reverse is the case.”

From conception, DSC was designed to place Nigeria in the comity of manufacturing countries, particularly giving it an edge in the automobile sector. The Foundry Section, which earlier manufactured brake discs, drums and other parts for Peugeot Automobile Nigeria (PAN), Kaduna, has long been shut down.

“PAN in Kaduna was making order in 2002, 2003 and 2004. From here we made brake drums, engine blocks and other accessories in good quality,” says a former staff of the company who did not want to be named because of a running battle with the new management over unpaid entitlements.

The Phase II of the plant, designed to manufacture flat sheets for production of car bodies such as bonnets, car doors, roofs and booths, never took off. The natives who donated the land to government for the company to build the Phase II have reclaimed it.

“In one word, I’d say what killed DSCL is politics. They played politics with the plant. That’s why we have found ourselves where we are today. Warri don carry last here,” Iyasere adds.

Robinson Akpodovhan, retired manager, Shipping and Logistics at the plant, would also not spare government of blame. He says government did not effectively monitor the company.

“You cannot rule out the hands of government from the failure of the company,” he says. “Ajaokuta is over 40 years now and still grappling with construction, and it is also owned by the government.”

Truly, a desolate edifice of the company sandwiched by bush says much about its years of misfortune. Before now, the company supplied billets to Jos Steel Rolling Mill, Katsina Rolling and Oshogbo Rolling Mill. All three rolling mills are also dead.

 

Haunted by ex-workers, heavy debts, unseen forces…the face of a deserted plant

With a gun-wielding soldier and other private security guards manning the gate, a visitor without prior appointment will not have his way in. “Gaining access to the plant is not an easy task; you have to come back in two weeks’ time,” a security guard tells this journalist.

An insider says the new management of the company is haunted by aggrieved former workers who have vowed never to allow operation in the plant except their entitlements are paid. So, the main gate is under tight security against any unforeseen invasion by former workers. But its former owners, Global Infrastructure Holding Limited, is also laying claim to the company and indeed pressing to take it over.

 

Save for a few employees working on an excavation across the main gate of the company, there is actually no movement of heavy duty trucks that could suggest any activity going on in the company. No deafening sounds of iron casting coming from the plant or the razzmatazz that characterises a steel company.
It wears an old look, all the welcome signposts along the dual carriageway erected by the new management notwithstanding. Keen visitors get the impression of a company not working right from the corridor of the same highway.
The road was constructed purposely to connect the steel plant to the Warri Port, in order to enhance easy evacuation of finished iron products. But the road is not only deserted; it is dilapidated.
A trailer park a few kilometres away from the main entrance of the company that once served as the assembly point for heavy-duty trucks taking finished products is long gone; it has been taken over by bushes; no ancillary business along the road is visible. Business life of the area apparently died with the steel plant.
“As an A-Level student of Federal Government Warri, we were taken to DSCL on excursion; the noise there was deafening – noise of steel production and presence of heavy-duty trucks waiting to evacuate iron products such as iron rods, billets and other products were sights to behold,” recounts Onwuka John, a resident of Owvian.
“In those days, oil workers were resigning. I saw them join the steel sector. Many resigned from Shell to join Delta Steel because everything about the company was too attractive for anyone not to eye its workforce; housing estate, schools, football team and even hospital were owned by the company.
“No company impacted the lives of the Deltans like the steel company, but all that is history now,” he adds.
“It was operating three shifts and you need to see staff buses conveying workers from Steel Town for their shifts to the company. But now, the plant is just like a ghost town.”
The units within – harbour, Direct Reduction (DR) plant and the pellet plant, Lime Plant, Rolling Mill, Electric Air Furnace, and the Continuous Caster – are littered with wreckage and waste, while other auxiliary units of the plant such as the foundry, electrical and mechanical maintenance workshops and water supply system, have all been overtaken by elephant grasses.
Creating an impression of work in progress, however, are a few workers here and there strapping their safety helmets and putting on some dusty factory boots. But there is arguably no steel processing going on in the company.
Waiting for the promised facelift by the new owners, Premium Steel and Mines Limited, the brownish rusty bodies of the equipment and the broken-down or abandoned machines all over the place are relics of a dead giant.
In March 2017, a group of investors from the United States of America and Morocco were reported to have visited the plant, proposing a N600 billion investment to help revamp it – an indication that the new owners too might be in need of financial muscle to run the plant, like their predecessor, Global Infrastructure, which failed to turn it around.
But Victor German, general manager, Government and Community Affairs at the company, denies any such proposal from any investor. He says the Indian investors have both financial and technical abilities to operate the company.
This claim is already being contested. Ebhaleme Pius, a former employee of the company who worked there when it was sold to Global Infrastructure Holding Limited, says the management of Premium Steel and Mines, under the leadership of Prasanta Mishra, lacks not only the technical knowhow and financial muscle to run it successfully but also has no record of steel making.
“Those are not steel makers,” says Pius. “That’s why they are yet to manufacture a pin for the past two years. They cannot manufacture anything there because they don’t have experience in steel making.”
When its new owners took over in 2015, they promised to revive the comatose steel plant with N370 billion. Back then, with an established elaborate plan for the company’s revival with N70 billion in new investments in the first phase and N300 billion in the further phases, it looked like the company was going to have a new lease of life.
German admits that Delta Steel Company, as it is still called by the locals despite change of ownership and nomenclature, is still haunted by many known fears from disenchanted former workers who have vowed never to allow new investors take over the company until the N3.2 billion due to them is paid.
The workers are insisting that all industrial issues be settled, especially backlog of salaries and allowances, before the company can operate. German also confirms that the plant has been bogged down by demands of the former workers. “We met some rigid situations,” he says.
The basic reason the company has not resumed operations, according to him, is the delay in bringing the former workers on board.
“These former workers are waiting, but these issues of liabilities are also there. We have about 100 of them working with us now,” he says.“What we have been doing is trying to meet the demands of the former workers; those who worked with Global Infrastructure. You don’t just come and start work. They are asking for the payment of debts owed the workers.”
According to German, who is also a gas engineer, the management of the company is almost done with the resuscitation of its rolling mill, after which other sectors such as Steel Melting Shop (SMS) would be revamped. But there are arguably no signs that the mill will start work anytime soon.
“We are resuscitating the rolling mill, we are going to buy billets or get them from outside the country,” he adds.
Pius says the steel plant management will not succeed by revamping the rolling mill first because “Delta Steel Company is an integrated plant”.
“You can’t revive the rolling mill that ought to come last in the line of production first. It must be the last stage after they might have revived units like SMS and others. They can’t operate that plant; it is not a rolling mill.”
He alleges that the Indian investors have different plans for the plant. “They want to convert the building to a rice depot or a hotel,” he says. “You know they are Vaswani Brothers and we know their history in this country. They converted Volkswagen to rice depot.”
The payment of some debts by the Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON) in April what was needed for the management of Premium Steel to gain access to the plant and commence its resuscitation.
“We started that April this year and we have gone far. We are almost through with the rolling mill. One hundred and sixty workers are going to be employed for the rolling mills when it is operational,” says despite all these commitments, the management of the company still has a lot of bridges to cross. A case before a Federal High Court, Warri Judicial Division, by Udu community, might be a major huddle to cross.
The host community says the details of the transaction between PSML and Bureau of Public Enterprise (BPE), which gave the company to the new investors, was not made open.
“We do not know the extent of purchase; we do not know what AMCON sold and what they didn’t,” says Sam Odibo (Otota), Prime Minister of Udu Kingdom.
The communities claim they are stakeholders, having been allotted 22 million ordinary shares in the company, representing 10 per cent of its total shares at its privatisation.
Part of their complaint, according to Odibe, is that the Federal Government has continued to shut them out in the privatisation process while dealing with the assets of Delta Steel.
“When BPE concessioned the company some years back, the community did not even know that they had some percentage to be paid because the Indian company, Global, ran the place solo,” he says.
“We say no; we want to know what they sold to you because AMCON sold what was used to borrow money from the bank. Did they reserve anything for the community or is it that they sold everything in spite of huge expanse of land the Federal Government took from us in the name of national interest. But we believe that the Federal Government would not be stupid to sell everything off.”
Before heading for court, the host communities said their efforts to get both the BPE and the AGF to account for the privatisation process were shrugged off. Now, they want the court to declare that they are entitled to 22,000,000 ordinary shares, representing 10 per cent of the total shares of Delta Steel Company, and that both the BPE and the AGF have no right, power or authority whatsoever to sell or transfer to Premium Steel either directly or through any of the agents of the Federal Government, more than 80 per cent of the shares of Delta Steel.
The court, they argue, should also declare any purported sale and/or transfer of more than 80 per cent of the shares of Delta Steel to Premium Steel by the Federal Government, null and void.
“AMCON is done on the matter; they are not talking to us, same way nobody talked to us in the previous deal that allowed those Indians to run the place aground,” says Odibe.

•Akinwale is a snr investigative reporter, ICIR, Abuja

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Suicide law: When the dead is guilty

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Stigma, criminalisation not deterring suicide

JOHN CHIKEZIE x-rays prevalent cases of suicide in the country and blames the law for the upsurge

 

Stories of people committing suicide have now become an end to a means among the young and the middleaged in the country, especially in a city like Lagos where the hustle and bustle have tremendous effects on the mental state of residents. In 2017, the numerous shocking and alarming media reports of people taking their own lives appeared to have created an awareness in the mind of every Nigerian but what most folks didn’t know is that attempting to kill oneself is illegal and an offence against the state.

The alarm was raised when the sad and disturbing case of a 33-year-old medical doctor, Allwell Orji, who jumped into the lagoon from the Lagos Third Mainland Bridge, was reported on March 19, 2017. The deceased, who was being driven by his driver in a Sport Utility Vehicle (SUV) with registration number LND 476 EE about 4:50p.m., was receiving a call when he suddenly asked his driver to park. According to the driver, the doctor asked him to pull over, came out of the vehicle and jumped into the lagoon.

His body was recovered two days later. But there was uproar on social media when a 51-year-old textile dealer at Balogun Market, Titilayo Momoh, was arraigned before an Ebute Meta Chief Magistrates’ Court on April 24, 2017 for attempting to jump into the lagoon on the Third Mainland Bridge. Momoh, who pleaded not guilty, was arraigned on a charge of attempting to commit suicide.

The prosecutor, Kehinde Omisakin, said that the accused committed the offence on March 24 about 10a.m. contrary to Section 233 of the Criminal Law of Lagos State 2015. Omisakin said the businesswoman was prevented by security operatives from taking her own life. It was further learnt that the accused had been having sleepless nights since she was allegedly swindled of N18.7 million by a Bureau-de-Change operator sometime in 2015. However, upon her arrest, Momoh pleaded with the Lagos State government to pardon her actions on the claim that the weight of her debt pushed her into the act.

Although Momoh was granted bail by Chief Magistrate A. T. Elias in the sum of N500,000 with two responsible sureties in like sum, government later withdrew the case from the court. The judge directed that the woman be taken to a psychiatric hospital for evaluation.

Momoh’s attempted suicide and her subsequent arraignment brought to light Section 327 of the Criminal Code Act, Chapter 77 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 1990, which stipulates that any person who attempts to kill himself is liable to imprisonment for one year, as many people were not even aware that such a law exists.

Looking into the implication of the suicide law as against successful suicides, is a pathetic story of a 42-year-old wielder, Wasiu Alowonle, who killed himself by jumping off a Lagos courtroom window on December 6, 2017; simply out of frustration.

Alowonle was accused of stealing an iron rod worth N40,000 and arraigned before Mrs. O. I. Raji of an Ogba Chief Magistrates’ Court. The prosecuting officer, Yumi Egunjobi, said the deceased was earlier arraigned on October 16 on a one-count charge of stealing and had been in custody at Kirikiri Prisons.

Egunjobi said the deceased was arraigned on December 6 for his trial to commence but no one could explain what made him jump off the window. However, a security guard, who witnessed the incident and pleaded anonymity, told New Telegraph that the deceased was manipulated by a spiritual force to commit suicide as he was already looking pale and frustrated when he was brought in by prison warders for trial. He said: “Although people claimed he killed himself out of frustration from prison officials’ treatment.

But I cannot believe that the man was in his right senses because it sounds ridiculous to say that it was an attempt to escape through a three-storey. Escape from a tall building through the window; that is impossible! “I believe that he was compelled by a spiritual force to kill himself. His action was not ordinary especially for someone who has been locked up in Kirikiri for months. He was wearing a white T-shirt, written ‘Fly Emirate,’ and a pair of blue jeans when he was led into the witness box for trial. “But for one reason or the other, the magistrate stood down the matter. He left the box and sat with other defendants on the front row of the court, close to the window.

“I was told he was meant to pay N40,000 to the man he allegedly stole from. But barely a few minutes after the next case was announced, the deceased pushed the other defendant beside him and ran towards the window.

“Before the prison guards could grab him, he had already jumped off and landed on the floor with his head. He died on the spot because his head was badly smashed while his right hand was fractured.” Hence, the worrisome question stuttering on the lips of everyone was what would have been Alowole’s punishment had he survived the suicide attempt?

 

Would the prosecutor have amended the previous charge to accommodate his attempted suicide? Or would he be re-arraigned on a fresh count of suicide? Another related incident is the case of a 31-year-old man, Hammed Olojo, who was arrested by the police on August 27, 2017 while attempting to jump into the Lagos lagoon in a bid to commit suicide but was quickly restrained. Olojo was prevented from taking his own life and charged before an Ebute Metta Magistrates’ Court, Lagos.

The prosecuting officer, Kehinde Olatunde, said Olojo, who pleaded not guilty, was charged on a one-count charge of attempted suicide contrary to Section 235 of the Criminal Law of Lagos State, 2015.

He was also granted bail by Magistrate O. O. A. Fowowe-Erusiafe in the sum of N50,000 with two sureties in like sum and the matter was thereafter adjourned till November 16, 2017 for mention.

 

Late last year, Lagos State Commissioner of Police, Imohimi Edgal, directed the prosecution of a member of staff of China Construction Company of Nigeria Limited (CCCN), Mr. Folarin Odukoya, for attempted suicide. Odukoya allegedly attempted to take his own life about 11p.m. on December 17 by jumping into the lagoon near the Ebute Ero Jetty but was rescued by divers and handed over to the Ebute Ero Divisional Police.

 

However, when interrogated, Odukoya claimed he decided to kill himself because his employer allegedly refused to issue him a document he believed would augment his career. Nigeria, despite being ranked as sixth happiest country in Africa and 103rd in the world on March 20, 2017, according to World Happiness Report 2017, has witnessed more suicides than happy endings.

The giant of Africa, well known for its agility in business and perseverance despite economic hardship, recorded a large number of shocking attempted and completed suicides in 2017 than any other year since its history. However, according to a report made available by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN), a global initiative launched by the United Nations, Nigerians were ranked sixth happiest people in Africa despite the country’s challenging economic recession.

According to the SDSN Director and Special Advisor to the United Nations Secretary-General, Jeffrey Sachs, the happy countries refer to those with a healthy balance of prosperity in terms of social capital; like acquiring a high degree of trust in the society, low inequality measure and confidence in the government.

 

According to Sachs, the rankings of happiest countries are based on six essential factors such as per capital gross domestic product, healthy life expectancy, freedom, generosity, social support and absence of corruption in government or business.

 

Unfortunately, such happy records soon became a pale shadow when Nigeria, from being one of the happiest people, sunk into the rank of the most depressed country in Africa, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO) reports on April 7, 2017. Barely a month after ranking as one of the happiest on earth, WHO arrived at a conclusion that Nigeria has 7,079,815 people suffering from depression, about 3.9 per cent of the population.

 

The figures were released in a report ahead of the World Health Day (WHD) entitled; “Depression and Other Common Mental Disorders: Global Health Estimates.” According to the report, “4,894,557 Nigerians, which is 2.7 per cent of the population, suffer anxiety disorders. Depression is the leading cause of disabilities worldwide, and a major contributor to the overall global burden of disease. “Depression can lead to suicide, which is the second leading cause of death in people aged 15 – 29 globally. Consequently, the condition can lead to more suicide cases in the country.

 

“Nigerians are the most depressed in Africa because, since the number of persons with common mental disorders globally is going up, particularly in lower-income countries, the population is rapidly growing and more people are living to the age when depression and anxiety most commonly occur”.

 

A suicide attempt is often described as an act where a person tries to commit suicide but survives. Hence, most suicide attempts, in some countries, are often based on a terminal or chronic illness. The alarming rate of suicides in the world has varied in several countries while its sanctions still remains a greatly debated concept.

 

The law against suicide has reigned since antiquity and is believed to have emanated from a religious doctrine which claims that God is the sole determinant for the death of humans (meaning that God has the legal right to determine who and when a person should die).

 

According to the tales, especially in ancient Athens, persons who deliberately killed themselves were denied the honours of a normal burial. At the time, the punishment for anyone who commits suicide without an approval from the state entails that the person would be buried alone without a headstone or marker, on the outskirt of the town or city. Sometimes, the family of the deceased would be stripped off their belongings and handed over to the state.

 

Suicide, also referred as selfmurder, within the religious and moral objections, was a mortal sin in the eyes of the church and also a crime under the common law in England in the mid-13th Century. However, before the enactment of the Suicide Act 1961, an act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, it was a crime to commit suicide, and anyone who attempted and failed could be prosecuted and jailed. Even the families of those who succeeded were equally not left unpunished but could also face prosecution.

 

The 1961 Suicide Act, however, decriminalised the act of suicide in England and Wales to enable people who failed while attempting to kill themselves escape prosecution.

 

Although the states abolished the penalties imposed by the common law (property forfeiture and humiliating burial), it was solely to spare the innocent families and not to legitimise the act. Recent studies on criminal codes of several countries around the world revealed that while most western countries decriminalised suicide acts, suicide attempts still remain a criminal offence in most Islamic countries. In Africa, where the legality or criminality of suicide attempts are mostly deduced from moral standards and religious tenets, several countries like Angola, Botswana, Cameroon, Egypt, Eritrea, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe still legalise both attempted and completed suicide.

 

But in stark contrast, others like Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, South Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda enforce stringent punishments for offenders. Unlike in Japan where suicide is considered illegal but not punishable, offenders in Nigeria are not left unpunished but are arrested and charged to court for prosecution.

 

However, self-induced deaths have no judicial penalties, but suicide attempts still remain a criminal offence in Nigeria. Section 327 of the Criminal Code Act, Chapter 77, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 1990 stipulates a one year imprisonment sentence for offenders. While Section 235 of the Criminal law ChC17 vol.3 Laws of Lagos State, 2015, prescribes a hospitalisation order for an accused.

The same chapter of the Criminal Code also criminalises aiding suicide; Section 326 states that any person who procures, counsels, induces another in killing himself is guilty of a felony and is liable to imprisonment for life. The implications of these laws interpret that anyone who attempts to harm his/her body, under any circumstance, shall be treated as a criminal and duly prosecuted.

 

Hence, anyone guilty of the offence shall face same treatment similar to an awaiting trial or convicted criminal like a murderer, an armed robber or kidnapper etc. Doctor speaks According to Dr. R. A. Adebayo, a former Acting Medical Director of the Federal Neuro-Psychiatric Hospital, Yaba, Lagos, suicide occurs when an individual wilfully or deliberately attempts to end his life and eventually succeeds; while a failed attempt, whether by strangulation, hanging on a rope, taking a poisonous substance or jumping into a lagoon, is called deliberate self-harm (DSH).

 

Adebayo, who is also a clinical psychologist and consultant psychiatrist, said that suicidal acts should not be treated as criminal cases but as an abnormal mental disorder since 80 per cent of the indulged victims suffer from depression.

 

While advocating the decriminalisation of suicide attempts, the doctor said that suicidal patients were being admitted into the Federal Neuro-Psychiatric Hospital on a weekly basis but because the society decided to criminalise it, people barely heard of the reported cases. Adebayo maintained that suicide patients should not be tagged as criminals but as patients or victims who need to be accessed and medically examined.

 

According to him, what suicide patients need is an intensive medical care for their condition and not prosecution or a prison sentence. He said: “We should never criminalise suicide acts expect those who attack others through bombing.

 

Suicidal victims need treatment and not prisons because they are diseased. It would be inhuman to jail people with mental disorders since their condition is a pathological process. “It’s high time we de-stigmatised mental disorders. Hauling people with mental disorders into prisons would never solve their problems rather the Federal Government should provide more opportunities for treatment.

 

Prison sentence should only serve as punishment to suicide bombers whose intentions are to harm others in the process of taking their own lives. “There are medical factors which induce suicide such as: substance abuse (otherwise called drug addiction), epilepsy, terminal or chronic medical conditions like cancer, stroke and schizophrenia.

 

“Other non-medical causes of suicide include tough financial debt or condition; honour killings common in Japan and Middle East countries (a situation where someone, whose guilt and shame over an offence committed, kills himself in order to honour or cleanse the disgrace he brought to the image of his family); and suicide attacks in the Islamic states like Boko Haram.

 

“All these causes of suicide are induced by depression, aside suicide attack which is an element of religious indoctrination. But, on the contrary, suicide is a medical issue and not a criminal act as pointed by the law.

“A successful suicide victim cannot be prosecuted by the law since the person is dead already but the one who attempts cannot also be reported as a result of the fear of being stigmatised, tagged as a criminal and charged to court.

 

It is certain that more than 15 per cent of suicide attempts won’t be reported. “This, however, makes suicide attempts under reported or shrouded in secrecy. In this hospital, I have witnessed several cases of deliberate self-harm (DSH) patients especially those with schizophrenia. Schizophrenia is a major psychotic disorder where a patient claims to hear strange voices. This condition is also referred to as auditory hallucination.

 

“According to patients who suffer from this condition, these strange voices tell them to kill or harm themselves. Some of them adhere to that instruction while the lucky ones run into hiding or seek help. There are cases of patients who heard voices and thereafter jumped from a storey building or into a lagoon.

 

“There was a peculiar case of an epileptic patient who got tired of her condition and decided to end it by jumping into the lagoon. She jumped from the Third Mainland Bridge but fortunately she was rescued. Another lady also jumped into the same lagoon after hearing strange voices but she was rescued as well.

 

“Now, in the eyes of the law, these ladies have attempted suicide, but medically we call it a DSH. This is because when the cause of such behaviour is examined, we realise that depression or the strange voices prompted the act.”

Adebayo also explained that after the rescue, rehabilitation, and recovery from such illness, some of these patients eventually come to terms with the damage the illness has done in their lives and might still attempt suicide. He said: “Some of them may not want to continue or brace up with life simply because of shame or guilty.

 

Some might be ashamed of the things they experienced during the illness or the pain or harm they might have caused either to themselves or their families. So in order not to live with the trauma incurred by that illness, they wilfully choose to kill themselves. This realisation is called post schizophrenic depression.

 

“There are certain determinants to aid in identifying a suicidal person like previous at- tempts of harming self, family history of depression and child abuse (especially among teenagers)”. Lawyers speak A legal luminary, Prof Itse Sagay, SAN, said that the basic argument by most people is that if a person succeeds in the act of suicide, then he cannot be punished. But if he fails and is punished, then it sounds unreasonable. Hence, they imply that the person who fails is the one who gets punishment and not the one who succeeds in the act.

 

Sagay said: “I think that the purpose of that law is to serve as deterrent; to discourage a person from taking his/her own life. But the reason I agree with those who say it should be removed from our law books is that it doesn’t really act as deterrent. This is because a person who wants to kill himself is determined to succeed even though he may fail. So, he has no fear whatsoever. “It’s only after he fails that he realises that he could be punished.

But when he embarked on it, his mind was totally made up and firm that nothing else follows. “So, I think that the position of our law on suicide is unreasonable and there’s no justification for enforcing it. Instead, we should have a more robust provision for monitoring people, for tackling psychological problems, in order to discourage people from even desiring to commit suicide and not when the person fails.”

A human rights activist and Director of Access to justice, Joseph Otteh, who also shared same thoughts with the learned SAN, said that “the criminalisation of suicide in our laws is an incident of both our colonial experience as well as, ironically, our slow pace of reassessing the expediency or relevance of inherited colonial laws”. Otteh also called for a review of the suicide law.

He said: “The retention of the offence of suicide in federal statutes possibly hearkens to the fact that there has never been any systematic effort to review wholly, federal penal legislation since Independence from Britain. What has happens mostly are piece meal reviews, additions and few subtractions, leaving the body of colonial laws substantially intact?

“The Lagos position is a lot more thoughtful, sensible and realistic and offers a compassionate physiological and legal response to the problem. It regards attempting suicide as a possible mental health problem, and offers care in dealing with it.

“This is the way the problem should be addressed. It unwarps and unloads the historical political baggage associated with the criminalisation of suicide, and focuses on the needs of the person attempting it rather than perpetuating the flawed historical reasons associated with its use some centuries ago.

“In that era, criminalising suicide was seen to reflect the anger felt by the state at the use of suicide as a form of political defiance of its authority.

The countries where this began have abolished it as an offence, so why should we blindly continue to enforce it?” But Chief Gani Adetola-Kazeem, SAN, disagreed with anyone calling for the review of the suicide law while arguing that, “should people be permitted to willingly take their own lives?”

He said: “I don’t think there is any sufficient reason for someone to take his own life or be permitted to do so. We all have faith in God Almighty who gives life and has the ability to take it. “The point is, in principle, whether it involves taking one’s own life or that of another person, a believer must remember that he has not the power to give life and therefore has no responsibility in taking life. “It’s not for an individual to decide on terminating his or another person’s life. Even if it involves a terminal illness, they should be helped to get out of it and not encouraged to annihilate themselves.

“If there is a medical condition that warrants euthanasia or assisted induced deaths, which of course is not allowed, but generally, the health practitioners should know what to do in order to pacify or ease the pains affecting such a person.

“Aside those who commit suicide out of frustration, depression and medical challenges, there are those who also do same after committing a crime because they feel the best way to escape punishment is to take their own lives. Would you also say that such suicide is right? “I don’t support suicide neither do I think it is right to decriminalise attempted suicide.

I think that the law against attempted suicide should stand just like the law that makes manslaughter and murder a crime. I stand in support of the law against attempted suicide as a believer and not just as a lawyer”. Also speaking in favour of the law, Yusuf Ali, SAN, said he is in full support of the law against attempted suicide.

He said: “I support the law because it’s not right for a man to take what doesn’t belong to him. Life wasn’t created by man so why should he wilfully take it? “Attempting is what the law punishes since those who succeed are never alive to face prosecution. I do not support any form or type of suicide.” The reality of suicide seems to be catching up with other criminal counterparts like murder and manslaughter, but its stringent punishment to impede further actions remains a questionable approach.

If hospitals are built for the sick in order to aid health challenges and prisons serve as rehabilitation centres and reorientation facilities for lawbreakers and offenders; what happens when a mentally impaired person, instead of being taken to a psychiatric home, is arrested, prosecuted and jailed on the premise of an uncoordinated insanity? How do we punish someone who sees suicide as the fastest way or solution of putting an end to a life’s threatening challenge?

These are obviously questions begging for answers in view of the Federal Government’s reviewing of the law on suicide and its implications.

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Virology Centre lies fallow as Lassa fever ravages Ebonyi

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House probes shoddy dealings in centre’s construction

 

In what has become a recurring decimal, the dreaded Lassa fever virus has resurfaced in the country, ravaging 10 states with 16 deaths recorded so far, UCHENNA INYA reports

 

Ebonyi State and other states of the federation are always associated with Lassa fever virus every dry season. In the last one week, the state has been battling to control the virus which returned in full force.

 

The disease has since 2005 claimed over 40 health workers and caused uncountable number of deaths in the state. It has spread to 10 states of the federation since the beginning of this year when it resurfaced. The states are Ebonyi, Edo, Ondo, Bauchi, Nassarawa, Anambra, Benue, Kogi, Imo and Lagos.

 

According to the statistics released by the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), in these 10 states, 107 suspected Lassa fever cases have been recorded with 16 deaths. Out of these figures, Ebonyi has nine confirmed cases and about five deaths.

 

Early last week, there was fresh outbreak of the disease and two medical doctors, Felix Ali and Abel Udoh as well as a nurse, Innocent Iwe, who were all working with the Federal Teaching Hospital Abakaliki (FETHA), died of the virus. They have all been buried to prevent spread of the virus. Until his death, Ali was in Department of Community Medicine while Udo was in the Department of Otorhinolaryngology.

Ali, who hailed from Mgbom community, Afikpo in Afikpo North Local Government of Ebonyi State, left his wife and three children. Udoh, on the other hand, hailed from Akwa Ibom State but married about three years ago to an Ebonyi State woman from Effium in Ohaukwu Local Government Area. Both doctors attended Ebonyi State University (EBSU).

 

 

The nurse, Iwe, hailed from Imo State. Udoh operated on a patient suspected to have had Lassa fever three weeks ago and died, the patient also died. Ali had complications of Lassa fever and he was taken to Irrua Specialist Hospital, where he passed away.

 

On getting the information of Lassa fever outbreak in FETHA, patients, visitors and health workers of the hospital fled. But the hospital was later fumigated to contain the virus. Worried by the development, the National Obstetric Fistula Centre (NOFIC), Abakaliki, evacuated its patients from the hospital following the outbreak of Lassa fever at the FETHA to an undisclosed hospital.

 

NOFIC and a Lassa fever virology centre built by the state government and taken over by the Federal Government are located in the same place inside the FETHA. When our correspondent visited NOFIC, no patient was there. An official of the hospital, who gave his name simply as Jacob, said all the patients in the hospital were evacuated to another hospital.

 

 

He said: “You know this hospital is located beside this virology centre and some of the patients, including the deceased, were taken to the Virology Centre before being evacuated to Irua Specialist Hospital where some of them died early this week. “So, our management feel it is very imperative to evacuate all our patients out of our hospital even though the virology centre has been fumigated.”

 

Jacob disclosed that some of the patients that were evacuated from the hospital had just being operated.

 

The state government built the N350 million ultra-modern Lassa Fever Virology Centre, located inside the FETHA, but was taken over by the Federal Government. But the fresh outbreak of the virus showed that the centre is not functioning as the victims were all taken to Irua Lassa Fever Specialist Hospital, Edo State for medical attention.

 

Death toll in the fresh outbreak of the disease has risen to four. According to statistics released by the state government through the Commissioner for Health, Dr. Daniel Umezuruike, at a joint press conference with his Education counterpart, Prof John Ekeh, the state has a total of nine confirmed Lassa fever cases and four deaths.

 

Three patients are currently on treatment while 139 persons have been placed under surveillance. In anger, Association of Resident Doctors at the FETHA has declared a 21-day sit-at-home to mourn their colleagues and compel the Federal Government to equip the Virology Centre in the state.

 

The doctors blamed the Federal Government for the death of their colleagues through the Lassa fever outbreak. They staged a peaceful protest at the Government House, Abakaliki, the Ebonyi State capital, to show their grievances.

 

The doctors carried placards with inscriptions to vent their anger. They noted that apart from those confirmed dead, another house officer was currently in  a critical situation at the Irrua Specialist Hospital, Edo State. Leader of the protesting doctors, Onwe Mbam, said that since 2005 till date, “there has not been any year that Lassa fever has not killed a health worker”. He said after the construction of the Virology Centre, Governor Dave Umahi handed it to the Federal Government, which promised to equip it.

 

He said nothing had been done since then. Mbam said some of the doctors and the nurses who later died as a result of the outbreak were first taken to the Virology Cente before they were taken to Irrua Specialist Hospital.

 

He said: “We had expected the Federal Government who had before now promised to equip the place to do so. Dr. Felix stayed there a day and his counterpart, Dr. Udoh while the nurse stayed four days there before he was also taken to Irrua where he also died.” Mbam said the doctor was buried immediately to avoid spread of the disease. He added: “Immediately Dr. Felix died, they wrapped him in a body bag, put him in an ambulance and moved him down from Irrua to FETHA gate where we followed him to his village. Before then, we had already communicated them to dig a grave before our arrival.

On getting to the village, we put on our hazmat suits, brought out the corpse, put it in the casket we bought and dumped him in the grave. “Unfortunately, it was only the brother and four villagers that summoned the courage to come close because the disease is highly contagious.

 

Regrettably, the second doctor, Dr. Udoh is still lying in a wooden box close to the mortuary at hazmat suits l. The fact is that, they cannot take him inside the mortuary because he will contaminate other bodies in the mortuary.”

 

Mbam urged the Federal Government to fulfil its promise by fully equipping the Virology Centre. Reacting, the Senior Special Assistant (SSA) to the governor on Health Services, Sunday Nwangele, said the state had taken “some measures to avert the spread”. He added that a virologist had been invited by the state government to manage the centre and train other virologists in the state on how to run the centre.

 

Nwangele said that on arrival, the virologist would manage all outstanding cases for about two months and put in place every outstanding machine in the centre before leaving the state. He said the contact tracing committee had commenced work while the governor had released substantial amount of money to ensure that the situation was brought under control.

 

The SSA urged the doctors to remain calm and go about their normal business and assured them of government’s commitment to their safety and welfare.

 

Arising from its emergency CONTINUED FROM PAGE 27 general meeting held at the Association of Resident Doctors (ARD FETHA) Secretariat, Abakaliki, the Ebonyi State branch of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), in a communiqué signed by its Chairman, Dr. Ikwudinma Austin, and Secretary, Dr. Ariom Anthony Ifeanyi, the association urged the Federal Government to promptly equip and activate to an optimal functioning capacity, the Virology Centre to serve Lassa fever patients.

 

“Since the facility was built by the Ebonyi State government and designated a Virology Centre, despite no functionality, there has been increased referral cases from neighbouring states like Cross River, Benue, Enugu, Imo, Abia, hence increasing the risk of the staff of FETHA and surrounding communities as diagnosis can still not be made in the said Virology Centre.

 

“The Federal Government should live up to its promises through the Hon. Minister of Health, Prof Isaac Adewole, on the 5th of September 2016, to make the Virology Centre in Abakaliki a national referral centre by making it functional,” the communiqué reads in part.

 

It called on the management of the FETHA and other hospitals to acknowledge the endemic nature of Lassa fever and promptly provide basic personnel protective equipment for safe health service delivery in the state. “To buttress this fact, the epidemic killed two medical doctors in less than one week of developing symptoms. A nurse, who had been on Ribavirin, a very potent drug in the treatment of Lassa fever, still deteriorated and died.

 

This makes it a national security issue and calls for declaration of a state of emergency in the health sector in the state. “The Federal Government should not play politics with this and urgently rise to the occasion of securing the lives of inhabitants of Ebonyi State and the entire South East region,” the communiqué added. Meanwhile, public, private and mission schools in the state have been shut down for one week following the outbreak of the virus.

The Commissioner for Health, Dr. Daniel Umezuruike, and his Education counterpart, Prof John Eke, said the measure was to control the spread of the disease. Umezurike said: “There are outbreaks of a similar disease in other states of the federation and in Ebonyi State; record has it that we have a total of nine confirmed cases and four deaths. We have three patients on treatment and all of them are doing well.

 

We have contact tracing and we have 139 people we have kept on surveillance. “So, the situation is under control because we have set up all the committees and strategies to ensure that this disease is brought under control within the shortest possible time and the strategies are working out well. We don’t have new cases of the disease as at yesterday, so the situation has been brought under control.

 

“Schools’ closure came up when we had three positive cases and Ministry of Education noticed that one of them has children in schools and closed down schools in Ebonyi State. We have put all the strategies in place and everything is working out. We believe that the situation will be brought under control. “The deaths are very unfortunate and we sympathise with the families of the deceased.

 

One of the circumstances surrounding the deaths was late presentation because the three cases came from three axes. “In one of the cases, a doctor took ill two weeks ago and he was taken self-medication; treating himself of malaria and typhoid.”

 

On his part, Ekeh said the situation was not alarming, adding that things were under control. The shutting down of schools in the state created panic among students, pupils, teachers and parents. Ekeh said the decision was taken following a mother who tested positive to the disease. When our correspondent visited some public, private and mission schools in Abakaliki at 8:30a.m. last Thursday, parents were seen withdrawing their children from the schools on hearing the shutting down of schools by the government. Management of the schools were on ground to ensure that those who came to school were asked to return home.

 

A teacher, Miss Ifeanyinwa Nwokoro, bemoaned the outbreak of the disease and said that they decided to comply with government’s directive in the interest of their children. Meanwhile, all the public, private and mission schools earlier shut to control the spread of the Lassa fever have reopened by the state government. The Commissioner for Education, Ekeh said the schools were reopened as no new case of the disease had been reported.

 

Ekeh commiserated with the  families who lost their loved ones and urged all residents to always keep their environment clean. He said: “The measure taken by government prevented the disease from spreading into schools, and I am happy that we did not lose any of our pupils or students to the disease. “The government and people of Ebonyi State sympathise and condole with families that lost their loved ones to the disease. We, however, call on the public to maintain good personal hygiene to stay safe. “We also appeal to our teachers and school administrators to redouble their efforts so as to cover the second term academic calendar.”

 

As the panic over the outbreak of Lassa fever in the state raged, the state House of Assembly summoned the contractors that built the Lassa Fever Virology Centre in the state which the Federal Government took over.

 

The Chairman, House Committee on Health, Oliver Osi, approached the speaker in a matter of urgent public importance during plenary of the House at the Assembly Complex, Nkaliki Road, Abakaliki, praying the house to liaise with the National Assembly Committees on Health to make budgetary provision for the centre this year for enhanced performance.

 

 

He also called on relevant agencies to come to the assistance of the state to contain the virus. The lawmaker also condemned the inability of the Federal Government to put the centre into optimal use. Osi prayed the House to invite the contractor, Dr. Charles Akujuobi from COSCHARIS to appear before the House and explain why he could not install all the equipment in the centre as provided in the contract agreement.

 

He said: “Mr. Speaker, honourable colleagues, the state government has invested so much in the building of the centre and subsequently handed it over to the Federal Government. We are surprised that the Federal Government has not fully utilised the centre.

 

We are told that the dialysis and the PCR units are not operational despite the money paid to the contractor. Up till now, samples are still being taken to Benin for test.”

 

The motion, which was seconded by Mrs. Franca Okpo of Abakaliki North constituency, sparked reactions from the lawmakers who condemned the ugly scenario and called for stiffer punishment for those who contributed to the death of the medical staff. The Deputy Speaker, Hon. Odefa Obasi Odefa, regretted that one of the victims was an old boy of Government Secondary School, Afikpo who worked hard to reach the status of a medical doctor only to die as a result of sabotage.

 

He called for the prosecution of the individuals by the anti-graft agencies to serve as deterrent to others. While reacting to the submissions of the members, the Speaker, Hon. Francis Nwifuru, described it as wickedness and negligence. He upheld the prayers as contained in the report after making some amendments. Governor Dave Umahi has also described the outbreak of the disease as unfortunate. Umahi, who immediately approved N7 million to control the virus, said all relatives of the victims must be put on close monitoring.

 

He said: “We were told that the Lassa fever emanated from efforts to save the life of somebody from Ala Hausa (the place inhabited by Hausa people) who also journeyed outside the state to the Hausa Quarters. “But the annoying thing is that since we handed over the Lassa fever centre (Virology Centre) to the Federal Government, they have not fully taken it over. It is not fully functional. That also very annoying is that the committee we set up to build the place and equip it did not tell us that the supplier of the equipment has not fully installed them.

 

“Nobody told us and that is very sad. So, we have had several meetings; yesterday and today and so we have agreed that we will release N5 million for them to source for experts from Benin and Lagos states. I have also called the Minister of Health, he also sent experts from Abuja. “So, N5 million is to activate the place fully and get experts to start training. We are committed to spending more funds as needs would arise.

 

“In a our meeting with NMA, FETHA CMD and their team this morning, we agreed to release the sum of N2 million because the contact is from Ala Hausa to Macgregor Martha Hospital to the Federal Teaching Hospital, Abakaliki.

 

“So, what we have agreed is to get three names from NMA to be members of the Lassa Fever Committee and then, get a subcommittee out of that so that they will now be on a kind of monitoring divided into groups. One will be at Ala Hausa, the other one at FETHA and then Martha Hospital.”

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