Uniting for developmental projects
As a microcosm of the Igbo worldview of unity, development and progress, the Ezumezu festival of Igbere in Bende Local Government Area of Abia State is significant in many respects. It is a triennial festival in which everyone born in or married to the community identifies with irrespective of gender and social status, IGBEAKU ORJI writes
Ezumezu festival provides a veritable platform for review of events in Igbere community in the past three years and projections for the next three.
In most communities in Igbo land a day is set aside to appraise the performance of the community in terms of development and to make projections for the future. Most communities have used such platforms to lift the people. Aside, developmental projects, empowerment programmes have been undertaken. The result is that such communities no longer wait for government to provide them with basic amenities as the well-to-do are compelled by culture and tradition to give back a part of their wealth to the society.
Self-help community developmental projects are undertaken either by well-to-do individuals, organisations or the town union as the umbrella body that encapsulates the collective aspirations of the people. However, while in some communities some individuals who lack the means or the generosity to contribute may have no compulsion to do so, there is no such leeway in Igbere.
In Igbere, as in other communities in Old Bende area, including Abam, Abiriba, Ohafia, just to mention a few, the age grade system is a strong traditional institution through which projects are executed without waiting for government’s intervention. Everyone is involved either as individuals or through the age grade system.
Institutions like schools, hospitals, maternities, health centres, as well as projects such as bridges, culverts, town halls, scholarships and skill acquisition programmes have been provided for the benefit of deserving members of the community.
For instance, the popular Enuda High School, Egwuana Girls Secondary School, Akahaba General Hospital, among others, in Abiriba community, were built by the age grade whose names they bear. In some other communities with fewer people of means in which a particular age grade cannot singlehandedly complete a school or hospital project within record time, it will be given a block of classrooms to complete and hand over to the community as its contribution to community development before its retirement from community service. This explains the reason tradition compels everyone to participate in community development via the age grade system. Over the years the system has become stronger as it provides the community a pool of financial and material resources for its development. Beside developmental projects, the age grade as the police of the community, also provides security of lives and property.
The age grade system is a leveller; whatever attainment in academics, politics and commerce one has is subsumed under the bonding unity and sense of equality of the age grade. Such achievements, though by individual members of the age grade, is for the collective pride and honour of every other member. Every member of the age grade participates in community watch, night or day. Those, who reside outside the community and so by nature of business and residence, cannot take part personally, directly, do so by paying a token. Where the age grade system is strong respect for elders is sacrosanct. The tradition serves as a bulwark against the eroding blight of westernisation in which educational attainment and acquisition of wealth tend to replace age long honour and respect for elders. Political differences rather than destroy the fabric of the age grade system has no place in it at all as it serves as a melting pot for members from different backgrounds. The age grade has also become a platform for assisting members of the age grade itself who are handicapped to stand either in commerce or other endeavours in order to contribute their quota through the age grade to the development of the community.
The 2017 Ezumezu festival was held from December 24 to 27, 2017. It was a colourful celebration of unity, progress and development of Igbere community. It also served the triple purpose of the traditional retirement (Igbotomma) of the oldest age grade in service from community service, ascendancy of the succeeding age grade to the administrative authority of the community, naming of a new and youngest age grade and fundraising.
In neighbouring communities, the ceremony is called Igba Uche, Ila Oso, Omume Ogwe, Igba Ota Omu, Ipu Ogo, etc. Unlike its neighbours and indeed the larger Igbo land, Igbere has had the exceptional privilege of producing chief executives of three states at different times both in the military era and political dispensation. The late Commander Amadi Ikwechegh was the military administrator of the old Imo State. Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu was the governor of Abia State from 1999 to 2007, while Emmanuel Ukaegbu was at the helm of affairs in Enugu State. This explains the uncommon development of the rural community both in infrastructure and human resource. Though a rural community, Igbere has all the trappings of a modern city. It has a modern market and good network of roads not common in rural communities.
As the Oganihu Ebiri age grade steps out, Omezi Ebiri age grade takes over. The retiring age grade handed over the doctors’ quarters it completed to the community on December 25 as its contribution to community service. That was aside the ICT Complex at the Igbere Secondary School attracted by a member of the age grade and the Federal Character Commission, Dr. Iboko Imo Iboko. The service earned them a place of honour and retirement as they clock 65 years. No true member of the age grade is less than 65 years.
Chief Jones Udeogu, retired permanent secretary and former commissioner for Finance and Economic Planning, Abia State, a co-chair of the event, captured the mood succinctly in a speech delivered on the second day of the event entitled: “Consolidation of the Dignity, Tradition and Cultural Values of Igbere Clan.”
Udeogu identified four distinguishing features held jealously and bequeathed by their forebears which had kept the community ahead as “unity, unity of purpose, security of persons and community, preservation of our cultures and common heritage”.
He said: “Ezumezu is for unity, development and progress of our community. As we gather here every three years we contribute money for the development of the community. This Igbere Secondary School was built in 1975 by community effort. We have bridges, halls, health centres, library, market; all done by an age grade. It’s when we are here we gather and donate. The privileged ones will give more and the Igbere Welfare Union will manage the resources for the benefit of the community. As a clan, this is the only thing that holds us together, the Igbere Welfare Union. We have 13 age grades that cut across the 13 villages that make up Igbere.
“The new age grade is given a name and a project to execute for the community. It lasts for a period of 35 years. During the period you serve the community, you do contribution, you do night watch or you pay money in lieu.”
Also, while the autonomous status has torn some communities, which were hitherto one, apart, Igbere has remained uniquely one, according to Udeogu.
He added: “Look at what that unity brought to us. We have used unity both as a culture and tradition to give ourselves schools, hospitals, bridges that today are giving us the self-respect and a feeling of self-importance. Today, among the communities that enjoyed the autonomous largesse of the government Igbere clan remains an enigma. We are all autonomous of each other, yet we remain one community, one people under the same government. We cannot afford not to be united. This you cannot find in any other community in Abia State. Our problem is how to consolidate this unity as a tradition and culture in Igbere clan.”
While he paid glowing tribute to the visionary leaders who laid the foundation of progress and development in the community, Udeogu challenged the new generation to preserve and surpass it.
Udeogu posed some rhetorical questions to his generation to reflect on as far as the unity, unity of purpose and development of the community and its people were concerned.
He said: “The question now is how are we making these shared experiences and beliefs stronger for us and for our children so that we will continue to reap the benefits? Do we have unity in Igbere Clan as our elders envisaged and bequeathed unto us? It has never happened before that any part of Igbere will go to war alone. It had always been a collective Igbere war but today, we are fighting modern wars of environmental degradation. How collectively is Igbere helping each other? I am of the opinion that we should belong to different political blocks but what we do with our differences is entirely up-to us. Is it to betray your brother? Is it to betray your community interest because of political promises? Where is the mantra of Onye-agbala-nge-nge? Should our political differences destroy the rest of Igbere or the objectives of NdeIgbere? Does your dignity mean deceiving your community? Is this a part of the traditions?
“Every three years, we celebrate our Ezumezu and we will make donations to the development of Igbere that will never be redeemed. Is this how we are consolidating our traditions and cultural values by deceiving our people? Ask all the age grades that hosted Ezumezu how much donations were made and how much is redeemed and by whom? How do we encourage the younger ones? By enslaving them, not paying them for the work they did for us? Do you attend Igbere
Welfare meetings in your domain?
“This Ezumezu, Ulo Nkuma, Obi ebiri Hall, Igbere Health Centre, the Primary Schools in Igbere, Igbere Secondary School and so many others are all a product of Igbere Welfare Union. Do you attend their meetings? Do you pay your levies? What is your contribution to these things that unite us? Culture and tradition is not all about dances. It is the people’s way of life and their shared interests. Igbere Welfare Union is our tradition and culture, how far have we supported it and its ideas? How are we preserving these cultural heritages for our children? The only university that teaches Igbere traditional and cultural values is Igbere Welfare Union meetings. Are you a part of it?”
It has not been all rosy. Igbere has had its share of upheavals common in most human societies. In 1998 a crisis that shook the community to its very foundation engulfed it but thankfully did not consume it. It emerged from the crisis stronger.
Udeogu said: “History is replete with gory stories of wars and enslavement. Igbere was never conquered by the slave raiders hence the name Igbere which means ‘Indomitable people or as some will say Igbo eri which means the impenetrable fortress of Eri the son of Manasseh the son of Jacob Israel”.
He, however, lamented that the rich history has been tainted with tales of burglaries, drug trafficking and armed robbery and challenged the Uke ji Ogo and Uke chegha Ogo (the community vigilance age grade) to rise to the new challenge.
The Chairman of the third day, Gordy Uche, SAN, noted that more than any other time, the issue of community development has become non-negotiable now that government has reneged on all its responsibilities to the people. Uche challenged the people to put the community first in their development agendum.
He said: “The Igbere Secondary School was so dilapidated that the students and teachers left. It is age grade and associations in Igbere that are now renovating the school with funds raised in this festival. The erosion menace in the community has been tackled with funds raised on this ground.
Former Governor of Abia State and prominent son of Igbere, Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu, described the event as a triennial celebration for sons and daughters from all walks of life to return home.
He said: “Our people from all walks of life are here. We are one community; we celebrate within our limit. You can see we are doing things to testify our common ancestry. It was at the same Ezumezu that President Muhammadu Buhari was given title here in 2003. So you can see we have a very fair minded developmental community who knows what we want.”
The President General of Igbere Welfare Union, Elder Uwakwe Okoronkwo, explained that “we do it to ensure absolute peace. Since three days ago we have been commissioning projects.”
The Chairman, Planning Committee of the 2017 Ezumezu festival, Dr. Uche Daniel Eke, said: “We use it to retire the aged age grade and to usher in an incoming age grade to take over their position. We also use the opportunity to raise fund for the development of the community.”
Deacon Ijoma Abara Abara, a retired permanent secretary, and a member of the retiring Oganihu age grade, said that the unique feature of the event and the community is the unity that pervades the 13 villages that make up the clan.
He said: “The unity that is pervading in Igbere is not easy to find in other places. There may be disagreement but the moment it comes to the Igbere general movement, there is no disagreement. That is why everybody is here. This happens every three years to formally come together and thank the age grade for what they have done and then formally retire them.”
From then onwards they are exempted from community levies, taxes, contributions and all of that.
But Abara advised his peers not to abandon the community on the basis of retirement since they are still strong and successful.
He added: “We built the doctors’ quarters which we handed over on December 25.”
Iyke Ekeoma was the Chief Press Secretary and Media Adviser to then Governor of Abia State, Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu. He is a member of the Omezi Ebiri the age grade that has taken over the mantle of leadership. He is excited about the event because it has provided the platform for periodic get together and development of the community. The biggest event of the Ezumezu, according to him, is the retirement of the oldest age grade.
He said: “When you retire it doesn’t mean you are tired out, it only means that within the community nobody will ask you to pay anything.”
The ceremony confers on one the honour of being an elder in the community. Ekeoma said the strong age grade system was responsible for the success and progress the community has achieved.
“Here everyone identifies with his or her age grade no matter your status. The age grades are the ones that build and maintain this community and have done so since the existence of this community. For instance, this secondary school that you’re looking at was built by an age grade and every aspect of the school project was undertaken by the age grade.
“Another agency for community development is the development union; anywhere we are in Nigeria we have the Igbere Development Union there. For that reason things happen. For instance, the Igbere Development Union in America came together and rebuilt this school, that is what makes it unique and the reason you see everybody here,” he added.
Ogwo Ekeoma Ojum, a medical doctor and retired permanent secretary, belongs to the Omezi Ebiri age grade that has taken over the mantle. He said an age grade was formed within a three year range.
Those born within three years form an age grade and the retirement of the oldest ushers in the youngest to maintain the status quo of the number of age grades active in the community at a particular time.
He said: “As the next age grade to take over the mantle we built the market, we will renovate it and hand over in 2020.”
Also Igbere has what he called communal integration, with the motto Onyeaghala Nwanneya, which means “do not leave your brother behind”.
He added: “It might interest you to know that Igbere has produced three governors, Amadi Ikwechegh, who was the first, followed by Ukaegbu who was an administrator in Enugu State and then Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu who was governor from 1999 to 2007. And these governors were always looking inwards. The age grade will always pull him back to look in and develop our place, so that is why we are so developed.”
Mr. Ekwuribe Ugochukwu, the principal of Igbere Secondary School, the beneficiary of both the renovation and ICT centre saw it as a fulfilment of a life-long dream though it happened a few months to his retirement.
He said: “It is a fund from the Nigeria Communication Commission (NCC) that sponsored the school knowledge centre. It was funded by the Universal Service Provision fund and it was erected by Zinox Technologies. But the person that attracted it to Igbere happens to be Dr Iboko Imo Iboko of the Federal Character Commission.”
The ultra-modern centre has 40 brand new computer sets.
His Majesty Eze Uwakwe Onwubike Ukaegbu, Ofufe 11 of Amaofufe Igbere, a traditional ruler and a member of the retiring age grade, said “Ezumezu is a ceremony that helps Igbere community to develop itself. We have 13 villages and we have 13 age grades. We use it to help ourselves as a community. We have built bridge, road, which Ekeoma has built up to Ozuitem and rehabilitated the roads around the community.
“The Oganiru, my age grade, has 280 persons. I am the only traditional ruler in our age grade. We built health centre and doctors’ quarters in Igbere with borehole. The Igwu River Orji Uzor built for us used to be a death trap. In those days we used to go there everyone with stone to fill it to make it motorable when it was Bailey bridge. Evidence of God’s blessing/favour abounds in the community.
“For instance, in 1993 when I lit the unity torch and in 1996 I lit the second one, by 1999 my younger brother, Orji Uzor, was made governor of Abia State, in 2003, Emmanuel Ukaegbu was made Governor of Anambra State while Amadi Ikwechegh had been the governor of Imo State. So each time I pray it happens. God blesses us because we put God first in everything we do. We don’t consult mediums or sorcerers; what we know is the Bible and each time we read it God blesses us beyond our expectations. He fights our battles. There was an incident that would have torn Igbere apart, but God fought for us and restored peace. Today there is peace in Igbere.”
Chief Jerry Okechukwunyerem Kalu, a businessman and politician, and a member of the retiring age grade, described Ezumezu as “a time we exhibit our cultural heritage. It’s also a time when new laws/resolutions are made for the people to adopt. Igbere is unique in development and progress because we don’t discriminate the education of our children on the basis of gender. We give everyone equal opportunity because we believe that progress can come through anyone. It started from our forefathers, who were serious in everything they did including training their children.
“Also in the age grade system we try to help each other so that we grow together. We try to love each other, this is what we preach; we preach progress. If you forget your car key or phone here somebody will keep it for you, you don’t lose it. This is what we do and train our children to continue that way.”
Delta Steel Company: Dashed hope of a nation
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
Suicide law: When the dead is guilty
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.
Virology Centre lies fallow as Lassa fever ravages Ebonyi
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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I’ll solve herdsmen/farmers clashes if elected, says Lamido