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Inside Abuja

A good day for prison inmates

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As part of the Christmas celebrations, some inmates of the Kuje Medium Security Prison, the Federal Capital Territory, were set free on grounds of prerogative of mercy. CALEB ONWE reports

 

For over two hours, the ministerial delegation and journalists were within the four walls of Kuje Medium Security Prison, located on the outskirt of Abuja.

They were there, not as prisoners or detainees but as harbingers of good news. On the entourage were the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Mallam Mohammad Bello; Minister of Justice and the Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami; Chief Judge of FCT, Justices Ishaq Bello, and other legal minds. The delegation were on a journey to the ‘ land of loneliness’ where some Nigerian citizens who ran afoul of the law were kept behind the bars. One of the thought-provoking messages that must get glued to the mind of all visitors to prison facility is, that apart from the gifts of life and a healthy body, the next gift that every living being must crave for is the gift of freedom.

This understanding must have been the motivation behind the trip as the august visitors went to prison with the best gift anyone could offer the inmates at Christmas, which is freedom for 114 inmates.

As a popular saying goes, freedom does not come cheap, the FCT Minister, represented by the FCT Permanent Secretary, Christian Ohaa; coughed out over N1m to pay pending fines on behalf of these inmates who have been languishing behind bars for many months and even years.

Apart from the 114 inmates whose secret night sobbing and prayers, God used the Minister of FCT to answer, about 12 other inmates also got answers to their prayers, as the Chief Judge of FCT, a Civil Society Group, and other individuals, turned on the humanity in them to heed to the prodding of their inner minds to reach out to the inmates with freedom. The 114 inmates that were released by the FCT Minister after paying the fines were not physically present at the Kuje Prison, but at Suleja and Keffi prisons.

While the ceremony of their release was performed at Kuje, the Chief Judge of FCT, as the officiating ‘ Chief Priest’ in the temple of Justice, justified the action by saying that though Suleja and Keffi prisons were in Niger and Nasarawa states respectively, they are under the jurisdiction of Abuja. The Chief Judge, who also doubles as the Chairman, Presidential Committee on Prison Reforms and Decongestion, pointedly told the inmates who were set free to go home ” and sin no more”.

Inside Abuja also gathered that aside the Minister’s benevolence that got these inmates out of prisons, his administration has also allocated land for the building of a children and youths prison, as a way of providing a standard rehabilitation facility for delinquent youths in the society.

“We have concluded arrangements to build a world class Children and Youth Prison. We are also going to build a booster Institute that would serve as counselling and rehabilitation centre that would reshape our youths and children,” he said.

The fines paid for the freed inmates ranged between N50,000 to N250,00 for minor offences.. Bello said: “We are paying this court fines for these inmates as part of the FCT contributions to prison decongestion in the territory.

We are also using the gesture to assist the less privileged inmates to become free citizens as we know that they may be left in prison for longer times because they have no one to assist them’’.

Chairman of the Presidential Committee on Prison Reforms and Decongestion, Justice Ishaq Bello, who expressed gratitude for the gestures in bailing out the young and vulnerable persons from the prisons, stated that the proposed children and young people’s prison will go a long way to changing the attitude of the youths from being wayward and also help in reforming the society.

“It is not that the minister paid only for the people who could not pay fines for their release but he has also agreed to establish a children and youth centre in the FCT. We are happy to announce that this is only happening in the FCT among other states and that should be a very big rehabilitation centre. It will certainly be an extension of the prison and what we intend to achieve is to provide a sort of shelter to those who sleep under the bridges instead of allowing them to be loitering on the streets.

In the plan, we should be having psychologists, counsellors and other important child trainers, who will help reform these young people and thereafter, reintegrate them with their families”, he said. Lucky inmates Inside Abuja can confirm that the happiest of all the released inmates, was Musa Abdullahi, a 60-year-old man, who ran into the hook of the law when he allegedly entered a car that was being used by armed robbers.

The car was said to have been abandoned by the criminals when security agents engaged them in a gun duel. The man was very unlucky to have been found inside the car at the arrival of the security agents.

Since in the face of the law, the man was a suspect by circumstantial evidence, he was arrested and thrown in to the prison. He told the Chief Judge that he had spent more than four years in the prison without any legal representation in the court. Inside Abuja observed that when the man was asked to go home and ” sin no more”, even the prison warders, were in a jubilation mood. Some of the prison officials clapped and shouted in admiration of the uncommon gestures that broke the prison bands of the old man.

They may have seen the man’s innocence all these while, but had no power to release him. Another freed inmate, whose

show of appreciation to the Judge, elicited some emotional outbursts, was Abdulahi Salisu. He was 17-year-old when he was brought to the prison on the accusation that he killed someone.

Salisu was eventually convicted and sentenced to death by hanging and had spent 16 years behind bars, and have been transferred from one prison to another around the country, before coming to Kuje prison, where he met his saviour.

The young man, who was overwhelmed by the freedom he got unexpectedly, quickly went down on his knees and bowed his head on the ground to appreciate the gesture. Inside Abuja gathered that he was released by the Judge because he was convicted as a minor in the face of the law.

Hard luck While it was a day of salvation and freedom for some, it was not for the others, who were asked to wait for another opportunity, perhaps when ” the next Angel will come to stir the pool.”

One of such unlucky inmate was Jeddida Ezenwa, also known in the prison as Igwe, who on face value did not look like an inmate considering his pot belly, plump body and well groomed dress sense. However as the law is not ” a respecter of anyone”, Ezenwa has been in the confines of the prison yard, five years and eight months.

According to the man, who was so confident that the Judge’s human disposition was going to favour him, and break the prison bands off his neck, he was thrown into the prison by sheer conspiracy.

Ezenwa, whose testimony before the Judge did not differ from what the prison document read out, said about him, was disappointed when the Judge told him to wait for his case to be given an accelerated hearing as the court had decided. Inside Abuja saw signs of disappointment on his face when he was walking back to his prison cell, escorted by a prison warder.

One aspect of Ezenwa’s case that elicited interest was the revelation that his trouble with the law started when he bought a car worth N12.5million.

In the over five years he had spent behind the bars, he had only been taken to court to answer for his alleged crime, only once.

Another unlucky inmate was Segun Adejoro, who was said to have been brought to the prison because he was found with a vehicle that was conveying some substances suspected to be Cannabis. The consignment weighed 193.2kg. He was also told to wait for the court to decide on his matter that was already fixed for January 22, 2018.

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Inside Abuja

Confronting unemployment with skills acquisition

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As unemployment continues to fester in the country, governments and other stakeholders, who are bent on winning the battle, have continued to evolve new strategies for more effective attack against the common enemy. CALEB ONWE reports

 

The creation of three million jobs annually was one of the campaign promises of the All Progressives Congress (APC), the ruling party in Nigeria. Now, the fulfilment of that promise in the fashion that would meet the expectations of the masses, appears not to have been feasible.

 

The expectations of Nigerians, especially those in the labour market was a magical expansion in availability of white collar jobs in the government establishments, oil companies and other private corporations.

 

These expectations, however, became a mirage, following ‘ the technical recession’ that almost crippled the economy. Instead of the upsurge in employment opportunities, job losses came like an unwanted harmattan wind, blowing across all sectors of the labour market.

 

All of a sudden, a new realisation dawned on the stakeholders, that if ” the desirable is not available, the available can become the desirable”. This could be the motivating factor behind the new wave of skills acquisition training that is swiftly blowing across the country.

 

The realization that the scourge of unemployment would be better tackled by helping people to get relevant skills have started gaining considerable space in the public domain. It appears that both the old and young are seeing the need to change their orientation about employment by laying emphasis on job creation rather than waiting for non existent white collar jobs.

 

 

NEPAD’s skills training

 

The New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) Nigeria, recently graduated 300 persons, including rural women and youths in its skills acquisition training programme.

 

These vulnerable members of the society were trained on various skills such as beads-making, cake-baking, soap-making, hair cutting and make-up artistry.

 

Coordinator of NEPAD, Nigeria, Mrs. Gloria Akobundu, said the training programme was part of its core mandate. NEPAD, Nigeria, Akobundu said, has a mandate to identify policies, projects and programmes of government aimed at promoting good governance, poverty eradication, youth and women empowerment and sustainable growth and development.

 

“This skill acquisition training is a way of alleviating poverty in the society and reducing the level of unemployment amongst our youths. It was designed to empower women with information necessary for driving economic development.

 

 

“Over 300 of you that have acquired various skills in beads, cake, soap making, make-up and barbing will justify the resources government has spent on you in the course of your training with a view to making sure that government achieve its objectives. However, due to paucity of funds, we would not provide starter-packs for all of you except the 150 participants in beads, cake making make-up and barbing classes who were outstanding during the trainings” , she said.

 

 

Akobundu told Inside Abuja at the graduation ceremony, that the main targets of the programme were the rural women, and it was being driven by the ideology of ‘ train a woman, train a nation’, which the present administration in Nigeria believes is one of the propelling forces of economic development.

 

She said that the skills acquisition training would be sustained as a crucial economic empowerment booster in government’s fight against poverty and insecurity in the country. Akobundu also noted that the programme was designed to provide rural women with information necessary for economic emancipation.

 

Inside Abuja also learnt that NEPAD had included a plan in the blueprint of the training, to ensure that beneficiaries were not abandoned in the ‘middle of the sea’, especially for those of them who may not be able to navigate the economic environment without a guide.

 

 

Akobundu disclosed that her agency has a Department of Monitoring and Evaluation that would track the progress of those trained and empowered to establish at least in a micro scale the trade they have learnt.

 

Inside Abuja’s investigations revealed that not all the 300 beneficiaries of the training got the starter-packs. According to available records, only 150 best performing participants in the programme got the starter packs.

 

Akobundu explained that “due to paucity of funds, we would not provide starter-packs for all of you except the 150 participants in beads, cake making make-up and barbing classes who were outstanding during the trainings”

 

 

The beneficiaries

 

Inside Abuja sought the views of some of the participants, who seemed to be happy that the yoke of unemployment have been broken in their lives. Though some expressed mixed feelings, others however were grateful for the opportunity.

 

 

Those who were not given the starter- packs, complained bitterly about the exclusion, saying that they were disappointed by not getting something that could boost the knowledge they gained from the training.

 

Though, they said that the hope of getting either money or material from NEPAD as an initial grant was not lost, they appealed that the value of the training should not be allowed to waste away by neglecting one of their greatest needs, which is access to finance.

 

One of the beneficiaries of the programme, an 82-year-old woman, Mrs. Rita Onuekwusi, who claimed she spent all her life in Britain, disclosed that her decision to join the skills acquisition training, was not because she lacks entrepreneurial skills, but that she needed to get acquainted with what is obtainable in the Nigerian society.

 

The octogenarian also said she keyed into the programme to inspire other women who basically waited for their husband’s or children to provide all their needs.

 

“I joined this programme to inspire other women, who are depending on their husband and children to provide for them always. Such life style is not encouraged in the place where I am coming from. Women should acquire skills that will empower them and make them independent, even at old age. At my age, I have many skills with which I am using to encourage other women,” she said.

 

 

Another beneficiary, Ibenene Ebelechukwu, a journalist by profession, said she attended the training to acquire some skills in make-up artistry. She said the training gave her a boost to become her own boss, instead of allowing her time to be controlled by employers.

 

She told Inside Abuja that she had already established the trade with the knowledge she got from the training. Though, she could not open a shop for the business, but she has attached herself to another makeup artist, just to further hone her skills and products.

 

“I want to thank NEPAD and the Federal Government for giving us the opportunity to get the training. I don’t have a saloon of my own but have attached to other people and I am already getting calls from customers who are beginning to demand for my services;” she said.

 

 

The last line

 

From Inside Abuja’ observation, most of the beneficiaries of the training may never be able to get loans to start the trade. Though, there was excitement written on their faces over the new skills they acquired, the poverty alleviation process would be not complete if they do not have access to start-up funds to run their small scale businesses.

 

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Inside Abuja

Saving them from self destruction

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Angwan Tivi in Ruga community, a sex den for a good number of men in Abuja, is slowly turning into a HIV-infested den. REGINA OTOKPA reports on a unique case and efforts of a concerned NGO to change the tale of the community

 

Seventeen-year-old Christiana David (not real name), is five months pregnant and currently infected with the Human Immune Virus (HIV). She is one of the young women engaged in illicit sex trade activities at Angwan Tivi, a settlement within Ruga community in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja.

 

Growing up like every other child, Christiana never envisaged her life would take this turn until two years ago when her mother, Sarah (not real name), whose husband is late, introduced Christiana and her two sisters into the business of prostitution at the brothel where she has been selling food since 2015.

 

Showing no remorse her children were involved in such trade, she told Inside Abuja her husband was late and she and her daughters must hustle to survive.

 

Inside Abuja checks revealed that one of the sisters presently has a child, unsure of whom the father is, while the second recently had an abortion from an unwanted pregnancy.

 

 

Meanwhile, Christiana, who still engages in the act with her five-month pregnancy, has not been able to assess antenatal care. It was also observed that men flock in from all parts of Abuja, including Utako, Asokoro, Gwarinpa and the likes, to patronise these ladies. Running free HIV counselling and test for the women engaged in the illicit trade, the Wanda Adu foundation recorded 25 positive cases.

 

 

Most of the women and young girls hail from Benue State, but have found their way into the city with the aim of making a living for themselves.

 

Worried by the developing trend and committed towards changing the tale about Angwan Tivi, founder of the foundation, Wanda Ebe, has commenced a two weeks training and empowerment exercise for 62 girls and women, to equip them with necessary information and materials on chemical classes for liquid soap, Dettol and cream production.

 

Also, the training would cover bead making, teach the ladies how to tie head scarf(gele), as well as pedicure and manicure .

 

Ebe, who recently trained 20 women in Mpape, told Inside Abuja that the idea behind making the ladies learn and acquire vocational skills was to assist them become self sustained and to teach them to always believe in themselves by engaging in different types of business rather than relying on the men for their means of survival.

 

 

“It is more honourable to have a means of livelihood and grow a business than to rely on the government or individuals to meet their needs on a daily basis.

 

 

 

We are seeking for ways of empower- ing them and making them better individuals. This will give them an opportunity to choose from all the skills they learnt at the end of the training and be able to stand out on one particular skill.”

 

Committed to ensuring those free from HIV protect themselves from contracting sexually transmitted diseases and other forms of disease affecting females, Ebe took time, advising the ladies on preventive methods.

 

 

Taking a step further, sanitary pads, condoms, antiseptic and liquid soaps were distributed to the ladies. “It is very essential to use condom when engaging in sexual activity with your partner.

 

Do not hesitate or wait till tomorrow as you cannot detect disease with mere eyes. We have provided means of doing voluntary counseling and testing through AIDS healthcare foundation (AHF), which will give you follow up treatment after the diagnosis,” Ebe said.

 

 

She urged Nigerians not to judge women who indulge in sex trade from afar, saying that,”we should learn to show love to them and not chastise them, because we don’t know where they are coming from and what they have been through.

 

 

Most of these ladies happen to start this kind of life due to being single mothers ” Capitalising on the Valentine

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Business

Post-recession: Savouring gains of diversification

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With the recent economic recession over, the Federal Government has shifted focus to non-oil sector with emphasis on agriculture and solid minerals where lies huge economic potential. reports Abudlwahab Isa

 

Many are of the opinion that the last economic recession was self-inflicted, induced by over dependence on crude oil and absence of elaborate plan for diversification.
With the economy out of the woods due to rapid deployment of various policy instruments and miraculous rebound in crude oil price, there is a renewed push to escalate the huge potential in the non-oil sector of the economy with agriculture and solid minerals taking the lead.
Interestingly, the Federal Government, having seen the danger of relying predominantly on crude oil with all its unpredictable vagaries, initiated reforms in these alternative sectors for economic value addition.
Besides the steps taken to boost the agric sector and the gains derived therein so far, a major policy thrust put in place to enhance the sector’s potential is the Agriculture Promotion Policy 2016-2020 document otherwise known as “The Green Alternative,” which is the outcome of an intensive consultative process starting in November 2015 through April 2016 and involving multiple stakeholders.
From farmer groups to investors to processors to lenders to civil servants to academics, many stakeholders provided detailed input, commentary, and support.
While commenting on the initiative, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development expressed gratitude for the resources, energy and intellect put at the disposal of the ministry by parties too numerous to mention for their continued dedication and resolve to build a next generation agribusiness economy in Nigeria.
“Building on the successes and lessons, the vision of the Buhari administration for agriculture is to work with key stakeholders to build an agribusiness economy capable of delivering sustained prosperity by meeting domestic food security goals, generating exports, and supporting sustainable income and job growth.
“Therefore in 2016 to 2020, Nigeria’s policy now needs to be readjusted to solve the aforementioned challenges. The go forward federal priorities (in partnership with state governments) will be the following four: food security; import substitution; job creation; and economic diversification,” FMARD noted.

Solid minerals
On the other hand, is the sold minerals sector with large deposits of about 44 minerals located in different parts of the country.
These include glass sand, limestone, salt, shale, ball clay, galena, granite, marble, laterite, bentonite, phosphate, kaolin, pyrite, feldspar, lignite, gypsum, sphalerite, clay to mention just a few.
Sadly, these minerals were long abandoned in preference for crude oil until recently when concerted efforts are being made to give them priority attention.
Going by the current economic blueprint, the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan, the Federal Government envisages to grow the solid mineral sector’s Gross Domestic Products (GDP) to N141 billion at an average annual growth of 8.54 per cent between (2017- 2020) from the N103 billion in 2015.

Streaming revenue profile
The revenue stream from solid mineral sector is still low compared to earnings from crude oil. However, it is steadily improving on the strength of reforms and overhaul of the sector. Unlike previous dispensations when solid minerals paid no dime to the federation account, it is a different ball game today.
For instance, the sector remitted about N14. 6 billion in to the federation account in the last eight years.
A breakdown of the remittances to showed that in 2009, solid minerals revenue paid to the federation account was N931.7 million, N1.2 billion in 2010; it increased to N 1.3 billion in 2011 and N1.8 billion in 2012.
Similarly, the sector’s remittance stood at N 2.037 billion in 2013, N2.3 billion in 2014, N2.085 billion in 2015 and N2.8 billion in 2016.
As recent as last December 2017, revenue performance report of the Ministry of Mines and Steel Development (MMSD) showed that the sum of N413 million was collected and paid to the federation account, an amount higher than November figure of N397.4 million.
The December figure was higher than the ministry’s monthly target of N262.22 billion by N150.77 billion indicating an increase of 57.50 per cent. Outstanding balance in the revenue account as of December 2017 stood at N8.5 billion.
Commenting on the huge potential of solid mineral sector at a recent interview with New Telegraph, Acting Chairman, RMAFC, Alhaji Shettima Umar Abba Gana, said the commission’s effort to achieve resource diversification was paying off.
Abba Gana confirmed that as applicable to oil producing states, 13 per cent derivation was currently being paid to states whose solid minerals revenue is paid into federation account.
“The result has been very positive. The reason we took that line was simply because depending on only one source, oil, for revenue has opened Nigeria to vicissitude of oil price fluctuations. If we are going to diversify, the revenue commission has identified two veritable sources of income. The solid minerals and agriculture.
“Apart from their high potential in Nigeria, the two sectors are conveniently available in every state and every local government in equal proportion. That means unlike oil, which is located in five or about six states, there is presence of solid minerals everywhere. Every local government and state will benefit from derivation fund. The commission for the first time about two years ago worked out the 13 per cent derivation of solid minerals.
“About N15 billion was collected as taxes and royalties from solid minerals and included in the sharing formula as applicable to the 13 per cent of oil revenue. We wanted the states to see the benefits of allowing solid minerals to be developed because they will also earn 13 per cent of whatever revenue that comes out of solid minerals so developed. That was the main reason why we pursued the diversification of revenue across states and local governments.”

Blocking revenue leakages
To ensure maximum revenue is raked in by the Federal Government from the sector, government is leaving no stone unturned in blocking leakages.
It has therefore engaged the services of about 100 revenue consultants to work on areas of leakages in revenue accruing from the mining sector, with a view to shoring up earnings.
The consultants to be deployed to the six geo-political zones of the country in the coming week are to examine financial and production records of companies involved in mining activities in the last six years in order to determine whether appropriate royalties were remitted to government.
Minister of Mines and Steel Development, Dr Kayode Fayemi, disclosed the new step recently during the opening of a three-day induction and training for the revenue consultants in Abuja.
He said the main target of the ministry was to ensure that the Federation Account gets its fair due in royalties and taxes.
“Our expectation of this project is that the ministry would emerge as a lead revenue agency for the Federal Government of Nigeria in line with the growth projections of the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP), which recognises the mining sector as one of Nigeria’s most promising growth sectors and acknowledges that its contribution to GDP doubled from N52 billion in 2010 to N103 billion in 2015.
“The ERGP further projects that revenue from the mining sector would grow from N103 billion (2015) to N141 billion (2020) at an average annual growth rate of 8.54 per cent (2017-2020)”
Dr Fayemi said he was optimistic that the ministry would surpass these targets, as all stakeholders work collaboratively to ensure the success of the R.O.V. Project, resulting in improved levels of voluntary compliance of operators.
The minister admitted that leakages in government revenue was a big challenge in the mining sector, a development, which, he said, the ministry was determined to redress with the ROV Project, following its approval by the National Economic Council (NEC).

Challenges
The biggest headache troubling the mining sector, however, remains the activities of illegal miners. While their activities pre-date the current administration, the minister in conjunction with other stakeholders have mapped out plans to get rid of them. Quite a number of culprits, who were nabbed, are currently facing prosecution.

Last line
There is a refreshing confidence that given the level of reforms in both agric and solid minerals sectors to ensure their economic viability and make it attractive to genuine investors, both have the potential of becoming Nigeria’s next cash cow and capable of replacing crude oil.

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