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Keniebi Okoko: Legacy of Hope for Leadership Deficit in Niger Delta

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The region known as Niger delta in Nigeria comprises nine states with about 31 million people of more than 40 ethnic groups, the region has the highest deposit of mineral resources, but has been entangled in conflicts, political violence and undulating leadership over the years.

The enthronement of democracy in 1999 has not yielded much of the anticipated dividends in the region, as socio-economic developmental benefits have come in crumbs and trickles to the governed, compared to the outlandish self-aggrandisement of some entrusted with the privilege of political stewardship.

It’s such a sad narrative, which could still be reversed, given that the people remain hopeful of finding truly capable leaders via the polls, exemplifying an unflinching faith in democracy.

Indeed it would have been refreshing to witness the emergence of a rare kind of leader from the most recent electoral opportunity in the region, precisely Bayelsa State, in the person of Late Pastor Keniebi Okoko, who took time to evaluate the needs of his people; groom himself; project innovative solutions and finally decided against all odds to vie for the seat of power, to enable him bring about a transformation, that only a visionary can engineer.

Keniebi Okoko, a highly successful Harvard-trained business mogul, not only lost out in the primaries to politicians with more established bases, even though he proved to be a worthy opponent. He later bowed out of the biggest stage of all – life, when he took a chance on science to undergo a medical surgery in a Lagos hospital, which went sideways.

Keniebi dazzled his supporters and opponents by his noble display of gallantry in defeat, when he collapsed his campaign team into that of his opponent who picked the slot ahead of him in the party primary and eventually emerged governor. A man of peace, Keniebi understood the meaning of leadership for the benefit of the people, by not toeing the usual stance of two elephants fighting as long as only the grass suffers.

As a philanthropist, Keniebi donated food items to the old and less privileged people for years and gave relief materials to flood victims in the state.

An astute promoter of wealth creation, he was an advocate of industrialisation and envisioned rapid industrialisation for the state, as he told PDP members of the state’s legislature while highlighting his plans for the state: “Industrialisation has come to stay and not just industrialisation, rapid industrialisation.

“They say your network is your net worth and I bring to bear, apart from the 12 years in the economic sector, I bring to bear my friendship and relationship across the globe, with 154 classmates from Harvard Business Law of which I am the poorest, most of them are owners of industries and have always wanted to come to Africa, because Africa is a gold mine, but they have not had a level playing ground and relationship matters in every business you want to do.”

One of his plans was to position the state as a big player in the $116 billion global glass industry, having identified the competitive and comparative advantage of sand deposits in Brass.

“Being a governor, I can assure you that we can bring these industries into Bayelsa state. A quick example, look at Brass, one of the things that are very synonymous with Brass is beautiful sand, it will interest you to know that the best component for making glass is sand and we have billions of dollars lying down at the beach front of Brass.”

As a successful 41-year-old youth, Keniebi maximised every opportunity to canvass for youth empowerment through purposeful leadership, seeing the best even in people considered as dregs of society.

“I can assure you that if a sea pirate sees a job that is paying him money, no man likes the sound of an AK-47, he will drop it, nobody will reject a half loaf of bread for a full chin-chin.

“Nobody was born an armed robber or a militant, but opportunity has to be created for them to be engaged. And I tell you that the Ijaw man cannot be lazy, if I am lazy, how did I get to where I am, is it by magic? Circumstances and opportunities are created for people to do things, we are smart and we will bring that to bear in the form of rapid industrialisation.

Keniebi also had a clear understanding of the challenges of the education sector and was keen on repositioning the sector as part of his human capital development plan, according to him: “When we talk about education, yes we have universities, but you have to look at the substance of what is in the universities because a building is not a university. The payment scheme for lecturers and teachers is not so good and then people are still using text books that have since lost relevance in current realities.

“So these are the things that we can work on with the executive and legislative arms. I’m a product of a scholarship, I had never been abroad up until 2003 when former governor, late Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, thought it wise to sign my scholarship of N11 million and I went to Canada and it was like a dream, but for that opportunity given me, how would I have done it? My father could not afford that from his lecturer salary, so we should be able to give those opportunities to our younger ones too.” he once said in an interview.

Keniebi was loved and trusted by his people and could have easily won at the polls, but for sheer political manoeuvrings of his more experienced opponents.

“When I wanted to contest, some people said I was doing it because I had money, I said it has nothing to do with money but capacity, and that is having a good plan and strategy. Once you have a good strategy, you can overturn things. They didn’t see me coming, they kept undermining me and some will call me a small boy and I’ll say I’m 41 what has that got to do? I was undermined, but I kept pushing, I kept coming and knocking on doors and the doors are wide open now.

“I didn’t lose because of rigging, the election was free and fair, what happened was politics, they were better than I was and I had to accept it, that is what makes a man, when you are tested, to have fortitude. I have learnt one or two things from the winner about how he did it and there are no hard feelings at all.” To the question on why he contested to lead, his answer was: “I have always wanted to help people and I have been doing that on a smaller scale, for you to be able to touch lives the way I want to, you’ll need a bigger platform.”

To be plain, if the current leaders of Niger Delta are driven by what drove Keniebi to aspire to lead his people, the region will become transformed and bear tangible fruits of democratic dividends in no time, which is the actual desire of their people who voted them into power.

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COVID-19 And NPHCDA’s Rescue Mission – By Philip Agbese 

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At last, salvation from the asphyxiation of the COVID-19 pandemic for Nigeria looks very certain now. Like the popular idiomatic cliché, there is now light at the end of the tunnel. A bright hope and reality of the total freedom from the sickening torments of the global coronavirus pandemic on Nigerians stares in the face and patiently waiting to proclaim its victory.

Soon and very soon, the COVID-19 induced deaths; agonizing days and months of illness and treatment of victims and the lonely burial of beloved ones like recluses will be forgotten. In the nearest future, the multiple public social restrictions would begin to gradually ebb out of life’s boring routines imposed by the epidemic in Nigeria, like elsewhere.

Nigeria has subscribed to COVAX vaccines, which is spearheaded and co-led by Gavi, the vaccine alliance, and the World Health Organization, (WHO), with UNICEF as an implementing partner. It is free globally and Nigeria is not an exception.

On March 2, 2021, the Nigerian Government under the leadership of President Muhammadu Buhari took delivery of 3.94 million doses in the first batch of the global scheme, COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access Facility (COVAX), developed by the University of Oxford and drugmaker AstraZeneca.  Nigeria is only the third African nation to receive the COVAX vaccines for the inoculation of her populations against global contagion.

Interestingly, the National Agency for Food, Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) has tested, certified and approved it for use by Nigerians. Worldwide, the newly developed COVID-19 vaccines are in short supply.

But the battle against the disease has started and there is no need to panic anymore. So, in a few months from now, Nigeria would take delivery of 16 million more doses of COVAX vaccines in batches and a projection of inoculating 40% of its population in 2021. Progressively, the figure would add by another 30% by 2022. COVID-19 threats are real in Nigeria, with a frightening confirmed case of 155, 657 and a total of nearly 2,000 deaths nation-wide by the latest official figures.

The onus of national coordination, distribution and inoculation of Nigerians for the COVID-19 falls on the shoulders of the National Primary Health Care Development Agency, (NPHCDA). It is an arduous task, no doubt and basically because of the limited dosages of the COVAX vaccines, the estimated population it must cover; the conscious measures required to avoid crowdy platforms which might cause further spread of the disease in the course of distribution and the delicate nature of the vaccines as well as other incidental problems that might arise in the course of the exercise.

It, therefore, requires focus, shrewdness and perceptiveness from the administrative leaders and managers of NPHCDA to successfully discharge the sensitive national assignment. Fortunately, from the outset, its Director, Mr Faisal Shuaib by words and actions has proven to be a brainy administrator, who is competent and perfectly abreast with the briefs and intricacies of the national assignment.

To this end, NPHCDA has adopted multi-layered approaches for the distribution and administration of vaccines. It has launched a self-registration portal online for individuals, who would be processed and notified for the inoculation through the personal data provided by the client. Also, there is the house-to-house electronic registration segment by its staff in preparatory to the vaccine rollout to the target audience.

In essence, the NPHCDA’s boss is conscious to avoid the reality of the maxim, which alludes to creating more problems in the attempts to solve one. Therefore, to avoid crowding by immunization seekers, he has structured the administration of the COVAX vaccines in a manner that guarantees individual and isolated inoculations. The COVID-19 vaccines would be delivered and administered to Nigerians almost at their doorsteps, and also, on a day and time convenient to the recipient.

The agency has also incorporated an elaborate public awareness campaign, including the use of traditional campaign models to penetrate the grassroots. Already, NPHCDA has kick-started explosive media campaigns to impinge the inoculation exercise on the psyche of Nigerians.

Furthermore, Shuaib has ingeniously streamlined and prioritized the category of Nigerians to first have the COVID-19 inoculation. Topmost on the initial and urgent list of focus are healthcare workers.

And there is wisdom in conceding the priority to medical personnel because they are responsible for treating COVID-19 patients and prone to its infection easily in the course of discharging their professional duties. Hence, it is thought that healthcare workers must necessarily be insulated from the threats and their confidence restored to place them on a pedestal to take full control of public health.

In the wisdom of NPHCDA, the next batch of prioritized Nigerians to receive the COVID-19 vaccines are those the agency has recognized as  “frontline workers.”  It covers the military, police, oil and gas workers, customs workers, and strategic leaders. These are people whose jobs expose them to contact with multitudes daily.

Quite sensitively, the preservation of the COVAX vaccines to sustain their potency and effectiveness is also very crucial. And so, despite logistics difficulties, the NPHCDA’s boss is distributing the COVID-19 vaccines by air to all states of the federation. However, those devoid of functional airports will have the vaccines delivered from the nearest airport by road, through vans with fitted cold cabins to prevent exposure to heat or extreme temperatures capable of destroying them.

These steps have assured Nigerians of a success story in the administration of the COVID-19 vaccines. Mr Faisal Shuaib has planned the immunization with COVID-19 vaccines excellently. He has set out for the journey and knows how to dodge or avoid the drawbacks to arrive at his destination unhurt, delivering the national assignment fabulously.

Nigerians must support his initiatives for a smooth immunization exercise so that the pandemic can be defeated in the country by all means. Nigeria must be rescued from the grip of the pandemic and, with Shuaib on the frontline, leading the assault, victory is sure and certain.

Agbese is a UK-trained human rights activists and public affairs commentator based in London.

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NYSC: Ibrahim’s Silent Transformation – By Bukola Olasanmi

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Youths of any nation globally are the foothold of a secured tomorrow for the country. Nigeria is a country blessed with agile and vibrant youths. In them, the portrait of endurance and perseverance exudes, laced in the dogged determination to conquer the challenges of life. But most times, they are not properly to arrive at the destination of a purposeful and worthy life.

Therefore, it is the first time, Nigerian youths have found a friend, an ally, a partner and boss in the incumbent Director-General (DG) of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), Brigadier General Shuaibu Ibrahim.  Since he became NYSC’s DG, the   young Army officer has dispensed himself as a formidable plank for youths of Nigeria to realize their full potentials in order to become assets to the nation, rather than miscreants.

Brigadier Gen. Shuaibu Ibrahim has undeniably proven himself as an agent of transformation, a reformer, an innovator and pacesetter in leadership. He has spared nothing to reposition the NYSC and in ensuring corps members are genuinely guided. Now, Nigerians are delighted to see the ingenuity embedded in Nigerian youths serving in the NYSC scheme, maximally exploited for their personal development and nation-building.

A peek into the administration of Shuaibu Ibrahim as DG NYSC for these past months shows a progressive trend of solid legacies and unshakable commitment to his avowal of rescuing a pivotal scheme which was almost paralyzed. The aims and objectives of the NYSC scheme have been his sacred book and at every point and everywhere, NYSC is now noticed with the badge of a rebirthed scheme.

The welfare and social security of corps member is not only of paramount concern, but a top priority in the policies of the NYSC boss.  His consistent preachments to corps members have always been that they should consider anywhere duty beckons for the primary assignment as their birthplace and ancestral abode. To him, everywhere is the home of every Nigerian.

He has guaranteed the financial security of   Nigerian youths serving the country under the NYSC scheme. Brigadier Gen. Ibrahim fought relentlessly to ensure the   implementation of the new National Minimum Wage (NMW) of N30, 000 monthly. Every corper now collects N33,000 (thirty-three thousand) as monthly allowance and it is paid promptly, despite the economic crunch. And through subtle persuasions, the NYSC boss has been able to convince employers of the services of corps members in augmenting the Government pay package with some stipends.  And the respond has been tremendous.

A foresighted stickler to standards anywhere he serves his country, Ibrahim provides leadership for the scheme in very exceptional ways. He thinks more about a rewarding future for Nigerian youths than the realities of today and has silently launched a variety of economic empowerment programmes to assist them to become responsible citizens by utilizing it to clutch the niceties of tomorrow.

Obsessed with this agenda, as soon as he was appointed the DG NYSC, Shuaibu Ibrahim engaged the International Labour Organization’s (ILO), Abuja country office in Nigeria in mutual talks. It was in pursuit of the economic empowerment of Nigerian youths who have passed through the scheme.  His reception and outcomes of the parlays with ILO were commendable.

The mission of strengthening and deepening relations with ILO to open windows of utilizing the potentials of youths’ empowerment through employment and entrepreneurship skills development in Nigeria were not an effort in vain. These trips have yielded amazing dividends to corps members through ILO’s ‘Start and Improving Your Business (SIYB) Management Programme.’

Brigadier Gen. Ibrahim has also elevated the NYSC’s “Skills Acquisition and Entrepreneurship Development (SAED) initiative to a new realm, by utilizing the creative ingenuity and productivity of corpers. The greatest success narratives of the scheme now is that through SAED, NYSC under the leadership of Ibrahim, sought and stabilized ways of generating internal revenue to fund some of its operations. Corpers were trained and mastered various crafts within the one-year duration of the scheme.

NYSC has reactivated its formerly silent commercial values and strength. It now operates its bread factory and table water company in Kubwa, Abuja.  And the NYSC boss has plans to replicate same in   states of the federation. It is an uncommon innovation and a gradual path to NYSC’s financial independence in the nearest future.

To further fortify and expand its investments web, some corpers are trained in fish and snail farming in NYSC farms. Most of them started practicing the skills before they were discharged from the service. So, NYSC farms across the nation are no longer dormant territories, as even rice cultivation and other agric-based businesses are undertaken by corpers, as the scheme’s response to local content policy of the FGN, in what the DG hopes to keep expanding in order “…to internally generate our revenue.”

The global outbreak of Coronavirus pandemic in 2020 was a tough period, not only for the NYSC, but Nigerians generally. But Brigadier Gen. Ibrahim provided a patriotic, astute and focused leadership when it was most needed. The greatest joy engineered by Ibrahim was that throughout the period of the raging Covd-19 pandemic, no corper’s life was risked to Covid-19 or snatched by the cold hands of death because of the epidemic.  The religiously strict enforcement of all Covid-19 social protocols in camps and other places of congregation by corps members became a golden rule.

Therefore, whilst Nigeria bled under the yoke of the Covid-19 pandemic, NYSC members were reoriented and mobilized to join the league of other Nigerians working to salvage their nation by rendering the needed sensitive services. The NYSC boss created a historic record. He ensured corps members nationwide were activated in battling the Covid-19 pandemic. So, corpers produced face masks, sanitizers, disinfectant tools, and automatic sanitizing machines as their national contribution in battling the Covid-19 pandemic.

This was in addition to a vigorous and robust public sensitization campaigns as well as active participation in distribution of Government palliatives to various communities in the country. It was the first of its kind in the annals of Nigeria’s history that corpers were mobilized to play a focal role in a national emergency.  It never happened in the days of Ebola outbreak.

It has excited everyone that corpers have marketed themselves as assets to the nation, rather than liabilities at a season of tribulations in the country, spurred by the Covid-19 epidemic.  Today, through the worthy and purposeful leadership of Brigadier General Ibrahim, the seasons of NYSC orientation camps have been fully restored throughout the country.

And with Ibrahim still on board, even the Covid-19 phase II has posed no worrisome threat to this aspect of the scheme.  He started his leadership of the NYSC on a sound footing and has sustained the tempo; expanded the productive tentacles of corpers in unimaginable ways. By his impactful ideas, millions of Nigerian youths are assured of a brighter tomorrow and economic independence after the mandatory national service.

Olasanmi wrote this article from Abuja.

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Obioma And His Midas Touch in NECO – By Philip Agbese

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Femi Adesina, the presidential aide is a fantastic and affable fellow. Nothing else has glued me to him like bees on honey more than his present role as a presidential spokesman to President Muhammadu Buhari.

Adesina is one person it will take me a long time to forget in the history of strategic presidential communication and publicity. I have seen and read his predecessors in the same office over the years; but certain things make him a unique human being on the job; one of which is his prose style. It’s doubtful whether Adesina has any known enemies or foes when he pens down anything.

He has a peculiarly friendly way of disarming his traducers without striking a war. To me, Adesina is an equivalent of an armless Military General who goes to war. He is not combative in his writings, but coasts home with victory without firing a shot. He is calculative and philosophical.

He sometimes decides to be comical or whimsical even on the hottest of issues. He could also be difficult and in many cases, but very factual. Whichever way one sees Femi Adesina, he is just that man even his enemies love to read and hate to despise for whatever reason. I have echoed it several times and I hate to miss his columns any day!

It was on Mr. Femi Adesina’s page recently that I saw an old-time friend, Professor Godswill Obioma. It stirred fresh memories in me. I met him during his tenure as the Executive Secretary, National Education Research Development Council (NERDC) sometime in 2008. The Abia state-born, thorough bred educationist, academic don, innovator and Professor of Mathematics and evaluation has redefined educational policies, monitoring and evaluation in Nigeria.

He has raised the bar to unimaginable heights! Prof. Obioma’s uncommon imprints in the development of Nigeria’s education sector whilst he served the nation as NERDC boss attracts standing ovations anywhere his identity is disclosed. He is a perfect model of a team player and those who have worked closely with him in the numerous places he has served the nation are usually euphoric each time his is sighted.

His impacts in NERDC were mostly felt in redefining curriculum development, upgrading the quality of teaching and learning materials, policy formulation and re- structuring for the overall development of the Nigerian child from basic to tertiary education. They are reference points to date amongst education specialists.

I have a penchant of getting glued to people I perceive as knowledgeable, intelligent and hardworking to also learn something from their wealth of endowed wisdom. So, having heard so much about Prof. Obioma’s spectacular performance in NERDC, his deeds naturally courted my attraction. On a good day, I decided together with a few colleagues to pay a visit to meet this rescuer of Nigeria’s education sector and also salute his lauded efforts in this agency.

Prof. Obioma’s impact and footprints in the agency astounded and marveled to infinitum. Because of limited space, I cannot touch on all that beseeched our eyes in the course of the visit. But the varsity don was the major architect and backbone of the current National Policy on Education (NPE) officially adopted to remodel our educational system in consonance with the dynamism of our socio-economic and political realities.

It’s a wide gamut of amazing innovations and reforms, which have reshaped, articulated and repositioned guidelines, objectives, standards, structures, strategies, and management patterns for attaining the national goals of education in a developing country like Nigeria. I think, he who deserves an applause should be given and Prof. Obioma is one such person.

He did a lot more by venturing into virgin or obscure areas like giving a formidable boost for the quest for education of Nigerians. He pioneered and raised a platform for indigenous educationists to consummate their full potentials through what NERDC tagged the National Book Policy (NBP) where books of indigenous authors are brought on stream in a special manner to embolden local creativity.

The NBP as crafted and implemented endorsed investigation and research into book development, the production of books in specialized areas; for example Braille for the visually impaired; support for the establishment and growth of libraries at all tiers of the educational system and promoting and rewarding local authorship of educational books in the country. And it is working even after his exit from NERDC.

Outstanding both in academics and administration, Prof. Obioma worked in several other establishments and later joined INEC. His talents and perfections were sighted and he was elevated to the position of Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) of Ebonyi state. While serving in this capacity, Prof. Obioma sustained his evangelism on merit, hard work, honesty and commitment to duty. He is a public servant who abhors corrupt acts. He also brought his peculiar stamp of incorruptibility to bear on all INEC staff in the state office of Ebonyi state .

Therefore, when a few deviant staff under his supervision were fingered in collecting bribes to alter the results of the 2019 presidential elections, Prof. Obioma did not play the usual Nigerian game of godfatherism and cover-up of alleged offenders.

He believes, if Nigeria must become a great country, all bad eggs must be flushed out. He won my heart when he testified against indicted INEC staff for collecting N300 million bribe to manipulate results of the presidential elections in certain areas when he appeared at the Special Investigative Panel (SPIP).

Obioma’s strictness on discipline of subordinates and with eyes fixed on the dais as the Ebonyi state REC, the state and Nigeria ended up better for it when general elections were conducted. His good job was evident in the smaller number of post-elections petitions which emanated from Ebonyi in the last elections. The state had the least cases of post-election disputations in the election’s tribunal, a rarity in Nigeria. This is Obioma’s peculiar midas touch.

Those yet to decode President Buhari’s leadership idiosyncrasy, may not understand. But Mr. President endears himself to any Nigerian who demonstrates uprightness, selfless service and honesty in public office. I know, Mr. President has keenly monitored the impeccable antecedents of Prof. Obioma and knows, he is a suitable candidate to come on board of the train to the #Nextlevel.

Therefore, it never surprised me, when the President sought the golden fish, Prof. Obioma and appointed him the Registrar of National Examinations Council (NECO) in May last year. I discerned the NECO boss assignment as cleansing the cesspool of filth and maladministration which have become a defining character of that examination’s body. The NECO boss is on a familiar path. And in less than a year, Prof. Obioma is proving his mettle, by launching several innovations and reforms to standardize the operations of NECO.

The Coalition of Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) hardly hail appointments of people into public offices; but that of Prof. Godswill Obioma as the National Examination Council boss was applauded because of his wealth of experience in educational sector. And the signs have started manifesting. Nigerians are aware of how he has shaped NECO in the last few months since taking over office.

Certainly, Godswill Obioma is a man destined for greatness as symbolized by his name and NECO is damn lucky to have him as its boss. It’s the beginning of its regeneration. Even a blind man needs no soothsayer to know that President Buhari is blessed to have some of the best hands in the various sectors, as today epitomized by Prof. Obioma.

With the likes of Adesina, Obioma and several others, it will indeed be a mission fulfilled and a legacy secured for President Muhammadu Buhari. Those seeking to frustrate his laudable policies and programmes might soon become frustrated themselves because there are competent gatekeepers and sentinels mounting the city gate to wade-off saboteurs and subverts. #

Agbese is a UK based human rights activist.

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