Monthly Archives: January 2013

Zamfara Lead Poisoning and the Failure of Leadership!


Last week the media was agog with a news report titled “Saraki commends Jonathan’s intervention in Zamfara village”. When I read this title on twitter, I quickly clicked on the link with excitement to read the details. I thought the reason for the commendation could be that the problem of lead poisoning which has reportedly claimed the lives of more than 400 children in Zamfara State has probably become a thing of the past. I was completely wrong. The Chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment, Dr Abubakar Bukola Saraki was commending Mr. President for his “approval to release promised funds for the remediation of Bagega Community in Zamfara State”. My excitement immediately turned to strong feeling of disappointment. I feel you may want to know why, please read on.
In March 2010, an unprecedented epidemic of lead poisoning was discovered in Zamfara State. This was a consequence of the activities of local gold miners in the affected communities. Although there has been gold mining in Zamfara for decades, the substantial appreciation in the price of gold since 2009 led to an upsurge in artisanal mining activity. Local miners dig up rocks by hand, breaks them into pebbles with hammers, grinds the pebbles to sand with flour mills, and extracts gold from the sand using sluicing, panning, and mercury amalgamation (and in some cases, cyanidation). Usually the health problems associated with artisanal mining are related to mercury and/or cyanide use. However, in Zamfara, gold bearing deposits contain unusually problematic concentrations of lead. Consequently, the environment has become terribly polluted, so much so that the CDC described the epidemic as the worst in modern history. This has resulted to the devastating effects of lead poisoning especially among children and pregnant women in the community. The worst hit community at this time is Bagega.

An international organization, Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) also known as Doctors without Borders has been on ground since the discovery of this tragic epidemic helping to treat people affected particularly children. According to its recent report, MSF has enrolled more than 2500 children in her treatment programme; 2000 were still on treatment, 500 on follow up while 300 had been discharged at the time of the report. Lead poisoning affects both children and adults but children have more risk of exposure (closer to the ground, crawl and play often) and the effects on them are more catastrophic. Lead poisoning may cause a lower intelligence quotient (IQ), behavioral problems, stunted growth, chronic anemia, deafness or chronic kidney disease/failure. Lead poisoning rarely shows any sign or symptom until the exposed person becomes very sick. Some scientific studies have documented a correlation between lead exposure among women and higher rate of miscarriage, premature deliveries, stillbirth and congenital malformations. But is treatment of identified cases as MSF is doing enough? Absolutely not! Chelation therapy without remediation is like using basket to fetch water.

More so, mining of natural resources is in the Exclusive List of the 1999 Constitution (as amended). Therefore, the federal government bears the responsibility of controlling the activities of the miners and protecting the environment from pollution that may arise from those activities. So it won’t be out of place to say that the lead poisoning epidemic is a sign of governance failure. One would have expected any responsible government to react swiftly and stop illegal mining in Zamfara, train the local practitioners on better and safer techniques to maintain a healthy environment without denying the local miners their source of economic sustainability. A responsible government would also embark on immediate remediation of the affected communities and treatment of identified cases.

How did the federal government respond? An Inter-Ministerial Committee on Lead Poisoning was inaugurated by the Presidency in 2010. What did the committee achieve? Nothing! In May 2012, the federal government convened an International Conference on Lead Poisoning in Abuja during which President Jonathan reportedly pledged a release of N850 million to clean up the affected communities. Sadly, none of the 7 action points unanimously agreed at the conference has been fully achieved 8 months after. According to MSF report, the technical sub-committee of the Inter-Ministerial Committee visited Zamfara in mid-October 2012 (more than 2years after the discovery of the crisis) for an assessment and also met with stakeholders. Expectedly, the visit was widely publicized; the Federal Ministry of Information wrote a story on its website titled, “Lead poisoning: Proper management system stepped up in Zamfara State”. What happened thereafter? Nothing! There has been ongoing advocacy by MSF, Human Rights Watch and local civil society groups. Not even the action of Nigerians who besieged Mr. President’s facebook page last year to express their frustration with his inaction was enough to spur government to expedient action.

I’m not unaware of the efforts of Senator Saraki’s committee to draw attention to the situation; I’ve personally read his tweets on that. But I find it difficult to understand why he should be commending the President for “approving” money to solve a problem that has claimed the lives of more than 400 children and left many others with permanent disabilities almost 3years after the discovery of the crisis. As usual, the federal government will have their explanation but none will be acceptable for this horrendous display of leadership ineptitude and crass insensitivity, to say the least. The government of Zamfara State that kept waiting ‘forever’ for the federal government’s intervention when it could have mobilized funds, saved her children and the environment and apply for refund from the federal government isn’t better either. For how long would Nigerians continue to suffer from anemic and marasmic leadership especially when it concerns health matters? Action is long overdue; Save Bagega!!!

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Nigeria: Who Quells the Raging Fire?


Fire! Fire!! Fire everywhere!!! Our dear country appears to be screaming. The disaster that has made most headlines this year has been fire incidents in different parts of the country. Let me recount a few starting from the most recent. A few days ago, Daily Trust reported that no fewer than 30 persons, suspected to be vandals died in a pipeline fire at Arepo village, in Ogun State. The preliminary investigation of the Nigerian Police revealed that the fire was sparked off by vandals, who were arguing over who was eligible to fetch from the ruptured pipeline. It was in the heat of the argument that one of them accidentally released a bullet that led to several explosions.

Also within this New Year, a massive fire tore through a waterfront slum in Ebute Metta, Lagos burning down dozens of shack shops and homes; a vessel belonging to MRS Petroleum reportedly exploded and ignited a raging inferno in Tincan Island, Lagos; while a fully loaded petrol tanker lost control, somersaulted around the Ibadan end of Lagos-Ibadan expressway, caught fire and burnt over 17 cars and many other properties. The national headquarters of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in Abuja also had its own “fair share” of the raging fire, an incident the commission described as “minor”. The Murtala Mohammed International Airport wasn’t spared either. More so, fire recently razed a portion of the royal palace of Alaafin of Oyo as well as a part of the hilltop mansion of our former president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo in Abeokuta. Fire also presented a cruel New Year ‘gift’ to the residents of Port Harcourt as Ikoku Spare Parts Market and sorounding buildings were razed. There must have been so many other unreported fire incidents, domestic or communal around the country in the last couple of months.

The causes of these fire incidents vary but a common factor that binds them is that they are all related to human activities. Could some of them have been avoided, absolutely yes, particularly the ones related to petrol tankers, pipelines or vessels. Following the havoc petroleum tanker inferno has caused on Nigerians in recent past; one would have expected that a responsible government would take measures to make recurrence extremely difficult. That hasn’t happened. Expectedly, many compatriots would have started praying to possibly ‘bind the spirit of fire’; in addition to that, everyone should also take actions that will make fire incidents almost impossible. The good thing about the various reported fire incidents is that in most of the cases, men of Fire Service responded in good time and quelled the inferno. There were no reports of “no fuel” or “no water” and this suggests that the institution has become more effective.

Furthermore, during the dark days of military dictatorship particularly in the 90s, Nigerian masses thought that the return of democracy will put an end or at least reduce to the barest minimum the sounds of gun fire. Nevertheless, the activities of terrorists, armed robbers, kidnappers and the activities of the men of the police and armed forces who try to curtail the criminals have rather resulted in an upsurge. Nigeria is on fire! Lives are being lost to the activities of terrorists and arguably the armed forces almost on daily basis in the Northeastern part of the country. Kidnappers made sure wealthy residents of the Southeast and South-South sleep with one eye closed, while armed robbers are making life difficult for the residents of Southwest; my friend Tolu Ogunlesi recently survived an attack near his residence in Lagos. Life in Nigeria has become so cheap! A 48 year old herbalist in Kogi State allegedly killed his 4-month old baby for ritual purposes and thankfully was apprehended by Police. The case of the four University of Port Harcourt and over 20 Mubi students are now history. It is shocking that more than 24 hours after a 27 year old physician, Irawo Adamolekun was reportedly shot dead on the streets of Lagos in broad day light; the killer is yet to be apprehended. Unbelievable in a modern world!!

Nigeria is really on fire; every wrong thing in the system is part of the fire. But the question is who quells the raging fire? A proverb says that a man whose house is on fire does not go about chasing rat. Are we doing enough as a people to quell the fire? I don’t think so. I think we are still chasing rats. We are busy playing the blame game instead of uniting to tackle this national challenge. Some people feel the solution is to run out of the country, they do so leaving their loved ones behind some of whom eventually get consumed by the raging fire. For a country like Nigeria with “big government” (apologies to American politicians), most of the solution have to come from the leaders. However, the leadership won’t succeed without the cooperation and support of the followers. Let’s commend our leaders where they’ve done well, criticize them where they are failing and suggest better alternatives. We also have the power to reject the non-performing public officers at the polls.

My main action point for the government is to expand and strengthen the emergency service system without further delay. There is no gainsaying the fact that the leadership must get the system and Nigerians fired up to quell the raging fire without further delay.

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Nigeria is not the Worst Place to be Born


Nigeria is once again a target of what many may consider as negative profiling. Since November 21, 2012 when a report of a study by an Economist Intelligence Unit (a sister company of The Economist magazine) titled “The Lottery of Life: Where to be Born in 2013” was published on The Economist, foreign media has been awash with the story of Nigeria being the “worst place to be born (in the world)” in 2013. Some sections of the local media also rushed to publicize the subjective interpretation of the study without raising critical questions. Nigeria, no doubt, has poor health indices including high infant and child mortality rate. But would it be correct to infer or conclude that Nigeria is the worst place to be born in 2013 with the findings of a study result that compared less than a half of the total number of countries of the world?   

I have studied many versions of the online news reports and I couldn’t establish the selection criteria for the 80 countries that were studied. While I don’t dispute the findings of the study, the interpretation and the way Nigeria has been portrayed thereafter raises some questions. If I have access to the full report of the study, I will be interested in knowing the selection criteria; are the other 116 countries not included in the study better or worse than the ones studied? If they are all better, then it will be correct to describe Nigeria as the worst place to be born in the world. On the other hand, if they are not, then Nigeria deserves apologies from the media establishments that have presented the information in a much sensationalized manner.

More so, let me share some of the reports I read online. The UK Daily Mail did an analysis of the report and wrote, “it (Nigeria) is the worst place for a baby to enter the world in 2013.” The Tribune (not Nigerian Tribune) wrote, “…the worst place to be born in the next year (2013) was termed Nigeria” The study didn’t say so. There are at least 196 countries in the world and not the 80 studied. Until all the countries of the world are studied and necessary variables controlled for to ensure apple-to-apple comparison, it will be erroneous for any country to be termed the best or worst place to be born. Every such sentence must include “among 80 countries studied”.  

Having made the above point, I don’t feel proud with the state of health in Nigeria and I believe no patriotic Nigerian does. It is paradoxical that a country that produced 11 out of the 40 Forbes Richest Africans does not have the best developmental and health indices in the continent. Less than 30% of the national budget is spent on capital projects and infrastructural development while the rest is largely spent on avoidable expenses incurred by the ruling class. The system promotes corruption and crime even as income inequality widens. Should we continue this way? Absolutely not! 

Going forward, how do we ensure that Nigeria ranks better in similar studies in the near future? The answer is well known to policymakers, what is lacking is the desire and courage to make good plans become a reality. The Nigeria I know usually has excellent strategic plans but it’s time to transfer them from shelves to the streets. Some state governors are already doing great jobs but the pace of national development largely depends on the federal government which controls more than a half of the national resources and powers. I expect the federal government to expedite action on the power, roads and other infrastructural projects that promote private investments. The National Assembly should pass the Petroleum Industry Bill, National Health Bill and amend the National Health Insurance Act to provide for universal health insurance.

Indisputably, Nigerians are intelligent, diligent and well endowed to develop the country. We need to create a system that promotes, supports and sustains private investment by Nigerians. With a favorable business environment, foreign investors will be begging to be allowed to come and invest in Nigeria. This is what the government should focus largely on. Nigerians have heard so much rhetoric and nowadays are mainly moved by results. When youths are employed, women are empowered; social safety nets are created, healthcare system is strengthened, excellence is promoted and rewarded, laziness is discouraged and every crime is punished; Nigeria will surely become one of the best places to be born. The question is how soon is this going to happen?


2013: Nigeria and the Rest of Us


Thank you for visiting my blog. While I was thinking about for this week which incidentally will be my first article on this blog, so many things went through my mind. I woke up every morning with a new thought as new developments occur in our fatherland on daily basis. Remembering that the time of the year we are influenced my choice of this topic. 2012 has come to an end and a new year is beginning. How did we fare as a country in 2012? If I may ask, how did you fare as an individual? The responses will definitely vary from person to person. Like any other year, there are things to for individuals celebrate and also things to lament about. But as a nation, 2012 was an incredibly tragic year for most Nigerians.

The year started on a very rough note with the shocking New Year present from Mr President – more than one hundred percent fuel price hike. The anger and public outrage was palpable and unprecedented. Of course the protests, probes and scandals that followed are now history but the drama is still playing out and Nigerians are yet to recover from the fuel subsidy imbroglio?

Many Nigerians would have wished that the fuel subsidy crisis be the most difficult experience of 2012 but unfortunately it wasn’t.  Terrorists continued their violent campaign wasting lives and properties; Dana Air went down and wiped out families and many of our technocrats, Nigerians went through hell while health workers and some state governments engaged themselves in one of the worst industrial crisis in the health sector. As if those were not enough, the country experienced the most devastating flood disaster in recent history; four UNIPORT students and more than 20 students in Mubi, Adamawa State were murdered in the most horrific and despicable manner and we also had a disastrous outing in the Olympics. The year could possibly not have been more devastating for the Nigerian Governors Forum whose members experienced death and severe injuries.

On a positive note, 2012 witnessed the successful conduct of gubernatorial elections in Edo and Ondo States which was generally believed to be credible. The National Assembly enjoyed stability and has arguably engaged the executive constructively on some national issues. Power supply improved significantly  in some parts of the country. Hundreds of youths got empowered through the YOUWIN programme. There are also pockets of positive developments across various states.

Where do we go from here? How do we make 2013 a much better year for Nigerians? One major positive thing I’ve learnt from United States in the last few months I’ve lived here is how they make positive things out of tragic situations. It is also how they prepare for and manage emergencies. Nigeria has had terrible experiences over the years but we are fortunate to have the most resilient and optimistic people as citizens of the country. However, our resilience should not be taken for granted. President Jonathan and the governors should take lessons from our ugly experiences and provide better leadership. I found a statement made by the president in a recent media chat that he wasn’t working to reduce/eradicate poverty very disturbing. Mr. President claimed he is creating wealth but recent progress reports on the implementation of Millennium Development Goals indicate that poverty is increasing in Nigeria. Data from the National of Bureau of Statistics also validates the fact that more Nigerians are becoming poorer.  If I may ask, which people is our dear president creating wealth for?

As we begin the new year, I will suggest the following action points for our leaders:  The federal /state government should be creating canals during this dry season and relocate people (if necessary) from flood-prone areas to prevent the recurrence of such massive flood in 2013; the flood-relief funds should be properly utilized to help the victims regain their life and dignity. Environmental laws should be enforced especially in Niger Delta communities where oil spillage has continued to make life extremely difficult for the inhabitants.  The ongoing prosecution of fuel subsidy suspected thieves should be done with the seriousness it deserves.

More so, government at all levels must as a matter of urgency institute an effective medical emergency service system and strengthen the entire health system. The National Assembly should pass the National Health Insurance Amendment bill to provide universal health insurance for all Nigerians. Also, the National Health Bill which has been re-introduced in the national assembly should be passed without further delay and I will expect the president to give assent to the bills when passed. Local government authorities should from this year begin to improve the quality of health services in primary health care centers across the country.  Job creation will reduce crime and insecurity and should be a priority this year.

The Nigerian people also should remain good citizens and play our part in national development. Let us help the security agents by providing information that will help them make our country safer. Let us hold our leaders accountable, demand and insist on programs that will create jobs and make life better for everyone. Every individual has key roles to play to make 2013 a better year. As we continue to pray, let us match it with actions to make Nigeria great again. Happy New Year! 

Zero Eight Zero – by Ogechukwu Okorie


I wish to draw attention to the use of the letter ‘o’ in place of the number zero (0) in announcing GSM phone numbers
by many electronic media practitioners. When I was in secondary school in the 80s we were made to know that if one wants to do well in English language then one must listen to news, current affairs, and debates from the radio and television as well as read newspapers.

Nowadays, the reverse appears to be the case.I dont know why the media practitioners decided to change the number zero (0) to the alphabet ‘o’ when reading out the GSM numbers to the public.
Please, something should be done to correct this mistake for the shake of our children.

Dr Ogechukwu Okorie is a consultant Anaesthesist at Federal Medical Center, Owerri.