January 19, 2020
Forgive and forget? Forgive, write, and rewrite. Like James A. Michener said, ‘I’m not a very good writer, but I’m an excellent rewriter.  According to Democritus, truth lies at the bottom of a well, the water of which serves as a mirror in which objects may be reflected. I have heard, however, that some philosophers, in seeking for truth, to pay homage to her, have seen their own image and adored it instead. -Charles Francis Richter I saw Jean Leone Jerome’s painting, ‘Truth coming out of her well’, on my Face book newsfeed. The painting was inspired by a 19th century legend about the Lie convincing the Truth to take a bath in a well. They both undress and swim in. Soon, the Lie emerges, and putting on the Truth’s clothes, runs off. The Truth was livid as she came out of the well and searched for the Lie to get her clothes back. The legend has it that, ‘The world, seeing the Truth naked, turned its gaze away, with contempt and rage. The poor Truth returned to the well and disappeared forever, hiding therein, its shame. Since then, the Lie travels around the world, dressed as the Truth, satisfying the needs of society, because, the world, in any case, habours no wish at all, to meet the naked Truth. Jerome’s painting got me thinking about a personal experience. A while ago, I communicated a detailed business proposition to someone I know from my childhood. We reached a clear understanding on terms of agreement and I was confident enough about the deal to hire an extra hand. This was added cost for the project. However, I was foolish not to have had proper documentation of contract agreement before service execution. They say that childhood connections bring with them a sense of familiarity and security. Imagine taking a dip in the ocean having spotted a dolphin at a distance. Mid way in ocean, you discover it wasn’t a dolphin but a great barracuda. It rarely attacks humans but can cause lacerations and loss of tissues with a single bite. Within an incredibly short time, my investment in irrecoverable time and effort on the project became at risk of being an investment in irrecoverable time and effort without return. Weeks went by after project delivery and the constant regurgitation of the same excuses over non-payment made me realise that ‘childhood friend’ had scripted the entire episode as a fool’s errand. At which point, I put a call across to ‘childhood friend’ who then suggested that we had agreed to a $100 dollar contract and not ridiculous sum they said I had made claims to. My flight tickets alone during project execution cost more than $100, so it was such an asinine assertion. My natural reaction was an outburst of laughter. ‘Childhood friend’, now turned B.S artist in my estimation abruptly cut the call and what followed was a barrage of text messages. I clearly stated via text that we might need a

Hope in the shadows of incarceration

September 22, 2019
Though various reforms have been proposed towards improving the conditions of Nigerian prisons, not a single review has been made to the Nigerian Prisons Act which was last amended in 2004. In 2015, I took an interest in the plight of incarcerated pregnant women in Nigeria. I had come across an online report about a woman who had given birth in Aba Prison in Southern Nigeria. The Nigerian daily, the Punch newspaper, had published the story online, raising my concerns about the quality of the prison welfare system in Nigeria. I wondered about the impact of an overcrowded prison space (a problem bedeviling all prison facilities in Nigeria) on a mother and child, but didn’t find any relevant content online. I was a radio host based in Port Harcourt, Southern Nigeria at the time. In March 2019, I got connected to Smart. G. Isowo on the professional network, Linkedin. The University of Prisons detail he had on the education segment of his profile wasn’t lost on me. It immediately reminded me of the woman who gave birth in Aba Prison. Smart. G. Isowo is the Executive Director of CENPRIR; the Centre for Prisons Reform and Inmates’ Rights. CENPRIR is a non-profit, human rights and non-governmental organization in Abuja, Nigeria focused on advocating prisons reform and protecting the rights of inmates in Nigerian prisons. When I informed Isowo I was interested in research and writing about the plight of nursing mothers and other issues bedeviling Nigeria’s prison system as a case study, he seemed pleased at the contact. I had an unscheduled trip to Abuja for the penultimate week in May. In keeping with production timeline however, I commenced interviewing Isowo via phone. CENPRIR has a rehabilitation programme focused on inmates in Suleja Prison, Niger state, about 1 hour by road from Abuja. Suleja Prison holds between 25-50 female inmates at a given time in the female section of the prison. Structured like a students’ dormitory, it housed three nursing mothers amongst the general prison population as at the time of my conversation with Isowo on the 1st of May. Isowo confirmed the children were between 9months old, a year and two months old. ‘How adequate is the prison’s welfare provision for the women and their kids?’ I inquired. ‘The welfare system is poor. The kids don’t have a separate care center where the mothers can attend to them. They are in the same cell with other prison inmates; a single room dormitory with double decker beds. Imagine young children beign raised in that space with a population of people of all sorts of character; those with mental issues etc.’, he explained. ‘Sounds like crowded conditions, Smart’, I said. ‘It is crowded. The mothers are solely responsible for their children’s upkeep and this doesn’t meet up with international standards as the kids have rights to welfare,’ Isowo concurred. I did an online search for international norms on incarcerated women around the world. The United Nations rules for the treatment of women prisoners

West African Energy

April 12, 2019
Transforming simple ideas into energy solutions. Is there light at the end of the tunnel? West African Energy seeks to alleviate Nigeria’s power deficit going by a track record in the management of operational power plants. I chatted with W.A.E’s Managing Director, Dr. Martin Arumemi-Ikhide about how their brand connects simple ideas and improved human experience. Born in 1957 in Ile-Ife Osun State, South West Nigeria, Alhaji Hassan Taiwo Elugbaju has been a practising tailor for over three decades. Alhaji Elugbaju has two sons. His first son Kola, a sophomore at the Captain Elechi Amadi Polytechnic, Rivers State, Nigeria is also a tailor. Kola’s younger brother, Olumide is in secondary school. Alhaji Hassan’s tailoring practise pays for their education. ‘I learnt tailoring from my parents. While growing up I would stay with them in their shop to run errands after school. That was how I gradually learned tailoring. Today I can sew for both men and women’, says Hassan. But tailoring was not his first career choice. A young Hassan had always wanted to be a soldier. He did get his dream job at some point but didn’t stay on that career path. ‘My parents didn’t want me to be a soldier. After much pressure from them I decided to quit’, explains Hassan. After his short stint with the military, Alhaji Elugbaju decided to remain in Port Harcourt where he had been transferred to in 1978. In 1982, he set up shop in Rumuola, a suburb in Port Harcourt, Southern Nigeria. Providing tailoring services for over three decades has not been without challenges. The most salient issue has been the lack of adequate power supply with alternative power eating deep into the Elugbajus’ bottom line. ‘NEPA light is our biggest problem. We don’t have regular power supply in this area. We spend the little money we make to fuel our generator. For example, we buy about N1,500- N2,000 worth of petrol daily’, says Kola. The Elugbajus’ spend an estimated N36,000- N48,000 monthly (excluding Sundays) fuelling their petrol generator. There are months when breaking even is a challenge. ‘If you charge customers too high, they will look elsewhere to get their clothes sewn. So we try to charge minimal rates to keep our customers because the customer is always right as they say’, says Kola. ‘Baba’ as Alhaji Elugbaju is fondly called by those in his locality calls on the Nigerian government to provide stable and adequate power supply to enable businesses like his survive. Alhaji Elugbaju is representative of small businesses circumnavigating the challenges associated with Nigeria’s business terrain. Energy poverty is a big deal in Nigeria and the situation is not unconnected with structural issues plaguing Nigeria’s power sector. The Nigerian Electricity Supply Industry data for 2018 revealed that in January 2018, 2302.8mw of electricity was not generated due to the unavailability of gas. An additional 415mw was not generated due to unavailability of transmission infrastructure with unavailability of adequate distribution infrastructure responsible for a loss of at least


April 10, 2019
A dry wind drifts by as I sit in a friend’s car stationed a short distance from the local jetty in Bodo, southern Nigeria. It’s a hazy Saturday morning and I am at my country home with my friend Leton. Leton is an environmental rights activist introduced to me two years ago by a mutual friend of ours. We had both decided to check out the environmental clean-up project in Bodo which began months earlier. It is the first phase of a clean-up exercise by contractors hired on behalf of Shell Petroleum and Development Company of Nigeria (SPDC had been directed by a British high court to clean up Bodo after a law suit against it by the Bodo community for two major oil spills resulting from SPDC’s pipeline failure in Bodo). I glance from a distance at the trunks of dead mangroves by a waterside where I used to swim in shallow rivers. ‘I used to come here with my dad when I was little and watch women catch crabs and pick periwinkle’, I mention to Leton who is seated in the driver’s seat of his SUV. ‘And now you come here to check-out an environmental clean-up project,’ he says quietly at the sight of men in navy blue coveralls and white helmets; clean-up workers I reckon. I was born in Bori, not quite fifteen minutes from Bodo and the second largest city in Rivers State. At the time, there was no general hospital in my hometown Bodo. Bodo is a coastal community laden with crude oil deposits. It is arguably one of the most oil spill impacted local communities in Nigeria’s Delta region. Bodo was thrown into international limelight when it won the largest ever oil spill related compensation of $83.4m in 2014. Two oil spills took place in 2008 when an SPDC (Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria) pipeline burst and gushed oil into surrounding rivers. Nigerian regulators confirmed that the two spills lasted for 72 and 77 days respectively. This negates SPDC’s official investigation report which claims that 1,640 barrels of oil were spilled into the local environment.  Amnesty International citing assessment by U.S firm Accufacts inc. found between 103,000 and 311,000 barrels spilled, considering that the spills lasted over 60 days. The economic impact of oil spills on the people of Bodo can’t be over stated. An estimated 70,000 people in Bodo account for generations with long term undiagnosed health challenges. They live in sheer resignation to an environment with contaminated water, air and soil. This was an environment which was once a livelihood source. Poverty is now an integral part of the lives of the fishermen and farmers who make up most of the community’s population. I have extended family in Bodo though my parents moved to Port Harcourt main city, about 40km from Bodo after they got married in their early 20s. I and my two siblings accompanied them on frequent visits to the country side for most of our childhood. I have


January 20, 2019
The Niger Delta in Southern Nigeria is home to the direst cases of environmental injustice in the world. It holds the world’s third largest mangrove forest and pockets of some of the most environmentally devastated regions and ecosystems. The reality of coastal communities of the Niger Delta surrounded by water bodies yet without access portable drinking water, testifies to Nigeria’s fledgling attempt at democracy. Democracy in Nigeria has failed to serve its benefits to a mostly underdeveloped and impoverished Niger Delta due largely to political corruption. Political corruption thrives because political leaders increasingly play on fears that human rights are a Trojan horse. The central argument being that the patrimonial character of the Nigerian state enables a powerful leadership facilitate rights violations through corrupt practices as a means of self-preservation. The proceeds from the sale of Nigerian crude oil as an instance are shared between the three tiers of the Nigerian Government, with not much to show for in terms of development of the Delta region where oil is derived. Public funds end up in private pockets enabling conflict and agitation by the Niger Delta ethnic minorities against the Nigerian Government and Oil multinationals. Conflict by way of militancy, criminal tampering of oil installations (oil spills and further damage to the environment) leading to general insecurity, loss of lives and properties have turned the Niger Delta to an epicenter of environmental injustice and human rights violations. The current thinking that the Niger Delta will continue to be a hotbed of rights violations and by extension, a snag to the Nigerian body polity (given its history of conflict and agitation) is misplaced. The Nigerian Government is presently implementing anti-corruption laws. However, it must be a genuine attempt to punish offenders, and invest the proceeds of recovered loot in development projects that impact citizens like the ethnic minorities in the impoverished Delta region who suffer disproportionately from human rights violations.


January 15, 2019
Human rights are under siege today, principally because third world governments are failing to uphold their primary international obligation to respect, protect, promote, and fulfill the universal declaration on human rights. Human rights are increasingly choked by impunity, erosion of democratic values, conflict, corruption, crime, war, inadequate laws, unwillingness and inability to enforce laws. These conditions persist in democratic environments because the meanings of democracy and governance are increasingly lost on political leaders. In Nigeria, elections are a ‘do or die affair’ as an instance because politicians in a bid to perpetuate their stay in power, subvert a right of the people to choose their elected representatives. This criminal politics ensures the unfortunate loss of lives and property before, during, and after election cycles. When and if the images are captured on Social Media, they expose the scale of atrocities and provide facts that can be of use in a functional criminal justice system. A corruption case detailing how billions of Nigerian Naira (millions of dollars) was diverted via an arms deal saw to a poorly equipped Nigerian armed forces and rendered the fight against insurgency in the country’s North East ineffective. The consequence was the Nigerian Government’s inability to guarantee the protection of its citizens which caused an increase in the number of internally displaced Nigerians in the North East of the country. Images from IDP camps captured on camera phones bear testimony to this. In 2015, the Nigerian Chief of Army Staff, Tukur Buratai vowed that there would be no violations of human rights under his watch. A day after his pledge, a group of Nigerian soldiers was caught on a camera phone, brutalising a civilian. Researchers like Ericsson predicted that a billion phones were expected to be in use in Africa in 2016. This growth to an extent was attributed to the rise of social media accessed from a range of cheap smart phones. The central argument is that in as much as Governments are primary duty bearers, everyone is a human rights duty bearer especially with the anticipated proliferation of affordable phones. Political leaders can be held accountable when potential and actual victims of human rights abuses act and prevent the violations from occurring. Social media in effective use (through the publishing of images of rights violations like abuse and violence perpetrated against citizens) can be a stimulated form of citizen journalism and an innovative way of reporting on and thereby preventing human rights violations. The thinking in most human rights situations is that those who act with impunity do so largely on the ignorance and general thought of powerlessness of the victims. Yet, the more enlightened citizens are of their rights and of how to expose the actions of the violators, the stronger they are. Social media is one of such tools that put power back in the hands of the citizen in a fledgling democracy like Nigeria’s.


August 20, 2017
‘Hello?’ ‘Yes?’ ‘Nurse it’s me, the lady who did an HIV test this afternoon. I’m calling about the result…Hello nurse can you hear me?’ ‘Oh, were you the one who called the other time? My dear your test result…’ and the line cut again compounding my exasperation. It was my third call to the diagnostic center. I’ll get back to this conversation but I had my first HIV test four years ago at a diagnostic center in Port Harcourt, Southern Nigeria. I had paid a visit to a gynecologist for a burning sensation in my bowel. The doctor recommended a few tests and inquired about my last HIV test. I am a part of the population in Africa which doesn’t undertake periodic HIV tests. ‘A number of studies conducted in Africa have also investigated barriers to testing…These African studies offer most direct evidence that the ‘fear factor’ operates as disincentive to test, on a peer group as well as an individual level’- It’s not the fear factor that dissuades me from regular HIV testing. It’s just not a part of my routine especially as I have enjoyed really good health for most of my life. This is aside infrequent bouts of malaria. It still doesn’t explain why as enlightened as I imagine myself, I had never tested for HIV before my visit to the gynecologist. Anyway, I informed the doctor about this and without further inquiries, she scribbled HIV/AIDS on her note pad as one of the tests she required me to take. This attitude towards regular HIV testing presents a key challenge for the fight against the spread of HIV in Sub-Saharan Africa. The World Health Organisation states that lack of an HIV diagnosis is an obstacle to implementing its recommendation that everyone with HIV be offered Antiretroviral.  Yet, consider that stigmatising attitudes and discrimination towards HIV carriers is still evident in parts of Africa. I remember walking into the diagnostic center, requesting for an HIV test, while a woman and two men who were making inquiries at the counter stole glances at me after I made payment for the test. I endured their stares as I ascended a flight of stairs to the second floor of the three storey building where a laboratory was located. At the laboratory a nurse in a lab coat asked me to take a seat and proceeded to draw my blood with a fresh needle. I asked when the test result would be available and she said it was her lunch break already; I would have to wait for another hour or so. I told her I couldn’t wait that long and asked if I could pick the result the next day. She said yes. On my way out of the premises, I asked the lady at the reception if I could call in later in the day for my test result and she gave me a contact line. Why couldn’t I wait till the next day and pick the result on


November 22, 2015
The Russian passenger plane which crashed on October 31, 2015 adds to a history of deadly accidents involving the Boeing 737 series. An Egyptian charter flight crashed into the Red sea shortly after take-off from Sharm el-Sheik airport. Russia’s security chief, Alexander Bortnikov insists that the plane was downed by a planted bomb given traces of explosives found on debris from the plane. The conclusion is that the bomb could have been smuggled on board the flight due to a compromised security system at Sharm el-Sheik airport. The trail goes from Sharm el-Sheik to Paris, the City of Lights. Terror returned to Paris for a second time with a series of terror attacks in 2015. On Thursday November 12, 2015 ISIS claimed responsibility for the attacks. It is noteworthy that the Nigerian militant group, Boko Haram which continues to ravage Northern Nigeria has pledged allegiance to ISIS. This may not directly give leverage to either group due to the geographical distance between them, but it intensifies regional security concerns because of Nigeria’s economic relevance. The highest fatality of Bokom Haram’s attacks was in January 2015 on Baga town, Northern Nigeria. An estimated 2,000 people were killed in that single attack. The district head of Baga community in Nigeria said most of those killed were children, women and the elderly who couldn’t take cover when Boko Haram drove into Baga with rocket propelled grenades. These repeated violent attacks have triggered a humanitarian crisis in Nigeria. There is an estimated 24,500 refugees in Minawoa camp for Nigerian refugees in the far North East corner of Cameroon (European Commission for Humanitarian and Civil Protection fact sheet). In 2014, over 200 girls were kidnapped from their school in Chibok, Nigeria, drawing attention to the threat of the violent Islamic group. Yet, this isn’t a narrative about deadly terror groups or the burgeoning desire by ISIS or Boko Haram to establish caliphates in their regions of operations. This is a story about the environment, poverty, but most of all, people. Desertification in Northern Nigeria causes a loss of livelihood for many. Mass migration from the arid planes of the North down to the Middle Belt region of Nigeria informs the rise of violent social conflicts. Rising unemployment (and not just in Nigeria at that), sees to the frustrations and despair of what should be, a young working class demographic. The story is much the same in the Sahel region of Africa.Poverty drives migration from North Africa to Europe where young Africans struggle with integration into stratified European societies. This feeds profound disaffection in young migrants who often fall prey to religious extremism. UN’s Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon, at the first ever formal UN debate on violent extremism noted that, “Young people drive change, but they are not in the driver’s seat”. The number of suicide bombings in the world surged in 2014 in the Middle East with a staggering 2,750 killed, according to estimates from the International Institute for National Security Studies program on terrorism and