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TRUTH COMING OUT OF HER WELL

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

GONE ARE THE CLAMS OF BODO.

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
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