Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Investing and Doing Business in Imo?

Joachim Ezeji
What else could be more damning than the recent report - “Doing business in Nigeria 2010” which was launched last week in Abuja by the World Bank and the International Finance Corporation (IFC)?
An irony that played out within the week was that while the report was being launched in Abuja; an investment forum was also being held in Owerri. Ironically, the Abuja report had ranked Imo and Ogun States as the most difficult states to do business in Nigeria based on four indicators of: Starting a business; dealing with construction permits; registering property and in enforcing contracts etc. Conversely, Jigawa state topped the table on ‘ease of doing business in Nigeria’, with Gombe and Borno following closely.
I do not have the statistics to appropriately discuss issues such as corruption as a basic factor the makes doing business ultra-difficult in Imo State. However, one glaring factor in Imo is the sheer state of poor governance and abysmal management of state resources by those in authority. The result is ill-motivation and dampening of the spirit of all those who become casualties as a result.
A visit to the Imo State secretariat to transact a business or secure any document is pretty a herculean task. Everybody seems annoyed and on a revenge mission. The result is that we have all become aliens in our own state as nothing simply works. There are neither simplified procedures nor clear – cut and transparent pathways to guarantee any sure expectation. In Imo state, everything has become a gamble as hawks have taken over its leadership.
One retired Permanent Secretary, a lady, in one of the top ministries had told me how she was almost beaten up by her commissioner, a man. The commissioner had shouted and called the poor woman names, threatening to slap the hell out of her; simply because the poor woman had insisted on adherence to procedure. But the Commissioner, an Almighty commissioner and appointee of an Almighty Governor Ohakim would have none of that.
When Ikedi Ohakim was foisted on Imo as Governor, the signs of hard and tough things to come were well ominous. It took off with the appointment of Willy Amadi and the subsequent destruction and vandalism of people’s properties in the utter disguise of environmental sanitation.
But one really amazing thing is the enhanced futility and waste that has become the resources so far expended by Ikedi Ohakim, travelling all over the world to look for investors to develop Imo. The Governor has in the past one year alone, had combined visits to the USA and South Africa more than any past Imo Governor, in their entire tenures. A friend had told me that the governor is merely using his position to expand his private business interests.
It is germane to remind Governor Ohakim that there is a lot of work waiting to be done in other areas such as improved electricity, water supply, education, positive investment policy and intensive agriculture; if other Nigerians and even other Imo citizens are to stop seeing Imo as economically backward.

Beyond all the rhetoric, it remains to be seen how determined the Imo State Government is, at providing a conducive environment for investment to thrive, and addressing the infrastructure challenges militating against the sustainable growth of the real sector of the state’s economy beyond all these “New Face of Investment in Africa Summits”. We need to see actions, not hear words on mere plans and intentions; because Imo is in a hurry to develop.
I am doubtful of the capacity of the summit at guiding the future of the state in becoming the Investment Capital of Africa. Till basic things are achieved, all these summits and trips would simply remain self-serving.
While I do not disagree with Mr. Ikedi Ohakim that all the strides of his administration like Clean and Green Initiatives, Operation Festival Security Outfit, Imo Rural Roads Maintenance Agency (IRROMA), are not ends in themselves, but instead means to open up the state to investors and propel the economic development of the state; it is germane to however remind him that these things can never work in isolation of the people. Imo people must be able to trust their governor in order to buy into his programs and move in tandem with them. The new face should become real, not abstract.
For example, despite being an oil producing state with increased revenue from federal sources, much greater than many other states of the Nigerian federation, Imo State is still reeling under common ills such as those of limited electricity and water supplies. Imo State is one state in Nigeria where residents and consumers of electricity i.e. customers of the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) still contribute money to either buy new transformers or repair faulty ones. Just like in other places elsewhere, lack of access to modern energy services entails more than our not being able to enjoy some of the comforts of life that are taken for granted in developed countries. In Imo State, it is indeed, one of the greatest impediments to social and economic progress including doing business or residency.Verily, energy poverty stalls progress on Imo development programs including the quest to achieve the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). It is a vicious cycle as ensuring sustainable and affordable energy is already beyond the reach of the average poor in Imo.Another case is the issue of water supply in Imo. Just like electricity, Imo households and businesses have to provide their own water supply. The result today is arbitrary sinking and developing of private water wells and boreholes. This no doubt, imposes difficulties or high budgetary costs for businesses. A task that ordinarily should have been provided by the state water corporation is now being informally driven. No big cities or societies ever achieved growth with such arrangements.One friend of mine once described poverty as the non-availability of basic needs of life, and as the inadequacy of the means to satisfy the basic necessities of a healthy living. He went ahead to identify food, housing, clothing, health, education etc as some of those basic necessities. People who are no longer involved in economic activities are also in the poverty bracket. Also people with low educational qualification are likely to be grouped in the poverty bracket. This same friend of mine further argues that poverty exists because there is great inequality in money and opportunities occasioned by social, economic, political and cultural environments. And that poverty is rife in Imo State, despite huge resources via federal allocations, internally generated revenue, ecological funds, informal revenue in form of deductions etc. because amongst other factors that the per capita income is low, greatly because human and land resources of this State have remained under utilized; and that population of Imo State is roughly 4.5 million people hence contributing to the poverty of the people. He was however mute on outright looting of limited state resources by those in government and the near state of anarchy via rising cases of criminality and insecurity.
I had wondered the irony of a damning report coinciding with an important event like the Imo investment forum, both holding back to back in the same week and country. The World Bank/IFC report is timely and should really serve as a mirror for all those currently calling the shot or those with interest and potential to do so in the future. But, whatever, it still behooves the current leadership of Imo State to prove that is not merely playing to the gallery.

Saturday, 26 June 2010

Supporting poor women to do well

Joachim Ezeji

Across the world, water remains a crucial resource but in Nigeria, as elsewhere, mostly African communities, the collection of water, whether from rivers, lakes, springs, wells, rain-water, ponds or other sources, has often been regarded as the responsibility of women. Water collection can sometimes be a very strenuous exercise, especially when the distance from the water source is great (often more than 1km) and the water is not easily accessible. In many communities, a single collection exercise can last for several hours, or in some cases, a whole day. This is a part of the daily routine for millions of women and girls in un-served communities. The involvement of children, in particular girls, in this chore restricts attendance at school, as well as time for play.

Furthermore, water-carrying exerts a toll on women’s health. Water containers typically hold about 20litres of water and weigh about 20kilograms. Carrying such a heavy weight on the head, back or hip has severe health implications for women, who commonly experience backache and joint pains. In extreme cases, of the spine and pelvic deformities result, creating complications in pregnancy and childbirth. Under these situations, a large proportion of women and girls in many rural parts of Africa has little if any chance and or economic development, and so a poverty spiral is set in spin for which the lack of access to water combined with poor basic sanitation conditions are its main pillars.

Partly responsible for this problem is the fact that the water services sector in Nigeria is in need of gender equity. While this has been obvious for many years, little attention has been directed to examining and reforming the domination of the male gender in decision –making in this sector that is so critical and basic to the daily survival of poor women, their families, and their communities. From the national ministries to the local utilities, the water sector is highly technical and male dominated. From the executive director, to the engineer, to the technician on the street, men have most of the jobs in this sector and most of the decision making power.

In the utilities, positions held by women are lower on the job hierarchy in clerical and unskilled work, including occupations such as secretaries, cashiers, customer relations and janitorial staff. Very few women work as managers, technicians and engineers. Often, women are not favoured for employment as they are perceived to have fewer responsibilities than men and are not regarded as breadwinners.

Furthermore, another constraining factor for women is that the education system did not encourage girls to take technical subjects but instead, girls were encouraged to take courses for jobs perceived to be for women, such as clerical and secretarial services. Such pre-conceived notions about appropriate employment for women subjected women to limited career prospects. Most of the utilities and ministries have no gender equity policies, gender units, or any policies or practices for gender equality.

Additionally, there are no affirmative actions or hiring policies for women, nor are there in-house professional development programmes to enable the capacity development of women staff in the professions and utilities. Though none of the utilities are ‘’actively’’ discriminating against women in terms of hiring or differential wages, none of the utilities, public or private, are actively encouraging women engineers and other women professionals to engage in the sector.

Though Nigeria has a National Policy on Women, no fully developed national gender policy exists. No progress has been achieved in domesticating what currently exists or mobilizing government ministries such as the water ministry to develop a separate and unique gender water policy. The mentioning of gender in various policy documents is dispersed and non- disaggregated. The result is that progress cannot easily be monitored. Also, the National Policy on Women failed to highlight critical implication of gender driven development or the gaps in documents such as the Nigerian constitution. None of both documents identified any pathway or guideline for addressing gender inequity in critical sectors such as the water sector.

The UN Development Report estimates that 40 billion mostly woman – hours per year are spent collecting water in sub – Saharan Africa alone. Women also report travelling further to collect water of suitable quality, because when water quality in nearby water sources declines, women and children are forced to travel further to access water. This adds to overall “time poverty” that women experience as a result of lack of access to safe water. Because women and children supply most water for the household, polluted water affects them the most because of the increased contact they have with unsafe water.

Unequal power relations place women in a disadvantaged position. Of the poorest people in the world, a shocking 70 percent are women. Women worldwide experience lower incomes on average and are more susceptible to unemployment. Where decline in water quality impacts the availability of water, more powerful groups have the advantage when accessing limited safe water sources. In West and South Darfur, of the nearly 500 women treated for rape, a majority – 82 percent were attacked while conducting daily activities such as gathering water. Women also bear the primary responsibility of caring for sick children and family members who fall ill due to unsafe water.

In developing countries, 1.3 billion women and girls live without access to a private, sanitary toilet. The lack of such a necessity forces women to go to the toilet in the open and under the cover of night, often risking rape and violence in the process. The lack of safe sanitation at school also dissuades girls from attending school after menstruation, further limiting education equality for girls.

But, if supported with basic services such as water supplies; a great many of poor women can turn their fortunes around. Apart from the many underlying health benefits; are the many inputs to ‘informal’ livelihoods activities such as small-scale cropping, livestock rearing, agro-processing and other micro-enterprises etc which are hugely dependent on adequate water supplies. In many of these activities, an adequate water supply is a crucial enabling resource: used in, or necessary for, the activity itself; freeing time (by reducing time spent collecting water); or as a key element in improved health that in turn enables women to work and girls to go to school on time and on regular bases.

Note: References has been used for this article though not cited. Author can supply them on request.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Overcoming Nigeria’s water woes

Joachim Ezeji

The 2010 edition of the National Council on Water Resources recently held in Abuja, Nigeria. I have had the privileged of being personally invited to the past three editions, though, regrettably I have only been able to attend only one, and that was that of 2008. Responsible for my absence has been my regular local and international peregrinations. But this has in no way diminished my contributions to critical debates in the sector.
In the water and sanitation sector, a common problem is that many projects fail to provide the benefits originally envisaged. The success of water and sanitation projects often depend on a number of factors, for example demand, affordability, sustained functioning and maintenance, management and user behaviour (hygiene and use). In addition there are other factors such as planning, monitoring and evaluation which are also crucial. It is in realization of all these that funding agencies such as the World Bank and other international groups value monitoring and evaluation and make it a central underpinning of all their projects. Above all, it an imperative strategy to check and control error and optimize the benefits of projects as reported.
It therefore came to me with mixed feelings when I read in the newspapers that the Federal Government of Nigeria has expended a whooping sum of N46 billion to provide water for Nigerians between 2006 and 2009.This amount of money was expended directly by the office of the Special Assistant to the President on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) through funds that accumulated via negotiations on the debt relief gains with the Paris Club of creditors.
Speaking at the Abuja meeting, a director in the office of the Senior Special Assistant to the President on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) revealed that the money was used to complete 41 urban water supply projects; 26 rural water supply projects and water supply to four federal universities; the construction of 27 small earth dams in 22 states; irrigation and water supply; and the construction of irrigation structures through three River Bain Development Authorities.
Other projects listed were grant to states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) to offset the cost of 1,176 solar boreholes, 946 hand pump boreholes, 130 motorised boreholes, 1423 VIP toilets and 74 solar electrification scheme in 2007 amongst many others.
What came into my mind after reading the news report is the tragedy of the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) sector in Nigeria. I say so because in Nigeria, government at all levels, Federal, State and Local etc are ever quick to reel out readymade statistics on contracts awarded without any follow up of actual number of beneficiaries at both time of commissioning and possibly three or five years later. In Nigeria awarding contracts is a favourable pastime because it often enriches both parties and also often short-changes the people – the actual beneficiaries who often had to put up with non-functioning infrastructure a few weeks after commissioning.
For example, in 2007, the Nigerian Minister of Agriculture and Water Resources, Dr. Abba Sayyadi Ruma, gave a shocking revelation that over N24 billion spent on water supply boreholes between 2004 and 2006 by the Federal Government was a waste. The minister explained that as at the time he assumed duty, there was a balance of N3 billion for boreholes that have not been completed. There were others that were said to have been sunk but could not be seen or be validated. According to the minister, 65 percent of the money spent by government in the provision of boreholes in the last five to six years had been wasted as 65 percent of the boreholes is either not functioning or cannot be seen. As a matter of fact, he revealed that most of them cannot be sufficiently proven to be functional.
In view of the importance attached to the provision of water and the need to reduce by half the number of citizens without safe water before 2015, the government had, between 1999 and 2007, increased its budgetary allocation to the water sector from N8.3 billion to N116 billion. But in spite of the colossal amount of money pumped into the sector, the provision of potable water to majority of Nigerians has remained elusive, regardless of the fact that it is one of the achievable set targets of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) set for 2015. So, tell me, if this is not a case of absolute corruption or woeful project monitoring, then what is it?
It baffles me on why the vibrant Civil Society in Nigeria could not be trained and involved in all facet of project monitoring in the country. The least I expect from the MDG office is to shirk responsibility on project monitoring. Why work directly with private contractors who are simply out to make money? Why give more money to States when facts have shown that such funds are most vulnerable to misappropriation? No evidence currently exists to indicate that contracts awarded at state and local levels undergo any scrupulous monitoring.
We need a paradigm change in Nigeria, such that a special fund is created for the activities of the civil societies in Nigeria because these organisations have proven to be more prudent with funds than Government and its agencies. For example, NGOs undergoes more scrutiny in both financial accounting and project implementation (monitoring and implementation) than the government, yet the government hardly extends any monetary support to them to aid their activities. The common, but erroneous feeling is that NGOs must get their funds from international donors, while local funds, shared amongst government and its agencies are massively looted by government officials. This is sad!
No water utility in Nigeria currently supplies water to up to 40% of its urban residents. Most local communities lack functional water schemes provided by government. What we commonly have is a resort to self help where communities are either sponsoring their own water project or doing so in collaboration with local NGOs. The same scenario plays out in most urban areas where wealthy individual sink their own private wells. A growing phenomenon is the informal water market of water kiosks and vendors in most cities, yet government annually make huge budgetary allocation to water supply without any result at the end of the day.
The objective of Monitoring and Evaluation of projects include the need to measure progress against objectives and performance standards, and to enable accountability to donors, partners and people affected by the project. This is often done to ensure that the overall objectives of the project are being met. Strategies often consist of relating the extant situation with situations pre- and post project introduction periods with a view at assessing any likely improvement in a project’s life cycle. For example to assess baseline surveys there is need to adopt a coterie of participatory tools that are part of one methodology, like the Participatory Hygiene and Sanitation Transformation (PHAST).
Project Monitoring need to be understood as the systematic and continuous collecting and analyzing of information about progress of a piece of work over time, hence every contract or project must have it as a basic component. No doubt, it is a tool for identifying strengths and weaknesses in every project because it provides stakeholders with sufficient information to make the right decisions at the right time to improve project continuity and sustainability. It also has to be noted that monitoring is relevant not only to progress in the field but also to managerial, administrative and financial processes within every organisation or institution awarding a contract or implementing one.
On the other hand, evaluation means much more as it enables stakeholders to compare actual project outcomes with those intended, and from such draws lessons to guide future projects or subsequent phases of the same project. Evaluation should be used to guide strategy; measure performance; correct errors; and verify cost benefit analysis in the WASH sector. Project sustainability is commonly underpinned by a monitoring and evaluation system that both collects relevant information on progress and communicates it to relevant parties. This is the way Nigeria’s WASH sector should go.

Monday, 21 June 2010

Budget 2010: Designing a development strategy (2)

Joachim Ezeji

It is pertinent to note that a subsistence economy is characterized by low agricultural productivity, poor coverage of public services and infrastructure, and a small amount of exports, all concentrated in a narrow range of primary agricultural commodities (for example, horticulture, raw cotton, and yarns, and so forth). In such an economy, living standards are near subsistence, or even even below.
However any recorded economic growth in a subsistence economy often leads to a transition to a commercial economy in which both rural and urban households are part of the monetary economy. Here, both the rural and urban households save and invest hence prosperity for all. Export earnings rise, and the range of exports also increase beyond a few primary commodities, population growth rates begin to decline as government services in education are expanded and as families seek higher educational attainment. Literacy among the young becomes nearly universal.
With sufficient growth in exports and domestic saving, the commercial economy becomes an emerging-market economy characterized by the nearly complete coverage of basic infrastructure (roads, power, telecoms, ports), basic education (universal literacy and primary education), basic health services, safe drinking water and sanitation. The economy by now is an exporter of both manufactures and services. Manufacturing exports include industrial products (automobile components, semi-conductor products, consumer appliances), information based services (business process operations, software, business consulting), and perhaps construction services as well.
The role of government in achieving these transitions are very clear, for instance, even when technologies are invented by the private sector, their use or use of the new technologies usually depends on public-sector investments as well. For example, cars require roads, electrical machinery requires a reliable power grid, and imported medicines require public-sector hospitals and clinics. If the government is not holding its end of the deal by making the needed public investments, then the private sector will not be able to make profitable private investments in new technologies. Thus, a failed state, or a bankrupt government that cannot pay for public investments, or a wildly corrupt government, will result in a technologically stagnant private sector as well. Sadly, this is presently Nigeria’s lot today hence the need to use the 2010 to craft a new development strategy that reflect this thinking.
Coupled to this is the realization that a final major step to becoming a high-income country is the transition to full-fledged science-based innovative activities. A technology-based economy is characterized by widespread tertiary education (perhaps thirty percent or more of the university-aged population), extensive public financing of scientific studies, extensive private sector-led research and development, a sophisticated information based society (high internet use, large circulation of daily newspapers, nearly universal use of mobile telephony and universal access to computer in schools). The technology continues to import technologies from abroad, but now foreign exchange is also earned by exporting knowledge and technological advances.
But, at all stages of development, the government must also ensure that the basic conditions of a functioning market-based economy are in place. These include a relatively stable monetary unit, a banking system adequately buffered against banking crisis, reasonable physical security for persons and property, a rudimentary legal system to enforce contracts and property rights, and a modest level of official corruption that is kept from getting out of hand.
Primarily, my expectation from the 2010 federal budget is about a sound development strategy that pays attention to three geographical dimensions: the rural (largely agricultural sector), the urban (largely manufacturing and service sector), and the national infrastructure grid (roads, power, and telecoms) that links together all parts of the economy, and connects the economy with neighbors and with world markets. At each stage of transformation from a subsistence economy to a knowledge-based economy, both the public sector and private sector have important and complementary roles to play. Without adequate public-sector investments and leadership, the private sector will be unable to operate effectively.
The current debate at the National Assembly over poor allocation to infrastructural investment and the fight against corruption need to be redressed since development is inherently an interplay between market forces and public policies. Even though we expect the private sector to be the engine of growth, the public sector must provide critical public goods such as infrastructure, which cannot be adequately provided by the private market and without which the private sector cannot thrive.
In the words of Chief Audu Ogbeh, the former Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) “We are spending over a billion dollars importing tiles every year from Switzerland, Spain and Portugal and Italy. There is clay, there is kaolin and water to make tiles here, make paint and make nails. Imagine the boom. But you can’t do it. You can’t raise a bank loan and the opportunities are just closed. You have no electricity”.
Continuing, he said “Greece is a country of nine million people. They have 10 refineries. Abu Dhabi is the capital of United Arab Emirates. There are 1.5 million people there. They have 11,000 megawatts for 1.5 million people. We are trying to get 6,000 megawatts for 130 million. We are now at the manufacturing levels of 1960 in this country. Go to Ogba and Ikeja in Lagos and see factories that are shut down. Go to the Southeast where the Igbo really wanted to manufacture. Go through there and see carcasses of industries”.
What else should we say, other than to challenge the Federal Government to redesign the next decade by strategizing for a better era with the 2010 budget. The benefits in doing this is multiple especially its multiple effects on states.

Budget 2010: Designing a development strategy (1)

Joachim Ezeji
Newspaper reports last week had it that Nigerian senators brushed aside party differences to berate the executive branch over its consistent failure to implement successive budgets. The report said that senators were particularly worried about the problem of infrastructure, which they said had remained a national nightmare despite gulping billions upon billions of naira.
In the light of that senate disenchantment with the federal government of Nigeria, it is timely to challenge the government to use the opportunity offered by this timely feedbacks on the budget, to make year 2010 a transition year that would herald a new era of shared prosperity for Nigerians. Shared prosperity would not only mean the end of massive and unnecessary suffering among Nigerians who are trapped in extreme poverty but would also mean a safer and more democratic nation as to be showcased by scheduled elections, democratic institutions and politicians as well.
The idea that growth is market based is true, but that is only half of the story. Government action provides the foundations for long term economic growth by ensuring that key parts of the social and physical infrastructure are in place and working effectively. At a low level of economic development, government responsibilities involve investing in basic infrastructure, especially roads, power, primary schools, clinics, water and sanitation.
A study recently undertaken for the World Bank in 24 African countries shows that the poor state of infrastructure in sub-Saharan Africa – its electricity, water, roads, information and communications technologies – reduces national economic growth by two percentage points annually and cuts business productivity by up to 40%. The report titled: Africa’s infrastructure: a time for transformation; reveals that Africa has the weakest infrastructure in the world, but that Africans in some countries pay twice as much for basic services as those living elsewhere.
The study argues that well-functioning infrastructure is essential to Africa’s economic performance and that improving inefficiencies and reducing waste could bring major improvements to Africans’ lives. The report estimates that $93 billion is needed each year over the next decade, more than twice the amount previously thought. Almost half of this would be spent on addressing the continent’s power supply crisis. The new estimate equates to roughly 15% of the continent’s gross domestic product (GDP), similar to China’s infrastructure investment over the last decade.
The study found that existing spending on African infrastructure is much higher than had been thought, at $45 billion a year. Another surprise was that most of this is financed by African taxpayers and consumers. The study also found that there is also considerable wastage – efficiency improvements could potentially expand the available resources by a further $17 billion. However, even if major efficiencies were found there would still be a funding gap of $31 billion each year, much of it for power and water infrastructure in fragile states.
‘Relative to the size of their economies, the funding gap is daunting for the region’s low-income countries (who would need to spend an additional 9% of their GDP) and particularly for the region’s fragile states (who would need to spend an additional 25% percent of their GDP),’ the World Bank notes. Resource-rich countries such as Nigeria and Zambia face a more manageable funding gap of 4% of GDP. Particularly in light of the global financial crisis, investing in African infrastructure is critical for Africa’s future, the report adds.
Obiageli Ezekwesili, World Bank vice president for the Africa region, said: ‘Modern infrastructure is the backbone of an economy and the lack of it inhibits economic growth. ‘This report shows that investing more funds without tackling inefficiencies would be like pouring water into a leaking bucket. Africa can plug those leaks through reforms and policy improvements which will serve as a signal to investors that Africa is ready for business.’
Senator Uche Chukwumerije (PPA, Abia State) according to the newspaper report expressed concerns that the expenditure patter of the 2010 budget proposal was high on overheads and low in investment and sustainable economic projects. He was also miffed that the budget recorded low allocation to anti-corruption agencies, declaring that unless something drastic is done about corruption, the nation will ultimately be the loser.
To see how economic growth can actually be achieved, Jeffrey Sachs suggests that it is useful to trace the progression of economic development through four basic stages, each stage representing a higher level of income and development than the preceding one. According to Sachs’ the progression is from a subsistence economy, to an emerging-market economy, to a technology-based economy. Each of these stages represents a higher level of capital per person.
To be continued next week.

Happy Birthday, Chief Ngozi Onyegbule!

Joachim Ezeji

How else could life be celebrated for a man of many parts at the age of 55 years? Where and how do we salute a man of the people; a culture exponent; poet, novelist, community leader and philanthropist in the mold of Chief Ngozi Onyegbule as he soldiers on with life?
In realization of these and many more, all roads therefore led to the Salaam Shrine Centre, 369 East Mt. Pleasant Avenue, Livingston, New Jersey, USA on November 7, 2009, as the entire Nigerian community in the whole of New England states, New York, New Jersey, Washington DC and other parts of the United States gathered to celebrate and felicitate with a humble man, Chief Ngozi Onyegbule as he marked his glorious 55th birthday in style.
That occasion was the very first time I was meeting this great man of humility. I had been invited by my erstwhile school mate and friend Mr. Ikechukwu Nwangwu who lives in Bridgeport. Iyke, an in-law to Chief Onyegbule had driven down from Bridgeport to Providence to pick me up from my abode at Brown University, on the night of 6th November, 2009 for this event.
Meeting Chief Onyegbule was a great pleasure as the man radiates simplicity and friendliness of the highest order. He smiles and mingles freely with everybody, interacting with all as if they have been friends long ago. I was therefore not surprised that the event was such a huge success with a massive turn yet unprecedented in many similar events I have attended in both England and the whole of North America combined.
According to records made available at the event, Chief Ngozi Onyegbule was born on November 4, 1954 at the Holy Rosary Maternity, Nguru, Mbaise Imo State and is the first child of Late Chief Ignatius Onukwufor and Lolo Christiana Nmasinachi Onyegbule of Ogbe Nneissi in Nguru Mbaise.
Life for Chief Ngozi Onyegbule in the United States of America began like those of many new arrivals. On arrival in the USA in the mid-eighties Chief Onyegbule did all sorts of jobs to survive and meander the turbulent terrain of a new environment. Some of these included the opportunities of an arduous work life of working twenty hours a week as admission aid in the admissions office of the Montclair State College, as well as those of working as a porter, cleaner, security officer and door man at various periods.
To some haughty fellows, these jobs could be dismissed as menial but to Ngozi, they mattered and he took pride in them regardless of whatever; his work ethic therefore earned him in the jobs a plethora of commendations, and this as at today have greatly and positively influenced his great life to what it has become today. The major dividend was that on June 15, 1992, he was employed by the superior court of New Jersey as a probation officer, and through the system he has risen to become and hold the title of senior intake probation officer and criminal justice counselor in the court.
As a community leader, Ngozi has since 1970, maintained a positive stance in civic and community service, this started right from his days in Nigeria where he served as secretary of the voice of angles block rosary in his town. This also continued even while in secondary school and colleges in Nigeria and has continued even in the USA where he held and has continued to hold various positions of responsibility.
Chief Onyegbule was in 1990 elected the first social and publicity secretary of Abia and Imo State Association in North America (AISANA). At various times he has been elected the first elected director to moderate Imo Day in the USA, and in 1995 was elected the sixth president of the Mbaise Association of New Jersey. Also, he has also served as the Vice President and Social of the organization, and has also served as social director of the Ahiara Umunna organization and currently the first elected president of the Ogbe Nneissi Development Union in the USA. He is an active and founding member of the Umuihi Development Organization, Inc. Other positions in the USA include his election as a member of the probation association of New Jersey; and the international society of poets, Washington, DC, USA.
As a philanthropist, Ngozi is ever willing to put smile on the face of the deprived or suffering. In doing this, he feels happy when he lends a helping hand to fellow human beings irrespective of their places of birth, creed or religion. Many guests at the birthday party gave flowing testimonies to support and encourage the celebrant to continue in his good works. He has established education scholarship program for twelve students in his home town and has never relented to show compassion and service to others. He has a philosophy of deriving happiness by going an extra mile for others.
As a culture exponent, he is an advocate of family unity and African culture. He believes that his people in diaspora should instill in their children family values, tradition and culture. He has always urged families to send their children to Nigeria for “International Community Service”; a positive way to make the children in diaspora to know their routes and relatives, learn and speak their language, know the ethics of responsible behavior, enhance their inter personal skills and embrace their culture and tradition. He has always insisted that this is “a clarion call and task that must be achieved if abroad based parents are not to lose their heritage”.
As a poet and novelist, Chief Onyegbule has written four books, namely, Never to love Again; The Golden Master Pieces,; The grieving mind; Love forgives all sins as well as many other publications in Igbo journals and other Nigerian journals in the USA. Some of his poems are published on www.poetry.com. In doing all these Chief Onyegbule has received numerous awards including two poetry awards from the international society of poets, five awards from AISANA, and two awards from the Mbaise Association of New Jersey.
In congratulating this leader of men and community in New Jersey, USA, I cannot omit his amiable wife Ebere. Both Chief Ngozi Onyegbule and his wife Ebere has been married since 1988 and the marriage is blessed with five children, Nnedimma, Ozioma, Onochie, Ezinne and Chimaobi, all of whom are doing well in their own rights. May God bless this lovely family and preserve Chief Ngozi Onyegbule till we meet again on his next open birthday as already schedule. Happy Birthday Chief!

The Niger Delta: My interests (1)

I work mostly in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria. Three major problems of interest to me in this region are poverty, water pollution and water security. The Niger Delta, which is one of the most important wetlands in Nigeria, is the largest wetland in Africa and the third largest wetland area in the world. Wetlands represent 2.6% of Nigeria’s land area of about 923,768km2.
Sadly, the Niger Delta wetland has been subjected to over 40 years of devastation as a result of intense oil and gas activities, and urbanization. Oil production in the Delta extends over a million hectares of vegetated land, mostly wetlands. Thus far, oil exploration in the Delta has led to the destruction of over 4000km2 of the green forest, including freshwater swamps, mangroves and lowland forests. Incessant oil spill and indiscriminate gas flaring constitute a significant threat to the coastal wetlands of the Delta.
In Nigeria, there is no region with such a feverish population growth, industrial expansion and urbanization rate than the Delta, which compares only with Lagos. The effect of these land use changes includes deforestation and loss of wetlands. Land use change here is a big problem which will not go away as it disrupts the hydrological cycle of drainage basins and alters both the balance between rainfall and evaporation and the runoff response of any area. The changes in surface composition and the introduction of man- made drainage systems especially in urban areas causes a series of wide-ranging effects that can increase flood volumes and peak flow rates, reduce low flows and even intensify local storm activity; often these overwhelm and pollute drinking water systems.
The shrinkage and loss of wetlands robs the Delta of the ecological services provided by wetlands. The hydrology of wetlands is central to their functioning and in turn plays a key role in determining the benefits that they provide such as the sustenance of both the surface and groundwater resources. Wetlands also function as natural sponges that trap and slowly release surface water, rain, groundwater and floodwaters. Wetland vegetation also helps to slow the speed of floodwaters and distribute them more gradually over the floodplain. Thus, the combined water storage and braking action of wetlands helps to lower flood heights and reduce erosion.
Flooding incidents and Pollution of water sources by on-site sanitation and industrial activities in the delta owes their remote origin to these issues and would be reasonably ameliorated when wetlands and forests are allowed to be, with minimal perturbation. In doing my work, I have always canvassed the need to conserve some part of this rich delta, not only its rich biodiversity but the entire ecosystem in order to support livelihood, minimize flooding and support rivers, streams and groundwater systems and sustain clean drinking water supplies. Enforceable policies or laws are desired in order to stop further degradation or developments on floodplains. The involvement of the communities in doing and achieving targets set in this regard is very crucial and urgent.

Supporting the informal economy

Joachim Ibeziako Ezeji

According to the UN Human Settlement Program, in 1800 only 2% of the global population lived in cities and by 1950 already 30% was urbanized. By 2000, 47% of the world’s population was estimated to live in cities, while projections for 2030 suggest this percentage may climb to 60%. Urbanization rates in developing countries outstrip those in industrialized countries, with Africa still predominantly rural (37.5% of urbanization in 2000) – showing the highest annual growth rates at almost 4.9%. In 1975, five mega-cities had populations in excess of 10 million inhabitants. By 2000, their ranks had swelled to 19, a large majority of them in developing countries. In addition, the world today has 370 cities with between 1 and 5 million inhabitants.

As the world becomes more urbanized and poverty becomes an increasingly urban phenomenon, it is also becoming increasingly clear that a key contributing factor to the incidence of poverty is a shortage of adequate employment in growing cities and towns. UN-HABITAT in 2005 conducted a detailed research study on the informal economies of six developing country cities, namely Bangkok, Delhi, Durban, Lima, Mexico city and Nairobi. The objective was to examine existing regulatory environment in each city and to identify innovative policies for improving the operational efficiency of the urban informal economy. The final report, Innovative policies for the urban informal economy; 2006, shows that complex and stringent regulatory requirements on the establishment and operation of micro-enterprises have contributed to the growth of the informal economy, notably in developing country cities.

Poorer self-employed operators at the bottom end of the urban informal economy are particularly affected by complex, costly or time consuming requirements. The above mentioned UN-HABITAT report proposes a menu of regulatory and incentive policy options focused on two broad objectives: (i) the formulation of an appropriate regulatory and policy framework to set up and operate business and (ii) complementary developmental policies required to maximize the benefits of streamlined regulation.

It is clear that appropriate regulation must combine with developmental interventions to maximize the economic benefits of regulatory reform. The proposed policy options can be summarized as follows; (i) Appropriate regulatory and policy framework:- Measures to ensure simpler registration, operation and reporting procedure; Greater policy coherence and harmonization at national and municipal levels; Differentiated regulatory and incentive measures specifically targeted on different segments of the informal economy; Proactive measures to provide advisory support to informal operators and businesses. (ii) Complementary development policies: Improved access to workspace, markets and urban infrastructure; Improved property rights and security tenure; better access to credit and finance; Enterprise development and capacity building; Reduced tax burden, including municipal fees; Policies to promote macro-economic stability and urban economic development.

The proposed policy framework was not meant to be a ‘’ one size-fit-all’’ strategy, as any practical policy must be context- specific and take into account the unique urban (and national) socio-economic dynamics. Since these policy proposals were based on a detailed analysis of the more promising reforms implemented in six developing country cities with a vibrant informal economy, they could inspire other cities into developing policies that best suit local needs.

Given the importance of the urban informal economy to low income groups, this policy framework is ultimately aimed at maximizing income and employment benefits for the urban poor. Therefore, generating jobs and adequate incomes for the urban poor who rely on the informal economy for their livelihoods is critical to the achievement of the poverty related Millennium Development Goals. Indeed, African governments should concentrate on ensuring that workers within the continuum are protected, and infrastructure and support services are in place to assist them.

Most studies do not offer detailed information on the size of the urban informal economy, their composition, organization, competitiveness and linkages to the formal economy. Even the local authorities who collect substantial revenue from the informal economy do not maintain records of the numbers and contribution of the sector to the urban economy. The most visible manifestation of informal economic activities is urban agriculture, street vending and informal trade. In almost each and every city in Africa, the streets, pavements and roadsides are awash with women and men trading in all sorts of commodities and goods, they have been involved in street vending for long periods of time.

Most of these service providers are in conflict with urban authorities, and there have been instances of street battles with the enforcement arm of local authorities. Their contribution to the local, national, and global economy remains invisible and under-valued. Operating in isolation from her home, the vegetable/ fruit gardener was not able to negotiate regular orders or fair prices. However, the informal activities have continued to increase as economic opportunities within the formal sector dwindle, in the midst of the neo-liberal reforms taking place in Africa. Urban development in Africa has to adopt a holistic approach which not only accommodates the informal economy but also provides for it in terms of planning and management of cities.

The lack of holistic approach has exposed informal workers to an unregulated environment, full of harassment, exploitation, intimidation and lack of protection of workers’ rights. Turning around the economies of African cities depends on how respective urban authorities handle the informal economy and its workers. These workers constitute a majority, and urban economic development, including the on-going poverty reduction programs must put them at the centre of development if growth and sustainable livelihoods are to be realized in African cities.

The truly whole man

Joachim Ibeziako Ezeji
31st October 2009
Watson Institute, Brown University USA, 2009

Neither colour nor tongue
Neither exposure nor fame
Neither technology nor weapon
Makes man truly whole

Neither poverty nor wealth
Neither health nor infirmity
Neither learning nor illiteracy
Makes man truly whole

Neither popularity nor Obscurity
Neither eloquence nor timidity
Neither friend nor foe
Makes man truly whole

But character, only character
Character, strong and useful
Serving nature and humanity
Makes man truly whole.

My Song for Block Island

Composed by
Joachim Ibeziako Ezeji
WISE 2009, Brown University, USA
401-626 -9689

Block Island, what a lovely island
A place of amazing collection
Of all shapes of rocks and stones
All from the rolls and abrasions of the ocean tides.

What a lovely collection of water
Ponds of fresh and salt waters alike
All imbued with life of all sorts
All adorning a landscape so undulating.

Natural farmlands and homesteads inter-mingled
Conserved Forests replete with birds, Amphibians and mammals like in the biblical Garden of Eden
All in Block Island.

At Block Island, man and nature are at peace
Serene landscape surrounded by the Atlantic
Serenity pierced only by roaring waves of the Atlantic
All in an Island worth a thousand visits.

What a lovely place to be and tick
An environment so tranquil and cool
Refreshing ocean breeze from all corners
All Bathing man and animal alike.

Never seen energy so high as the Atlantic
An ocean with tides so strong and fantastic
Energy very manifest in waves so classic
All seen and felt all over an Island

There was a Scot, Maureen, Pam and Chris
All at nature conservancy, so majestic
Answering and talking to WISE 2009
All about nature and man

Dangers of cooking with firewood

Joachim Ezeji

In the traditional African society there is struggle for almost everything. There is struggle for basic things such as water, food and even clean air. These things are simply a luxury in most homes. I therefore wonder when our people will be supported to overcome these difficulties and live in harmony with their environment and nature.

Accounts of deforestation in Nigeria by scientists show that about 92 percent of the land surface of Nigeria is considered prone to land degradation from moderate to severe stages. Over 350 million tons of topsoil is estimated to be lost each year due to soil erosion. Natural forests, believed to have covered about 40 percent of the country’s land surface some 50 years ago have dwindled to mere 9 percent currently. The estimated 26 million herds of cattle and goats which are mostly grazing beyond carrying capacity have not helped the land reclamation strategies.

More than 37 percent of the country’s forest reserve were lost between 1990 and 2005 as a result of illegal and uncontrolled logging, incessant bush burning, fuel wood gathering and clearing of forests for other land uses hence making the country vulnerable to declining soil productivity, desertification, loss of aquatic life, coastal/soil erosion, biodiversity lose, water and air pollution, drying up of water bodies, erratic flooding causing loss of life and property and diseases.

But those are just a single side of the story. Cooking indoors, on an open fire has been used since the beginning of human civilization. In Nigeria, just as in many other parts of Africa, this simple technology is still the prevailing method for cooking and heating and consists of the use of biomass fuel –including firewood, agricultural residue and animal dung – in traditional open-fire stoves.

In Nigeria, children miss up to 3 days of school per week to gather firewood with 76% of the population depending on firewood for fuel and cooking. The use of wood as fuel for everything from cooking to heating is one of the biggest problems in Nigeria. When wood is burnt it becomes hot and releases gases which account for a large amount of the energy and heat produced. As cooking takes place every day of the year, most people using solid fuels are exposed to levels of small particles many times higher than accepted annual limits for outdoor air pollution.

Combustion of solid fuels in open fires or traditional stoves results in very high levels of indoor air pollutants (IAP), principally particulate matter (PM) and carbon monoxide (CO). It also releases a number of other dangerous chemicals including nitrogen oxides, benzene, butadiene, formaldehyde, poly-aromatic hydrocarbons. These gases and particles lead to respiratory diseases such as lung cancer, asthma, pneumonia and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease affecting primarily the women and children. The smoke and indoor pollution arising from these cooking processes were held responsible for over 1.6 million deaths and 2.7% of the global burden of disease. In 2002 across Sub Saharan Africa the death toll due to indoor pollution had risen to 396 000 and with a prediction of over 200 million more people using solid fuel combustion in the developing world by 2030 to provide their energy needs this figure will inevitably rise.
In India alone, about 500,000 premature deaths of women and children are encountered each year due to indoor air pollution. Millions more suffer every day with difficulty in breathing, stinging eyes, and chronic respiratory disease. The WHO estimates that inhaling indoor smoke doubles the risk of pneumonia and other acute infections of the lower respiratory tract among children under five years of age. It has also concluded that women exposed to indoor smoke are three times more likely to suffer from COPD, such as chronic bronchitis or emphysema, than women who cook with electricity, gas or other cleaner fuels.
The World Bank also estimates that about 400 million children and 700 million women are at risk because of exposure to contamination arising from the use of biomass for cooking and heating (GTZ-PAHO/WHO, 2006). Indoor Air Pollution and inefficient household energy practices are additionally posing significant obstacles to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) since the use of solid fuels has many other negative household impacts.
In Nigeria, despite the enormous number of firewood burning for cooking, there are not many studies conducted related to its impact as a driver of Indoor Air Pollution -- particularly emphasizing health impacts. The dissemination of information or environmental education of vulnerable groups is not yet adequately undertaken. It is yet to be understood whether this is due to the lack of trained human resources or as a lack of state of the art equipment needed to carry and conduct research.
Furthermore, smoke alleviating technologies or alternate solar powered stoves and ovens are not yet accorded priority in development in any part or region of Nigeria. These interventions need to consider the geographical, climatic, and socio-economic conditions of local populations as well as micro-credit finance to aid their adoption.
Nigerian NGOs have a role to play in this regard. There is an urgent need to conduct actual field studies and research to identify which interventions work best in specific local contexts. As such, there is a huge need for environmental health education in this critical area in this era of climatic revulsion.
I therefore challenge government departments especially the environment and public health departments in government, universities and the private sector to rise up to the occasion and save Nigeria’s poor whose health and well being are being shrunk and ruined by excessive exposure to pollution from firewood smokes.

How to protect water supplies! (2)

Joachim Ezeji

As I discussed earlier in the month, one of the greatest challenges currently facing the water sector is how to effectively access and manage the safety of water sources in order to meet targets outlined in the Millennium Development Goals. On top of this concern is the pollution source and pathway provided by septic tank systems to water supply sources.

However, and by far, the greatest water-quality problem in developing countries including Nigeria is the prevalence of water-borne diseases, especially gastro-enteritis which is related to faecal pollution and inadequate hygiene.

A key consideration in managing a groundwater resource is its vulnerability to sources of contamination that are located primarily at and near the land surface. Because of generally low ground water velocities, once contaminants have reached the water table, their movement to nearby surface-water discharge areas or to deeper parts of the groundwater flow system is slow.

For the same reason, once parts of an aquifer are contaminated, the time required for a return to better water –quality conditions as a result of natural processes is long, even after the original source of contamination are no longer active. Groundwater quality remediation projects generally are very expensive and commonly are only partly successful.

It is therefore germane to understand what a septic tank system is, how it functions and how it can pollute groundwater. A septic tank is often a buried, water tight receptacle designed and constructed to receive wastewater from a home, to separate the solids from the liquid, to provide limited digestion of organic matter, to store solids, and to allow the clarified liquid to discharge for further treatment and disposal. The settleable solids and partially decomposed sludge settle to the bottom of the tank and gradually build up. A scum of lightweight material including fats and greases rises to the top. The partially treated effluent is allowed to flow through an outlet structure just below the floating scum layer.

This partially decomposed liquid can be disposed of through soil absorption systems, soil moulds, evaporation beds or anaerobic filters depending upon the site conditions. The most important processes that take place within the tank include separation of suspended solids, digestion of sludge and scum, stabilization of the liquid, and growth of micro-organisms. Anaerobic bacteria degrade the organic matter in the sludge as well as in the scum and as a result of this bacteria action, volatile acids are formed at the first instance and eventually are converted mostly to water, carbon dioxide and methane. The formation of gases in the sludge layer causes irregular flotation of sludge flocs that resettle after the release of the gas at the surface.

The performance of a septic tank greatly depends on its design. A properly designed septic tank performs efficiently in the removal of settleable matter and the Biochemical Oxygen Demand (BOD).However, the effluent from a septic tank still contains high concentrations of BOD, pathogens, nitrogen and phosphorus, which prohibits its discharge into any water course or on land without further treatment.

Under normal design conditions, reductions in BOD of 25-50% and in suspended solids (SS) of up to 70% have been reported in literature. The high reduction in BOD and SS can however be obtained by prolonging the retention time, which in most cases may not be practicable. Apart from the retention time, the other factors which affect the performance of the septic tank are; ambient temperature, the nature of the influent waste water, the organic content, the positions of the inlet and outlet devices in the tank etc.

The digestion of the sludge and scum depends on the microbial population and the temperature. Sludge and scum decompose more slowly at lower temperature and are accelerated by an increase in temperature.
The effluent from a septic tank is only partially treated and still contains high concentration of micro-organisms, BOD, phosphorus and nitrogen, which should not be discharged directly into a public water course or on land. Further treatment or other means of disposal are required. Where site conditions are suitable and do not pose any threat to Groundwater quality, sub-surface soil absorption is usually the best method for septic tank effluent disposal.

However, the performance of the soil absorption systems depends on the ability of the soil to accept liquid, absorb viruses, strain out bacteria and filter the waste. A proper site evaluation requires accurate measurement of the soil permeability, the degree of slope, the position of the water table and the soil depth.

The following general guidelines can be considered for selecting soil absorption sites; soil permeability should be moderate to rapid and the soil percolation rate should be generally 24 minutes per cm or less. The Groundwater level during the wettest season should be at least 1.22m (4ft) below the bottom of the sub-surface absorption field or soak pit. Impervious layers should be more than 1.22m below the seepage bed or the pit bottom.
The site for an absorption field of a soak pit should not be within 15.24m (50ft) of a stream or other water body.
A soil absorption system should never be installed in an area subject to frequent flooding.

Three different types of sub-surface soil absorption systems are commonly used; absorption trenches; absorption beds or seepage beds; and absorption pits or soakage pits. The use of these types depends on the suitability of soil and other local conditions. These are deep excavations used for sub-surface disposal of septic tank effluent. Absorption pits are recommended as an alternative where absorption fields/trenches are not practicable and where the topsoil is underlain with porous soil or fine gravel. The capacity of an absorption pit can be computed on the basis of percolation tests to be made at the disposal site.

Soakaways or soakage pits are mostly used in urban Nigeria but more troubling in densely populated areas. The septic tank effluent flows through pit walls made of open jointed bricks, into the surrounding soil. Typically, soakaways can be 2 to 3.5m in diameter, and 3 to 6m deep depending on the amount of wastewater flow and the infiltration capacity of soil. Leach pits for VIPs and pour flush latrines have to be designed for storage and digestion of excreted solids as well as infiltration of the liquid waste into the surrounding soil. Designing for storage and digestion of solids is exactly the same as for all dug pit latrines.

Infiltration of the liquid effluent however, requires that sufficient pit-soil interface area is available depending on the long term infiltration capacity of the soil. Pit effluent enters the soil first by infiltrating the pit-soil interface, which is partially covered in a bacteria/slime layer, and then by percolating away through the surrounding soil. The long term infiltration rate depends on the type of soil. The liquid effluent from leach pits of different types of pit latrines will infiltrate both laterally and vertically into the soil and through to the groundwater if the aquifer is an unconfined one.

The basic principles of on-site systems, however, remain the same: liquids infiltrate into the soil and the solids are retained, anaerobically digested and have to be removed or a new pit has to be dug at regular intervals. The basic on-site systems are primarily designed to dispose of human excreta. Wastewaters from cooking, clothes washing, and bathing are collected in small drains and disposed of in soakaways for infiltration.

If the leach pit bottom is close to the Groundwater table, then bacteria or other contaminants may travel both downwards and laterally, transported by the Groundwater. The lateral movement will always be in the same direction as the flow of the Groundwater. It is therefore important that latrine locations are carefully selected with respect to sources of water supply, to avoid the risk of pollution.

It has been indicated that if there are at least 2.0meters between the pit bottom and the Groundwater table, little microbial pollutant travel occurs in most unconsolidated soils and a horizontal distance of 10.0meters between a drinking water well and a latrine is often satisfactory.

Concluded !

How to protect water supplies !

Joachim Ezeji

One of the greatest challenges currently facing the water sector is how to effectively access and manage the safety of water sources in order to meet targets outlined in the Millennium Development Goals. On top of this concern is the fact that water quality is an essential component of public health.

Traditionally, drinking water supplies from groundwater have often been associated with natural quality problems which are often related to local geology. This is so because the interaction between water and rock forming minerals during groundwater circulation may lead to the build-up of harmful concentration of some trace elements.

Other health effects in drinking water supplies from groundwater may be caused by element deficiencies where rocks have low concentration of essential elements. Water may also be unacceptable due to aesthetic problems such as bad odour or taste (caused, for example by iron and hydrogen sulphide) or staining problems (iron and manganese).

However, and by far, the greatest water-quality problem in developing countries including Nigeria is the prevalence of water-borne diseases, especially gastro-enteritis which is related to faecal pollution and inadequate hygiene. There is no doubt that health can be compromised when harmful pathogens contaminate drinking water either at the source, through seepage of contaminated run-off water, or within the piped distribution system. Moreover unhygienic handling of water during transport or within the home can contaminate previously safe water.

The choice of an appropriate sanitation system for growing and dense urban populations is increasingly becoming a public health concern particularly in the developing world. The F-Diagram had underscored sanitation as an imperative intervention necessary for breaking the link between human waste (excreta) and the individual (person), but is that actually the case with many sanitation systems covertly discharging poorly treated effluents to water bodies?.

In the face of this realization, are latrines/ toilets still to be recorded as sustainable stop gaps for the spread of faecal pathogens?; Does the discharge of poorly treated and raw faecal matter and effluents into streams, rivers and ground water not compromise public health?, Is the problem a technology and management issue or a construction and development issue?

A 2006 World Health Organisation (WHO) report had revealed that as much as 24% of global disease is caused by environmental exposures which can be averted. Well-targeted interventions can prevent much of this environmental risk, the WHO report said. The report further estimates that more than 33% of disease in children under the age of 5 is caused by environmental exposures. Preventing environmental risk could save as many as four million lives a year in children alone, mostly in developing countries.

The report, Preventing disease through healthy environments - towards an estimate of the environmental burden of disease, is the most comprehensive and systematic study yet undertaken on how preventable environmental hazards contribute to a wide range of diseases and injuries.

By focusing on the environmental causes of disease, and how various diseases are influenced by environmental factors, the analysis breaks new ground in understanding the interactions between environment and health.
The estimate reflects how much death, illness and disability could be realistically avoided every year as a result of better environmental management.

The report estimates that more than 13 million deaths annually are due to preventable environmental causes. Nearly one third of death and disease in the least developed regions is due to environmental causes. Over 40% of deaths from malaria and an estimated 94% of deaths from diarrhoeal diseases, two of the world's biggest childhood killers, could be prevented through better environmental management.

The four main diseases influenced by poor environments are diarrhoea, lower respiratory infections, various forms of unintentional injuries, and malaria. Measures which could be taken now to reduce this environmental disease burden include the promotion of safe household water storage and better hygienic measures; the use of cleaner and safer fuels; increased safety of the built environment, more judicious use and management of toxic substances in the home and workplace; better water resource management.

"For the first time, this new report shows how specific diseases and injuries are influenced by environmental risks and by how much," said Dr Maria Neira, Director of WHO's Department for Public Health and Environment. "It also shows very clearly the gains that would accrue both to public health and to the general environment by a series of straightforward, coordinated investments. We call on ministries of health, environment and other partners to work together to ensure that these environmental and public health gains become a reality."
The report and executive summary - Preventing Disease Through Healthy Environments: towards an estimate of the environmental burden of disease can be found on: http://www.who.int/quantifying_ehimpacts/publications/preventingdisease/en/index.html.

In view of the foregoing, it is germane to underscore that as stated above; an estimated 94% of deaths from diarrhoeal diseases is a big issue and generally an issue linked directly with sanitation as well as hygiene. Preventing these through better environmental management is the kernel of my study. Measures already listed that could be taken now to reduce this environmental disease burden include amongst others the promotion of safe household water storage and better hygienic measures; and the increased safety of the built environment, as well as better water resource management.

To achieve these measures I agree with the fact that sanitation systems involves all arrangements necessary to store, collect, process and deliver human wastes back to nature in a safe manner. Sanitation systems with respect to human waste management may be considered to have the following functions; excretion and storage; collection and transportation; process/treatment; and disposal /recycle.

Sanitation represents an immense problem that appears differently in various parts of the world. In the developing countries like Nigeria, its lack or inadequacy is the major issue. It should not be forgotten that sanitation options basically depend on the type of water supply, management of wastes, receiving water quality and environment. For instance, public water supply and the flush toilet principle automatically entail expensive sewerage and wastewater treatment that need to constantly be upgraded due to the recognition of emerging problems.

Thus, it is evident that sanitation is not only a health and technology issue but much more; environmental, sustainability, social, institutional, and legislative implications are also crucial, and a broad approach is looked for that takes into account all these aspects when selecting from the various existing alternatives.

The classification of sanitation as on-site or off-site systems depends on whether the waste is stored, treated and disposed of at the point of generation or transported to somewhere else for treatment and/or disposal. When the wastes are collected, treated and disposed of at the point of generation, it is called an on-site system e.g. pit latrines and septic tank systems etc.
Next week I will discuss this a little further.

To be continued next week.

Being Nigerian; a pride or liability ?

Joachim Ezeji
According to Governor Godswill Akpabio of Akwa Ibom State, making Nigeria to work is akin to making the elephant to dance. Elephants have locked cartilages which allow them movement in only one direction and do not ease up pressure enough in their joints for the fluid exercise of dancing. But in circuses, animal trainers usually find a way to teach the elephants to hop in jerky movements which resemble a dance. It is a herculean task but it gets done. And if elephants can be taught to dance, Nigeria can be made to work.
What this means therefore is that the challenges facing Nigeria are enormous. Some are internal and some are external, some are within our control and some are outside our control. But the implication of this to the average Nigerian is a terrible burden.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission once had cause to disclose that since independence in 1960, Nigerian public officials have stolen over six trillion from the coffers of the state. But that is sure to be a poor and inaccurate estimate in for a country vis avis the realization that documentation is poor and the finance departments of government offices have been routinely set on fire to conceal fraud as was the case in Imo State between 2000 and 2007. The problem is that no one can effectively calculate the exact amount of stolen public funds. And according to Reuben Abati, “……..this is money meant for development and the pursuit of the purpose of governance to wit: to guarantee the security and welfare of the people”.
It was Senator David Mark who, quoting the World development indicators of Gross Domestic Product data base 2008,said that Indonesia which was comparable with Nigeria in many areas with similar GDP size in the 1970s has about $841, 140m GDP while Nigeria has GDP of $292,595m. According to him, "Malaysia, which got its first palm seedlings from Nigeria, in the 1960s is currently earning from the export of palm produce palm more than Nigeria. It is like a man gave birth to a word, and the word grew to swallow him. Currently, Malaysia has $355,225 GDP.
"In the case of Nigeria, it is the usual story of abundant human and natural resources committed to no use; and where they are used, leaders loot the treasury. In all indices of development, Nigeria is far behind. This is because all that Nigeria lacks is leadership", he stated. "Comment and facts on the economic situation and infrastructure facilities have shown that Nigeria has lagged behind in the quest for economic development and transformation within the framework of a stable leadership"
"The reasons cannot be farfetched: These leaders form the habit of diverting the huge earnings of oil into private pockets. Where are transparency, accountability and good governance in Nigerian democracy, when corruption has been a serious setback to our economic growth?" He however noted that, "some of our leaders are self centered, unpatriotic, greedy, impatient, reckless and insincere to the legacies of our forefathers, who fought and died for this country.
"For Nigeria to be a crawling adult at the age of 48 is quite unfortunate and calls for a sober reflection. It is good governance that translates our human and natural resources into political and economic development". He also observed that, "the complacent attitude of our leaders and inconsistency in policy implementation whose multiplier effect of are the energy crisis and the decay in infrastructural facilities remains issues of concern in the socio-political and economic life of the country".

But bad governance, more than ever before in the nation’s history is producing an increasingly unequal country in terms of the distribution of income, assets and economic power. This growing inequality can be seen between politicians and the rest of us, with many politicians accumulating all the country’s wealth through false allowance and expenses claim etc; and within the geopolitical zone, as new investments and juicy appointments concentrated in a few zones. It can also be seen within states, as certain areas remain no-go areas for federal patronage. The result is that areas bypassed often face declining employment and decaying infrastructure.
Just like in other countries of the world, Nigeria has cities, and in these cities there are formal and informal measures that moderate social and spatial inequalities. Informal measures can be particularly important when governments are too weak or ineffective to ensure formal provision of basic infrastructure and services.
In Owerri, as in Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt, Calabar and Kano etc, informal enterprises provide water, sanitation, schools and health care to large sections of the lower income population. The visibility of bad governance in Nigeria can be seen from the absence of, for example, universal provision of basic infrastructure (piped water, sanitation, drainage) to virtually all homes, and basic services (health care, emergency services, garbage collection).
The general absence of universal access to primary and secondary education in some states, and the widening poor provision for tertiary education- through provision for schools and higher education institutions, and measures to support retraining and re-skilling, to allow those whose skills were no longer needed to get back into the labour force is a problem .
Also the absence of safety nets that ensures basic incomes for the unemployed and those unable to work, and usually, special measures to provide shelter to those unable to afford it and help low –income families with children. The poor protection for the labour force against exploitative wages and dangerous working conditions, and the absence of measures to support economic growth or regeneration in the poorer areas, including investment in transport and communication infrastructure etc.
In many Nigerian cities, smaller urban centers and rural areas, there is still critical under-provision of basic infrastructure and services. Most people living in Nigeria have no public safety nets if they lose their jobs or fall ill, and little protection against dangerous working practices and inadequate wages. There are also issues of accountability with regard to the relationship between citizens and the private sector. Companies and corporations often ignore national and local laws and regulations on occupational health and safety, and pollution control, where governments are weak or corrupt. Workers fearful of losing their jobs are also less likely to question dangerous or otherwise exploitative working practices.
In view of all these short comings and many more, it is obvious that rebranding Nigeria as is currently being packaged should not be the priority. Already, being Nigerian is a burden and liability to most citizens; however those who seem to suffer the shame most are mostly those who often come in contact with nationals of other countries elsewhere. And these include Nigerians in Diaspora, and of course all those who travel with the green passport.

Nigeria: Audacity of bad leadership

Joachim Ezeji

One headlines that caught my attention in the past few days was the one from the Guardian Newspaper with the caption “Obasanjo, Shagari, Ekwueme, Atiku To Earn Pay For Life”. According to the report, “If the National Assembly passes a proposal from the Revenue Mobilization Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC), former presidents Shehu Shagari, Olusegun Obasanjo, and their deputies while in office - Alex Ekwueme and Atiku Abubakar - will earn the annual basic pay of a president and his deputy for the rest of their lives”.
According to the paper; In an explanatory letter to the leadership of the National Assembly, the Revenue, Mobilization and Fiscal Commission Chairman, Hamman Tukur, wrote in part: "I write to respectfully forward the Commission's advice in form of a draft bill attached herewith, which you may wish to consider passing into law to give details of all the benefits envisaged in section 84(5) of the 1999 Constitution so as to provide Rights and Privileges to elected Presidents and Vice Presidents of the Federal Republic of Nigeria on the successful completion of their tenure of office”.
However, "Section 84(5) of the 1999 Constitution provides: 'Any person who held office as president or vice president shall be entitled to pension for life at a rate equivalent to the annual salary of the incumbent president or vice president.'
The paper further explained that the Bill shows that the Federal Government will also provide the former political office holders, who were duly elected, accommodation and means of transportation. The accommodation will be residential for the statesmen at any location of their choice in Nigeria; while for transportation, the former presidents will get three cars (one for self, the second for pilot, and the third as a back-up) to be replaced every five years. The former Vice Presidents will get two cars (one for self and the other as a back-up car).
For furniture, the men will get 300 per cent of the basic pay of the sitting president payable every four years. Other freebies for the former numbers one and two citizens include domestic staff, medical services, and security. The free medical services will be for them and the immediate members of their families. State Assemblies has also been advised according to Hamman Tukur had been advised in respect of their Governors and have already passed the necessary laws.
In view of this development, it will be germane to point out that in 2006, a similar proposal was made by the Hamman Tukur led RMAFC. Then, Hamman Tukur had lamented on the poor pay package of President Olusegun Obasanjo. He was quoted to have said that President Olusegun Obasanjo was among the poorest paid heads of state across the globe. He argued that a take home pay of USD10, 000 per month is too small for the president vis avis the galloping inflation which has made nonsense of the current wages fixed about four years ago.
He then gave indications of an imminent raise in emoluments for a coterie of political office holders such as the President, Vice President, The Senate President, The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Governors, Chief Judge of the Federation and other political appointees down to the rank of permanent secretaries.
This of course did not exclude local government chairmen and members of the legislature at all levels. That Proposal which has long come into effect, included a 100 percent increase in basic salary, an increase in accommodation allowance from 100 to 300%, a rise in utility allowance from 20 to 40 percent because of increased NITEL and electricity tariffs, motor vehicle maintenance and fuelling allowance to be doubled from 30 to 60 percent of their basic salaries etc.
These was also against the background that Aso Rock budgets and squanders about N2.3million daily for refreshment as was reported in the 2007 budget. We don’t know how much the president expends on the security vote or budget etc. This correspondingly applies to all the so called executive governors and many others who wield executive powers. No wonder, we live in country that is in absolute gridlocks.
Nigerians are quick to compare their country with the United States of America, and in this wise, I wish to state that President Obama currently earns $400,000 (Naira 48million) per year, along with a $50,000 expense account, a $100,000 nontaxable travel account and $19,000 for entertainment. I don’t know if pension exists for the American president, but then, I know that President Obama is not entitled to eating free state food in the White House, as he pays for it.
But in Nigeria, the president and all those who work in Aso Rock and their friends, plus all the 36 state governors including the FCT Abuja and all those around them eat free food, drink free drinks as well as other many, many free this and free that in a country where poverty is already a synonym to whatever we pride ourselves to be.
Yet, and most ironically, we live in Nigeria, where tens of thousands of men, women and children live in extreme poverty. Besides being poor, they have limited access to education, suffer from poor health, have little political weight, and are vulnerable to all manner of external shocks such as deprivation of basic amenities and services such as treated water supplies, as well as being exposed to other crises like ethnic and religious crisis, droughts, floods and erosion etc, and as a result die early.
But America is not Nigeria, and Nigeria is not America. The difference is very clear. America is well and better governed and ensures hope and patriotism on its citizens. Everything works in America, from electricity in private homes to security in the streets, as well as social security, health care and functional education. In such a milieu, why should the president not be entitled to his modest take home pay?
But the reverse is the case in Nigeria. One very clear example of a country poorly governed and mismanaged is the Federal Republic of Nigeria. You need not think about this, as it cascades everywhere you look. According the UN Millennium Development Report (2008), Nigeria, with its huge population, has a huge population percentage that lives below US$1 per day. This percentage rose from 49.2 per cent in 1993 to 68.5 percent in 1996, and has remained at 64.4 per cent since 2004.
The report also listed the proportion of the population using improved drinking water source in both urban and rural Nigeria as 47 per cent since 2004. A break down showed 65 per cent urban coverage and 30 percent for rural coverage within the same period despite our so called democracy.
Genuinely successful and well governed countries have innovative scientists, world class universities and major companies turning out popular products. Nigeria has none of these assets, yet we have leaders who are being fed and rewarded for absolutely doing no work, other than delaying the destiny of our well blessed and naturally endowed country.
Despite this poor development index, Nigerians remains one of the most tolerant and docile people in the world. Nigerians endures all things; from the rigging of elections, to the imposition of political leaders, the abysmal performance of these leaders, the looting of public treasury, sexual harassment in offices and schools, brutality on the street by police and soldiers, ill treatment by landlords, assault by robbers, exploitation by traders and humiliation by a coteries of other elements and factors.
For what reasons should Shagari and Obasanjo be rewarded? How many Nigerians can remember their philosophy or what they actually stood for? I know that both won controversial mandates, I also know that both unleashed unprecedented bizarre leadership on the country, and this have led the country to nowhere.
I am of the candid view that pensions for politicians who held one office or the other if at all to be implemented in law be attached with some conditions or benchmarks that has to do with performance while in office. Let us set minimum standards, such as the percentage of unemployment reduced during the political term or the extent of sustainable investments made in long term infrastructure that are the sinews of development. Anything short of this amounts to short changing the average citizen.
Rewarding bad examples has never been known to encourage exemplary conducts anywhere. We need not reward failure by whatever sphere as such amounts to encouraging more failure. Rewarding politicians in the terms prescribed by the Hamman Tukur led RMAFC or the “stale” constitution further makes politics a “do or die affair”, and beyond that, further impoverishes our country and exposes these leaders to public odium.

Another look at the threats of Climate Change

Joachim Ezeji

Last week, the 5th World Water Forum held in Istanbul, Turkey. A total of 194 countries were in attendance to discuss the growing global world water crisis. Nigeria’s Minister of State for Water Resources Mrs. Felicia Njeze led a high power delegation to the forum to make valid contribution to the global process. One central issue that topped the agenda at the meeting was the menace of climate change and its threat to the world’s water resources.
For Africa, the meeting could not have come at a better time than this as South Africa raises campaign to host the next forum scheduled for 2012. But before the next forum is scheduled, and as the outcomes of the current forum is implemented, it becomes germane to once again look at climate models which have predicted that by 2050, Sub-Saharan Africa will be warmer by 050C to 20C and drier, with 10 percent less rainfall in the interior and with water loss exacerbated by higher evaporation rates.
It also predicts that there will be more extreme events such as drought and floods, and that seasonal patterns will shift hence threatening and undermining food production, water supplies, public health, and people’s livelihoods etc.
The UK NGO, OXFAM, also says that climate change is an "unprecedented" threat to food security, and in Africa has given rise erratic climates as new and dangerous extremes such as arid or semi-arid areas in northern, western, eastern and parts of southern Africa becoming drier, while equatorial Africa and other parts of southern Africa are getting wetter. Global warming means that that many dry areas are going to get drier and wet areas are going to get wetter.
People especially the poor would be caught between the devil of drought and the deep blue seas of floods. The greatest tragedy is the fact that Africa had played virtually no role in global warming; a problem that has been caused by economic activity of the rich, industrial countries.
The African continent is, on average, 0.5oC warmer than it was 100 years ago, but temperatures have risen much higher in some areas - such as a part of Kenya which has become 3.5oC hotter in the past 20 years. "Global warming is set to make many of the problems which Africa already deals with, much, much worse, "In the last year alone, 25 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa have faced food crisis.
However, since the mid-1970s, precipitation has declined by about 2.4+1.3% per decade in tropical rainforest Africa, this rate being stronger in West Africa (-4.2+1.2% per decade) and in north Congo (-3.2 +2.2% per decade).Overall, in the West Africa/north Congo tropical rainforest belt rainfall levels were 10% lower in the period 1968-1997 than in the period 1931-1960.
There has also been a moderate significant increase in dry-season intensity in Africa, as results from GCMs based on SRES scenarios project an increase in temperature, while projections in precipitation are less consistent. By the 2070-2099 periods, maximum warming is expected to occur in Northern and Southern Africa (up to 90C and 70C respectively), while, it is minimum in the oceanic regions (up to 4.80C in the tropical NE Atlantic and 3.60C in the Indian Ocean);
It has also been posited by experts that of the 19 countries around the world currently classified as water-stressed more occur in Africa than any other continent. In 1994, available freshwater resources in Africa were about 4,050km3 per year, representing about 9% of the world’s total, and about 5.7 thousand m3 per capita per year, against a global mean of 7.6 thousand m3 per capita per year.
These resources are not uniformly distributed, Eastern and Southern Africa having 3.87 and 4.8m3 per capita per year respectively, the Sahel region having only of 2.2 of m3 per capita per year.
In West Africa as quoted, rainfall is associated with the latitudinal movement of the Inter-tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ), i.e. the convergence zone between humid air masses from the south and dry air masses from the north. The ITCZ reaches its northernmost position in August, which corresponds to a period of maximum rainfall across the Sahel. This mechanism characterizes the Sahelian area’s North-South annual rainfall gradient.
Accordingly, annual rainfall amounts range from zero in the desert (Sahara) to over 900mm in the Sudanian sub-humid zone. In arid, semi-arid and sub-humid zones, there is a two to five month wet season unlike in countries located along the Gulf of Guinea, which have two rainy seasons. In that sub-zone, average annual rainfall amounts are in excess of 900mm.
No doubt, rainfall, which is a determining factor of the climate, is highly variable and a number of countries have experienced droughts since the 1970s which have led to a general decrease in river discharges, and a consequent reduction in lake areas. For example, the Lake Chad is now 5% of its former size 35 years ago. Between 1970 and 1995, Africa has experienced a 2.8 times decrease in water availability.
The reduction in precipitation projected by some GCMs for Sahelian and Southern African countries, which will certainly be accompanied by higher inter-annual variability, could be highly detrimental to the hydrological balance of the continent and water-dependent activities.
With regards to precipitation in Western Africa, that there is an agreement between models to predict a progressive increase in precipitation (between 10 and 35%) for the December, January, February period (which is normally dry). A similar trend is predicted for the September, October, November period (between 7 and 28%) but some models predict a small decrease (less than 10%) for the 2070-2099 period.
But the organization IUCN, had earlier described the Sahel (or area bordering the desert) of West Africa, referred to as the Sahel climatic conditions, as being characterized by spatial and temporal variability, and having become prone to disturbances of significant magnitude, particularly since the early 1970s.
There is therefore an emerging urgency for African leaders to come together to discuss the climate change threats and make case for adaptation. This is very important and urgent at this time when extreme events are becoming a daily occurrence. It is also desired that African leaders take a position on this critical issue before the Copenhagen Climate Change meeting holds later in the year on the same issue. Any further delay is dangerous.

Ndi Igbo: a race under threat (?)

Joachim Ezeji

I arrived Providence, the capital of the USA's smallest state - Rhode Island on the 1st day of September 2009 after an eventful 6 hours bus ride on the greyhound public bus from New York City. I arrived JFK Airport the previous day from London, and opted to unwind for the night in the hospitable company of an old time friend- Mutiu, who lives in Brooklyn.

My trip to Providence by road was a self choice since I had wanted to take a good view of the American hinterlands. Hinterlands indeed! It was my curiosity to explore how a megacity like New York peters out behind the high rise towers, bridges and buildings. This took me through a transition of small towns such as Stamford, Norwalk, Bridgeport, New Haven, New London and then Providence.

Upon arrival in Providence, activities started in earnest as our cohort; the Watson International Scholars of the Environment (WISE)programme @ Brown University was in top momentum. Series of activities were already lined up to welcome the scholars; all of whom arrived from Africa; fitting each of us into life @ Brown, the university that has the status of Ivy league, and Providence, a city that represents the longest of America’s coastlines but with a population of 200,000 people. One of these activities was an outdoor reception dinner held on Monday, 7th September 2009, and hosted by the Program Manager Laura Sadovnikoff at her residence in Pawtucket.

A good number of personalities attended the dinner including Professor Nancy Jacobs (who is the Director of the Program), her husband Peter, and many others. As the dinner progressed a tall American woman approached me from a corner and to my great astonishment spoke fluent Igbo language (the language of my birth - mother tongue) to me. She greeted: ''Nwannem, ke du’’(Meaning: my brother, how are you?). I did not really believe my ears. She embraced me and said ‘’I bu onye Igbo?’’( Meaning: You are Igbo?).

It then dawned on me that it was not a drama, but that I now have a special session with a woman who identified me as a true Igbo and was out to engage me. That was how the rest of the evening ended for me as we ended up talking and discussing the Igbos in Nigeria, - my people !

She introduced herself as Henrietta, and also her husband - Donald who also accompanied her to the WISE reception. Both of them are professors at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA). Both Donald and Henrietta are no longer getting younger but rather aging gracefully and were indeed a happy and accomplished pair to meet.I was later told by Laura the evening reception host that Henrietta is her cousin.

Both couples had lived in Nigeria where they both fell in love and eventually got married while back in the States. Henrietta, then Miss Briggs had arrived Nigeria a few years after the Nigerian Independence in 1960 to work as an American Peace Corp Volunteer. She was posted to Azumini village, now in Ndoki in Ukwa East local government area of Abia State.

In unison, both Donald and Henrietta reminiscenced on the good old days that was Igbo land. According to Henrietta she was commonly called ‘’Mboghokwonta’’ by the natives. She so much integrated with the natives that she wore and appeared on the same wrappers and dancing uniforms with them and swam the Azumini River with the natives. She ate ‘’Akpu’’, ‘’ Ugba’’, ‘’Abacha/Jiakpu agworo agwo’’ and other local foods with them.

She told me how natives fetched domestic waters for her, and ran supporting errands for her and how safe and free the Igbo society then was. Then, she freely goes unaccompanied to Aba every week to make purchases as well as other trips to Port Harcourt and Opobo.

Donald on his part, recalled how he had travelled one day and got caught up by night on the way. All he did was to simply walk into the nearest compound and announce to them that he was caught up by the night and needed shelter. The owner of the compound not only provided him with shelter, but also fed him heavily with a dinner of ‘’akpu’’ and ‘’ofe ugha’’ which was washed down with palm wine.

At a point, he had asked about the great market city, Onitsha; the sea port town of Port Harcourt, and the city with the intimidating Cathedral, Owerri. He also recalled how he was greatly feasted by Igbos in Opobo town during one of his visits to the town those days and how he made friends all over Port Harcourt, Owerri, Aba, Onitsha and even Enugu.He inquired if people from all over West Africa still come to Onitsha and Aba markets as they used to those days.

Donald and Henrietta in remembering all the uncommon great features of the Igbo society of days past, did not waste time to remind anybody that bothered to come close to our discussion at the night’s dinner that the Igbos are the greatest Africans; that they have no rivals in Nigeria and that they are indeed a great race with an indomitable spirit of enterprise and hospitality.

However, they bemoaned the effects of the destructive civil war, having left the country at its very outset. Though both couples had visited Nigeria a little after the war, they were desirous to know how the Igbos are faring in Nigeria and how the destructions wrought by the civil war was remedied. They both still have a wish, the wish of visiting Igbo land soon again and visiting Azumini and its most hospitable people.

Three things touched me most from the encounter with these Americans. First was the question by Donald if Ojukwu is still alive, and if there are other great role models in Igbo land that enjoys his kind of followership. Those questions made it dawn on me straight away that the Igbos no longer have a role model. I told him that most Igbo elites are today after their stomach, and not for common interest.

When, he heard what I just muttered, he queried, ‘’You mean that even Igbo leaders steal money needed to develop Igbo land?; I was stuck of words, Donald at this point, became speechless, shaking his head and looking into my eyes at the same time, both eyes getting wet with tears, he removed his gaze and turned it over the burning fire near us. It was obvious that he was disappointed.

Second, Donald and Henrietta revealed to me that their first daughter who was born soon after they returned to the USA from Nigeria was given an Igbo name –Ngozi. Our host Laura corroborated this to me a little later. Ngozi is now happily married and living with her husband. She still retains the name and everybody knows that the name has origin from south-eastern Nigeria.

Third, Henrietta wrote me an e-mail immediately after the dinner. It read thus: ‘’Nwannem, I should really call you Nwa-m, since you could be my son-- it was such a pleasure to meet you last night. Let's stay in touch! I made a little movie of the digitized slides from Azumini and I'll send it with the next transmission. Let me know if it comes through. If your computer can't receive the movie, I'll just send the photo gallery instead. But you would enjoy the movie because it's set to the tune, Joromi--which was very popular in the mid-1960s. Henrietta (aka Mboghokwonta--my name in Azumini)’’

When I opened the attachment, I watched the movie and looked at the over 100 fotos she attached. I could not hold my emotions. I cried for the Igbo nation. We have really lost a lot. I am afraid Igbos may be going into extinction. Yes, extinction worse than those experienced by dinosaurs or even those planned by the Nigerian state while executing the civil war.

The evidence is just there with all these massive looting of public funds in all Igbo states, kidnapping and general insecurity amidst others. It is just telling.