Archive for March 2007

Commonwealth handshake with Welsh legislators

March 24, 2007

 Published in THE PUNCH on 18 March 2007

Casmir Igbokwe

Mark Lungu will not forget last Tuesday in a hurry. The ranking of his country, Malawi, among the world poorest had saddened him. He had also expressed worry that his country’s government was unstable; and that it had a high rate of corruption, unemployment, inflation, HIV victims and brain drain. But, one thing brought happiness to his soul: He shook hands with Assembly Members in Wales. This may not be any big deal to some people. But, as this PhD student put it, “I have never had a chance to shake hands with parliamentarians in my country.”

Lungu did not just shake hands. He, together with fellow participants, wined and dined with the lawmakers. It was at the celebration of the Commonwealth Day at the National Assembly for Wales. A select group of international students had been invited to mark the day with Assembly Members. The students exchanged banters and showed some pride in their countries’ achievements. Ghanaian friends, for instance, reminded us of the recent defeat of our national team by the Black Stars. We told them that Nigeria had been beating Ghana in the past. But that the recent defeats were just concessions from a big brother with a large heart. We also informed the loquacious Ghanaians that we had been exporting electricity to their country. They agreed, but quickly said it was a temporary measure.

At a point, some of us tried to change the topic. Some slipped away to mingle with other groups. I made as though I wanted to make a phone call but left to join a group from other nationalities. There again, a certain white lady faced me. “Where are you from,” she asked. Immediately I said Nigeria, the lady intoned, “terrible, horrible”.

Brimming with patriotism, I charged her to explain what she meant. She said she had lived in Port Harcourt and Enugu. In Port Harcourt, she recalled, her heart was always in her mouth. In Enugu some gunmen once waylaid her and some others. “And your police always collect money at gunpoint,” she concluded. I attempted to make some laborious explanations. But I was relieved when the organisers asked us to move into the Assembly chambers for the main business of the day.

There, speakers from different Commonwealth countries made presentations to a panel of Assembly Members. Ms Noor Sulaiman painted a glossy picture of Brunei. Marie-Eve Lemieux gave a good account of Canada. Patrena Brooks invited anybody who cares to come to Jamaica and experience what enjoyment means. Shu Li Tan from Malaysia said her country had made some progress in recent times.

African representatives also displayed some patriotism. Dube Hass from South Africa draped himself in his country’s national flag. He spoke glowingly of Dr Nelson Mandela. He narrated some good stories about his country, but regretted that HIV/AIDS had done some damage to it. His aunt, for instance, died of the disease and left behind five children.

Ms Magdeline Mannathoko, a PhD student, gave a good account of Botswana. She recalled that her country was once described as the poorest country in the world. Today, according to her, Botswana is the richest non-oil producing country in Africa. It has moved from a least developed country in 1966 to a mid income status today. The government sponsors students within and outside Botswana. And in 2001, the country was voted the least corrupt African country by Transparency International.

For Uganda, the story is different. Musaazi Namiti started by painting a beautiful image of the country. Part of the success stories of this country, which will host the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in November, is that it is a model for combating AIDS in Africa. However, after some decades in power, President Yoweri Museveni changed the constitution to extend his tenure. He is intolerant of opposition. And, according to Namiti, he authorises the police to disperse political rallies.

Nigeria? Well, we are unique in many ways. While other speakers from other countries were mainly Masters and PhD students, Nigeria’s representative was a 15-year-old secondary school boy. It was as if the organisers were suspicious of what adult Nigerians would say. The boy, Okechukwu Ukachukwu, did not disappoint. Despite being the youngest in the gathering, he exuded confidence and greatness. He extolled Nigeria’s peacekeeping prowess in trouble spots in Africa. He enthused that Heineken was building one of its largest beer factory in Nigeria. And when he asked all Nigerians to stand up for recognition, he proudly said, “As you can see, we are the giant of Africa.”

A few Nigerians in the gathering shouted yea! Akwugo Amucheazi, a postgraduate student, pumped up and raised her hands in a black power salute. At this stage, I eyed my Ghanaian friends and saw some mischievous smiles playing around their lips. Although Ukachukwu also mentioned erratic power supply, corruption, poor infrastructure and preponderance of poverty as ills plaguing Nigeria, we still moved about with pride. After all, if a lion does not roar, even sheep will not recognise its superiority and power. After observing the plenary session of the Assembly, we went back home.

As I opened my e-mail box to check for new messages, a forwarded message from Dr Aminu Garba Magashi of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine confronted me. It was an attached picture of an overnight patient facilities in a comprehensive primary health care centre said to be run by Etche Local Government of Rivers State. Originally sourced from Human Rights Watch, the picture shows some decrepit beds without mattresses. The room looks very dirty and the floor caked with mud. The centre reportedly lacks toilet facilities and other basic amenities. Below this picture is another one showing the aircraft purchased a few years ago by Governor Peter Odili.

As Magashi puts it, “If President Obasanjo, Vice President Atiku, Governor Yar’ Adua, Governor Odili and many others are made to go to hospitals in Nigeria, may be they will fix the health care issues…We shall never give up. We shall continue to raise issues until the right people step in to make changes.”

I quickly shut down my computer and decided to have some rest. Just as I climbed my bed to sleep, two text messages came into my phone simultaneously. The first one was from Joe, my neighbour in Lagos. And the message was short: “Alhaji Anthony (my landlord) is dead. He died yesterday and was buried today.” The second message was from my wife’s friend in Port Harcourt popularly called mama Nneka. Her message was also short: “I lost my younger brother. He has been buried.”

Not wanting to end this supposedly beautiful day on a depressing note, I started humming some Christian songs. That became the lullaby that brought sleep to my tired eyes. I dozed off, singing “we shall overcome” in my dream.                        

British doctors, NMA strike and salary increases

March 24, 2007

 Published in THE PUNCH on 11 March 2007

Casmir Igbokwe

Nigerian government has reduced doctors to certain characters in The Beggars’ Strike. Surely, these respected physicians are not the type Aminata Sow Fall mirrored in her book. Their profession is among the most highly revered in the world.  But, on February 26, certain government policies pushed them to start another strike which almost projected their lots as pitiable as those of beggars.           

This strike confirmed the fears of a concerned Nigerian, Nkom Ebenezer. The man had (in reaction to “A day in British hospital”, published on this page on 28 January 2007), said, “Casmir, you must have heard of the salary increase in the public service. You may not believe this, medical doctors are to earn less in the new salary structure. I understand the Nigeria Medical Association is already restless. Is this what you see in Cardiff? This is our problem. The government is about to create another round of confusion in the polity. And we are supposed to have whiz kids in the inner sanctum of government. We still have more years of darkness.”

In the said story, I narrated the experience I had when I took my son to the Heath Hospital in Cardiff. The baby had received and is still receiving excellent medical service free of charge. Early February, for instance, a health visitor from the National Health Service Trust visited to discuss the child’s progress. And just last week, I got a letter from the same NHS Trust asking me to bring my child for immunization. Recently, a friend told me how he was pleasantly surprised when he went to buy some prescribed drugs for his child at a pharmacy in Cardiff. As he made to pay for the drugs, the pharmacist halted him, saying, “Go, the drugs are for the little one.”

Conversely, millions of children in Nigeria do not have this privilege. Many do not have access to good health facilities. Thus, they die from preventable diseases. And to compound their woes and those of their poor parents, doctors in public hospitals occasionally go on strike to press home certain demands.

They took the latest action because they felt the new Consolidated Tertiary Institution Salary Structure introduced by the Federal Government shortchanged them. In simple terms, the salary consolidation further reduced their take-home pay. Negotiations to reverse this perceived anomaly broke down. Hence, the strike.

In the United Kingdom, doctors’ worries are not about salaries. A report in The Independent of London in January puts the salary of an average General Practitioner (doctor) to £118,000 (about N29.5m) a year. This, it notes, is a staggering rise of 63 per cent in three years.

The report stresses, “The average family doctor now earns, including private income, more than the Lord Chancellor, ministers of state, senior civil servants and circuit judges. The soaring salary levels of doctors are worsening the NHS cash crisis. Two-thirds of NHS trusts are in deficit and have cancelled operations and extended waiting times. Primary care trusts, including those in Yorkshire, Sheffield, Norfolk and Surrey, have ordered GPs to delay referrals to save money.”

Ironically, a reduction in workload followed this increase in doctors’ income. Before the new contract was introduced in 2004, GPs were said to have taken responsibility for their patients 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Now, that work is between 8am and 6.30pm on weekdays.

Nevertheless, the cry of the British doctors is of a different hue. Media reports earlier in the month said some doctors were planning protest marches in London on March 17 against a new system which could deny many of them training posts. Competition is said to be intense for a limited number of specialist training posts for doctors who have gone through their initial stage of training. The specialist training is the stage where a doctor selects to focus on an area such as paediatrics or gynaecology. Those who do not gain the training posts, which start in August, will either take a staff-grade job or go abroad. The staff-grade job does not require any training.

Other health workers in Britain such as nurses have their own grouses. Recently, for instance, the salaries of health workers were increased by 2.5 per cent. Ironically, NHS union leaders reportedly described the pay rise as “a kick in the teeth” and “a slap in the face.” Their grouse is that the pay rise is below the rate of inflation. They are also not happy that the increase will be paid in two stages in April and November. 

Like Nigerian doctors, the NHS union leaders feel they are being shortchanged and have threatened industrial action. In fact, on March 3, some health workers held marches and rallies in such cities as London, Manchester, Bristol, and Birmingham against some of these government policies.

Last November, for want of anything to protest about, perhaps, Britons started a controversy over mixed-sex hospital wards. When the government of Tony Blair came to power in 1997, it pledged to abolish mixed-sex wards in NHS hospitals. The idea then was to maintain the privacy of patients. The BBC quoted the Health Secretary, Patricia Hewitt, as saying that the target had been met. She said most wards had started providing single-sex accommodation and single-sex bathrooms.

But patients groups said they got many calls from people who believed they had been in mixed-sex wards. One Andrew Lansley, according to the BBC report, said, “If you can be seen by patients of another sex, and they are coming and going past your bed in order to go to the toilet facilities, you may not think you have the privacy you want.”

Each time I read about British people’s criticisms against their government, I laugh. I don’t blame them because many of them have not experienced first class suffering. Granted that no human system is perfect, theirs have some institutionalized social security systems to take care of the underprivileged. At least, every one of them who is sick has a ward to go to. Their only problem is choosing between single and mixed-sex wards.

Only a few of my countrymen and women have that choice. The majority of them have three basic choices. One, to visit a local herbalist and take concoctions that may cause more havoc. Two, to visit a chemist and buy mixed malarial and typhoid drugs. Three, to visit prayer houses and seek miraculous healings.

As the saying goes, he that is down needs fear no fall. Strike or no strike, life goes on. While the super rich and the ruling class, either go to private clinics or first class hospitals abroad, the poor continue to succumb to preventable deaths. I dread calling home now because each time I do, it is either that Okeke or Mama Ngozi or Chinwe is dead. And my people have resigned to fate, passing off every death now as the will of God. May it be well with Nigeria!                        

Chinese soothsayers and Nigeria’s population explosion

March 24, 2007

 Published in THE PUNCH on 04 March 2007

Casmir Igbokwe

The atmosphere was colourful. People from different nationalities came in their rich national costumes. Some brought their local foods and danced to their traditional music. Ladies, in a symbolic display of emotion, cuddled, kissed and admired the two little children in attendance. It was as if to say, “God, give us more babies.”

This was during the celebration of the Chinese year of the golden pig by my department three Fridays ago. The year falls once every 60 years. And it supposedly brings good luck. Some soothsayers in
China were reported to have said that the pig (the last of 12 animals in Chinese zodiac) could bring a baby boom in the year.
Beyond the realm of superstition, nobody, except perhaps the soothsayers, can say how this boom will come about. China, with a population of 1.3 billion people, has a one-child-per-couple policy. The state imposes severe penalty on anyone who contravenes this law.

This has led to what the BBC described as a severe shortage of wives for Chinese men. It quoted the State Population and Family Planning Commission last month as saying that 118 boys were born to every 100 girls in 2005. By 2020, it is estimated that about 30 million men of marriageable age may find it difficult to get wives. This is because women allegedly abort female foetuses. And couples traditionally prefer boys who will look after them in their old age.

One positive thing about the one-child policy is that parents do not have to worry about training many children. Hence, they have the ability to train the few they have in universities abroad. In Cardiff, for instance, Chinese students outnumber others in most departments. In my own class, out of about 66 students, about 18 are of Chinese descent. The rest are from other Asian, European, North American,
Caribbean and a few African countries.

Of course China’s economy is also not doing badly. It has become a beautiful bride to international retailers. Its devalued currency makes its exports cheaper in most parts of the world. In Europe, Asia, and Africa, Chinese goods drive others out of the shelves. In October 2006, China was reported to have posted a trade surplus of $110.9billion in the year through September. This exceeded the full-year total of $102billion in 2005.

Recently, a Chinese firm, CNOOC, reportedly paid $2.7billion for an oil block in Nigeria. China has also made some forays into such countries as Venezuela, Iran, Russia and Saudi Arabia. The rising living standard in this former communist enclave has created what The Economist called masses of new consumers. “On today’s trend, the consumer market there, measured in PPP (Purchasing Power Parity), will overtake America’s by 2020,” the magazine predicted.

Some advocates of many children per couple attribute this economic boom to China’s large population. They also mention some lesser-populated countries that have called on their citizens to have more children, as evidence that having many children is preferable to having less. Granted that great population is strength, does this also suffice when the majority of the people are hungry and desolate?   

I do not think so. Many Nigerian cities are brimming with human beings, but how many of them are gainfully employed? How many can afford at least one meal a day? And how many have access to decent housing? The current census figure put our population at over 140 million. Out of this number, how many want to remain in the country? How many will be patriotic enough to die for the country if need be?                                                              

I have a friend in Lagos who, by his looks, should be in his 50s. The man has a family. Everyday, he agonizes over the fact that he cannot meet his responsibilities as a father. One day, his eight-year-old daughter was hungry. She asked for food. The man told her to go to the fridge and take some bread. “Daddy, I won’t eat that bread again. Every time, bread, bread, bread. Is it only bread we eat in this house?” the girl protested. The man is frustrated and each time he flashes me to call him, I already expect to hear the usual “please make a way for me in London o!” 

Many parents fall into the temptation of breeding children because they want mixed sex. Sunday, an oil magnate in Port Harcourt, had four children in five years of marriage. He was not satisfied because the four kids are boys. To have a girl, he went to work again. This January, the wife gave birth to another boy, bringing the number of his children to five. Last week, I spoke with him on the phone. He said he had called it quits with bearing children, but advised that I make mine five. I thanked him for his advice even as I quickly reminded my wife of the need to continue fasting. The moment she eats to the fill of her womb again, I will call an emergency meeting.

Telling people to have as many children as they want amounts to advising them to buy five pairs of Dubai-made shoes instead of two good Spanish or Italian shoes. In other words, preferring quantity to quality. Except you are a multi-millionaire or a politician eating from the public till, it will be a miracle to cater for the interests of those children.

The hope of most people who indulge in this excessive breeding of children, is that their brother, uncle, aunt, or sister will train some for them. Some hope that their first child will grow to take care of their siblings. This seems to be more pronounced in the eastern part of the country. Somehow, people could do that some years back. Now, almost everybody is feeling the pinch.

I am yet to be swayed by the things-are-getting-better singsong of the present administration. Irrespective of the economic theories to the contrary, more people are getting frustrated in Nigeria. Many do not know where their next meal will come from. Many have become armed robbers and many are escaping to even lesser endowed countries, including African countries.

I am worried for my country. I am worried for some of my siblings who, in spite of their university education, cannot find gainful employment. I am worried for my three children because I can’t see a bright future for them in their fatherland. I am worried because I may not meet the expectations of relatives who, on my return to Nigeria, will come for their children’s school fees, or for money to bail their wives from the maternity ward. I am worried that our population keeps increasing without a commensurate rise in people’s standard of living.

I only pray and hope that the Chinese soothsayers did not have us in mind when they predicted a baby boom this year.

Patriotic criticisms, EFCC and concerns of Nigerians abroad

March 24, 2007

 Published in THE PUNCH on 25 February 2007

Casmir Igbokwe

Obijifor Aginam is angry with the boss of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control. His anger stems from Prof. Dora Akunyili’s reported participation in the ruling party’s recent presidential campaign visit to Anambra State. In a recent e-mail to me, Aginam, an associate professor of law at Carleton University in Canada, questioned the propriety of this action.  Advanced democracies, he said, would never tolerate a public servant of that calibre flirting with politicians in their campaign tours. It pained him that there is no institution to punish what he described as arrant rascality and abuse of the public sector.This type of criticism defines the concerns of most Nigerians living abroad. Nauseated by the sorry state of events at home and ennobled by the efficient way things are run abroad, they cannot but feel angry at their fatherland. Those who have the time and the skills to write, vent their anger through the mass media. Those who do not, grumble in their bedrooms and some other lesser-known public spaces.

In their analysis of the events at home, these Nigerians adopt divergent positions. Some feel the only way forward is to expose our past and present mistakes. Others feel we should be patriotic enough to stop presenting our poor image to the world. Some readers of this page, for instance, have wondered where to locate patriotism in some of my comments. Some other writers have faced the same criticism.

In the United Kingdom, this has turned into a debate among some Nigerians. Leading this debate are some Chevening scholars doing various postgraduate studies in the UK. They have a Yahoo site where they exchange ideas on how to give antenatal care to Nigeria’s burdensome pregnancy.

A few samples of their arguments here will suffice. Dr Aminu Garba, for instance, feels we should all support the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission in its quest to rid the nation of bad eggs. According to him, being a scientist makes him approach the issue of the EFCC with an analytical mind. He says he is privy to a lot of commendations Nigeria gets from international development agencies and Western governments courtesy of the activities of the EFCC. Total condemnation, he adds, will never correct the ills of Nigeria and will not make our leaders change.

A contributor I will not want to mention here amplifies this view. He notes, “Over the last one month since the EFCC released its advisory list to political parties, our media is awash with all manners of attacks against the EFCC. While some are sincere in what they are saying, the majority is sponsored by the very people that stole and looted the treasury.” The writer, who is not a professional journalist, hinges his evidence on the fact that he maintains a weekly column in a regional newspaper. As such, he says, he knows the inner workings of the media.

On the other side of the divide are people like Kelechi Akwiwu and Napoleon Esemudje. Akwiwu regrets that poor governance has killed the dreams of many young people in Nigeria. Of particular concern to him is the state of our universities. All the UK universities, he stresses, would have closed down if not for the patronage of international students. “There was a time when Cameroonians would pride themselves in coming to Nigerian universities. All that is past glory,” he adds.

On his part, Esemudje emphasises the need to criticise the EFCC. He says in the first few weeks of his arrival in the UK, he found it difficult to reconcile the pervasive cynicism of Tony Blair’s government by his British classmates. Now, according to him, he has come to understand that for a government to be continually effective, efficient and accountable, it needs help; not the type that eulogises it but that which quickly finds errors and points them out.

He affirms, “We must loudly criticise the EFCC not because it hasn’t recorded any shining success (indeed it has), but because its obvious failures darken its token achievements and undermine its potential future success. We must criticise the EFCC not because it met only a few of our expectations, but because it is obliged by its social contract with the despairing peoples of Nigeria to achieve without missteps, the callings of its creation. And we must criticise the EFCC not because (Nuhu) Ribadu is evil (which evidently, he is not), but because the agency is a critical part of the failing Nigerian state. We are not condemning the EFCC to fail; we are challenging it to do more to correct the observable blunders it has made.”

To me, this argument does not only have logical strength, it is sound. It summarises the stand of some of us on this issue of patriotism and the criticism of Nigerian leaders. It is sheer hypocrisy to close our eyes to the misadministration going on in Nigeria. Almost on a daily basis, friends and colleagues from other countries confront us with questions on why people are kidnapping foreigners in Nigeria; why our president is fighting with his vice; and why we are still poor in spite of our oil resources. In this circumstance, we are torn between being “patriotic” and telling the truth to shame the devil.

It is only a fool who will not feel concerned over the shameful portrayal of blacks as incapable of leading themselves. A few days ago, some friends forwarded some e-mail messages detailing how some felons allegedly passed some ridiculous and disparaging remarks about black people. The worst of them was said to have been a speech by Pieta Botha, in his heyday as the leader of apartheid South Africa.

Criticism is part of the ingredients of democracy. Since we cannot go to the streets to protest the failings of our rulers as has happened in some other countries, we should, at least, ventilate our views. After all, Article 19 of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights recognises freedom of expression as a fundamental right of everyone.

The hopes of Africans in Diaspora now lie in Ghana, not Nigeria. A few years ago, we derided that country. We designed a bag and called it Ghana-Must-Go. Now, it is the turn of Ghanaians to design their own Nigeria-Must-Go bags.

In different parts of the world, including Africa, Nigeria’s image gives cause for concern. The other day, Fr Hassan Kukah narrated his sordid experience in the hands of Tanzanian immigration officials. His crime was that he is a Nigerian. When I confronted my Tanzanian classmate, Lydia, about the incident, her response was, “it’s a stereotype.”

The worrisome thing is that we don’t seem to learn any lesson from our mistakes. I understand the best friends to have in Nigeria toady are fuel attendants. People sleep in petrol stations just to buy fuel. As Idris Bawa, a lawyer and student in the UK, puts it, we export what we don’t have (electricity) and import what we have (fuel). The rulers continue to create more confusion in the polity. More years of darkness looms. So sad!              

Vagaries of the British weather and some lessons for Nigeria

March 24, 2007

 Published in THE PUNCH on 18 February 2007

Casmir Igbokwe

Chioma was almost tempted to behave like Chicken Licken. The anecdotal bird, in case you have forgotten, once rushed to tell the king that the sky was falling. Her evidence was that an acorn fell and struck her on the tail. Likewise, Chioma, a Nigerian resident in Cardiff, had thought that she had seen the worst of the British weather. She had boasted that it was God’s love for her that had kept severe winter at bay this year. But, on Thursday, February 8, the sky literally started falling.

Weather experts called it snow. You may feel that that is none of your business. You may say that
Nigeria has a good weather, so Britons should go and solve their problems. But, the phenomenon, as you will soon discover, has a big lesson for us all.

The snow, by the way, was heavy and spectacular. And it fell like rain for about three days or more. Most parts of Wales recorded up to 15cm (6in) of the frozen water vapour. Temperatures fell to –3C in some places. Almost everywhere turned white overnight. People took pictures. Children played with it. Some used the ice to mould different things – human beings, birds, dogs and so on.

However, the incident was also disruptive. Some airport runways were closed and flights cancelled. Train services were also affected. Motorists abandoned their vehicles as traffic became gridlocked. Thousands of schools were closed. Power supply was also affected in some areas. The director-general of the British Chambers of Commerce, Mr David Frost, reportedly said the effects of the transport disruptions were expected to cost the British economy up to £400m.

Last month, it was severe storms that swept through many parts of the UK. The incident disrupted electricity supply in some places, caused traffic chaos and killed over 10 people. Among those who died was the managing director of  Birmingham Airport, Richard Heard. A branch fell on his car between Bridgnorth and Broseley. A two-year-old boy also died when a wall fell on him in London. Some lorry drivers died when their vehicles overturned in the high winds. The wind even blew a lorry into a canal, killing its female driver. The storms were said to be Britain’s strongest in 17 years. And it was estimated that repair works would cost hundreds of millions of pounds.

The British weather is such that you may experience winter, spring, summer and autumn in one day. April is particularly interesting. The month, as a BBC weather report put it, could bring all types of weather from sunshine to thunder, from fog and frost to mild muggy and drizzly days. It is also the month one may call the fertility season, as plants blossom and birds start their annual courtship. I am already looking forward to April 14, the Cuckoo Day, when birds’ first call is often heard.

Like a bride anxiously awaiting the solemnisation of her relationship with her heart-throb, Britons are already looking forward to the summer season. It is a season that comes with warmth. It is a period when they hold different festivals; when they tend to become more romantic, with the consequent morning pills; and when daytime stretches longer than usual. When I first came to the UK in July 2005, I was shocked to see the sky still looking very bright at 10pm. It only started getting dark as from about 11pm. Now, at 5pm, it is already dark.

This year, the British Summer Time begins March 25. Then, Britons will add one hour to their time. Twice a year, they change their clocks – one hour forward in the spring and one hour backward in the autumn. These changes, I learnt, have to do with saving the hours of daylight. 

In Nigeria, we don’t change our clocks. And we don’t have four seasons. It is either raining or it is dry and dusty. Rainy season comes with some heavenly blessings for both plants and animals. Seeds germinate and bring forth flowers. Human beings also look fresh and beautiful. Women, arguably, get more attention from the male folk and, perhaps, more conceptions take place. The majority of the people who do not have pipe borne water heave a sigh of relief as they no longer need to move about with buckets looking for where to buy water.

It is also a season when floods render many people homeless and leave many houses submerged. Many roads become impassable and many cars lose their aesthetic and mechanical virginity.

The dry season comes with some respite for landlords. But it also comes with some destructive fire. For those who have rough skins, Vaseline and other oily creams come handy. Last December, Nigerians enjoyed some relief when their scotching tropical weather came with some dry cold wind. But it was short-lived as the hot weather is said to be back with its attendant heat.

The problem here is that we have little or no solution to the heat. Many families probably have fans or air conditioners. But there is no electricity to use those gadgets. The Power Holding Company of
Nigeria continues to generate more darkness than light.
If there is anything like water board in existence now, I do not know. The only water corporations most people are familiar with now are the neighbourhood borehole services. Most children abandon school to fetch water for their mothers. Some move about town hawking sachet water to survive.

Here lies the lesson for Nigerians. Britain and other Western countries may have bad weather, but they have a way of cushioning the effects. It is cold now, but you only experience it when you are outside. Once you are inside the room, the problem becomes mild as the heater regulates the temperature. I am sure if their problem is heat, no landlord will build a house without installing an air conditioner there. Although they may not have control over such natural disasters as earthquake or storm, they still conduct rescue operations as promptly and efficiently as possible whenever such disasters occur.

In my own country, bad weather, most often, does not stop aircrafts from flying. The last ADC plane crash is a typical example. The rains have dug deep gullies (which have taken many promising souls) on our roads. We don’t seem to worry about this. Preventable fires keep destroying our houses because we are not conscious of fire safety regulations. Even some strategic places like airports do not have efficient fire service. Most of us don’t seem to bother because we don’t value life.

I am angry, very angry with some of our rulers. Our nation is burning and all they are doing is to pursue rats. To them, winning this year’s elections is a do-or-die affair. Nothing matters anymore. They promised us fish. But it is scorpion they are giving us now. There is a simile that perfectly describes them: They are as unreliable as the British weather. God have mercy!    

British/Nigerian universities, freedom and other stories

March 24, 2007

 Published in THE PUNCH on 11 February 2007

Casmir Igbokwe

The lecture was an interesting one. Midway into it, a female student of Middle East descent sauntered in with a young man. Hardly had they sat down when the man started playing with a computer. Looking surprised, the lecturer wondered if the strange man was a new student. “No, he is my boyfriend. He just came to see me from the United States,” the student answered. The lecturer smiled and continued her lecture while the man continued his browsing.

I am getting used to this type of freedom at the Cardiff University. The provocative and seductive dresses most girls wear mean nothing to me anymore. I now see it as normal to call such senior lecturers as Dr Howard Barrell and Prof. Duncan Bloy, by their first names. I once said hello sir to an old lecturer called Tor. The man, who comes to school on a bicycle, warned me to withdraw the sir.

From time to time, one of the lecturers, Gary Merrill, organises what he calls social night. We usually have this at a pub called Incognito. On such occasions, staff and students mingle, sharing jokes, drinks and cigarettes. We have also had quiz and games night with the staff. Later this month, we will celebrate Chinese New Year day with our colleagues from China.

These social outings are a way of cushioning the effects of serious academic work. On 29 January this year, we resumed for the second semester. We have been having serious lectures from that day. Already, I have a series of assignments to submit. And no lecturer has ever threatened to fail me for not buying his handout. Most of the tutors post their lecture materials to an online learning system called blackboard.  Students can easily go to this site and print the notes free of charge.

Of course, there are printers in most classrooms and study centres. If any of the printers runs out of ink, the administrative assistants will immediately replace it. If there are no papers, you only need to report to the admin office and they will give you a new pack.

All libraries and most classrooms have networked computers linked to the printers. Students can access the Internet, online journals and other information 24 hours a day. They are expected to master the basic use of computers because they must submit their assignments typed.

A certain Nigerian student (name withheld) contemplated going back home last semester because he could not type his assignments. And he could not see any business centre that offers such a service in
Cardiff. But the man, who appears to be in his late 50s, is learning gradually. The only snag now is that when he types A, it takes him almost two minutes to locate B on the keyboard.

Apart from excellent teaching and learning resources, there are other modern and well-equipped facilities. In students’ houses, for instance, kitchens are equipped with microwaves, ovens, electric cookers, deep freezers and refrigerators. There was a time the microwave and the freezer in my house were faulty. We made a complaint. Some two days after, the residences office of the university changed the faulty items with brand new ones.

Although I had earlier painted a picture of excessive freedom on campus, self-discipline guides people’s behaviour. If you commit any crime, the law will come after you. There are close circuit cameras monitoring people’s movements and actions. But there is no dress code. And you hardly hear of strikes, demonstrations and such other anomalies.

In Nigeria, universities have abandoned substance to pursue shadows. The University of Abuja, for instance, has a dress code for students. Last month, security men in the university allegedly disallowed female students who wore seductive dresses from entering the campus. They protested. And the authorities closed down the school.

The University of Nigeria, Nsukka, has its own peculiar problems. Forty-eight per cent of its programmes reportedly failed the National Universities Commission’s full accreditation test. This was in spite of the reported N6.3bn disbursement to the school in 2006. At the 36th convocation ceremony of the institution last month, President Olusegun Obasanjo was said to have expressed disappointment over this turn of events.

The NUC has reportedly denied accreditation status to 10 programmes in seven universities in the country. During the accreditation exercise in November 2006, a group called Tropical Watch alleged that the authorities of the Enugu State University of Science and Technology planned to rent fake lecturers to gain undue accreditation.

The rot in Nigerian universities weakens you more when you have cause to apply for your transcripts. If the school sends them in four months, then you are lucky. Sometimes, the transcripts may never get to their destination. You must tip off the staff in charge before he posts them. Many bright students have lost admission chances in foreign universities because of this problem.

About March 2006, I applied for my transcripts from my alma mater, the UNN. I paid the necessary fees. Two months after, the transcripts had not arrived their destination. On enquiry, I learnt they were still searching for my file. After some pressure from my friend and lecturer in the university, the concerned officials found the file. But it took almost another two months to prepare, sign and post the academic record.

By August 2006, the transcripts had still not been received. It was then I sent my younger brother to Nsukka to do everything possible to ensure that they send another copy by courier as soon as possible. He went, paid some more fees and pressurised them to send the materials. Within two days, my transcripts arrived. Up until now, the ones the school claimed to have earlier sent through the normal post have not arrived. Perhaps, they are missing in transit.

In saner universities abroad, this type of information can easily be obtained by the click of a mouse. Instead of thinking of how to computerise their systems, the Nigerian university authorities look more for their personal gains. Rather than teach and carry out quality research, some of our dons prefer to sell handouts and look for breasts to fondle. Some students, on their part, end up in cult groups to get some form of protection. Nobody seems to be bordered about standardising the method of teaching and learning.

This is why Nigerian universities score very low in world universities ranking. Last November, the Senate Committee on Education shed some tears about the low quality of graduates produced by Nigerian tertiary institutions. The Minister of Education, Mrs Oby Ezekwesili, has also expressed some concern about the drift in our ivory towers. What we are waiting for now is the day the tears of both the minister and the senate committee will form streams of life for our universities.              

UK and its free telephone gimmick

March 24, 2007

 Published in THE PUNCH on 04 February 2007

Casmir Igbokwe

“Buy one, take two” is a common phenomenon in many supermarkets in the United Kingdom. Some companies also seduce customers with generous discounts on their products. But, if you are an intending traveller to Britain, you need to be careful because some of these free things can cause what Nigerians are wont to describe as awoof dey run belle (freebies cause runny stomach.)

Telephone service providers appear to offer more of these free things. The first thing that caught my eyes when I came to Cardiff last September was the free phone promo from Mobile World – a Pay As You Go product from the UK’s phone retailer, the Carphone Warehouse. The SIM is free. And if you top-up (recharge) with £50 (about N12, 500), you get a Nokia 1100 handset free. With the phone, you can make low cost international calls from your mobile. A minute call to a mobile line in Nigeria, for instance, is 20pence (about N50.) USA and Canada are the cheapest with 5pence per minute.

Considering this a fair deal, some Nigerians bought £50 worth of airtime and got the phone. Truly, we found it cheaper and more convenient because most other mobile phone service providers in the
UK do not offer direct international calls. You must buy a calling card to be able to do so. And the phone services are usually on contract basis. So, I made many calls to my family in Nigeria. When I ran out of credit in less than a month, I topped up again with another £50 and got another free SIM and a Nokia 1100 phone. 

But, sometime in November last year, Mobile World rolled up its welcome mat. It barred calls to
Nigeria for some inexplicable reasons. My friend and deputy managing editor of  Daily Independent newspapers, Ikechukwu Amaechi, said he called the customer services of the company and they told him they were conducting some investigations with regard to Nigerian calls and that they would reconnect us as soon as they were through. Till date, the situation has not changed.

As an alternative, we resorted to making calls to Nigeria from call centres. But, on 23 December last year, we went to the Carphone Warehouse to top-up our Mobile World. Just as we were moving into the store, a charming Indian young man approached us and introduced us to another mobile service provider called O2. We reminded him that we were already using Mobile World, a product from his company.

“Mobile World is very expensive. Just dump it. O2 is cheaper and you have free evening calls if you join off-peak period contract and free day calls if it is peak period contract,” the man said. Peak period 12-month contract is £35 per month. For the off-peak period, it is £25. We reminded him that the so-called free call was only for calls within the UK. He said we could buy a calling card to make international calls; that we only needed to dial a UK access number on the card and the destination number to get connected. Calls to the UK access number, the salesman added, were free for 02 users but not free for Mobile World users. To convince us the more, he brought out a sleek Samsung SGH-E900 and some other fanciful handsets and said we could pick any of them free if we joined the contract. He also said they would pay free £20.01 into our account.

Seduced with free phone, free calls and free money, we joined. We bought calling cards of £5 (N1, 250) each and started making our international calls. We talked long on the phone, believing that our calls to the UK access number were free.

Early January this year, our December bills came. Mine was £75.26 (about N18, 815). This was inclusive of a 17.5 per cent Value Added Tax of £11.21. Amaechi’s own was over £80. When you add the cost of the calling card, you are talking of over N20, 000 on frivolous calls for just one week. I shouted daylight robbery!

On a closer scrutiny, we discovered that 02 charged us for most of the calls we made to some
UK access numbers, which we thought were free. The company also billed us for calls that did not even go through to such numbers. Only calls we made in the night through a certain access number were free. Calls to some other access numbers gave us higher number of minutes, but at a high cost. It was then we realised that the £25 monthly contract only gives us free 1000 minutes for evening calls to standard
UK numbers. Anything outside that is billed separately.

Reeling with anger, we rushed to the Carphone Warehouse to cancel the contract. “Sorry, you cannot cancel the contract now,” a staff told us. The only way we could cancel it, he said, was if we took an insurance cover for the phone. After three months, we could then return the phone, forfeit the insurance premium we would have paid and then cancel the contract. We thought of taking the insurance option, which is £29.50 (N7, 375) per quarter. But on a second thought, we felt it would be a big disservice to ourselves to pay all this and still return the phone. It doesn’t make sense. Or does it?

For now, our best choice is to remain in the trap. But we are now more circumspect with the calls we make. Still searching for cheaper and more convenient way of making international calls, I stumbled on another one called Afro-Dial through a newspaper advert. This one says you just pay for the UK access number at a cheap rate and your call to Africa is absolutely free. No international charges and no need for a calling card.

The advert says you can also make free international calls within certain periods of the day. For instance, calls to Nigeria, using your free network minutes between 6am and 5.55pm through a certain UK access number is free. This service is available to Vodafone, O2, Orange, Virgin and T-Mobile contract subscribers with free network minutes package. And you are advised to ensure that you have sufficient free network minutes before making any call to avoid being charged by your provider. You are also advised to contact your mobile network provider first and enquire if the said access number is inclusive with your free minutes’ package, to avoid any unwanted charges.

Realising what we have gone through in the name of free calls, and knowing that O2 charged me for calls I had earlier made to the given access number, I became wary of making the so-called free international calls. Do not blame me, for when a bee stings a child, he trembles at the sight of a big fly. Nigerian mobile phone service providers have their own way of attracting customers. Some, at some point, reduced call rates from 12.30am to about 5am. But that’s being clever by half because only a wretched student, perhaps, will be awake to make that kind of call. The difference between phone service providers in the UK and Nigeria is probably that between six and half dozen.

A day in British hospital

March 24, 2007

 Published in THE PUNCH on 28 January 2007

Casmir Igbokwe

Mama Precious is a neighbour and village-square paediatrician in Lagos. Her major qualification is that she is an experienced housewife and mother. When my one-year-old son, Ebube, had some fever last November in Lagos, I heard that mama Precious’ diagnosis was that the baby was missing his father. Her prescription? “Go”, she advised my wife, “and wear your husband’s clothes. Cover your face a bit and tell the other children of yours to shout daddy, daddy! Once you do this, the baby will recover.”

Such is the level health care has degenerated in Nigeria. Due largely to poverty, many parents prefer self-medication or consulting prayer warriors to going to hospital. Some medical practitioners don’t help matters. They charge high fees even when they don’t conduct any serious test to find out what the problem is. They either give the child malaria drugs or some antibiotics.

In the UK, the situation is radically different. Under the British National Health Service scheme, once you come to study in the UK for six months or more, you are treated as a resident. That is, you can get most of the health care free of charge. You only need to register with a doctor known as a General Practitioner. Your spouse and children under 16 also have the same privilege. And there is no question of visiting a chemist and telling him to mix malaria or typhoid drugs for you. You must get doctor’s prescription.

Recently, I had cause to take my son to my GP for examination. He gauged the boy’s temperature and discovered that it was very high. Looking alarmed, the doctor immediately phoned the paediatrics department of the University Hospital of Wales, popularly called Heath Hospital, to book an urgent appointment for us. I became worried.

Nevertheless, we got to the hospital about 7pm. The nurses welcomed us with an infectious smile. The baby was crying. So, they brought some toasts and juice for him. They conducted some urine test, but found no disease. Hence, they took us to a place called Ocean ward for closer examination.

There, they gave us a standard room equipped with some medical gadgets. They said the baby’s temperature was so high that they would have to monitor it and then do some blood tests. This meant we would not go that night. My heart leapt. “Where will I get money to pay for this kind of service?” I mumbled to myself.

To escape, I told them that we never knew we would sleep in the hospital; that we didn’t come with a spare nappy for the baby; that we didn’t come with the baby’s food; and such other excuses. One of the nurses gladly took us to the place where they keep all sorts of baby items such as foods, nappies, and feeding bottles.

Then, she took us to the parents’ kitchen. There too, she showed us an electric kettle, a microwave and two refrigerators packed with many food items and drinks. She also showed us a telephone in case we need to contact somebody outside the hospital. “Feel free to use any of these things. They are all for you,” the nurse enthused. Not being a greedy man, I took some slices of bread and one pint of milk.

It was 11pm. A team of three doctors came to take some blood samples from the child. Their long search for veins with their syringe and the baby’s wail touched the filial spot in my heart. “Can’t you just give us some malaria syrup or antibiotics and let us go? That is how our doctor in Nigeria usually treats him.” I protested. “No! We can’t do that. Your approach in Nigeria is different from ours. In Nigeria, you can afford to do that. But here, people will sue you,” one of the doctors replied.

Tired, the physicians called a more experienced colleague who succeeded in getting the vein after some five minutes of trial. They collected up to 10ml of blood and left. At every interval of about 30 minutes, one of the nurses would come and gauge the baby’s temperature. All they gave him was some paracetamol syrup.

The following day, the doctors came back. On sighting them with their needle, the poor boy started crying as if to say, “They have come again o.” Truly, they came for another blood sample. They couldn’t find any trace of malaria parasite in the one they tested earlier and they needed to collect more for some other tests. They also did a heart X-ray of the baby, even as they requested his stool. But since we could not force the child to defecate, they wanted us to stay until the child was able to do that. It was then I told them that though I was very comfortable in the hospital, I would wish to go home.

About 8pm, we prepared to go. But the nurse couldn’t give us the paracetamol the doctor had prescribed because the man left with his notes. She suggested we stayed back until the following morning when he would have resumed. I thanked her; bid her goodbye and left, even as I continuously looked back to see if anybody would come after me for not paying my bill. Nobody did.

Meanwhile, Ebube has bounced back, putting everything within his reach into his mouth. Which is why his five-year old sister calls him dustbin mouth. Penultimate Friday, we were supposed to take him back to the hospital for check-up. Fearing that they may start looking for blood again for further tests, we refused to go. About 15 minutes after the appointed time, somebody phoned from the hospital and wondered why we couldn’t meet the appointment. I told the caller that we felt there was no need for that since the child had recovered.

“I know. But the haematologist has recommended that we conduct another test,” the female voice politely asserted. I expressed my fears about having to start looking for veins again. “I appreciate your concern,” the lady noted, “but I am sure it will be easier this time around. Should we give you another two weeks so that the child will recover fully?” Reluctantly, I agreed. She then rescheduled it for February 2 at 2pm, promising to send me a reminder that day. This is a society that values life.    

In my own society, everybody, as some commentators say, is a local government. You build you own house, drill your own borehole, construct the road to your house, and supply your own electricity. If your child falls sick, you are on your own. Whether he goes to school or not is none of our rulers’ business. All they are after is fighting over spoils of office. The masses can go to religious fraudsters for salvation. Who will rescue us from this seeming unending mess?           

Heaven must be reserved for Nigerians

March 24, 2007

 Published in THE PUNCH on 14 January 2007

Casmir Igbokwe

For ladies, entering most churches in Nigeria in see-my-breast blouses is a good way of attracting harassment from church officials. As a woman, you must not also enter some churches in trousers. Or move in without covering your hair.  This, presumably, is to prevent the seduction of the opposite sex and the consequent inclination to commit the original sin.

With this type of orientation, a Nigerian woman who just visited the UK, went to church in Cardiff last Sunday. She had earlier bought a beautiful long skirt and a big hat to cover her hair for the Sunday service. Even when I told her that that was not necessary, she ignored me. And so, when she got to the Catholic chaplaincy at the Cardiff University, she looked odd. Every other woman in the church wore trousers – the type that reveals the underwear at the slightest stoop. And none covered her hair.

In Cardiff and elsewhere in the Western world, such things don’t matter. One can receive the Holy Communion in one’s palms instead of the tongue that we are used to in Nigeria. Priests can overindulge in smoking and drinking without anybody raising an eyebrow.

Last December, the Anglican Bishop of Southwark in the UK, Right Reverend Tom Butler, was reported to have suffered head injuries and lost his mobile handset and briefcase after he allegedly got drunk at a drinks reception at Hyde Park Corner in Britain. Although the bishop who reportedly said he had amnesia believed he might have been mugged, an eye-witness, Paul Sumpter, was said to have claimed that Butler fell and hit his head on the pavement after trying to get into his (Sumpter) car.

In the chaplaincy where I worship, the chaplain is a chain smoker. Not that smoking is a sin per se, but I can’t remember ever seeing any Catholic priest in Nigeria indulging in such an act. His parishioners would have reported him straight to the bishop.

When I first attended a church service in Cardiff, the dual character of some churches  here stared me in the face. I entered St. Martin’s Parish, believing that I was in a Catholic Church. The mode of worship was Catholic. The parish priest was addressed as a reverend father. And he administered the sacrament of reconciliation (confession). They even prayed the rosary, which is peculiar to Catholics.

But, when I glanced through the bulletin for the service, the first thing I saw was, “Welcome to Saint Martin’s Church. An Anglican Church in the Diocese of Llandaff celebrating and teaching the Christian faith in the Catholic tradition.” When I sought an explanation from the parish priest, Fr. Irving Hamer, after the mass, he simply said theirs was a Catholic Church, but that they owed no allegiance to Rome.

Elsewhere in the Christian world, ordination of gay priests is the issue at stake. One wonders how these gays could mount the pulpit to preach after an amorous night out with their same sex partners. This is why Archbishop Peter Akinola of the Anglican Communion in Nigeria is battling with the church in the West.

The irony of all this is that Europe brought Christianity to Nigeria and some other third world countries. But it is increasingly becoming obvious that these developing countries are the ones now teaching the West how to practice the religion. In the UK for instance, Nigerian dominated churches such as the Redeemed Christian Church of God try to win lost British souls back to God.

Recently, some Nigerians went round some houses in Cardiff, dropping some free copies of the June 2006 edition of Rhapsody of Realities – a devotional and Bible study guide by Chris and Anita Oyakhilome. In the publication, the Oyakhilomes claimed to have distributed many million copies around the world and expanded its translations to 24 different languages. The charismatic pastor had also exported his “atmosphere for miracles” to such countries as the UK and South Africa.

This belief in miracles also shapes the worldview of most Nigerians in the UK. In churches here, Nigerians are known for their frequent recourse to testimonies. Even in the classrooms, some little success is attributed to prayers and miracles. The other day, Godwin, a Nigerian student in Cardiff, was looking for somebody to teach him how to use Microsoft excel worksheet. When I saw him again last week using the worksheet, I wanted to know who eventually taught him how to use it. “It’s God,” he replied. “How do you mean?” I asked further. “I prayed and God revealed it all to me,” he enthused. After a brief argument with him about his claim, I left, knowing that when it comes to faith, some people can be so emotional, dogmatic, fanatical and sometimes irrational.

That is why such people as His Holiness, Rev. Dr. Prof. King will continue to hold sway in Nigeria. Although a Lagos High Court sentenced him to death on Thursday, people will not likely learn any lesson from the way he deceived gullible miracle seekers in the name of God. In the West, people don’t go all out looking for miracles. They also pray and worship God, but they don’t wait for God to send down manna from heaven. They dig for that manna themselves because they know that God, who created them, gave them some powers to handle certain situations in life.

As Rev. King’s case has shown, the judiciary may well be the hope of the people against fake pastors. Just recently in America, four children of an accomplished songwriter, Darrell Perry, sued their aunt and tele-evangelist, Darlene Bishop, for claiming that God healed their dead father of throat cancer. Their claim was that Bishop contributed in the “wrongful death” of their father by persuading him to stop chemotherapy and rely on God’s healing. They alleged that even when their father and Bishop, who also claimed to have been healed of breast cancer, were moving around, preaching about his miraculous recovery, doctors had advised that his illness was terminal.

Meanwhile, a recent poll conducted by Guardian Newspapers of London and ICM indicates that non-believers outnumber believers in Britain. According to the report, 82 per cent of those questioned see religion as a cause of division and tension between people. 

In Nigeria, religious tensions and conflicts exist. But they do not reduce the growing number of believers. A text message from Wande, a Nigerian student in Cardiff, sums it up: “If God brings you to it, He will bring you through it. Happy moments, praise God; difficult moments, seek God; quiet moments, worship God; painful moments, trust God; every moment, thank God. Pass this to seven people and you will receive miracle tomorrow. Please do it now, put your trust in God.”

May this miracle be a reduction in crime rate, wisdom to pursue more substance than shadows and the banishment of abject poverty from the Nigerian soil!

             

Jonathan, India/UK await your condoms

March 24, 2007

 Published in THE PUNCH on 07 January 2007

Casmir Igbokwe

Condoms made to international sizes are too large for a majority of Indian men. This was one of the popular stories on the British Broadcasting Corporation last December. And it was based on a two-year study, carried out by Indian Council of Medical Research. The study reportedly noted that over 1,200 volunteers across the Asian country had their penises measured even down to the last millimetre. “The conclusion of all this scientific endeavour is that about 60 per cent of Indian men have penises which are between three and five centimetres shorter than international standards used in condom manufacture,” the BBC reported. 

Also last December, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan’s government in Bayelsa State was reported to have concluded plans to establish a N250m condom manufacturing firm in Yenagoa. According to media reports, Bayelsa intends to fight the dreaded HIV/AIDS scourge in the state with the condom factory. Samples of these condoms will reportedly be on display in March this year. And the government has pledged to give the Ohafia-hat-looking thing free to her citizens to encourage its usage.My initial reaction to this story was that of anger. How can Jonathan’s government, I fumed, be thinking of establishing a condoms company when Bayelsans are living in squalor amid plenty; when public infrastructure in the state are in a deplorable state; and when hostage taking, consequently, has become the most lucrative business in the state?

But, on a deeper reflection, I feel pity for Jonathan and his state. Among the major goodies decades of oil exploration and production brought to the state is sexual empowerment. Randy oil workers, swimming in petro-dollars, cool off after a hard day’s job with maidens in the Niger Delta. The result is unwanted pregnancies and distribution of HIV/AIDS. It is on that premise that I wish to make a few suggestions to the governor on how his state can maximise the benefits accruable from the raincoat company.

First, produce small-sized, custom-made condoms for Indian men. Then, partner with some companies in that Asian country to market the products there. The big profits that will follow will be unimaginable. Being the second most populous country in the world, India is like a good palm wine waiting to be tapped. Besides, being the country with one of the highest prevalence of HIV/AIDS in the world, this Hindu-dominated country desperately needs this product.

Second, target the United Kingdom and other Western countries. Although there are condoms manufacturing companies and condom vending machines in some public buildings in the UK, the rate of promiscuity in this Queen’s land will always make this product an attractive buy.

For students, especially undergraduates, the demand will even be higher. I usually go to the graduate centre, located on the third floor of the students’ union building of the Cardiff University to read every night. Most of these nights, I am often tempted to think that I am at Ojuelegba in Lagos. This is because the noise and music from party goers on the first floor make the building vibrate.

At the Cardiff City Centre, most streets host one form of party or the other almost every night. Festive periods such as Christmas, New Year and weekends are more bubbling. Midnight is just the starting point. Fun seekers only retire when the day breaks. Even before then, most of them, especially girls, soak themselves in alcohol. Some stagger home in please-see-my-pant skirts and jeans. Some vomit on the back of their friends who carry them home. Some others invariably end up in their boyfriends’ bedrooms.

On New Year day, the police in Cardiff declared a 20-year-old woman missing. According to them, Ms Joanne Duggan disappeared from Wish nightclub in Charles Street at about 2am penultimate Saturday and had not returned home. Some two days after, the security men announced that they had seen the woman. They did not tell us where she had been. But I suspect she might have been having some good time in her boyfriend’s house while the search for her lasted.

In a study carried out by researchers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine last year, it was established that multiple sexual partners were more common in developed Western democracies than in the developing countries. According to the report, published by the BBC News website last November, the average age when men start their sexual activity in the UK is 16.5. For women, it is 17.5.

The researchers found it surprising that in spite of this promiscuity in the West, developing countries, especially Africa (where else) had higher rates of sexually transmitted diseases. This, the report’s author, Prof. Kaye Wellings, reportedly said, “Suggests social factors such as poverty, mobility and gender equality may be a stronger factor in sexual ill-health than promiscuity.”

Could this gender equality factor be the reason behind Bayelsa’s emphasis on the production of female condoms? Maybe. Or could it be poverty? Already, officials of the state are calculating the gains that will accrue to the youths of the state in terms of employment. Soon, the state will transform itself from being a major oil producing state in Nigeria to being the biggest condom manufacturing state in the whole of
West Africa.

By the time Jonathan assumes power as the vice president of Nigeria next May, insha Allah, he may introduce the company in all the states of the federation. Priority areas will be those states with high rate of HIV/AIDS such as Benue, Cross River, Akwa Ibom, and Bayelsa. At the rate Asari Dokubo and his militants are holding everybody hostage in the Niger Delta, this condom thing looks like an attractive alternative to oil as a source of revenue to Nigeria. Or what do you think?  

The other day, I teased my Indian housemate, Ravi Hadimani, about condoms being too big for their men. At first, the guy denied it. But when I proved the matter to him beyond reasonable doubt, he simply chuckled and said, “Well, our girls still love us in spite of that. They marry more of our men than non-Indians. And we have never disappointed them. Our population speaks volume about that.”

Similarly, if it so happens that Bayelsans love this condom factory more than the development of other infrastructure, well, good luck to you Jonathan. Otherwise, N250m can build something better and more rewarding for that state.