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A Minority from the South in Terms of Attitudes

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a minority from the south

By Jerome-Mario Chijioke Utomi

The recent contention by Erastus Ikhide in a piece dated July 8, 2022, and titled Atiku in Stormy Waters Over Choice of Running Mate, more than anything else brings to mind the time-honoured saying by Martin Lurther King Jr, American Baptist minister and civil activist, that just as there are three South geographically, there are several South in terms of attitudes. A minority in each of these states, he explained, would use almost any means, including physical violence, to preserve segregation.

Aside from qualifying as one of the above-referenced minorities that use almost any means, including but not limited to diatribe to preserve ‘segregation’, promote fierce political and ideological warfare that negates our rationality as human beings as well as manipulate mass opinion, Ikhide, in that report, alleged that all is not well with former Vice President Atiku Abubakar’s bid to contest next year’s presidential election on the ticket of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP). He hastily and scantly concluded that the joint ticket of Atiku and Delta State Governor, Ifeanyi Okowa, has deflated the hope of Nigerians who were looking up to the party for redemption.

But nothing in the opinion of this piece could be further from the truth! And that is the apt response to the above tissue of lies.

Further characterizing his minority attitude as a contradiction and fantasy fast approaching hallucination is the new awareness that it came at a time when the vast majority of Nigerians with critical minds, for reasons that will be explained in subsequent paragraphs, view Atiku Abubakar and Okowa’s joint ticket in the forthcoming 2023 presidential election on the platform of the PDP as not only necessary and welcoming but eminently desirable.

Essentially, separate from their enormous experience in the public leadership sphere as the nation’s former Vice President and the Governor of Delta State respectively, the duo are aware that presently, Nigerians’ need for lengthy speeches, statements and eloquent words is far less important than their need for people who can build airports, ports, companies, factories and other growth-generating ventures.

Atiku and Okowa are aware that good management requires a capable manager and will end both the galloping unemployment and underemployment situation in the country which, going by the latest report from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), stands at a frightening 33%.

Their ‘combination’ will save and serve Nigeria as they are capped with the required managerial skills capable of mobilizing the resources needed to reach specific targets within a defined time frame.

One point is that Governor Okowa’s antecedents in the last seven years as a state governor indicate that in the areas of infrastructure development/deployment, education and healthcare delivery, the Governor currently has no rival in the country as he glaringly shares ideological characteristics/ideals with the late sage of the old Western in the person of Chief Obafemi Awolowo.

Take, as an illustration, I grew up in the then Mid-Western region. All the primary schools that I know were founded in 1955 by Awo. It is amazing to create this number of schools to make sure that free education was available to all was exemplary. You ask, what was the education budget of the Western region in 1955 to create this number of primary schools?

He was just looking for what to do for people.

In line with the above performance, Delta State under Governor Okowa’s first term in office witnessed over 5,000 classrooms renovated/reconstructed/constructed and in his second term had, to his credit, incubated, nurtured and brought into existence three healthy universities to cater for the academic yearnings of the people of the state.

Apart from three new universities Okowa recently incubated, nurtured and established in the state, evidence also abounds that as a result of the work of the Technical and Vocational Education Board in conjunction with the supervising Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education in the state, six technical colleges in Agbor, Sapele, Ofagbe, Utagba-Ogbe, Ogor and Issele-Uku have been fully rehabilitated, well equipped and fully functional.

Consequently, Delta is the first State in the country to have all of the courses offered by its technical colleges accredited by the National Board for Technical Education (NBTE).

In the same vein, The Delta State Library (a fully equipped e-resource centre) and the Office of the Head of Service were completed and are functioning to optimum capacity.

The administration’s quest for organizational synergy among Ministries, Departments and Agencies, cost-efficient bureaucracy and timely, excellent service delivery is in full flight with the completion of construction of the Central Secretariat Complex, an architectural edifice in its own right.

All the MDAs are currently in one location, which has enhanced functionality, discipline and reduced cost of managing government business because they have one source of power, internet services, among others. The new complex is also fitted with, among other facilities, banking halls and a crèche to boost productivity and enhance staff welfare.

In the areas of infrastructural development of the state, Okowa in his first term in office (between 2015 and 2019), through the Ministries of Works, Urban Renewal and the Delta State Capital Territory Development Agency, embarked on a total of 455 projects comprising 1,269.42 kilometres of roads and 517.34 kilometres of drainage channels.

As of April 30 2019, 263 of these roads, covering 638.23 kilometres of roads and 295.71 kilometres of associated drains have been completed. Such a record has since tripled. The Direct Labour Agency also made great strides in the development of road infrastructure during this period.

This effort has advanced rural-urban integration whilst ensuring that our urban centres remain livable cities with good road networks and recreation opportunities. Even much more significant is the awareness that such success in this sector not only saved thousands of jobs but also created several thousand others as well as opportunities for the informal business sector to grow.

For instance, it was noted that when this administration came on board, many of the major construction companies/Government contractors were on the verge of retrenching many of their workers as a result of the slump in the economy. However, we prevailed on them not to do so, assuring them of patronage. Today, these companies have expanded and employed more people as a result of our huge investment in road and physical infrastructure.

The Asaba Airport, for example, was downgraded just before the Governor assumed office. Today, the same airport is now a category 6 airport that receives international flights; the airport is now a major national carrier’s hub in the South-East and South-South geo-political zones. The same goes for the Osubi Airport in the Warri part of the state.

In the health sector, Delta State under Governor Okowa became the first in the country to commence Universal Health Coverage with the establishment of the Delta State Contributory Health Commission in February 2016. The commission commenced healthcare service access to enroll on the 1st of January 2017. As of May 15, 2019, the total number of enrollees stood at 530,664 broken down as follows:

Providing services under the scheme according to reports are 110 primary healthcare facilities, 65 secondary healthcare facilities and 52 private healthcare facilities spread across the 25 Local Government Areas in Delta State. Healthcare service access has also been provided to employees of the State at the Abuja and Lagos Liaison offices. With a robust and dynamic ICT Platform, the scheme has been able to initiate a seamless e-medical record registration process for all.

In the past seven years of his administration, he devoted substantial resources, time and energy to building a knowledge-based economy and a critical mass of skills for entrepreneurship and business competitiveness.

Over 20,000 persons benefited from the flagship Skills Training and Entrepreneurship Programme (STEP), Youth Agricultural Entrepreneurs Programme (YAGEP) and similar programmes undertaken by the Ministries of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Commerce and Industry, Women Affairs as well as the Delta State Micro Small and Medium Enterprises Development Agency.

Looking at the above evidence, one question that will come to mind is where did Erastus Ikhide get his facts from?

Utomi Jerome-Mario is the Programme Coordinator (Media and Public Policy) of the Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA). He can be reached via jeromeutomi@yahoo.com or 08032725374

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Schneider Electric: Driving the Digital Transformation of Nigeria with Augmented Reality

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Schneider Electric

The future impact of Augmented Reality (AR) will significantly transform businesses and consumer marketplaces in Nigeria, should its adoption be accelerated across various industries and platforms, says Schneider Electric.

As more breakthroughs in technology continue to take root, the group has remained consistent in sensitizing its partners on the potential of AR, being one of the keys to digital transformation in the industry. Companies must therefore capitalize on AR and pursue the opportunities that can significantly boost operational productivity and enhance efficiency.

Speaking on this innovative technology, Belema Koleoso, Territory Technology Lead, Schneider Electric, says although much progress has been made since 2019 when Schneider Electric’s AR technology EcoStruxure Augmented Operator Advisor (EAO) was launched as a global hero offer, which works to enhance data accessibility for quicker and more accurate decision making, there remains a lethargy in the Nigerian market to adopt this technology.

Company campaigns have been run to sensitize clients to understand how EAO uses AR technology to optimize the operation and maintenance of industrial sites and equipment, AR aids effectiveness, helps to optimize human assets, and bridges the prevalent generational skill gaps. In this regard, she specifically highlighted the workforce crises that Schneider Electric foresees in the next 5-6 years, with the aged industrial population as the search for well-trained workers sometimes poses a challenge.

Belema says with AR, companies do not need to lose the experience plants cultivate with the exit of personnel, instead, years of training and experience can be “retained” through iteration of workforce turnover. For example, templates, assets, and manuals can be aggregated into the EOA application, customizable by the client; it puts real-time information at your fingertips, whenever and wherever it is needed, enabling operators to superimpose current data and virtual objects onto a cabinet, machine, or plant. This software combines contextual and local dynamic information for mobile users, enabling them to experience a fusion of the physical, real-life environment with virtual objects. It becomes a mobile work buddy for employees commencing the learning curve and in all reduces operational cost while increasing plant operational efficiency. This ensures that people who are put into the system meet the experience that others who passed through the system left behind.

AR presents completely new ways of executing tasks, with instant diagnosis, contactless maintenance, increased efficiency, and lower cost. Industries, including construction, aviation, consumer packaged goods, energy and chemical, mining and minerals etc., can use EOA to enhance their operations. The cloud-based software rides on any controller to learn activities and aggregates assets, moving past proprietary original equipment manufacturer parent protocols to focus on the tasks.

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Schneider Electric believes increased industry leaders across sectors can therefore use EOA to their advantage, where data drives processes and decisions metamorphosizing to “smart decision makers,” riding on data to make optimal decisions smarter and faster.

In retrospect, Belema says the pre-covid in Nigeria technologies like AR were seen as typically “nice to have.” She says she highly anticipates a time when more people will understand the immense benefit of this innovation and evaluate this technology as a necessity. “Often, the feedback on this is a nice-to-have, after a review of what AR offers. But I will push for people to look at it like this – When you have something that will optimize your processes, it moves from being a nice-to-have to a must-have.”

To drive this renewed mindset, the AR expert opines policies, such as the environmental sustainability policy, can bolster digital transformation. Stakeholders would need to advocate an optimized use of energy sustainably. Enforcement of which would naturally drive the adoption of technology across industries quicker.

“When people see that sustainability policies are enforced, for example, you are penalized for not meeting a target, or incentivized for meeting a target; you would see that the case would be different. Naturally, people will begin to adopt technology to meet their goals.”

She also advocates for Nigerians to consider AR as a total cost of investment that enhances optimal output, as customers are more prone to adopt a baseline approach, where they are satisfied with running their operations minimally without incurring additional costs.

With technology improving and becoming more widely available, it is undeniable that AR will become essential for businesses to thrive in the upcoming years. Schneider is optimistic that its position as a thought leader and industry partner in the digital transformation of energy management and automation is about to gain new ground, enabling the emergence of a new landscape of energy, paradigm shifts for the industry, and a revolutionized experience.

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Climate Change: Between Harriman and Kayanja Ideologies

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climate change

By Jerome-Mario Chijioke Utomi

The debate on climate change is among the most presently discussed topics on the earth’s surface. All these years, I have, going by the commentaries from the Western world, believed that Africa’s non-commitment to the call for global action on climate change was responsible for the real and imaginary challenges confronting the continent.

Making this perceived climate change challenge look real was the recent news report that to tackle the problems, the World Bank Group has committed about $70 billion and urged governments of different nations to set up structures to engage and access the fund.

However, such a belief system recently underwent a positive transformation while listening to Professor Tosan Harriman of Bayero University, Kano, Nigeria.

Tosan, who spoke at the GbaramatuVoice Niger Delta Economic Discourse series held in Warri, Delta State, among other things, said; “the truth is this, we saw the hypocrisy of these people (Western worlds) recently when, because of the Ukraine-Russian war, they are not talking anymore about clean energy, rather, we see them go back again focusing on coal, getting out coal to drive the heat.”

“Africa cannot give away its resources because Africa doesn’t need the English of climate change. Our continent is blessed, our continent has resources, and our continent is galvanizing on those resources to ensure there’s a global world order. Taking Africa’s resources from Africa is like committing Africa to another new colonial tendency that will finally incapacitate and make it useful in the global situation of things, and that’s exactly what my argument has been.

“So, quickly, therefore, let’s have our mindset reconstructed about the fact that we are not a danger to Europe and America; we are not a danger to politics of climate change. The only grammar behind climate change is the economy.

“If they take from you the resources that offered you a comparative advantage, it opens them up to their economic value in the context of a global chain, in the context of a global productivity chain, it opens them up to their economic value where they now begin to sell clean energy to people like us in Africa who don’t need it. It’s so important we have these facts properly straightened out before we get into this other issue.

“The world has been talking about clean energy, what we call resistance against greenhouse gas emission. The kind of carbon deducted from the exploration of our crude oil, those are the carbons that we have, and that’s what the world has been talking about. They needed clean energy that would help the Arctic Circle maintain its height and then help the entire ecosystem to be properly balanced along the lines of certain determination that they thought had been there from the beginning and all of that.

“In Europe and America, if you actually desire clean energy, you should not in the 21st century be talking about coal because coal is all about greenhouse gas emission. If you go to the home of the Queen, you will see them using coal, and I keep making this argument that if Norway as a nation has the level of oil we have, nobody will be talking about greenhouse gas, nobody will be talking about climate change, and I have always held the position that every nation should be allowed to grow within the context of his own resources.”

He said that the best the world can do, which is an issue he raised at the Cairo 27th conference recently held, is that we should look at the conditions of African nations, what we call the dependent nations and all of that, dependent on the global world situation and all of that.

“We should look at their conditions, and then we can’t take them; we can’t take from them the issues that directly propel their sustenance; we can’t be talking of climate change when the entire nation of Africa depends on what creates a greenhouse. The best we can do is to scientifically, now begin to look at this resource and then redesign it in such a way as to mitigate the fears that are already being expressed by these other groups fighting for climate change. Those are the issues we raised, and it’s so profound that the world needs to hear us,” he concluded.

Comparatively, while Professor Tosan’s ideology/argument made a whole lot of sense to me, I, however, still recall how Mr Ronald Kayanja, Director of the United Nations Information Centre (UNIC), spoke on the same topic (climate change) but maintained a different view.

This was at a function on Friday, September 20, 2019, in Lagos to mark the year’s International Day of Peace, which had as a theme Climate Action For Peace. Kayanja’s understanding and postulations about climate change were the direct opposite of Tosan’s argument.

Apart from Kayanjas’ definition of climate change as changes in these weather patterns over several decades or more which make a place become warmer or receive more rain or get drier, what made the lecture crucial was the awareness of the dangers of and warning on the urgent need to address climate changes which he said have become even clearer with the release of a major report in October 2018 by the world-leading scientific body for the assessment of climate change, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change(IPCC), warning that in order to avoid catastrophe, we must not reach 1.5 C and 2oC.

In a similar style, Kayanja in that presentation used an analytical method and properly framed arguments to underline how; the current conflict in North-East Nigeria is not unrelated to the changes in climate in that region over time. As well as provides a link as to how; the climate change challenge also sets the stage for the farmer and herder violence witnessed in parts of West Africa and many countries that face violent conflicts in Africa: Somalia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Sudan, Sudan (Darfur), Mali and the Central Africa Republic.

He argued that local tensions over access to food and water resources could spill over into neighbouring countries as people seek to find additional resources and safety – placing more strain on the resources of those countries, which could amplify tensions. In these instances, climate change does not directly cause conflict over diminishing access to resources, but it multiplies underlying natural resource stresses, increasing the chances of a conflict.

As to what should be done to this appalling situation, the UN boss said that the UN Secretary-General had made climate action a major part of his global advocacy, calling on all member states to double their ambition to save our planet.

For me, as the debate rages, it is important to underline that Kayanja’s position looks alluring in principle. But then, this piece holds the opinion that African leaders and policymakers must not allow the propositions canvassed by Tosan go with political winds.

Utomi Jerome-Mario is the Programme Coordinator (Media and Policy) at Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), Lagos. He can be reached via jeromeutomi@yahoo.com/08032725374

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Economy: Simplistic Thinking in Africa and African American Communities

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African American communities

By Nneka Okumazie

There is caution in African American communities not to criticise each other to avoid appearing to take the side of others against the community. This agreement, useful in a few cases, has become part of the problem of the community where there is an appearance to condone horrible things.

If the problem is to avoid sounding like others, then another channel to criticize but not sound like others should have been sought.

In the community, the killings of the same kind, even for some who have made it, sometimes over absurd things, meets mute responses or fierce firestorm from the leaders of the community.

Do not criticize has allowed all kinds of comments and behaviours to fester in the community, and it keeps getting worse, but everyone minds their business because black people come first even if it is evil.

There is a limit to protests. There is a limit to heightened sensitivity over the past. There is a limit to ignoring internal responsibility. Proclamation of emancipation is a starting point, but every other way, as a people, to ensure more strength has to be sought. Civil rights are great but there is a need for the kind of economic success of Asia to be strong and not act or be seen as a victim because victimhood is limited.

There is a limit to entitlement for the sake of it, in a time when economic concerns are a priority for all. An individual success story is already old for a people with the majority on the lower economic and social side. A charity that benefits a small number of people in a small community is negligible for people. Speaking out for the sake of it, against oppression by other races, is also limited for a successful black. Whatever feel-good story on history or origin may promote fantasy, but ensures backwardness in reality.

As more blacks, everywhere, are getting prominent and failing in some positions, the other races have been able to lob criticisms without getting racial, something that many blacks do not attempt for each other.

There are streams of simplistic thinking that are static ends for a people, and breaking out of it, as a people is important for progress.

In Africa, most people keep saying the government is the problem or corruption. But there are different countries, structures, regions, states, governments, etc. yet there is hardly a major success story comparable with some in Asia.

Asian success is different people in different sectors making progress ahead and above the government so that government gets to adopt those into policy. If everyone with some responsibility or a few in different fields pursues major progress, the government does not have the power to crush all of them. The government would have to adopt or enable some. The excellence that made those would have them draw others. The government too would promote some policies whose success or adoption would meet the advancement the people are seeking, so it would work.

But what is obvious in most African countries is that the government often has the best answer, which is often really low, so from other sectors, things are lower, so most things are worse. And whenever there is a crisis, it is even far worse, because those who could try have failed, so left to the government, everything goes down.

Government is not the problem in any African country so long they have sectors and people who hold responsibility. Simplistic thinking says it is government.

Some have also said that they should use African religions for swearing officials into the office to prevent corruption. If enacted, some people would find a way around it, so it solves nothing.

There are desperate Africans who migrate to other continents, by the sea, desert and other ways, to find survival. Their move is parallel to professionals who run away too, because the place is bad, as a belief, not because they are actually in some dire situation.

There is a comment on brain drain, but brain drain is not a problem for professionals who are replaceable. Many of them would not do better than what government would do, so leaving or staying makes little difference, so no matter the certificates or certifications, it is not a brain drain if their work had not been consistently aiming at progress.

For many, success is seen as location or position when success is time or other things not related to material or resources. The things that are needed for progress, like courage, fairness, sincerity, honour, and selfless diligence for all that is not available, makes many to point to the wrong things.

[Psalm 144:4, Man is like to vanity: his days are as a shadow that passeth away.]

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