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In Era of COVID-19, Russia’s Strategic Politics of Coronavirus Aid Takes Stage in Africa

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Coronavirus Aid

By Kester Kenn Klomegah

With coronavirus rapidly spreading among the population of 148 million, Russia took the third position in the world.

According to the official data provided on May 11, Russia had an aggregate total of 221,344 COVID-19 cases. The United Kingdom and Italy earlier reported 219,183 and 219,070 cases, respectively.

Spain comes in second with 224,390 coronavirus cases, and the United States ranked first with nearly 1.4 million cases.

That are huge gaps compared to over 50,000 cases among 1.3 billion population of Africa, at a first glance, and readily offered an understandable story. South Africa and Maghreb region are the hardest hit and worse affected with the coronavirus in Africa. As expected, the pandemic places diverse impact on the global economies and the society, recommended measures have been taken in a bid to prevent the coronavirus spread.

According to the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) report, Africa still behind European countries when it comes to the COVID-19 outbreak and is far from seeing its peak. While Africa has only reported more than 50,000 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus early May, the UNECA-released report “COVID-19 in Africa: Protecting Lives and Economies” said “anywhere between 300,000 and 3.3 million African people could lose their lives as a direct result of COVID-19, depending on the intervention measures taken to stop the spread.”

According to the Regional Office for Africa of the World Health Organization (WHO), the hardest hit are South Africa and mostly Maghreb countries of Algeria, Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia. These Maghreb countries have strengthened information controls, instead of upholding transparency during the health crisis, but generally reported to have more than 5,000 infections, while in Tunisia, there are 1,018 patients and 43 people have died. In sub-Saharan West Africa, Ghana and Nigeria are also among the top ten African countries affected the pandemic.

While Russia, for a time, appeared to escape a serious coronavirus outbreak, the situation there has changed drastically during these two months of April and May, – passing Germany and France to become the third most-infected country in the world, according to The Moscow Times. Russia now has the fastest rate of new cases in Europe, and second-fastest rate of new cases in the world behind the United States.

In an important part, Russian health workers are still reporting a shortage on protective equipment. With the picture getting highly scary, Russian President Vladimir Putin worries about any slightest missteps when, in one of his live television speeches, he warned: “We cannot jump ahead of ourselves. Any carelessness or haste may cause a setback.”

Despite its internal difficulties, Russia has been offering coronavirus assistance to a number of Africa countries. Russia is using it bilateral and multilateral mechanisms in addressing these requests filed by African countries since March after the coronavirus pandemic had spread to the continent that consists of 54 countries. However, Lesotho and Comoros are free from the coronavirus.

Russian Foreign Ministry said a number of African countries have requested Moscow’s assistance in combating the coronavirus. “A number of countries on the African continent have requested Russia’s assistance in combating COVID-19. African nations need a wide range of medical equipment, including ventilators, as well as testing systems, individual protective gear, disinfectants and consumables. These requests are carefully studied and the situation in a particular country is taken into account,” it reported, adding that coronavirus spread rates were relatively low in African countries, with the exception of Algeria, Egypt, Morocco and South Africa.

“However, this issue is causing serious concern to many countries on the continent. The social and economic situations in many of these countries are complicated, while high population density, poor healthcare systems, various crises and conflicts, transparent borders and uncontrolled migration can lead to a sharp rise in cases and unpredictable consequences,” the statement said.

According to the Russian Foreign Ministry, the pandemic may negatively affect African countries’ ability to carry out major tasks to overcome poverty, ensure sustainable development and implement integration projects. Russia had been assisting African countries in responding to natural disasters and the spread of infectious diseases, including the Ebola fever. “We will do what we can to help the continent combat the coronavirus pandemic, using bilateral mechanisms and those of international organizations,” the ministry said, noting that “when making decisions, we will take a whole set of factors into account, including Russia’s coronavirus spread rate.”

Understandably, wholesale provision of coronavirus assistance is, absolutely and practically, impossible to Africa. Therefore, in the shadow of COVID-19, Russia is strategically choosing for its coronavirus aid destinations inside Africa, experts argued. Historically, Russia has had a high preference for the Maghreb region and southern African countries. Thus, in the months of April and May, aid was delivered to Algeria, Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia in North Africa. Ethiopia and Djibouti in eastern Africa. In southern Africa, the beneficiaries included Mozambique, South Africa and Zimbabwe, according to various media reports inside Africa.

On May 11, at the National Institute of Biomedical Research (NIBI) of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), more than 28 thousand units of laboratory supplies and 8 thousand units of personal protective equipment including protective clothing, respirators, reusable full-face masks with a set of filters and gloves were delivered. According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs media report, the cargo was sent by Russia’s Rospotrebnadzor.
The delivery event was attended by the DRC Minister of Health, Dr Eteni Longondo, Advisers to the President, P. Muanda Congo and S. Sial Sial, as well as the Director of the National Institute of Biomedical Research (NIBI), Professor J.M. Muyembe Tampam and Russian Ambassador Aleksey Leonidovich Sentebov.

According to WHO, Congo confirmed its first case of coronavirus mid-March, and as of May 5, there were only 264 confirmed cases and 11 deaths in a country of some 80 million people. Therefore, the Russia’s assistance provided is extremely timely, since epidemics of coronavirus, Ebola, Cholera and Measles broke out, at the same time, in the country. In difficult sanitary and epidemiological conditions, DR Congo is experiencing a sharp shortage of equipment, tests, medicines, vaccines, and there are not enough masks, gloves, and disinfectants.

In this regard, the Congolese are looking forward to the arrival of two mobile laboratories at the end of May this year, which, due to their versatility, can be used to combat the spread of a number of especially dangerous infections, including COVID-19. Russia plans to train Congolese personnel in these microbiological complexes.
In addition, as part of the provision of gratuitous anti-epidemic assistance, Rospotrebnadzor plans to send modern laboratory equipment, diagnostic preparations, vaccines against BVE, cholera, plague and measles, test systems for the detection of Ebola, dengue fever, malaria, cholera and coronavirus to Kinshasa.
Russian-Congolese health contacts are quite extensive and are backed by an agreement signed between the Federal Service for Supervision of Consumer Rights Protection and Humanitarian Affairs and the DRC on the sidelines of the Russia-Africa summit in October 2019 in Sochi. Over the course of several years, Russian virologists have repeatedly visited this country in order to identify its urgent needs, held meetings with local specialists and, in the most difficult period of the global spread of coronavirus in the Republic of Congo.

Russia’s Sputnik News, under the headline, “Tunisia Asks Russia for Respirators, Masks, Medical Equipment Amid Pandemic” quoted the Tunisian Ambassador to the Russian Federation, Tarak ben Salem who said: “This request for assistance is a part of friendly relations between Tunisia and Russia. Tunisia, like many other countries, is facing an unprecedented health and economic crisis. We need respirators, masks and medical equipment that will help provide services in public hospitals.”

“Tunisia, a country close to Italy, appreciated the assistance provided by Russia to this neighboring friendly country,” Salem explained and added “Tunisia hopes for a step forward from Russia, which has promised to consider our request. This can only confirm the quality of friendly and fraternal relations between our countries and our peoples.”

Nevertheless, Russia is also exploring the opportunities in Tunisia, and as part of its geopolitical expansion and influence in Maghreb region. According to the ambassador, Russia has pledged to look into Tunisia’s request.

The United States had granted $500,000 in health assistance to address the coronavirus outbreak in Djibouti. Shortly thereafter, the Russian Foreign Ministry also posted to its official website that Russia had delivered humanitarian assistance to Djibouti in East Africa. Late April, Russian humanitarian aid to the Ministry of Health of the Republic of Djibouti was delivered and was described as part of a joint project with the World Health Organization. It was financed by the Russian Government to enhance Djibouti’s potential in the field of medical emergency readiness and response.

“This humanitarian action comes in response to an official request from the Djiboutian authorities in view of the serious deterioration in the sanitary and epidemiological situation in the country caused by heavy floods and the spread of the novel COVID-19 infection. A consignment of humanitarian aid weighing a total of 13.5 tons and consisting of more than 20 multi-purpose medical modules to fight dangerous infectious diseases was delivered to Djibouti’s seaport. The shipment included tents and components to build two medical units for rendering skilled assistance to over 200,000 people,” according to report of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The report indicated that “the ceremony was attended by Russian Ambassador to Djibouti Mikhail Golovanov, WHO Representative Dr Ahmed Zouiten and Djiboutian Minister of Health Mohamed Warsama Dirieh. The Djiboutian leadership expressed its sincere appreciation to the Russian side for the assistance amid such a complicated epidemiological situation.”

Djibouti has seen a rapid spike in coronavirus cases with the Horn of Africa nation, as the population largely ignores measures imposed by authorities. As a tiny country, it shares borders with Somalia in the south, Ethiopia in the south and west, Eritrea in the north and the Red Sea. Djibouti is a multi-ethnic, with a population about one million, but strategically important country that hosts the United States and French military bases, has recorded 1,116 positive coronavirus cases — small on a global scale. Only two (2) people have died to date, according to the report from the Ministry of Health.

With its burgeoning commercial hub, it serves strategically as the site for various foreign military bases. The hosting of foreign military bases is an important part of Djibouti’s economy. The United States pays $63 million a year to rent Camp Lemonnier, France and Japan each pay about $30 million a year and China pays $20 million a year. The lease payments added up to more than 5% of Djibouti’s GDP of $2.3 billion in 2018.

China has stepped up its military presence in Africa, with ongoing plans to secure an even greater military presence in Djibouti specifically. China’s presence in Djibouti is tied to strategic ports to ensure the security of Chinese assets. Djibouti’s strategic location makes the country prime for an increased military presence.

Undoubtedly, Russia has shown interest in strengthening its ties with the country. Russians believe it could take steps to overcome the impasses in the disputes between Ethiopia and Eritrea, between Ethiopia and Djibouti, as well as international support for Somalia’s efforts to restore its statehood in the Horn of Africa. It has proposed an elaborate plan from maintaining peace and security to promoting socioeconomic development in the Horn of Africa and that includes Djibouti.

Over the past few years, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has had extensive discussions on investment in high technology and transport logistics in Djibouti and Eritrea, both neighboring countries in the region.

It is worth to note that Russia and Algeria have friendly sustainable relations. A Russian cargo aircraft has delivered personal protective equipment to help tackle the novel coronavirus pandemic in Algeria. Algeria’s Minister of Health, Population and Hospital Reform Abderrahmane Benbouzid and Russian Ambassador Igor Belyaev were at the air base of Boufarik, Blida (50-km south of Algiers), to take delivery of the cargo, Algeria Press Service reported April 30.

According to the information made available, the Russia’s humanitarian aid, consists of medical protective equipment was purchased by the Rosoboronexport, the State Arms Exporter, it was done upon the Russian government’s instructions in order to fight the coronavirus pandemic. “Among the medical items delivered to Algeria are infrared thermometers, suits, medical masks and other goods, needed by the friendly nation of Algeria and its healthcare sector,” the media said. Cooperation in fighting COVID-19 strengthens the humanitarian aspect of Russian-Algerian relations.

Given this global scenario of COVID-19, it becomes a conduit to play some game cards. For instance, Russia’s pursuit of playing a bigger role in global political realm is grounded on the consequences Russia faced in the aftermath of the collapse of USSR. That was followed by a huge political chaos and instability of its socio-economic space. However, Russia cling to it as the new game changer and now plays the catch-up. Russia seems to have neglected the potential opportunities in Africa, according to Punsara Amarasinghe, a former research fellow at the Faculty of Law, Higher School of Economics in Moscow, and now a PhD candidate in international law from the Sant’Anna School of Advanced Studies in Pisa, Italy.

“Perhaps, Russia needs a lot more of efforts to revive old ties in African countries, to engage in a large scale investments and energy. Humanitarian assistance could be a strategic mechanism, the lack of Russian soft power in African states is another main trouble that continues to hinder Russia’s realization of its policy projects,” Amarasinghe wrote in his emailed discussion.

He further compares how Britain, France and even India are performing with the use of their soft power in African space, added finally that “Russia still has the opportunities, Moscow only needs to address more on African states beyond arms trade and offering assistance, but covering much important issues such as education, energy politics and investment. These have to be taken in practical terms, not just mere rhetoric.”

On April 29, Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC), a powerful autonomous Russian NGO that focuses on foreign policy, held an online conference under theme “The Future of Africa in the Context of Energy Crisis and COVID-19 Pandemic” – with participation of foreign policy experts on Africa.  Chairing the online discussions, Igor Ivanov, former Russian Foreign Affairs Minister and now RIAC President, made an opening speech. He pointed out that Russia’s task in Africa following the pandemic is to present a strategy and define priorities with the countries of the continent, build on the decisions of the first Russia-Africa Summit, held in Sochi in October 2019.

On the development of cooperation between Russia and African countries, Igor Ivanov strongly reminded that “Russia’s task is to prevent a rollback in relations with African countries. It is necessary to use the momentum set by the first Russia-Africa Summit. First of all, it is necessary for Russia to define explicitly its priorities: why are we returning to Africa? Just to make money, strengthen our international presence, help African countries or to participate in the formation of the new world order together with the African countries? Some general statements of a fundamental nature were made at the first Summit, now it is necessary to move from general statements to specificity.”

The speakers presented scenarios of the development of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic on the continent, the impact of the coronavirus on various industries, the economic and social development of African countries. Experts discussed the role of integration associations on the continent, the existing and the expected problems in the work of humanitarian missions and programs supervised by international organizations.

For many African countries, it is the time to reflect on African countries’ responses to COVID-19. It is time to take the opportunity it offers to catalyze action on structural deficits. The current predicament triggers long-term shifts toward universal access to health and education. It is time to think of improving communities with the necessary infrastructure. Although it has abundant natural resources, Africa remains the world’s poorest and least developed continent, the result of a variety of causes that include corrupt governments, and worse with poor development policies. It is time to prioritize and focus on sustainable development.

With its 1.3 billion people, Africa accounts for about 16% of the world’s human population. Africa, comprising 54 countries, is the world’s second largest and second-most populous continent after Asia. As the coronavirus spreads around the world, many foreign eyes, such as the United States and Canada, Europe, China, Russia and the Gulf States, are still on Africa.

Significantly, the global pandemic has exposed the weaknesses in Africa’s health system, adversely affected its economic sectors, it is therefore necessary for African leaders, the African Union (AU), Regional organization and African partners be reminded of issues relating to sustainable economic development and subsequent integration. It sets further as a reminder to highlight and prioritize the significance of these in the context of tasks set out by the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the African Union’s Agenda 2063.

By Kester Kenn Klomegah writes frequently about Russia, Africa and the BRICS. 

Dipo Olowookere is a journalist based in Nigeria that has passion for reporting business news stories. At his leisure time, he watches football and supports 3SC of Ibadan. Mr Olowookere can be reached via dipo.olowookere@businesspost.ng

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International Youth Day 2022 and Nigerian Youth Ordeals

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International Youth Day

By Jerome-Mario Chijioke Utomi

Friday, August 12, 2022, is a very important date in the global calendar. It is a day that the global community sets aside to celebrate this year’s International Youth Day. The important purpose of this annual celebration, going to information from the United Nations (UN), is to among other things raise voices against any injustice or discrimination happening in the world against the youth. Again, going by available records, International Youth Day was recognized by the United Nations when they passed a resolution towards creating it in 1999 at the United Nations General Assembly. This day came into existence with the recommendation of the World Conference of Ministers and they are responsible for 12th August being declared as International Youth Day.

Essentially, there was a need for this day because a very large amount of youth in the world are struggling with issues related to physical or mental health, education and employment and thus all these issues need to be addressed. When the government or society does not focus on the proper development of the youth, they tend to become rebellious and many times they can opt for the choices which are neither good for their development nor for their country.

Certainly, the global community uses workshops, concerts, conferences, cultural events, seminars and meetings involving national and local government officials and youth organizations to celebrate the day while recognizing the contributions of young people and volunteers who are working towards the betterment of the society and are raising important issues that need more attention of the society, there are, however, painful signs that the situation back here in the country says instead of celebrating, the average Nigerian youth is currently in a state of frustration.

From commentaries, the frustration of these young victims of our nation’s socioeconomic challenge was not only fuelled by the gap between the extravagant promises made in the past by the government without fulfilment but predicated on the ills that flow from bad leadership which daily manifests in the tradition of leading without recourse to transparency and accountability. And as a consequence, ‘stifles development, siphons all scarce resources that could improve infrastructure, bolster education systems and strengthen public health and stack the deck against the poor masses.

To explain this position, a recent report from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), reveals that in the second-quarter Q2:2020 unemployment rate among young people (15-34 years old) was 34.9%, up from 29.7%, while the rate of underemployment for the same age group rose to 28.2% from 25.7% in Q3, 2018. These rates were the highest when compared to other age groupings. Nigeria’s youth population eligible to work is about 40 million out of which only 14.7 million are fully employed and another 11.2 million are unemployed.

For a better understanding of where this piece is headed, youth in every society, says a study report, has the potential to stimulate economic growth, social progress and our all-national development. The strategic role of youths in the development of different societies of the world such as Cuba, Libya, China, Russia and Israel is obvious.

Youth unemployment is potentially dangerous as it sends a signal to all segments of Nigerian society. Here in Nigeria, the rate of youth unemployment is high, even during the period of economic normalcy i.e. the oil boom of the 1970s (6.2%); 1980s (9.8%) and 1990s (11.5%). Youth unemployment, therefore, is not a recent phenomenon. But if what happened in the 1980s/90s was a challenge of sorts, what is happening presently, going by the latest report by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), is a challenge. This and many other concerns have expectedly caused divided opinion and a proliferation of solutions.

From the above, it is obvious that ‘we are in a dire state of strait because unemployment has diverse implications. Security-wise, the large unemployed youth population is a threat to the security of the few that are employed. Any transformation agenda that does not have job creation at the centre of its programme will take us nowhere.’

From unemployment challenges to the poor education sector, it is accurately documented that many Nigerian children are out of school not because they are not willing to be educated but because the cost of education is beyond the reach of their parents. The public schools are short of teachers with dilapidated buildings. Private schools on the other hand where the environment is conducive to learning are cost-intensive and out of reach of so many students and their parents.

In like manner, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has been on strike since February 14, 2022. The group embarked on such industrial action to protest the government’s inability to implement their demands on salaries and allowances of lecturers, and improved funding for universities.

The implication is that for the past six months and counting, these youths have been idling away at home and the Federal Government has not considered the damage such failures impose on this future strength of the nation that their generation will provide the next leaders.

Now, looking at the above painful account, and considering the fact that the nation Nigeria races to the 2023 general election, the question(s) may be asked; how far can the youth go in a nation where tribal loyalty is stronger than our common sense of nationhood?  Can the youth effectively guard their courage? How far can the youths go as change agents in a country where excruciating poverty and starvation continue to drive more people into the ranks of beggars, whose desperate struggle for bread renders them insensible to all feelings of decency and self-respect? Or in a society where the majority of the youths can easily be induced to work across purpose and in a political space where a high density of the youth’s population resides in various villages with no access to information or livelihood? Can they truly create any impact? Or remain united for a very long time.

While the answer(s) to these questions is being awaited, the truth must be told to the effect that to make this year’s world youth day rewarding as well as change this trend, and achieve the objective of engaging youth in formal political mechanisms, increase the fairness of political processes by reducing democratic deficits, contributes to better and more sustainable policies which have symbolic importance that can further contribute to restoring trust in public institutions, especially among youth, there are inescapable actions that the youths must take, there are steps/action plans that Nigerian youths must execute.

Separate from constructively and sustainably engaging the Federal Government, It will not in any way be described as out of place if the youths harness their population advantage and their demographic dividends to form a formidable opposition that holds the government accountable or better still seek political offices come 2023 general election.

Supporting this position is Section 39(1) of the 1999 Constitution adopted from Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UN, 1948) which gives everyone the right to freedom of opinion and expression. The youth must also access the power of the press as Section 22 stipulates that “the press, radio, television and other agencies of the mass media shall, at all times, be free to upload the fundamental objectives contained in this Chapter [Chapter IV: Fundamental Rights] and uphold the responsibility and accountability of the Government to the people”, which has been emboldened by the Freedom of Information Act, 2011.

It is important that Nigerian youths continue to speak up against violations of human rights, suppression of free speech and freedom of the press. Unlike their elders, youths must not initiate, encourage or spread false, mischievous or divisive information capable, or with outright intent, of misleading the populace and disrupting societal harmony and peace. Within the ambience of the law, they must speak up with facts against any wrongdoing or oppression by the government or fellow citizens capable of endangering sustainable democracy and the effective delivery of good governance.

They (youths) should view as evil the argument by political deconstructionists that Nigerian youths must face difficulties as there is no nation where each has his/her own job and house, and where all children receive as much education as their minds can absorb. This claim is not only ‘rationally inexplicable but morally unjustifiable. It is a fact that government lacks the capacity to fix socioeconomic challenges alone. But any government with goodwill and sincerity to save and serve the people must develop creative and innovative channels to promote sustained and inclusive economic growth, social development, environmental protection and job creation.

Also, Nigerians are in agreement that the law is the supreme instrument of the state which must be respected and no one is above the law. This particular fact, if well understood, will assist the youths to comprehend that as citizens, they are constitutionally eligible to vote and be voted for.

Utomi Jerome-Mario is the Programme Coordinator (Media and Public Policy), Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), a Lagos-based Non-Governmental Organization (NGO). He can be reached via Jeromeutomi@yahoo.com/08032725374

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Design Mistakes That Make Your House Look Cluttered

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SweepSouth design mistakes

We’d all love our homes to have an inviting, well-put-together look, but there are a few common design mistakes that make a room feel messy and cluttered. Clearing clutter away seems an obvious first step towards a more polished look, but there are other simple decorating tricks that will bring order to your space, making it more open, organised and tidy.

Not having a dedicated drop zone

We all have that spot in our homes where we put our keys, and our bags, take off our shoes or just drop random things. It’s usually close to the front door or wherever you enter your house from. It’s where you unburden yourself of everything that’s in your hands when you get home. This space can, however, end up being a mess and it makes your house look untidy.

To combat this, allocate the most convenient space to be a drop zone, and put out storage baskets for items such as shoes. Add a table if there’s space and place pretty little containers on top of the table to hold keys, wallets and even letters.

No cable management 

Everyone is guilty of having little to no cable management in certain parts of their home, especially in the living room where there are lots of electronics. Cable management isn’t the most fun thing to do in the world, but if they’re left open and exposed, they can be a massive eyesore.

Cables can be hidden in a number of ways, such as running them along the wall at floor level or through the ceiling or cupboards to keep them out of sight, but it requires expert knowledge to do so and can require extending cables and drilling holes.

Using oversized furniture 

Nothing cramps up a space more than furniture that’s too big. You might want that great coffee table, but the truth is that it’s too big. And if you insist on it, it’s just going to make your home look overcrowded and uncomfortable.

If you already have the furniture, consider selling it online and using the money from that to purchase items that fit the room you need it for. Take measurements before you shop so that you don’t end up buying the incorrect size. Crowding a room with too many bits of furniture can also make it feel disorganised. Cut down on the amount needed by using multi-functional furniture, such as sturdy pouffes that can be used both for seating and as side tables, coffee tables with storage for cables and TV remotes, and mirrors with shelving attached to them.

Keep it fresh

“Unmade beds, dull floors, and a generally dirty space all contribute to making a house look disorganised. Get into a habit of tidying up your space. If you have family living with you, teaching them to clean up after themselves helps. Even better, save yourself time and stress by hiring a vetted, reliable, excellent and affordable cleaner to thoroughly clean your home on a weekly basis,” advises Awazi Angbalaga, Country Manager for a home-cleaning tech company, SweepSouth.

“A home that feels fresh and smells wonderful can instantly improve your mood and mental health, whereas a house with dirty carpets and unattended old furniture usually holds stale, musty odours that feel stifling. You might not even notice it because you’ve lived in the same space for so long but be aware of the way your home feels and smells the moment you step into it after having been outside in the fresh air,” she says. “your rooms can do with a good routine freshening up that includes dusting them from top to bottom, thoroughly cleaning the floors, opening up the windows and washing up dirty bedding. The good thing is that SweepSouth always has the right SweepStar to do the job on your behalf”

If you can’t throw out old furniture or carpets, try these clever tips from the SweepStars who clean Nigerian homes every week through SweepSouth’s service, to banish smells:

  • Sprinkle bicarbonate of soda on carpets and couches, let it rest for an hour, then vacuum up every trace of powder

  • Put a ball of cotton wool that’s been dipped into a fresh-smelling essential oil, like lemon or eucalyptus, into the vacuum bag for a fresh smell every time you vacuum

  • Clean hardwood furniture with a polish made from two parts olive oil with one part lemon juice and use a soft cloth to rub it into the wood. You could also use almond oil with a few drops of lemon essential oil sprinkled in, dabbing a bit of the mixture onto a cloth, then rubbing gently into wooden surfaces

Overfilling open shelving 

Open shelving is all the rage, and it looks lovely – when done right. It’s a common mistake to fill open shelves with books, picture frames and all the other objects you can’t find a home for, but this type of storage actually works best when it’s not overcrowded.

Resist the temptation to fill every inch of shelving, and rather space things out. Edit down what you’d like to display and leave open space between some of the items. Put your favourite decor items out, but bear in mind that too many decorative pieces will make it look cluttered.

The same rule applies when you’re styling a coffee or dining room tabletop. Give careful thought to what is visible in the room, especially if it’s a small space. Display only what you love, and make sure not to overfill the table. Group small items together in a shallow bowl or on a tray so that the arrangement stays tidy and keeps small objects from looking lost by elevating them on a stack of two or three books.

Not using vertical space

If you’ve ever mounted your TV on the wall, you will know how much of a difference it makes to space to not have your TV sitting on the cabinet or table. Making use of wall space – vertical space – isn’t good just for small areas, it frees up every room in the house. Put up shelves or hang things from your ceiling to get them off your countertops and floors.

For example, use wall-mounted shelves to arrange books and get rid of the bookshelf taking up some much-needed floor space. Using vertical space makes a huge difference in almost any room.

Keep these tips in mind when you’re decorating your space and your home will feel like a clutter-free oasis.

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Redefining the Role of UPU for the Urhobo People

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Mike Owhoko May Nigeria Never 9th National Assembly

By Michael Owhoko, PhD

The Urhobo is among the first 10 major ethnic groups and the fifth largest in Nigeria, yet, its initial capacity to command considerable influence in the Nigerian polity was weakened by the lack of brotherliness, unity and trust among its people, unarguably, owing to the multiplicity of dialects, as depicted in the 24 kingdoms that make up the nationality.

In an attempt to eliminate this deficit, prevent disunity-induced regression, and raise sustained awareness for unity and trust across the divide, the founding Urhobo leaders came up with a philosophical slogan of Urhobo Ovuovo.

Specifically, the concept of Urhobo Ovuovo was informed by the need to foster unity as a strategy for driving the collective interests and aspirations of the Urhobo people, particularly within the Nigerian space. The concept, which simply means, Urhobo is one, became the major thrust of the Urhobo Progress Union (UPU), formerly Urhobo Brotherly Society at its formation, in 1931.

Its founding leaders recognized clearly from the outset that without unity among a people, unison and progress might be hampered, prompting them to identify and highlight the dangers of disunity to peace, growth and development in pursuit of the Urhobo vision.

On the strength of this, the leadership of UPU led by Chiefs Omorohwovo Okoro, Mukoro Mowoe and Thomas Erukeme made unity a catalyst and driver in their quest for progress in Urhobo land, as aptly captured in the union’s motto: Unity is Strength.

This was also reflected in the Aims and Objectives of the union’s Constitution, namely: “To foster the spirit of love, mutual understanding and brotherhood among Urhobo people.”  Since then, unity has remained one of the guiding principles in the decision-making process at UPU.

All free-born of Urhobo, irrespective of place of birth and location, are automatic members of UPU. Branches of UPU exist in all corners of the globe, particularly in countries with a significant presence of Urhobos. From Europe to the United Kingdom, Australia, and from America to Asia and the Middle East, UPU is active. All positions held by UPU executives are held in trust for all Urhobos.

Thus, it came as a surprise to many sons and daughters of Urhobo ancestry about the alleged decision of the current national executive of UPU led by Chief Moses Taiga to endorse a particular candidate for the 2023 governorship election in Delta State. Regrettably, up till this moment, the executive is yet to deny the allegation. However, since silence means consent, it is assumed to be true, at least, for now.

By this position, the leadership of UPU is unwittingly laying a foundation for potential cracks in the body of the oldest socio-cultural organization in Nigeria. The endorsement negates and runs contrary to the vision of the founding fathers, as it is not only a recipe for disunity in Urhobo land but capable of encouraging the emergence of parallel bodies or equivalent associations.

The UPU could be likened to a father with members as children. Like children in a family, it is absurd for a father to overtly demonstrate preference or declare support or identify or show love for one over the others. This can permanently put a division in such a family.

Since all gubernatorial contenders in the 2023 general election in Delta State are of Urhobo descent, it was needless for the UPU to have expressed a preference for one candidate over the others, more so, when the outcome will ultimately produce an Urhobo son as a winner. Therefore, in line with the spirit of unity and progress for the Urhobo nation, UPU should have invited all candidates for a counselling meeting premised on peaceful electioneering conduct devoid of violence.

If it was a contest involving Urhobo sons and other ethnic groups, then UPU was obligatory to back its own, as demonstrated by the support given to Chief Daniel Okumagba when he contested as the governorship candidate of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) in 1979. UPU also extended similar backing to Chief Felix Ibru when he ran for the same office under the Social Democratic Party (SDP) in 1993.

It is, therefore, imperative for the national executives of the union to strive at all times not to deviate from the objective of UPU, but focus on issues that can deepen unity and progress in Urhobo land, particularly within the context of emerging challenges.

It must draw from the experience of the founding fathers, who at the time, were confronted with daunting challenges, but overcame them through sheer vision and action plans as they did with the establishment of Urhobo College in 1948 when UPU identified education as a major tool for boosting opportunities and aspirations. This also led to the sponsorship of Messrs Gabriel Ejaife and Ezekiel Igho to universities abroad during the intervening period.

Besides, Urhobo territories straddling other ethnic neighbours that were facing expropriation threats were all reclaimed and regrouped within Urhobo geographical boundaries. Some of these cases involved litigation and these were won and recovered with the support of UPU. There was no true son and daughter of Urhobo who was not proud of these accomplished milestones then.

Even the translation of the Holy Bible into the Urhobo language was part of efforts to advance and strengthen Urhobo unity, which became a source of pride, as it went a long way in defining the Urhobo personality.

The Urhobo nation cannot be insulated from current dynamics and challenges in Nigeria.  UPU must therefore be proactive and respond to these vulnerabilities, particularly those that can potentially hinder development in Urhobo land.

Insecurity is currently a threat.  Fulani herdsmen have become a menace in Urhobo forests and savannas, stalling farming business and creating fear across the land through criminal activities. This is also responsible for the reluctance of Urhobos to come home to invest.  While efforts by UPU in this regard must be acknowledged, it should take further steps through concrete action plans to nip this criminality in the bud.  Urhobo Security Network (USN) and other surveillance groups should be strengthened and equipped to provide intelligence and sundry activities.

Urhobo wealth is outside Urhobo land, partly because of deve (development fees).  UPU should discourage youth from harassing and collecting these levies from potential investors and developers. Monarchs collaborating with youth in this shameful act should be sanctioned. If five per cent of Urhobo wealth can be attracted home for investment, jobs will be available for youth.

Also, UPU should constitute Economic Advisory Council to hold Urhobo Economic Summit annually aimed at identifying opportunities that will promote empowerment and stimulate development in Urhobo land.

The future is science and technology.  While the proposed Mukoro Mowoe University is commendable, it should be STEM-based (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics).  Currently, there is under-admission of Urhobo sons and daughters to Petroleum Training Institute (PTI) and Federal University of Petroleum Resources (FUPRE).  UPU should sensitize and encourage all secondary schools in Urhobo land to predominantly pattern their syllabus after science to enable them to take advantage of these opportunities.

Also, there is a dearth of qualified artisans in Urhobo land.  UPU should establish technical schools similar to the former Sapele Technical College or Atamakolomi Trade School, where Urhobo youth can acquire vocational skills in carpentry, electricals, automobile engineering, welding, bricklaying, tiling, painting, tailoring, and other artistry works.

Of note is the Urhobo Historical Society (UHS) which was set up to study, research and document Urhobo history and culture, just as the Urhobo Studies Association (USA) was established to promote scholarships pertaining to Urhobo language, literature and culture.  UPU should support these institutions, particularly the USA to drive the study of Urhobo language and literature in universities up to the doctorate level.

Urhobo and her immediate neighbours have common socio-economic challenges and aspirations but are unable to work in unison for this purpose due to the trust gap engendered by domination fear.  This was one of the reasons the Itsekiri opposed the creation of Delta State from the old Delta Province with Warri as capital.  Rather than demonstrate leadership morality, Ibrahim Babangida took advantage of the confusion to appease his wife and in-laws, obviously due to oil benefits, by merging the Anioma region, which was hitherto under Benin Province, with Delta Province, and also made Asaba, an obviously unsuitable location, as capital.  The Anioma region should have rightly been made part of Edo State, not Delta.  UPU should therefore build bridges across its immediate neighbours to restore confidence.

It is therefore imperative that the current roles of UPU should be redefined within these contexts, to reposition Urhobo for the emerging challenges of this 21st century.

Dr Mike Owhoko, Lagos-based journalist and author, can be reached at www.mikeowhoko.com.

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