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Nigeria Must Continue to Borrow, Unless…..

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Mon-Charles Egbo

By Mon-Charles Egbo

Every economic index is a pointer that Nigeria is on the brink, ignobly sliding into the class of nations where self-sufficiency has become a mirage. Yet and despite the hues and cries over the steady rise in her public debt profile, there is no sign that the borrowing tendencies of the federal government will abate anytime soon.

Even the grim prospects of this gloomy future already lurking on the horizon sequel to the humongous debt so far accumulated or the prevailing debt-revenue ratio cannot make the ultimate difference in attitude.

Yes, the borrowing frequency cannot be wished away because there is a missing link implying that Nigeria will continue to witness motion without movement.

Granted, borrowing is a normal practice especially in a developing economy, but it becomes the worst of strategies when borrowing for consumption rather than production. It is even more devastating when the borrowings are principally for servicing of the existing debts coupled with the sheer absence of pragmatic measures or capacities for sustainability, not to talk of a possible halt to future borrowing.

Sadly, this is the pathetic lot of Nigeria where the emerging challenges far outweigh the possibilities for socio-economic revitalization let alone expansion, thus making a worsened economic crisis inevitable.

And ironically, popular opinions place blames for this rapidly unfolding precarious situation on the legislature. To them, the national assembly has since abdicated its responsibilities of checks and balances for which the executive always has its ways when it comes to borrowing requests because the necessary questions are not being asked.

Prominently, this is the parameter for the comparison between the present and immediate past parliaments. And of course, it is catching fire among the populace largely due to the orchestrated elitist manipulation of the vulnerable as also being facilitated by the fallouts of the economic hardship in the land.

But quite objectively and given Nigeria’s peculiarities, past leadership failures indeed created the opportunities for the socio-economic woes which incidentally the present leadership inherited, while the masses, with the elites accounting for the larger chunk, are culpable in the propagation.

Ignorantly or deliberately, the predominant assumption is that citizens’ civic responsibilities begin and end with the leadership recruitment processes or that it is just about the casting of votes, forgetting that elections as well bring in both good and bad governance.

Most Nigerians seem not to know that the people’s obligations entail actively-but-objectively engaging the leadership, cooperating with the government, saying and doing the right thing all the time as well as speaking truth to power, timely and appropriately. No leadership ever succeeds without the support of the followers.

And then for both the government and the citizens, it calls for diligent commitment to an exemplary sense of accountability on both ends. Other statutory demands include willingness to collaborate and make necessary sacrifices, demonstration of strategic thinking and proactive dispositions including a commitment to asking the right questions and offering the right answers, all timely.

Standing to be counted is certainly not just about partisanship, regionalism and religion. Genuine quest for national development is more about imbibing the Kennedyian principle of seeking what to do for one’s country and not just what the country does for them. Succinctly, nation-building is about patriotism and nationalism.

For instance and retrospectively, Ibrahim Babangida’s regime in a rare democratic norm in a dictatorship threw open the debate on the desirability or otherwise of taking an International Monetary Fund (IMF) loan of $2.5 billion to rejig the economy.

According to Senator Orji Uzor Kalu, who verifiably was not in government then, “opinion was sharply divided between those who felt we should take the loan and those who thought otherwise.

For me, there was a middle course I felt we should thread. I believed that Nigeria required the equivalent of the kind of which the IMF bailout package promised to shore up the sliding economy. At the same time, I thought that the conditions attached would, at least in the short term, make life terrible for Nigerians. These conditions included the devaluation of and floating of the naira, privatisation of social services, and rationalisation of the civil service, among others.

So, my attitude was one of a complete rejection of the IMF loan. I felt since we needed the money, we must find out how we could get it without being subjected to the harrowing terms proposed by the IMF. We should source it internally.

Satisfied with this logic, I decided to add my voice to the cacophony of voices that were already choking the public space. I suggested that instead of accepting the IMF loan and suffer the consequences of its onerous terms and conditions, wealthy Nigerians should lend the money to the government, and we had a lot of them in the country, with unimaginable but idle funds stashed up in foreign bank accounts.

Being one of the wealthy Nigerians myself, I decided to walk the talk by offering to give the country an $800,000 loan. And I challenged other wealthy Nigerians to follow suit so that together we could rescue the country from the economic crisis and save future Nigerians from economic slavery”.

What else could better describe love for the country? That Kalu then was not in government underscores that patriotism and nationalism do not come with government positions and equally are not limited to giving, but involve seeking ways to make government deliver for the benefit of the society. And again, this is the missing link in today’s Nigeria.

Moving forward, records show that the government of the day is doing a lot in combating the pitiable infrastructure deficit bedevilling the country. But the reality is that these investments are not yet translating to improved quality of life for the citizenry. Hence, the sustained outcry against the government’s proposal to borrow is unquestionably justified, though being improperly channelled.

Understandably also, it is this urgent need to make life meaningful for the masses that shapes the overall actions of the 9th national assembly, particularly the senate.

Christened the Senate That Works For The People, it is favourably disposed to things that add value to the people. It consciously does its job without unnecessarily hurting the people by grounding the economy all in a bid to be seen as being ‘truly independent’.

However, it has severally demonstrated that this overriding necessity for collaboration with the other arms of government in serving the people should not breed compromise. Diligent research offers sufficient proof in this regard.

And as for the president of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, every arm must be seen to be delivering in their mandates provided that they are being guided by the national interest and welfare of the citizenry.

According to him on why he did not toe the path of his predecessor in declining approvals to executive’s loan requests, “the situations are not the same. In 2016 there were no details. I think the president has learnt his lesson. This time, the presidency brought the requests with every possible detail. If we don’t have money and you have projects to build, how will you provide the infrastructure that you need?

“But one thing is that we are going to be critical that every cent that is borrowed is tied to a project. These are projects that will have spill-over effects on the economy and we will undertake our oversight so well to ensure that such funds are properly, prudently, economically and transparently applied on those projects.

“I want to inform this gathering and, indeed, Nigerians that the letter conveying the loan request of the executive came with every possible detail and, in fact, we will ensure that we are getting the right information from the executive arm of government…. you will agree with me that some projects are time-bound, so such projects suffer. Where revenues could not be enough, definitely not every aspect of the budget will be implemented. But it is our desire that every aspect of the budget will be implemented”.

Except for other reasons beyond good governance, this position is explicit. President Muhammadu Buhari won his elections based on what he promised to do and what he was doing. So, all he needs are complementary and collaborative efforts within the ambits of the laws.

So, instead of unfairly portraying the legislature in a bad light relative to our economic challenges, we should seek to always argue from the position of adequate and balanced information. We should acknowledge that world over, responsible and responsive parliaments are those that enjoy the people’s support and cooperation through sustainable exchange of information and ideas.

In other words, performing legislatures have a functional mechanism for robust citizens’ engagement and participation in legislative processes and governance generally; wherein the people actively monitor parliamentary activities, share information by asking the right questions and demanding the right answers as well as speaking up, timely and appropriately. For the umpteenth time, no government ever succeeds without the people.

As such, it is expected that each time any loan proposal is made public, the masses should cordially rally around their representatives, through the appropriate channels to express their opinions to effectively shape legislative outputs. Particularly, in this case, such interfaces provide veritable platforms for interrogation of the appropriateness or otherwise of the objectives for which the loans are being taken, including the terms and possible alternatives.

Among others, the people being the target-beneficiary see where the infrastructural developments occur and equally acknowledge the necessities of such relative to the economy as well as the scope, quality and cost of the projects. Hence, they are well-placed to expose corruption, plug revenue leakages and provide their representatives with relevant details that lead to robust debates at the plenary.

Above all, it is only in deliberate citizens’ participation that we can fairly assess and evaluate the legislature, aware that unapologetically, any representative that does not embody the ideals and aspirations of their people is adjudged a failure.

Therefore, rather than unwittingly harming our national image and reputation, especially based on partisan and self-serving considerations, may we show sufficient understanding that constructive criticisms capable of facilitating good governance go way beyond obsessions with talking about individuals, political parties and government institutions.

We must admit that unless the public functionaries, both elected and appointed, begin to uphold and promote the culture of excellence, while the elites revive and sustain the culture of giving back to the society, and then the people become self-motivated to close ranks with the government towards entrenching transparency at all levels of governance, the probity and accountability that drive good governance would remain elusive and borrowing must continue. We should appreciate where we are coming from and then concede that open hostilities do not in any way advance the social contract between the people and the government.

And finally, are there no more Nigerians in the mould of Senator Orji Uzor Kalu who are persuaded out of patriotism and nationalism “to follow suit so that together we could rescue the country from the economic crisis and save future Nigerians from economic slavery”?

Mon-Charles Egbo is the print media aide to the president of the senate.

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CEPEJ and the Reality of Niger Delta Underdevelopment Crisis

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flood in bayelsa niger delta

By Jerome-Mario Utomi

Talking about the Niger Delta region of Nigeria, it is true that today there exists in the Petroleum Industry Act (PIA) which made some far-reaching provisions for the host community’s development such as its demand that any oil prospecting licence or mining lease or an operating company on behalf of joint venture partners (the settlor) is required to contribute 3% of its actual operating expenditure in the immediately preceding calendar year to the host communities development trust fund. This is in addition to the existing contribution of 3% to the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC).

It is also true that recently, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, the Vice President of Nigeria, at a function in Lagos noted that the present administration was determined to see through to the completion of all the critical projects in the region.

Once more, we are equally witnesses to the fact that the Minister of Environment, Dr Mohammad Abubakar, after a meeting in Port Harcourt, said his ministry was in talks with key stakeholders in the Niger Delta region on devising a blueprint for alternative ways to preserve, conserve and restore mangrove in the region.

Abubakar, who said the destruction of mangroves was catastrophic to the economy of the nation, noted that the resolution of the meeting in Port Harcourt was to focus on starting with short term goals of seeking alternative means of making people stay away from mangrove destruction.

However, if a serious statistical study is carried out about the area, it may be ‘amazing’ how the Niger Delta region has, and despite all these moves remained a backward and degraded, coastal region occasioned by crude oil exploration, exploitation and production with no better chance of development as the government is not ready to learn from its past mistakes which bother on the adoption of a non-participatory approach to development that strips the people of the region their sense of ownership over their own issues.

And as a consequence, cast a long dark shadow on efforts to improve the wellbeing and economic development of the region’s individuals, peoples, and communities while resulting in a state where the region’s communal right to a clean environment and access to clean water supplies was brazenly violated. And fierce war raged in the region between ethnic and social forces over the ownership and control of oil resources in the Niger Delta.

Bringing this ugly account to the fore is a recently well-timed statement/alarm raised by the Centre for Peace and Environmental Justice (CEPEJ), Comrade Mulade Sheriff, calling on the Federal Government of Nigeria not to hands-off Niger Delta region until it completes the environmental remediation and socio-economic rejuvenation of the zone devastated by long periods of oil spill neglect, crude oil exploration/exploitation, deprivation and marginalization.

The group spoke recently in Warri, Delta State against the backdrop of speculations, claims and counterclaims in some quarters regarding the advent of the PIA that the federal government will abandon its responsibility to remediate the environment.

It was argued that the PIA and allocation of 3% to host communities do not mean the federal government should shy aware of its primary responsibility of providing basic amenities for and care for her citizens, especially when the government is the main beneficiary of oil production proceeds from the region and the cause of degradation of the Niger Delta environment.

The environmental rights group, while speaking with newsmen in Warri, asserted that it is the responsibility of the Nigeria government and oil companies to remediate the degraded environment, pay adequate compensation to affected host communities and rejuvenate the lost socio-economic wellbeing of Niger Deltans for the impoverished state caused by crude oil exploration activities engineered by the federal government.

CEPEJ drew the attention of the federal government and other relevant agencies to the fact that the region has long been degraded and the environment devastated before the emergence of PIA, hence, it cannot and should not hide under the Act to further marginalize the region, rather, it should be directly involved in the remediation and socio-economic rejuvenation of the region.

Remediation and rejuvenation of the socio-economic life of the people in the Niger Delta region of the country is a responsibility that is extremely important which successive administrations have failed to address and spent far too long a time not only to attend to but also to accomplish.

In explaining the importance of the PIA to host communities, CEPEJ said “the Law or Act cannot take retrospective effect on the people it’s meant to benefit and Nigerians should not lose sight of the beneficial reality of the Act.

“Before the federal government can hands off the Niger Delta, it must complete its environmental remediation as well as socioeconomic rejuvenation of the environment which is what the federal government owns the people living in the region.

“It will be unethical for the federal government to hands off at a time when the world is in agreement in terms of citizen and communal right of the people, and that it is the communal rights of the Niger Delta people to have a clean environment and access to clean water supplies which are being violated by Nigeria government and oil-producing companies operating in the region.”

It also asserts that, by the admission of oil companies to the region, ‘the oil industries have abandoned thousands of polluted sites in the region which need to be identified and studied in detail, He, therefore, called on environmental experts to go the extra mile to identify these spots, study them and make cases for the affected communities.

While complaining about the negative effect of oil operations in the Niger Delta, CEPEJ said due to degradation of the environment, aquatic organism and water supply sources are being adversely affected including the health and wellbeing of the people which has resulted in high mortality.

He also said that the present environmental state caused by oil companies and their operational activities need to be recovered while affected communities are adequately compensated for their losses.

Referencing what is obtainable in other oil-producing nations around the world, the rights group said, “We expect the federal government to apply what is obtainable in countries such as the Netherlands where the Dutch government requires all operators to restore their areas of operation back to how nature intended, which means all infrastructures used for operations during active production will be removed at the end of production and proper maintenance of the environment need to be carried out.”

“He said this method of operation is referred to “abandonment liability” which the operating company need to carry out at the end of active operation, and that is what he expects the Nigeria government to emulate.

On the management of the 3% to host communities, the group submitted that the 13 per cent oil derivation fund and the PIA fund are meant to address the environmental, ecological and infrastructural development issues of oil communities and “we expect that should be done to better the lives of people living in oil and gas host communities.”

He further insisted that the 3 per cent PIA fund should be managed by the Host Community Trust Fund as stipulated by the PIA.

It concluded that leaving the funds under the hands of Ministers or State Governors to control or even nominate candidates to manage the fund for host communities might lead to its being mismanaged the same way the 13% derivation fund allocated to oil and gas producing states for the development of oil and gas host communities was misappropriated.

To avoid a repeat of such stories, the host communities should nominate credible individuals to manage the Host Community Trust Fund as stipulated in the PIA for speedy infrastructural development and environmentally friendly condition of the oil-rich region of Nigeria.

Indeed, CEPEJ, in my view, may not be wrong.

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

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#EndSARS: No Real Consequence for Leadership Failures in Nigeria

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Chinwendu Ohakpougwu Consequence for Leadership Failures

By Chinwendu Ohakpougwu

I was in Zanzibar, on a work leave when the protest that held Nigeria standstill happened. It was the #EndSARS, a protest which was largely and primarily against police brutality, but which spiralled to all other things holding the Nigerian nation down.

It was the 20th of October 2020 precisely – and our flight had left for Nigeria from Zanzibar. We had a stop-over in Addis Ababa. Just as we landed in Ethiopia, we received news that flights were grounded from entering Nigeria.

This was the second time I could clearly see a reflection of what I had watched in the movie ‘Sometimes in April’. We had no transit visas and were stranded in a foreign land – with our own country evidently in ruins. It was a painful feeling. It was clear things had gone out of hand.

The airport hotel we were put in felt like some prison. Apparently, they too had received the news of what was happening in Nigeria – and they made sure to treat us in a way that was demeaning. We were not let out of the hotel. They wouldn’t let us have the keys to our rooms. We slept that night, praying and hoping that the next day we would receive good news from Nigeria. Some of us had started to make plans about taking a flight to neighbouring Ghana, after all, we had the ECOWAS passport.

Miraculously, the next morning, they allowed a few more flights into the country and we took the opportunity. Ethiopian Airlines landed in Lagos in the late afternoon on the 21st of October amidst great tension. There were soldiers everywhere. We were told not to leave the airport, but most people tried to get accommodation in the hotels around the international airport.

They had to walk long distances to these hotels in Ajao. No cab wanted to leave the airport premises – and those who eventually did charged outrageous prices.

As we walked out of the airport premises to find hotels nearby, the young men littered around, blocking the road, yelled at us and cursed us, that we were the mistresses to some of these politicians and are kept away from the chaotic scenes happening back in Nigeria. They searched our bags and took some items. Soldiers were patrolling like it was Lebanon, the air was too tense and volatile. Eventually, I made it back home, safely.

Fast-forward – it’s 20th October 2021, and I am witnessing the memorial of the #EndSARS. The feeling is still the same – hurt everywhere, and yet more oppression and injustice can still be seen and felt. It is as though we never picked up any lesson one year after.

As a Comms person, I try to look at these things with an industry eye and wondered why the Lagos state governor was not present at the #EndSARS memorial. I had an exchange with a friend heavily involved in political PR and he said something that struck me “Two weeks after the 2020 massacre, APC won the election in that same senatorial zone by like 10k votes. Do you know what 10k votes are? You can mobilize 10k people.

So, when I sit with politicians and tell them to care about young people, they can only scoff because there is no consequence to ignoring them. Each time events like this happen, all politicians need to do is ignore their social media accounts for a while, send some other young people to disrupt the activities and the world is fine again.”

This, right here is my vexation with Nnamdi Kanu and IPOB – all that power and influence and yet all they do in the SE is a Sit At Home? What happened to real influence over who wins elections in the SE? What about teaming with the people to pick only the crop of leaders who are fit for the future we want to achieve? Nigerian youths have the numbers – and in all games, numbers are great leverage. Get out and get involved in politics. The change we desire will not happen on social media. Let us start to strategically get more smart young people into the National Assembly. That is where true and long-lasting change happens.

Chinwendu Ohakpougwu is the Head of Corporate Communications at DLM Capital Group

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Nigeria: Between Persuasive Leaders and Coquettish Behaviour

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Persuasive Leaders

By Jerome-Mario Utomi

For most of our political history, concept and reality, particularly banking on the underlying understanding of a Coquette by Robert Green, the author of The 48 Laws of Power, it will not be out of place to describe an average Nigerian as a Coquette.

The reason stems from the belief that they are experts at arousing desire through a provocative appearance or an alluring attitude.

Their strength lies in their ability to trap people emotionally and to keep their victims in their clutches long after that titillation of desire. This is the skill that puts them in the ranks of the most effective seducers. Instead of persuasion, some resort to lies, many to propaganda while the rest take to intimidation of their followers.

Regrettable, while this attribute has not only flourished but thrived with unhindered access in Nigeria, it is true that today in many parts of Europe, America and Asia; it is in sharp contrast with the demand of modern leadership. Let’s look at particulars that support this claim.

First, writing on the theme the Necessary Art of Persuasion, Jay A Conger, a Henry R. Kravis Research Chair in Leadership Studies at Claremont Mckenna College, noted that gone are the command-and-control days of executives managing by decree.

Persuasion is widely perceived as a skill reserved for selling products and closing deals. It is also commonly seen as just another form of manipulation-devious and to be avoided.

Certainly, persuasion can be used in selling and deal-clinching situations, and it can be misused to manipulate people. But exercised constructively and to its full potential, persuasion supersedes sales and is quite the opposite of deception.

Effective persuasion he argues become a negotiating and learning process through which a persuader leads colleagues to a problem’s shared solution. Persuasion does indeed involve moving people to a position they don’t currently hold, but not by begging or cajoling. Instead, it involves careful preparation, the proper framing of arguments, the presentation of vivid supporting evidence, and the effort to find the correct emotional match with your audience.

Also, Deborah Tannen, a Professor of Linguistics at Georgetown University, in a similar research report titled The Power of Talk, Who Gets Heard and Why, underlined something that could be described as a missing link in Nigeria’s leadership corridor when she among other things thus observed that In organizations, formal authority comes from the position one holds. But the actual authority has to be negotiated day-to-day. The effectiveness of individual managers/leaders depends in part on their skill in negotiating authority and on whether others reinforce or undercut their efforts. The way linguistic style reflects status plays a subtle role in placing individuals within a hierarchy.

Often, so many leaders assume persuasion is a one-shot effort. Persuasion is a process, not an event. Rarely, if ever, is it possible to arrive at a shared solution on the first try. More often than not, persuasion involves listening to people, developing a new position that reflects input from the group, more testing, incorporating compromises, and then trying again. If this sounds like a slow and difficult process, that’s because it is. But the results are worth the effort.

Now, this is the lesson that every leader in Nigeria must draw from this conversation.

For a leader to be a successful persuader, Deborah Tannen and Jay A Conger were unanimous in agreement that such a leader must ask this question; do those I am hoping to persuade see me as helpful, trustworthy, and supportive?

The duo also said something striking.

Let’s listen again; some leaders think the secret of persuasion lies in presenting great arguments. In persuading people to change their minds, great arguments matter. No doubt about it. But arguments, per se, are only one part of the equation.

Other factors matter just as much, such as the persuader’s credibility and his or her ability to create a proper, mutually beneficial frame for a position, connect on the right emotional level with an audience, and communicate through vivid language that makes arguments come alive.

In my view, it will not be considered as an overstatement to conclude that was Nigeria’s public office holder’s quest to achieve persuasive purpose considered as strategic, that explains as well as propels the never-ending manner with which offices such as the Minister of Information (for the federal government), the Commissioners for Information (states), chief press secretaries, senior special assistant (media), senior special assistant media (technical), special assistant (media), special assistant (information gathering), special assistant (print media) and special assistant (electronic media), among others are created.

Under this arrangement, a government spokesperson communicates to people the work done (i.e. political and institutional) by the government. The task of assisting and supporting the members of the government and the government itself is assigned to the spokesperson.

However, the question may be asked: has the discussed topic any relevance in Nigeria public leadership arena? How well have these appointed/elected public officials performed/harnessed persuasive leadership strategies in their day to day administrations? What is the future of persuasive leadership in Nigeria? What will the state of public leadership in Nigeria be like in hundred years to come; success or failure?

While providing answers to the questions are as important as the piece itself, one thing that bothers me, in addition, is that instead of developing the art and act of persuasive leadership, most of the present public office holders in Nigeria are capped with the spirit/attributes of Paul Joseph Goebbels, a German Nazi politician and Reich Minister of Propaganda of Nazi Germany from 1933 to 1945. He was one of Adolf Hitler’s closest and most devoted associates and was known for his skills in public speaking and his deeply virulent antisemitism, which was evident in his publicly voiced views.

This newfound attribute by Nigerian public office holders has made the innocent/well-intentioned position of persuasion in leadership become a platform for fierce political and ideological warfare in ways that negates rationality as human beings.

A great amount of innocent human character has been spilt, wars of words waged, countless souls/ambition persecuted and martyred.

Spokespersons have in recent times failed to communicate noble ideas and ideals. This consequence of their failures is responsible for why anarchy presently prevails in the country and accounts for why Nigerians daily diminish and are impoverished.

Take as an illustration, instead of telling their principals what the real issues are or encouraging them to keep promises that gave them victory at the polls, curtail the challenges confronting the people, and promote consensus politics, some government spokespersons encourage divisiveness, uphold autocratic tendencies, and endorse/promote media trial of political opponents.

In most cases, they become propagandists using radio, television and the internet as outlets to relentlessly false feed Nigerians.

Each time some of these spokespersons are faced with embarrassing facts about their principals, they fall back on data that is hardly objective, generating inferences that can never be described as explicit.

While finding solutions to the unwelcoming behaviours of government’s spokespersons will have far-reaching effects on both the public officials and the entire Nigerians, as it is laced with the capacity to engineer socioeconomic prosperity and propel the masses to work together for the greater good of the nation, it has become overwhelmingly urgent for government spokespersons, image makers and media assistants to understand that every decision they make requires a value judgment as different decisions bring different results

Jerome-Mario Utomi, the Programme Coordinator (Media and Public Policy), Social and Economic Justice Advocacy, SEJA, wrote from Lagos. He could be reached via; jeromeutomi@yahoo.com or 08032725374.

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