The UNILAG’s Post UTME Crisis
By Jerome-Mario Utomi
Similar to every new invention which comes with opportunities and challenges, when candidates preparing for the University of Lagos Post UTME, got the news about the university’s management decision to allow candidates write the test from any location of their choice, it elicited two sets of reactions.
For a better understanding of the piece, UTME stands for the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME), a computer-based standardized examination for prospective undergraduates in Nigeria, designed to assess the problem-solving, critical thinking knowledge of each of the students.
For some, joy flashed on their faces. They and their parents were particularly happy because such a development will assist in saving both time and resources for the student that resides outside Lagos state.
Chiefly, It will save parents from inherent discomforts and risks associated with travelling on Nigerian roads which includes but not limited to; road mishaps, armed robbery attacks and kidnapping.
To the rest, the development was viewed with scepticism and fears. The crux of their fears is that the well thought out programme and intention will be destroyed by what they called ‘the Nigerian factor’. These worries were given a boost and further fed by arguments which bothered on lackadaisical and nonchalant attitude to work by an average Nigerian civil servant-and inability of regulators to go extra miles to ensure that the given assignments are perfectly executed.
But looking at the gamut of complaints within few days into the exercise, of how unreliable, inefficient/effective the UNILAG online portal has become as it randomly shut out students without prompting or recourse to stipulated time, coupled with highhandedness, lackadaisical and nonchalant attitude of the staff, and other instincts coming from the candidates, the fears raised earlier by some can no longer be described as unfounded but a word made flesh and now dwells among us.
For those that hitherto praised the initiative, such eulogy has like light faded, and jeer has since overtaken the cheers while hatred for the initiative, and fears about what becomes the admission fate of their children looms. They have come to the conclusion that as an unchained and uncontrolled torrent of water submerges whole countrysides and devastates crops, even so, has the UNILAG online post-UTME serves but to destroy student’s ambition, serve them with bleak admission opportunity and cause dropping spirits among parents.
As a matter of fact, each passing day at the university brings more evidence that the school is facing serious administrative emergencies-that demand immediate actions.
Out of many, this piece will accommodate ‘testimonies’ from three affected candidates to assist the university management look inward, reflect critically on their own role, and identify the ways they often advertently or inadvertently contribute to the problems and then change how they act by addressing the present debacle.
Going by their accounts, at about 11.a.m on Tuesday, February 15, 2021, one of the candidates, a male, (name withheld) arrived at a business centre located somewhere around Ketu part of Lagos. He got connected via the system to the UNILAG portal as a signal was established.
After the preliminary protocols, the system electronically generated the first subject. And he gladly and promptly attempted questions one and two. As he was expecting the number three question, what he got to his greatest surprise was a message from the portal signalling that he exited the examination page/sheet.
The experience of the second candidate was not quite different from the first. Everything started very fine but at about the 7th minute into the journey, the portal for inexplicable reason got him disconnected.
But if these accounts are considered a challenge, the experience of the third candidate is a crisis.
First, he successfully logged in to the school portal and just immediately, he got a message ordering him to remove his earpiece which he promptly complied with. And in a matter of seconds, another instruction popped at the portal directing him to remove his face cap. As he raised his right hand to comply with this second directive, the next message that followed to his greatest dismay was that he has exited the examination port. These are verifiable facts.
This discomforting accounts aside being a reality Nigeria and Nigerian must worry about, it will necessitate the posers as to; how many of the youths in Nigeria would be affected? Who will stop UNILAG from this disappointing arrangement? And who will be the judge? Or must we allow this injustice like good and evil go on together allowing our nation to reap whatever fruit that comes in the nearest future?
Certainly, it is our collective responsibility to ensure that our schools work and our children properly educated at the right time. But in this particular case, if the University of Lagos management and other concerned arms of government fail to do the needful, it will again dispatch another sign of a nation unmindful of the fact that our children enjoy the right to education as recognized by a number of international conventions, including the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights which recognizes a compulsory primary education for all, an obligation to develop secondary education accessible to all, as well as the progressive introduction of free higher education/obligation to develop equitable access to higher education.
We must not also fail to remember that very recently, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) in line with its mandate to promote and protect human rights has established the right to education as a thematic area of focus to drive its vision of having all children enrolled in school as well as to ensure that the culture of human rights is promoted and maintained in schools.
Certainly, this piece holds the opinion that they (candidates) reserve the right to hold the nation and leaders alike accountable if they (government) fail to provide this traditional but universal responsibility to the citizenry which the instrumentality of participatory democracy and the election of leaders confer on them particularly now that their future/ civilization is hanging in the balance as a result of such failures.
Another urgent reason why the school authority and of course the Federal Ministry of Education must reassess this process and address the present injustice are the threat that keeping brilliant children on the waiting list for university admission for too long could pose to the nation. Idleness could make them take to the street.
As we know, the streets are known for breeding all sorts of criminals and other social misfits who constitute the real threat such as armed robbers, thugs, drug abusers, drunkards, prostitutes and all other social ills that give a bad name to the society.
Ideally, this is not the best time to glut over the cost implication of organizing fresh examination for these candidates as no amount of investment in the education sector will be considered too much. We also need to face the fact that the traditional progressive solution to societal problems is to redouble emphasis on education.
This fact has made education an extremely valuable strategy for solving many of society’s ills. In an age where information has more economic value than ever before, it is obvious that education should have a higher national priority.
As Nigerians and the watching world await UNILAG’s decision, If we do nothing about this, it simply means our youths/nation by extension are faced with a bleak future. But then, one point to remember is that bringing a radical improvement or achieving sustainable development in a way that both protects the rights and opportunities of coming generations is overwhelmingly urgent. These teaming students are knowledge-hungry. What they innocently ask for is another opportunity for examination delivered in an environment that works.
Jerome-Mario Utomi is the Programme Coordinator (Media and Policy), Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), Lagos. He could be reached via; firstname.lastname@example.org/08032725374
How Can Nigeria Build on Payment Evolution Brought About by Naira Shortage?
By Mxolisi Msutwana
All around the world, governments are trying to encourage cashless payments. Their reasons for doing so are multiple, including expanded financial inclusion and transparency, wanting to formalise the informal economy and drive economic growth and innovation. Nigeria is no exception. By the end of 2022, the move towards a cashless policy as a means to eradicate cash was high on the government’s agenda in Nigeria. In early 2023, a bid by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to introduce new banknotes and lower cash withdrawal amounts led to a serious shortage of cash.
Unfortunately, there were not enough new notes in circulation to serve the needs of a country that’s historically been as heavily cash-dependent as Nigeria. While the initiative itself is a step in the right direction, there’s no denying that it caused issues.
The economic effects were far from positive. According to S&P, amidst widespread protests, many Nigerians were left scrabbling for ways to pay for day-to-day goods and services. As a result, many people who’d never previously used digital payment services had little choice but to adopt them. Fintechs, in particular, stepped up to the plate, helping Nigerians meet a fundamental need at a time when their lives had been massively disrupted. A report from Nigeria’s Inter-Bank Settlement System (NIBSS) found that there was a 125% increase in mobile payments during January compared with the same period in the previous year. Additionally, Bloomberg reports the value of mobile-money transactions has jumped by a quarter to 2.5 trillion naira (US$5.4 billion).
As the shortages abate, it will be crucial that digital payment providers do not let the resulting move to digital payments go to waste. In a country with a long history of relying on cash as the primary means of payment, they will have to work hard to retain the customers they’ve gained in recent months and position themselves for continued accelerated growth.
How digital payment providers evolved
Before looking at how digital payment providers can do so, it’s worth taking a deeper look at how they responded to the situation. That the crisis represented a particularly big opportunity for digital payment providers that allow people to make transactions with their mobile phones is to be expected. After all, as Bloomberg points out, just under 40% of Nigerians have access to bank accounts, compared with mobile-phone penetration of 117% in the country, giving them the opportunity to expand rapidly. Given the comparatively low levels of mobile money use prior to the cash shortages, it should be clear just how much potential for growth there was (and still is).
Of course, those operators still had to work hard to ensure that they were able to properly service the growing pool of customers looking to make and receive digital payments. MTN Nigeria, for example, is planning to deploy 224 000 agents to boost the adoption of mobile wallet use.
At Baxi, meanwhile, we onboarded record numbers of agents, ensuring that people were able to easily send and receive money. We also supported merchants in providing solutions for payment collections during that period by deploying additional point-of-sale (POS) terminals, allowing customers to pay via card and transfers, and allowing merchants to generate account numbers for payment collections.
Of course, not everything went according to plan for every digital payment provider. As a recent column in TechCabal pointed out, many Nigerians complained about the high failure rate in digital transactions.
Cash will always be important
Even in the face of such growth, it’s important to remember how dominant cash has historically been in Nigeria. Despite cashless transactions rising 42% in 2022, cash-based payments still accounted for 63% of all POS transactions in the same year, according to the FIS Worldpay Global Payments Report 2022. That’s significantly higher than the global average of 17.9%. It also puts Nigeria well ahead of the average for the Middle East and Africa region, where cash accounts for 44% of POS payments.
The reasons for the dominance of cash in Nigeria are deep-seated too. They range from a lack of access to bank accounts (just 39% of Nigerians aged 15 and older have a formal bank account) to trust issues with the formal economy. An extensive informal economy and infrastructure challenges also play significant roles, while the power of force of habit can’t be ignored either.
In other words, digital payment and mobile money providers cannot simply assume that the boon they’ve experienced as a result of the cash shortage will continue unabated. They also can’t assume that cash will be displaced. It will continue to play a significant role in Nigerian society for a long time to come.
Instead, they should focus on using the situation to ensure that Nigerians and merchants alike understand the very real advantages that digital payments and mobile money have in specific situations.
Security, convenience, and increased access
When it comes to consumers, for instance, payment providers need to highlight that the day-to-day transactions that they enabled during the cash shortage were just the start of what they can offer.
Of course, it’s important to keep emphasising that digital payments offer consumers better security and convenience, especially when it comes to large transactions.
But it’s also important to highlight the additional benefits that digital payments offer. Thanks to advanced integrations, for example, customers can access audio and video streaming services without needing a formal bank account. In many cases, the promise of access to something you didn’t previously have access to is a much more powerful incentive than being able to complete existing tasks more conveniently.
For merchants, meanwhile, security is also a benefit that can continue to be emphasised. For small businesses especially, using electronic channels makes tracking your cash-generating activities easier than ever.
Here again, though, there are other significant benefits that should be emphasised, including the ability to automate takings. The digital records made available by having digital payment offerings as an option can also ease the path towards formalisation for small businesses. That, in turn, makes it easier to access things like growth financing.
An opportunity not to be missed
Ultimately, there’s never been a better time for digital payment providers to press home what they can offer to both consumers and merchants. But they must make the most of that opportunity. Their best hope for doing so isn’t to degenerate the role of cash but to emphasise the very real opportunities they can help unlock.
Mxolisi Msutwana is the Chief Operating Officer at Baxi
Orji Uzor Kalu and NDDC
By Jerome-Mario Chijioke Utomi
Orji Uzor Kalu, the chief whip of the Nigerian Senate, last Tuesday in Abuja, called on President Bola Tinubu to scrap the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs because it is tantamount to a duplication of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC).
As expected, the comment has elicited reactions from Niger Deltans, stakeholders and the general public.
But each of these reactions/comments shows a ‘profound shock’ to our nation’s conscience and brings to the fore the bizarre and troubling manifestation of how seriously off-track the Niger Delta Ministry right from creation has taken the region via politicization of the region’s development.
While many believe that as an interventionist agency, the NDDC, charged with the mandate to drive the development of Nigeria’s oil-rich region, was established by the NDDC Act of 2000.
The agency needs no supervisory ministry under which it operates. Others believe that the agency’s mandate is unambiguous; it is to facilitate the rapid, even and sustainable development of the Niger Delta into a region that is economically prosperous, socially stable, ecologically regenerative and politically peaceful. Therefore, there is nothing for the Ministry to supervise.
For me, aside from aligning with persistent calls by Nigerians of goodwill on the urgent need by the federal government to creatively introduce belt-tightening initiatives to regulate bogus budgets and cost of governance in the country, there are other multiple reasons why the existence of the Ministry is not only a duplication of offices and responsibilities but a distraction to the NDDC.
In a recent but similar intervention, I argued that the policies that laid the groundwork for the ongoing developmental projects by NDDC in the region were not designed and put in place by the Ministry. Rather, they were incubated, planned and insisted upon by Dr Samuel Ogbuku’s management.
Again, going by reports, the Niger Delta produces nearly 75 per cent of the nation’s export earnings, but the news is that 43 per cent of the region’s population still lives below the poverty line. This paradox, going by reports, is due primarily to ecologically unfriendly exploitation of oil and gas resources that expropriate the region’s indigenous people and their right to these resources.
Despite this frustration and sufferings on the part of the region’s people, the Niger Delta Ministry lacks documented evidence of demonstrated personal effort(s) in the past or present to change this narrative and bring back prosperity to its land and people.
Going by the above shocking revelation, the question may be asked; what is the usefulness of keeping and funding a Ministry like Niger Delta that contributes next to nothing towards the developmental wellbeing of the people under its primary constituency or jurisdiction?
Without waiting for an answer to the above poser, Niger Deltans of goodwill and, of course, other critical stakeholders are in agreement that for the region to truly take the right path and develop, the Niger Delta Ministry has to give way.
And as Senator Orji Uzor has kick-started the call, Niger Deltans must choose the right value and adopt the right perspective.
Also, in the present circumstance, I believe and still believe that the nation has all it takes to support NDDC in developing the region without the Ministry of Niger Delta. The only ingredient that is lacking is the political will.
Very key, even though NDDC may have delivered not too impressive performances in the distant past, there is no gainsaying that the story of the oil-rich region has changed for the better since the coming on board of Mr Ogbuku as Managing Director of the commission.
Report has it that since he took over the helm of affairs at the organisation, he has been able to articulate the demands of the people of the area, embarked on practical initiatives to complete the gargantuan projects which he met and conceived and carrying out the execution of several other projects for the benefit of the people, and by so doing, calmed the restiveness which ab initio signposted the region.
Aside from other legacy projects the agency currently midwives in, the NDDC, under his leadership, a while ago, disclosed that it has come up with a pilot scheme to address challenges of youth restiveness and give succour to youths in the region.
The scheme known as Holistic Opportunities, Projects and Engagement (Project HOPE), which comprises both human capital development and human capital determination, is a platform on which youths of the region would benefit and make unprecedented progress.
Project HOPE was designed to create a comprehensive potential resources database of the youth population of the Niger Delta region, with a focus on their needs, qualifications, skills, passion, interests, and employment status.
It was also designed to create 1,000 jobs in each state of the Niger Delta region by securing sustainable international and local partnerships for the establishment of multi-agro processor industries, internship development, training opportunities, Chamber of Commerce and overall youth engagement statistics, which would rely on community-government-corporate partnership model for land acquisition for the project.
The project came a few weeks after NDDC management, in a similar style, rolled out the Public Private Partnership (PPP) Summit, at the Eko Hotel and Suites, Lagos, on Tuesday, April 25, 2023, to provide an alternative source of funding for key development projects and programmes to enable the agency faithfully deliver on its mandate to fast-track the development of the Niger Delta region as envisioned in its enabling Act.
Speaking on the theme of the summit, Rewind to Rebirth, and re-igniting the importance of stakeholders in the agency’s engagements, Ogbuku disclosed that as part of the efforts to renew and reposition the NDDC, the Governing Board has stepped up collaboration with various stakeholders.
“We have started engagement with the key stakeholders, such as the oil companies, who contribute three per cent of their operational budget to the commission; the state governments, traditional rulers, Civil Society Groups, youth organisations and contractors.”
He disclosed that the NDDC has met with members of the Oil Producers Trade Section (OPTS) of the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry, who are no doubt critical stakeholders of the Commission.
“This group, which embodies the International Oil Companies (IOCs), stands out for us because we need their cooperation to get full and prompt remittances of their contributions as prescribed by law,” the MD stated.
Separate from exploring more avenues for funding, for better technical expertise, for higher-yielding varieties of crops, as well as opportunities for collaboration and investment in the Niger Delta region, making the initiative very alluring is the awareness that aligns with the Sustainable Development Goals 17, which focuses on partnerships. A typical positive outcome is the stirring story of NDDC’s partnership with the SPDC Joint Venture on the celebrated Ogbia-Nembe Road in Bayelsa State.
While maintaining that it was important to engage stakeholders in project conceptualization and execution, the NDDC Boss added that the oil producers work in the communities and sometimes have first-hand information on the needs of the local people.
“We want them to engage with us in project selection. Also, we need the oil producers to sometimes avail us of their technical expertise in project management and monitoring. In other words, we are embarking on this journey of developing the Niger Delta with the full participation of all stakeholders.”
He was categorical when he said that the NDDC could not shoulder the enormous responsibilities of developing the Niger Delta region alone, adding that all hands must be on the deck, especially to provide the necessary funds for the tasks.
“Our partnership approach is to engage specific sectors in their areas of strength. For instance, the private sector is better equipped with expertise, resources, and technology to drive economic growth and development. By partnering with this sector, we can successfully leverage these resources to implement our programmes and projects,” he added.
Ogbuku concluded that Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) and Community-Based Organisations (CBOs) are essential partners to be courted.
“These organisations understand the needs and aspirations of people in the Niger Delta region. By collaborating on specific programmes and projects, drawing from their knowledge and resources, and involving them in planning and implementation, we can ensure that our programmes and projects align with the needs and aspirations of people in the region,” he said.
I believe this is not a political matter but a moral and socioeconomic issue. It is about effective resource management; this time, the warning must not be ignored. This is the time for all the lovers of the Niger Delta region to call for the scrapping of the Niger Delta to free up funds for NDDC to carry out infrastructural development in the region.
Utomi is the Program Coordinator (Media and Policy) at Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), Lagos. He can be reached via email@example.com or 08032725374
Okowa, Delta State Widows Alert and Oborevwori Administration
By Jerome-Mario Chijioke Utomi
If there is any concrete evidence in Nigeria’s recent political history that supports the aphorism that simplicity is always more appealing than complexity, and faith is always more comforting than doubt, it is the rousing welcome-back-home party put together by Ika nation of Delta State for their illustrious son, Ifeanyi Okowa, the immediate past Governor of Delta State on Saturday, June 3, 2023, at Agbor, Delta State.
Essentially, for keen political watchers, there is a reason that qualifies Okowa’s ‘triumphant welcome’ as both deserving and understandable.
Aside from his possession of a people-focused leadership scorecard, particularly in the areas of infrastructural provisions and a ray of socioeconomic accomplishments in the state, Okowa, as the Governor for the past eight years, sustainably demonstrated that in times of great uncertainty and public anxiety, any leader who combines simplistic policies with claims of divine guidance is more likely to escape difficult situations.
Predictably also, there is a particular group, a very vulnerable set in the state, that would have wished Okowa continued as the governor of the crude oil-rich Delta State. They are Deltans that Okowa had shown in the past eight years of his administration that when there is a visionary leader, the people prosper and flourish, and the community recovers.
The membership of this particular group is 20,107. Most importantly, they are widows in the state captured under the Delta State Widows Welfare Scheme and paid a monthly stipend of 10,000, in line with Okowa’s Social Investment Programme.
In addition to the monthly payments, 535 of them that are very young and ready to work were, going by reports, trained in various skills/fields of endeavours and provided with starter packs.
For a better understanding of the piece, a widow, going by reports, is a woman who has lost her husband by death and has not remarried. Widows are invisible in society. They are scattered across the globe, owing to their condition and the enormous challenges, reproach and shame the majority of them are undergoing. For widows to secure expectations by keeping their hopes alive by way of feeding, providing accommodation and qualitative education for their children, they must assume the position of their dead husband, who happened to be the breadwinner.
While this piece sympathizes with the widows for the excruciating pains they pass through in our society, the above revelation, more than anything else, objectively explains why the Delta State Widows Welfare Scheme is not a political matter but a moral and socioeconomic issue that positively impacts humanity and therefore, cannot be discarded.
Thus, the question that is as important as the piece itself is; how will Governor Sheriff Oborevwori-led’s administration sustain this laudable initiative?
For me, the answer to sustainability is embodied in a 2022 interview with Elder Isioma Okonta, Okowa’s Senior Special Assistant on the Social Investment Programme and Coordinator of the Delta State Widows Welfare Scheme, granted to Ika Weekly Newspaper, a well-respected community tabloid based in Delta State.
Okonta, in that interview, gave a background as to how the state government decided on a life-changing scheme, widely known as ‘Widows Alert’ in 2018 to provide succour and wipe away their tears, remedy their despair and perplexity, and assuage their hunger, Okonta explained that the initiative of the governor focused on taking care of the poor and vulnerable widows in Delta State which cuts across the 25 local government areas.
Okonta said, “The communities are touched by this programme as it takes care of stipends of the widows monthly and also there is a third scheme attached to it. The widows can benefit from free healthcare. The premium of this healthcare is borne by the governor by way of the Delta State contributory healthcare. So, even if the widows have to undergo surgical operations, it is free of charge.”
On how the state tracks those that are real widows, he explained that the names of these widows were drawn from the communities, and the state makes sure the community leaders are involved to help ascertain the veracity of the widows.
“To those that are saying they are widows, indeed and to those that are saying they are poor and vulnerable widows, the community leaders are there to ascertain those points,” he stated.
Okonta stressed that the Governor brought in a consultant “to conduct an integrated service. They were saddled with the responsibility of coming up with an electronic database of widows across Delta State.
“So, today, they have rounded off their work, and we have over 50,000 widows in the Delta State widow’s electronic database. So, we now have a compendium of widows that have been electronically generated. This database is used as veritable tools for the government to make decisions and plans concerning the widows.”
On Okowa’s style of supporting the project, he captures it this way, “There is a feedback mechanism that has been set up by him. The structure we have today in the widow’s welfare scheme has been set up solely by Okowa. Apart from me being the State Coordinator, there are three supervisors; each supervisor is in charge of each senatorial district in every local government, there are two coordinators that are saddled with the responsibility of taking care of the affairs of these widows, and we have very little or no complaint coming from the widows.
“When you look at before 2018, the issue of widows in Delta State was not known by anybody. Widows are part of our society that nobody cares about. Their welfare was not taken care of by anybody. Then, Okowa changed the narrative. When he came in, he was able to make sure that the poorest of the poor among these widows had their issues brought to the front burner. Now, every year on June 23rd, we participate in International Widows Day. They have been recognized by the United Nations as a day to remember the issue of widows.
“The Governor is the first chief executive among the 36 states in the federation to observe this day. Okowa is the only governor in the Federal Republic of Nigeria that has a programme of this nature where widows are paid monthly, where the healthcare benefits of these widows are taken care of monthly.
“In other states, you might have the Chief Executive Officer take care of widows only in seasonal times, like Christmas and Easter or during electioneering periods. But Okowa made sure that the issue of widows was brought to the front burner. This Okowa programme for widows has come to stay.”
On my part, as the author of this piece, I also think that the lesson Oborevwori must draw from the above account is that efforts to rescue the people, particularly the vulnerable, cannot be accomplished through ordinary vision but requires a leader who is reputed for being ahead of his time and looks to the future; one who does not only dream but has a true vision and follows the right development path-a leader who will lead his people to a better future.
The issues affecting these widows must not remain unaddressed.
Utomi Jerome-Mario is the Programme Coordinator (Media and Public Policy), the Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA). He can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org or 08032725374
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