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Archive for February, 2012

In many ways, most Nigerians see every problem as a federal government problem and look therefore to the federal government for solutions. In the same token, they are quick to heap blames or even curses on the leaders at the centre without recourse to the clear cut decentralisation of power and responsibility as seen in the three tier structure which is in operation in Nigeria.

One tier that has enjoyed from (or suffered depending on what side you are looking from) this complete disinterest and protracted apathy by the citizenry in participating and holding their government accountable which is a core responsibility for a good citizenry, are the local government councils.

Nigeria is one of the notable countries in the developing world that has significantly decentralised both resources and responsibilities for the delivery of basic health and education services to locally elected governments.

Local governments in Nigeria are constitutionally entitled to a share of about 20 per cent of federal revenues, which with all sorts of windfalls as a result of hikes in crude prices in recent times implies that substantial resource flows to local governments monthly.

Though an inherited colonial concept, writers of our constitution had thought it wise to retain this tier of government as it is one that is closest to the grassroots and therefore a veritable tool for spreading development at that level and creating a sense of belonging to the populace who through the elected local councils can also have a feel of government in their locality.

The councils also highlight the place and responsibility of government to the otherwise hard to reach rural populace; and are expected to be the critical execution point of all government projects, the point where all high level economic policies are translated into tangible realities and value added to the lives of the people.

A local government is expected to play the role of promoting the democratic ideals of a society and coordinating development program at the local level. It is also expected to serve as the basis of socio-economic development in the locality.  Local governments are also responsible for road maintenance, sewage systems, cemeteries and markets, as well as assisting in health care and education in their areas.

We all, by our collective negligence, allowed this important tier of governance to descend into near oblivion; not withstanding that they earn our taxes and dues, receive huge monthly allocations from the Federation Account, and have constitutional and statutory responsibilities to us.

Many Nigerians know the name of their local government simply because it is an important information they are required to provide while filling out forms to access various services in the country. Beyond that, we hardly have any contact or care to know what happens there. Not too many people know the name of their council members or their ward councilor. Indeed not many of us can correctly state what ward we are resident in nor state precisely where the council office is located.

Without any attention, expectations or scrutiny from the people, the local government has continued on a steady decline and has become a cash cow for politicians; especially the state governors who today regulate all activities of this tier of government as though it were a ministry in the state.

State governors manipulate the local governments, decide their leadership and control their funding through the joint account structure. Many state governors have actually destroyed the democratic set up in the local councils provided in the constitution by ensuring elections are not conducted into them and substituting them appointees. In other cases, the governors create additional councils out of the constitutionally recognised ones. These are simply avenues for extending patronage and providing a share of some of the fun for their many sponsors and acolytes.

These lieutenants have a single mission; the advancement of the reign of their paymasters.  While they are at it, the primary health care facilities in their localities are an eye sore where they exist. Roads are in a pitiable state. There are no drainages. While they don’t fail to tax traders, the markets are a shame with the level of filth and disorganisation there.  It is a reign of touts. Asking about education would be demanding too much of them and as many studies have shown, the councils are a cesspool of corruption and brazen criminality.

With the new wave of political consciousness now sweeping through the country, it must be stated that the age old tradition of looking up to the centre is no more tenable. The logical reaction to the admission of the fact that our problems are not all centrally caused is that they require attention at the place they are caused and by who such problems affect most.

It is high time we faced realities. Just the way people naturally go for the low hanging fruits in an orchard, we should begin to confront our issues right from our vicinity. Knowing where our local government council office is located and the names of the officials might be a good place to start.

From my column in Daily Times 24/2/2012

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The genres of short prose writing can be very confusing. For example, some writers will call their personal essay a story, and others will call their essay a memoir. To make matters even more complicated, a number of literary magazines are beginning to accept what is commonly called mixed genre writing. It’s important to understand the difference between the types of short prose, whether you’re writing an essay, short story, memoir, commentary, or mixed genre piece.

What is a short story?
short story is a work of fictional prose. Its characters may be loosely based on real-life people, and its plot may be inspired by a real-life event; but overall more of the story is “made-up” than real. Sometimes, the story can be completely made-up. Short stories may be literary, or they may conform to genre standards (i.e., a romance short story, a science-fiction short story, a horror story, etc.). A short story is a work that the writer holds to be fiction (i.e., historical fiction based on real events, or a story that is entirely fiction).

Short Story Example: A writer is inspired by a car explosion in his town. He writes a story based on the real explosion and set in a similar town, but showing the made-up experiences of his characters (who may be partly based on real-life).

Short Story Example two: A writer writes a story based on a made-up explosion, set in a made-up town, and showing the made-up experiences of his characters.

What is a personal or narrative essay? What is an academic essay? What’s the difference?
Though factual, the personal essay, sometimes called a narrative essay, can feel like a short story, with “characters” and a plot arc. A personal essay is a short work of nonfiction that is not academic (that is, not a dissertation or scholarly exploration of criticism, etc.).

In a personal essay, the writer recounts his or her personal experiences or opinions. In an academic essay, the writer’s personal journey though the subject does not typically play a large part in the narrative (or plot line).

Sometimes the purpose of a personal essay is simply to entertain. Some personal essays may have a meditative or even dogmatic feel; a personal essay may illustrate a writer’s experiences in order to make an argument for the writer’s opinion. Some personal essays may cite other texts (like books, stories, or poems), but the focus of the citation is not to make an academic point. Rather, emphasis is on the writer’s emotional journey and insight.

Personal Essay Example: A writer pens the story of his experience at the scene of a car explosion in his town. The work is short enough for publication in a literary journal and focuses on the author’s perspective and insight.

What is a commentary?
The personal essay form and commentary may sometimes overlap, but it may be helpful to make some distinctions. A commentary is often very short (a few hundred words) and more journalistic in tone than a personal essay. It fits nicely as a column in a newspaper or on a personal blog. The writing can be more newsy than literary.

Some very short nonfiction pieces may be better suited to newspapers than to literary journals; however, literary magazines have been known to publish commentary-esque pieces that have a literary bent.

Commentary Example: A writer tells the story of a car explosion in his town to illustrate the point that the police are not vigilant enough about people throwing flaming marshmallows out their windows.

What is a memoir?
Memoir generally refers to longer works of nonfiction, written from the perspective of the author. Memoir does not generally refer to short personal essays. If you’re writing a short piece based on your real-life experiences, editors of literary journals will identify this as a personal essay. If you’re writing a book about an experience, it’s a memoir. A collection of interrelated personal essays may constitute a memoir.

Memoir Example: A writer composes a full-length book about his experiences after a car explosion in his town.

Learn more: Creative Nonfiction: How To Stay Out Of Trouble

What is a nonfiction short story?
There’s no such thing as a nonfiction short story. Short stories are inherently fiction (with or without real-life inspiration). Personal essays are not fictional.

Example: None.

So what is mixed genre writing?
Mixed genre writing is creative work that does not sit comfortably in any of the above genres. Mixed genre writing blends some elements of fiction with elements of nonfiction in a very deliberate way. Some examples:

Mixed Genre Example One: A professional accountant named John Jones is writing a story about a man named John Jones, who is John Jones and lives John Jones’ life—except that the fictional John Jones one day decides to leave his real-life accounting job, and live his dream of being a rock star (since the real-life John Jones is thinking of doing the same thing).

Is this a short story? An essay? If ninety percent of the story is true and ten percent is fiction, then what should the writer call this?

Mixed Genre Example Two: A writer decides to compose a family history, using pictures and documents from her family albums. But sometimes her story veers into fiction. She finds herself embellishing elements or omitting characters; and, the result is a story that’s better than the one she might tell if she were to stick to the facts.

Again, is this an essay? A short story? If half of the story is made-up, but half is very obviously true, it might be best called mixed genre.

NOTE: Sometimes the term mixed genre is defined in terms of the novel or book. A mixed genre novel might be a novel that mixes science fiction elements with characteristics of a legal thriller. Or a mixed genre novel might also be a work that plays fast and loose with fact and fiction. If you’re going to refer to your book as mixed genre, be clear about what you mean.

Learn more: Genre Fiction Rules: Find Out If Your Novel Meets Publishers’ And Literary Agents’ Criteria For Publication

Tips on Writing Mixed Genre
If you’re going to write mixed genre prose, do so with care. Mixed genre writing often has a kind of self-aware, almost tongue-in-cheek, element to it—a wink to the reader who is not fooled by the mixing of fiction and nonfiction, even if the lines are blurry. Mixed genre can be considered experimental, and as such, it’s important that the writing be exceptionally smart in order to live up to the demands of the (mixed) genre.

Why is mixed genre writing so often self-referential? Writing mixed genre and passing it off as an essay or a short story could make editors think that you are trying to dupe them, so it helps to include something in the work that makes reference to itself as being a mixture of fact and fiction. These “meta” elements can help put the reader at ease.

Who is publishing mixed genre short prose?
The primary markets for short prose are literary magazines and journals. Writer’s Relief frequently helps writers target their work to literary journals. For more information on how to find markets for your short prose, please read Researching Literary Markets for Your Work if you plan to research on your own. Or learn about Writer’s Relief submission services if you’d like help targeting your submissions.

This article is reproduced with permission of Writers Relief.

Writer’s Relief (est. 1994) is a highly recommended author submission service. Check out their free publishing leads, calls for submissions, and tips! This article was originally published here .

Photo credit: Amazing Kids Magazine

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SPROUTERS is now accepting applications for her 2012 online mentorship program.

SPROUTERS is a free online mentorship program for teenage girls. The year-long program is aimed grooming young writers on the art of creative writing.

We would like to invite all interested teenage girls, between the age of ten and twenty, who have a passion for creative writing, to submit an application for Nigeria’s pioneer online mentorship program.

This is a great opportunity for young writers at any stage of experience to have their talent honed by nine mentors of repute: Unoma Azuah, Ayodele Olofintuade, Ifesinachi Okoli-Okpagu, Abimbola Adelakun, Temitayo Olofinlua, Azafi Omoluabi-Ogosi, Abimbola Dare, Cheluchi Onyemelukwe-Onuobia, and Ugo Chime.

Mentees will be taken through a robust set of writing and critical analysis skills. They will be directed towards great literary works of fiction and encouraged to understudy these writings. The program will raise awareness on domestic and global issues affecting women and girls, encouraging mentees to write on these subjects.

SPROUTERS is a yearly program, and is free for all mentees.

DEADLINE FOR SUBMISSION: First fifty applications. Early submission is therefore strongly advised.

ENTRY REQUIREMENT:

  1. Must be citizens of Nigeria, resident anywhere in Nigeria.
  2. Must be female.
  3. Must be between the ages of ten to twenty. Older applicants should please send an email to applications@sproutersng.com requesting exemption, and wait for clearance before proceeding with their application.
  4. Must have access to the internet, either owned by them or by someone who would permit them the use of it.
  5. Must have the time and passion to follow it through to the end. This is a long term program.

All applications must be backed up by verification from a referee. The following are eligible to act as referees: Teachers. Parents. Church leaders. Published writers (books and newspapers). Known editors. Members of Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA), or other writing groups. Referees may be citizens of any country, and do not have to be resident in Nigeria.

 SELECTION OF MENTEES:

The editor will select a maximum of fifty mentees on the basis of the application submitted, which should include:

  • §  Uploaded Passport Photo: Use jpeg, jng format. Size should not exceed 300×300.
  • Personal Statement – In no more than 200 words, mentees should tell a little bit of themselves. There is no right or wrong answer.
  • Writing Sample: In no less than 300 and no more than 450 words, showcase your best work (short story/poem). Mentees should choose subjects that interest them the most.
  • All applications must be submitted through the online application form: http://www.sproutersng.com/Applyformentorship.php.
  • Applications must be written in English.

To read more about SPROUTERS, please go to http://www.sproutersng.com

For additional information, contact us at: Email: editor@sproutersng.com, Tel: +2348024345207

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Many people often refer to Barack Obama as the president of the world given that he is the leader of the United States of America,  the country that have despite its challenges in recent years remained the symbol of freedom and the most sought after destination for people of all races and creed.

As a good citizen of the world therefore, I joined in keeping vigil about a fortnight ago in order to listen to President Obama’s State of the Union address. In all the speech, which was richly packed and delivered with the trademark Obama charisma, one line stood out for me and this was that teachers matter.

Yes, teachers matter. Indeed Nigeria teachers matter greatly. If you are able to read this piece, you do so because some lowly fellow many years ago introduced you to the 26 English alphabets and patiently guided you through recognising each one, until you could chant them like a rhyme and even scribble them on your slate.

For this you should be eternally grateful. But do we really care about the teachers?

That teaching is perhaps one of the most disrespected professions in Nigeria today is an obvious fact. Teachers and teaching have been relegated to the background and have lost whatever respect due.

There is a historical perspective to this trend.  A broad consensus is that, prior to independence, teaching was considered by almost all sections of society as a highly respected profession. Teachers played key leadership roles in local communities and acted as role models.

However, after independence, when the demand for educated labour grew rapidly, many teachers left the profession to take up jobs elsewhere in the public and private sector. This marked the beginning of the teacher motivation crisis in Nigeria, as the public began to look down on those teachers who remained in the classroom as second-string public servants.

The growing tendency for school leavers to opt for teaching only if they are unable to find other more lucrative public or private sector employment further compounded this problem of lowered professional status.

Today, any child who ventures to his parents that he wants to become a teacher might have his skull examined for traces of madness.

The reasons are not far fetched. The Nigerian teacher is poorly motivated. He/she is poorly paid in relation to other professions and thus enjoys very low status in society. The working environment is at best laughable, with years of very poor government funding of education; and the teacher in addition has very slim chances of career advancement and self development.

This works in a negative feedback. With the least intelligent students already buoyed by low self esteem being the ones taking up courses in Education, the result is that our schools are supplied with low quality teachers whose abilities are hampered even more by poor motivation and the non availability of the right teaching aids.

Teacher quality matters a great deal. Teacher experience makes a profound difference in student performance, as do teacher literacy levels. This does not require any elaborate research work to prove. So the more we de-motivate teachers, neglect the funding of education and look the other way as teaching slips into obscurity, the more we are endangering the future of this country; the vast majority of who live below the poverty line and thus depend on public schools for their education.

We need some sort of affirmative action in this regard. A couple of years ago, the American Congress passed the “No Child Left Behind Education Act” which was intended to correct the corrosive inequality that had plagued public education. Congress specified that in return for federal education funding, states would have to end the destructive practice of staffing schools serving poor and minority children with disproportionate numbers of inexperienced and unqualified teachers. In other words, a teacher quality requirement was set which states had to meet to access federal funding.

We need a similar law in Nigeria and urgently too. This law should be for the overhaul of the education system with emphasis on teacher training and on the job motivation. This certainly cannot happen over night or by a single pronouncement, but every single step counts. We need a National Teachers Policy and an elaborate plan for making teaching a sought after profession.

It’s the only way for the country to improve the educational picture for the poor and minority students who will make up such a large part of the work force  (or dependent ratio) of the future.

Published in DailyTimes Nigeria.

Photo Credit: http://www.thestar.com

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There goes the jarring buzz right at your ears, an unprovoked attack on your privacy, an irritation so nauseating, like a million needles pricking at your brains. You wonder, your blood at that moment full of bile, how on earth they found your ears even in a dark room, and how they know that their buzz at your ear will irritate you much more than their bite and the resulting malaria can ever. When you came into the room some minutes earlier to sleep, you had envisaged their visit because you had missed the daily routine of spraying the room with insecticide that evening, so you had taken the extra precaution of drawing the blanket up and ensuring it covered your head even though it is hottest time of the year. Your effort obviously did not impress the tiny beings. The buzz still rang through.

The nerves of your ear within seconds relay the message to your brain, triggering an immediate action as rich in its urgency as it is in its futility, a furious swipe at your ears to eliminate, even crush to pieces, this source of irritation. Your hands lands at its destination and it immediately occurs to you-too late though -that you have just given yourself a slap. This time you hear two different buzzes; one is the vibration of your ears in response to the slap and the other, that of the tiny creature who had smartly exited the line of fire before impact, buzzing away in victory with glee.

You are livid. You should be. First you have lost the promising sound sleep you were just beginning to drift into when the tiny irritant decided it was time to play, second you just slapped yourself for nothing and thirdly you know they don’t give up like that, that one mosquito that has decided to take up such responsibility was enough to deny you sleep that night. You know you must accept the invitation. So you sit up and flick on the light, adrenalin diluting the bile in your blood, your mouth producing hisses repeatedly as your eyes struggle to adjust to the sudden brightness in the room.

Your eyes sweep the room observing for the slightest movement in the air. There is a wall gecko trying to steal some catch-a house fly- from the web of a spider on the wall. You can see the spider frantically protecting its loot, moving around the web as if in a show of force to discourage the gecko from inching any further. Were the circumstances different, this would have held your attention for a little longer. But there were more urgent interests. So your eye moves away in continuation of your search, your vision zooming in and out like an automated sniper binoculars. You can feel the antenna’s of your ear extend like those of a cartoon character listening for any sound, any trace of the buzzing enemy.

There it is, gliding mid air like an American Apache jet. It seems to be looking at you mockingly and saying “come on, I haven’t got all day.” First you feel some joy for finally seeing it, for finally locating the target. But this joy quickly disappears, taken over by a fear of failure. You know you will be mad at yourself if you make a dash for it and miss, you know this could mean no sleep that night, so you hold yourself back as your brain develops a strategy for getting to it and taking it out.

Given its position, you need to rise up from the bed to reach it. You do so gently as if trying not to wake someone else asleep on the bed, all the time ensuring your eyes are following the movement of the mosquito as it dances around in the air. You say a silent prayer that it doesn’t suddenly fly away to another end of the room while you were in the process of rising. The heavens seem to be on your side this night, keeping the tiny being in your radar as you successfully drop both legs from the bed.

As you lift yourself up to a standing position, you notice its slightly distended abdomen. It infuriates you even more. That must be your blood in there you imagine. It reminds you of years ago when you were much younger, when each time your pastor mentioned blood sucking demons while praying, the only image that came to your mind was mosquitoes. It was the genesis of your loathe for them, this association of them with demons. And it was the reason why you were always happy to crush them in-between your palms whenever the opportunity presented itself and each time you were successful, each time you clapped and immediately turned your palms to your face for inspection and you saw a red smear, you felt such overwhelming satisfaction, of having freed the earth of one more demon.

But when you clap and there is no smear, it was different. It felt like missing a clear opportunity to score a goal that would have helped your side win the world cup. Such agony, such feeling of loss, such shame, like a lady raped in public. You will scan your palms carefully to make sure you really missed it and afterwards furiously scan the room for the escapee demon, the muscles of your hand twitching, eager to strike again. A few times however, you find the tiny demon sandwiched in between your fingers trashing, some life still left in them. It was with pleasure, like a toddler who has just made a new discovery in his toy, that you pinched them dead before looking around for any other Jets still midair.

Tonight you don’t want to miss, you don’t want to have to strike again, you don’t want to clap and not see blood. So gently, your eyes never leaving the target, you tip toe forward. Your hands are stretched out in front of you, your palms facing each other like a finger on the trigger. You see the tiny demon wobble in the air like a drunken man. You suspect it is aware of your advance, that it is simply teasing you and once you get close enough, it will jet off. Speed is as important as precision in this business, you remind yourself. You needed to strike in its most likely line of flight so that its attempt at escape becomes a leap into its doom. One leg goes in front of the other as you go closer. You are hardly walking, it feels more like you are floating. Everything is quiet, the world seems to be on a pause. You get within reach. You have it locked in. You strike, investing all the power in your hands, shutting your eyes as your palms meet. It hurt.

As you switch back off the light, collapse back on the bed and pull the blanket over your body hoping to catch the trails of the sleep the mosquito interrupted, you remember your Elementary science class and your teacher repeating almost like a nursery rhyme that Malaria was transmitted by female anopheles mosquitoes. For a second, you wonder, a little amused, if the one you just killed was male or female.

First Published Here on Nigeria popular entertainment site Bella Naija.

Photo Credit: http://www.cochinsquare.com/war-against-mosquitoes/

 

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WHAT’S NEW?

Today i feature a guest blogger, Chioma Chuka; poet, social media consultant, broadcast media content developer, public affairs commentator and proudly Nigerian. See a detailed profile at the bottom of this piece. She shares her thoughts and experiences on reading and concludes with a pertinent question to us all, what’s new? what new knowledge have you gained of late?

I’ve always loved to read. Like really really loved it! Definitely not school books (somehow that’s always a chore till two nights before a test or exam) but anything else, I’m your girl! From old newspapers/magazines, to novels, random pamphlets, the Bible (definitely), the Qur’an and a bit of poetry, I’m excited by even the thought of a good read.

I think my love for reading was ignited by my mother, fuelled by my English teacher in Secondary School, but kept alive by me. Why? Because at some point you alone are responsible for your development. My mom would put her head into my room as a child and drop a book on my bed. ‘Read it’, she would say, and leave. And I would, because I was (and still am) a very good girl! Lol! Truth is, I didn’t have a choice!  After sometime though, I started to ask for books myself. When I’d search my siblings’ and parents’ room for letters, journals, etc. (when they were not there of course), sometimes telling myself I was looking for ‘treasure’ (as per Enid Blyton’s ‘Famous Five’).

In secondary school I loved my English teacher; she was graceful, a grandmother at the time (she never failed to remind us), and had studied abroad so she spoke ‘Queen’s English’. I always wanted to impress her so apart from my regular literature, I started reading dictionaries. Every time I used a ‘big’ word in class and she smiled at me, that was my reward right there and I would be back in the arms of my dictionary that evening. Now imagine how great I would have been if I had paid that much attention to Math. *sigh*

These days my favourite past time is prowling bookshops and charity stores (especially charity stores) for books to read. I’m especially interested in autobiographies/biographies because all the public relations the books these days reek of, they give a deeper understanding about the person; tells the things you ordinarily wouldn’t have known. And then curling up with an old book and hot chocolate? Bliss! Not sure if it’s the smell of the book, or the excitement of turning the page (especially for a thriller), but they sure make my day!

I’ve got two friends, both male, who I love and respect. Both older, I dated one of them and the other is a former colleague. One thing they have in common is that they are so intelligent, and know a bit about literally everything! Every time we hang out with friends and discuss, their wealth of knowledge and the strength of their arguments always amuses and amazes me! Sends me online too though, to Google, Wikipedia; because I want to be better.

There’s a certain confidence information gives a person. Knowing what others know, or even better, what they don’t is a kind of high that is almost matchless for me. And that’s why it gives me pleasure *insert evil laughter here* to ‘confuse’ people who don’t know stuff, especially when I think they should know better. Of course I tell them the truth eventually (because I am good person, lol) but I must amuse myself first.

Now, in case you’re like me, these people are easy to spot. In a conversation, they’re easily swayed by every wind of doctrine. And I mean every wind of doctrine. It’s even more glaring (and hilarious) when it’s a large group and you can observe them taking sides with the next person with the loudest voice.  Does that sound like you? Catch yourself before you say yes aloud!

Ralph Waldo Emerson was noted for greeting friends with the question, ‘what has become clear to you since we last met’? Historians say this was a challenge, an invitation to assess the progress of their thinking.

So let me challenge you: when was the last time you read anything for fun? Not because you had to, but because you wanted to? In other words, what’s new?

Bloggers Bio 

Chioma is a graduate of Mass Communication from Ebonyi State University, in Nigeria and Social Media from Birmingham City University, in England. Her background is in radio, having worked as a duty continuity announcer and presenter for various radio stations before moving on to work as a researcher, scriptwriter and producer of radio drama for the BBC World Service Trust in Nigeria.

A social media consultant, Chioma is intrigued by social media and how it affects/influences governance as well as its relationship with concepts of social capital, open data, and intelligent/big societies. Her company, CC Consulting, specializes in

  • Conducting audits for companies based on product, location, and target audience
  • Creating bespoke social media solutions
  • Hands-on monitoring and technical support
  • Content development and production for radio and television programmes

A poet and contributor to various media (tweeting from @chiomachuka) Chioma is the Fairy GodSister on the blog www.fairygodsister.wordpress.com and does professional work at www.chiomachuka.com

You can contact chioma on:

Twitter/Facebook – Chioma Chuka

Email – chioma@chiomachuka.com

http://www.facebook.com/pages/CC-Consulting/280213665338588

Photo credit: http://advancedreadingconcepts.wordpress.com/

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I will start this piece by asking if you have ever sighted a first aid box in any bank in Nigeria or if you’ve had (or were a witness) to a situation where you needed urgent medical care inside a banking hall and got any? My answer to that is a no and I guess yours cannot be different and this seemingly unimportant issue, with consequences that are far reaching forms the crux of this piece.

A friend recently narrated an experience inside the banking hall of one of Nigeria’s top banks in Lagos. A woman, standing on the queue to be attended to by the cashiers, suddenly slumped and amidst the confusion no one could offer any assistance to the lady. Perhaps because my friend has only recently returned to Nigeria, she was shocked at how no one, including the other customers, could offer any assistance in terms of first aid to the lady. My friend who found herself a loner in efforts to help, asked the cashiers for their first aid box or staff in charge of Health and Safety and was told there was none and no such provisions by the bank.

Luckily this woman came back, regaining consciousness after a while – by Gods grace as we will like to say in Nigeria and not by any medical assistance. But this throws up a very important issue we have over looked for so long, an issue we pay little or no attention to in this country; the sanctity of human lives.

Banks in Nigeria are always a beehive of activity. With very little cashless banking operation yet in the country, most of the transactions are done over the counter. This ensures that most banking halls, no matter how wonderful they make their advertisements sound on how speedily they dispense with customers, are always crowded with queues that take various shapes. This situation is made even more pathetic by a combination of uncultured staff who always seem to forget that customers have jobs to return to as well, networks that are scrappy, and an impatient people who are always in a hurry and quick to cut corners to hasten their transactions.

This situation leaves customers standing for long periods, and in some banks with poor air-conditioning, this could be a draining experience. Such circumstance leaves the customers prone to situations such as loss of consciousness occasioned by hunger, tiredness or pre-existing diseases. As a safety provision therefore for both staff and customers, there should be ideally as a standard, the compulsory provision of at least a first aid box in the bank and at least one staff who is trained to respond to health emergencies inside the banking hall.

This unfortunately is not the case and I doubt anyone right from the CBN to the Ministry of Health to the Trade Unions of Bank employees down to even human right activists has seen this fit an agenda to pursue.

I must note that the banks are not the only culprits in this regard. Most offices, industries and establishments in this country also do not have any Health and Safety standard and where they exist on paper-perhaps as part of documentation for company accreditation, they are hardly implemented. We thus have situations where needless fatalities occur in these premises or where situations that later become fatal would have been better managed if a proper first aid had been administered early enough.

The society really has the blame for it all. These things simply do not matter to us. Not many Nigerians can administer artificial respiration to a patient. Not many of us can do anything beyond gathering around and dramatically showing our pity or disgust at the sight of a dying person.

It is hardly taught in our schools and even those who were taught, it is nothing more than a paragraph in the Integrated Science note book read for the exams without any practical demonstration whatsoever. There are also hardly any emergency numbers to call, no ambulance service, no fire service when there is an emergency. Even if called, their response time makes it a futile effort. We rather recline to calling the heavens for help in an issue clearly within our human hands to solve.

To say this situation is appalling is to say the least.  This little regard for safety at the workplace cuts through to the none availability of fire extinguishers in most establishments, the seeming distaste for fire exits by Nigerian architects as they don’t exist in most buildings even the new ones, and with the result that often minor incidences end up destroying not just property but lives in very  unfortunate circumstances.

Perhaps someone responsible could read this and rise up to the challenge. Perhaps one of our many mushroom NGOs that do little beyond enriching their owners with cheap donor funds can take this up as a project. Perhaps labour and responsible unions could take another look at their priorities. Our public establishments must have and implement health and safety standards the least of which is the availability of first aid kits in their premises and the training of their staff to respond to emergencies. The banks, a very important establishment with high daily footfall is a good place to start.

Published as Dangerous Banks in Daily Times 2/2/2012

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