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IRUKERA: HOW NOT TO REWARD ALTRUISM

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*By Tunde Olusunle*

Monday January 8, 2024, Nigerians woke up to the news of the suspension of Betta Edu, who was formerly the Minister for Humanitarian Affairs and Poverty Alleviation. On the same day, Babatunde Ayokunle Irukera who was for six years Executive Vice Chairman of the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission, (FCCPC), was relieved of his appointment. Both developments compelled an essay which I titled “On Betta Edu and Tunde Irukera.” The article was generously ventilated by the media even as I attempted to draw comparisons between two public offices with different pedigrees and also different “misdemeanours.” Evidence in the public domain attested to blatant disregard for public service rules and mammoth thievery by one of the two people I wrote about. The other public servant was uncharacteristically innovative, transparent and altruistic in his approach to work. He literally excavated a government agency in the throes of asphyxiation and obliteration, to a world class organisation, to local and international aplomb.

Much unlike me, I had, just weeks before, written about Irukera following the recognition of the agency he superintended over as “Government Agency of the Year.” This was evidence to how very closely I followed the good works of Irukera. The honour in question came from *Leadership* newspapers one of Nigeria’s most reputable tabloids. FCCPC was selected for the acclamation for “promoting fairness, regulatory stability and consumer protection within the marketplace.” My piece alluded to the uncommon-ness of Irukera’s attitude to public service which is construed by many office holders as licence for the wholesale looting and holistic decimation of departments assigned to them. Haven’t we just been told that nine officers in the Nigerian Customs Services, (NCS) were recently fingered in a N12 Billion scam?

In pronouncing the FCCPC under Irukera as an authentic public service exemplar, *Leadership* noted that since his appointment in 2017, the organisation had pursued “a transformative journey reshaping and rebranding the erstwhile Consumer Protection Council, (CPC).” Further, the newspaper noted that the organisation had been refocused as a “proactive and consumer-centric FCCPC.” Irukera’s oversight of the commission’s transformation and operationalisation beginning from January 30, 2019, *Leadership* noted had been a game-changer. Further still, the awarding newspaper said: “Following the enactment of the FCCPC Act, Irukera has demonstrated “unwavering dedication to fostering a dynamic and responsive regulatory environment.” The FCCPC under Irukera it was observed “has recorded numerous milestones across diverse sectors including healthcare, digital finance and electricity.”

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According to *Leadership,* “one of the standout accomplishments of Irukera’s FCCPC is the strategic development and implementation of the Patient’s Bill of Rights.” That initiative establishes a comprehensive framework empowering patients with essential rights such as informed consent, confidentiality and unrestricted access to their medical records.” The Patient Bill of Rights, *Leadership* observed, “serves as a charter of principles delineating the rights and responsibilities of patients, healthcare providers and the regulatory body.” This is “an approach which fosters a culture of transparency, accountability and patient-centric care.”

Irukera’s leadership at the FCCPC witnessed other strategic initiatives and impactful interventions in other sectors, notably in digital finance, the power sector and in the nation’s bureaucracy. FCCPC was also catalytic in shaping Nigeria’s business environment which became more cognisant of the emplacement of fairness, consumer protection and regulatory stability. Local and foreign investors have continued to experience the transformative impact of standardised practices instituted by the FCCPC. This congruence between national and international standards, in combination with rigorous process auditing and the development of guidelines and standard operating procedures, serves as an imprimatur of quality assurance in the Nigerian marketplace. These are identified perspectives about Irukera’s exertions in public service as dispassionately enunciated by one of Nigeria’s more serious newspapers.

Confident of his transparent governance approach, Irukera was never shy of media engagement. On the eve of the last yuletide therefore, Irukera hosted the media where he noted that the FCCPC under him, had become a wholly self-sustaining department. According to him, the FCCPC made history in 2023 by generating N56 Billion. The feat was achieved by the simple enforcement of compliance to existing laws vis-a-vis the payment of penalties by defaulting companies. This was a novelty by any standards in a milieu where many government funded establishments overdraw their allocations, expend their internally generated revenues, (IGR) and still prospect for supplementation. Irukera noted at that media interface that the organisation hired new staff in strict adherence to service procedures. This assisted the federal government in taking off young, qualified, unemployed people from the streets.
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Perhaps if every ministry, department or agency under the thoroughly dysfunctional Muhammadu Buhari regime had transparently recruited qualified youths across board, the national despondency levels will be mitigated albeit marginally. Much of what we picked up in the media space was hush-hush recruitments into “A-grade” MDAs like the Central Bank of Nigeria, (CBN), the Federal Inland Revenue Service, (FIRS) and so on. After addressing staff emoluments, overhead costs and capital requirements, the FCCPC, Irukera noted gifted the federal government N22 Billion by way of remittances! This was a most un-envisaged precedence by a government agency which was picked up from the backwoods and transformed into a national model, even bride.

On Wednesday February 28, 2024, the Senate of the Federal Republic under the leadership of Godswill Akpabio, rubber-stamped the request of President Tinubu to sack Irukera. He was deemed inefficient! For those who have followed the quiet yet impactful revolution which Tunde Irukera has pursued in the past six years, nothing can be more preposterous. There wouldn’t be a joke more cruel, more malevolent, more unfeeling than such a testimonial to a man who has invested so much in service to nation at testy times such as we have been in the past decade. Irukera demonstrated that government concerns can be effectively and productively run. What do we make of an organisation like the National Board for Arabic and Islamic Studies, (NBAIS), which was in September 2022 reprimanded by the legislature for unjustified spending? The Senate Committee on Finance and Appropriation queried NBAIS for spending N8.5 Billion annually, on 6000 employees to administer examinations to 500 students. No heads have rolled ever since in the Professor Muhammad Abdullahi-led organisation.

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The spiteful removal of Babatunde Ayokunle Irukera from office the way it has been done is gross injustice and colossal disservice to patriotism and sacrifice. There have been unfounded suggestions to the effect that Irukera was blackmailed as one of those who “substantially” supported former Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo’s bid to contest the presidential primary of the All Progressives Congress, (APC) in 2022. This is most farfetched for a technocrat like Irukera whose gaze is almost permanently fixed to his desk treating official correspondences, receiving briefs, holding meetings. In other climes, Irukera should by now have in the bag recognitions like the “National Productivity Order of Merit,” (NPOM) as well as a minimum investiture with a national honour in the category of “Officer of the Order of the Niger,” (OON). He chose, however, not to hunt for titular aggrandisement preferring to immerse himself wholly and completely in service to fatherland.

Irukera’s mistreatment echoes the manner Damilola Ogunbiyi who was Managing Director of the Rural Electrification Agency under the Buhari government, was unjustly treated in 2019. She has since moved on to the global heights of the “Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary General for Sustainable Energy for All.” She is also Co-Chair of UN Energy. Irukera always had a flourishing law practice in the United States before heeding the call to avail his country of his multiplex competencies and experiences. He is not a jobber like many whose only CV is “being abroad.” For as long as he remained in his job in Nigeria, he ran his family by telephone, virtually. The manner he has been treated will be a major disincentive to Nigerians out there who would otherwise be glad to come contribute their quotas to national development. In Irukera, Nigeria has a brand ambassador who should be engaged to hoist the nation’s banner across the world. He deserves to be genuinely apologised to, pacified and given his flowers.

 

*Tunde Olusunle, PhD, poet, journalist, scholar and author is a Fellow of the Association of Nigerian Authors, (ANA)

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Opinion

Niyi Odebode: The Hero Who’s Leaving PUNCH After 31 Years

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Friday Olokor

Today, Sunday July 21 2024, another history is being made as a good man, Niyi Odebode.

Niyi Odebode bows out of Punch Newspapers as DEPUTY EDITOR after 31 years in active service. As Deputy Editor to three Editors, he has been the person generating all the awards -winning stories in PUNCH. The Editors won’t acknowledge or give him credit before management, but we know.

He is Egba man, from Ogun State, I’m Ika man, from Delta State. He didn’t commission me to do this, I didn’t take his permission because if I do, he will discourage me! If any issue I raise here are lies, arrest me and go to court!

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The story of my Journalism career won’t be complete without mentioning this great man. And he will be among the few people in PUNCH I will celebrate, when I write my memoir. While Niyi has been severally celebrated as a hero for his good work and high professional mental alertness, especially by those who worked under his supervision, many left PUNCH unsung.

Niyi is a workaholic and drives you ‘crazy’ to perfection. Unlike many others who sit with their two legs stretch out on tables, dishing out instructions to we foot soldiers, Niyi will provide a guide on how a Reporter, especially those under his jurisdiction will excel and that is why today, Friday Olokor can squeeze out water from stones, even in the Sahara Desert.
Although we worked briefly in Lagos (and in different desks), my mastery became strengthened when he became my direct boss as Abuja Bureau Chief of THE PUNCH.

Some years ago, a very Distinguished Editor, (now also an ex-PUNCHer) on leave once visited Abuja and saw how Niyi was giving instructions to me, and provided guide on questions to ask a political heavyweight and the story that I churned out. Before then, he had jokingly asked: “How have you been coping with FRIDAY OLOKOR, who is believed to be stubborn?” I wasn’t there but was told that Niyi’s response ended all the lies being given to a dog in order to hang it.

I remember Niyi being quoted as telling him that “Olokor is greatly misunderstood; although he could be stubborn, yet you can get the best from him if you understand and manage him well.” Niyi knows my forte or what could be best described as strength. I became a UTILITY & RESCUE REPORTER through the instrumentality of oga Niyi because he knows my strengths. In the past, some bosses were misled by envious leopards into believing that there’s something fishy about being here and there, a development which my friend and colleague, Sunday Aborisade Sunday Aborisade Sunday Aborisade calls me “OLOKOR EVERYWHERE.” Today, if you call me ‘CSO Reporter’, ‘Protest Correspondent’, or any other names, you’re not wrong! In fact, one of them while in Abuja, usually mocks with mischief labeling me CSOs.

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I covered a major event, the December 25 (Christmas Day) attack on St. Theresa’s Catholic Church in Madalla, Niger State by Boko Haram. Subsequent days when other competitors were sending between 5 & 10 Journalists, including their Bureau Chiefs and Managing Editors, Niyi directed thus: “Resume there in the church, go to the Hospitals and get me stories with photos. I have confidence in you.” And for about one week, I had two pages adorned with human angle “Stories By Friday Olokor.”

Niyi reorganised the Abuja Office of THE PUNCH and injected into it, sanity, conviviality, decorum and warmth. Everybody related like brothers. But the place became toxic when he left. But despite all these, Niyi is not a weakling because he’s guided by THE PUNCH spirit of discipline, decisiveness and merit. At a time when his colleagues in other organisations have become mercantile consultants, Niyi’s constant refrain had been: “The Lord Shall Provide.” My problem with him is that he’s too fearful, reason being that there’s a particular mole (working for his former boss) after him. The person succeeded, but where’s he today? On several occasions, on Saturdays, as Politics Editor, his former boss summoned him to “appear in the office in the next 30 minutes”, on the suspicion that he could be attending a meeting between politicians and other Politics Editors, according to the briefing he got from the particular mole. Some of us can’t be like him: You take, we take, don’t stop us. If you try to be greedy, the whole world will hear. As my people will say, “Egbe Beri, Ugon Beri…”

A detribalised Nigerian and rare breed, he’s one of the finest editors who have given Journalism a good name. If everybody will be like him, Nigeria will be a good place to live. Niyi will admire, assess and defend you (if you deserve it) NOT BECAUSE OF AFENIFERE OR EGBA SOLIDARITY but because of your output, competence, what you can do, proficiency and drive for NEWS. While some people will die unsung, the name, OLANIYI ODEBODE will continue to resonate in my mind, psyche and Encyclopaedia of world Journalism.

As you make history today after 31 years in PUNCH, I don’t have much to say but just congratulations. The best is yet to come and may God answer you according to your desires.

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***Friday Olokor, Abuja-based journalist with Arise TV News Channel was former Group Politics Editor of The PUNCH

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NPA’s Dantsoho: The man meets the moment

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by Victoria Ayuwei.

 

His hobbies – reading, traveling and jogging – hardly give much away about the persona of the unassuming Taraba State-born, astute, seasoned marine technologist, now given presidential authorisation to lead the nation’s premier maritime agency, the Nigerian Ports Authority, NPA.

Meet Abubakar Dantsoho, PhD, highly analytical, data-driven, focused and versatile team-player, with over 25 years professional experience in maritime technology, international transport and port management. Even conservative maritime sector gurus are thumbing up President Bola Tinubu’s nifty pick for the NPA leadership. And not without good reason.

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It is common knowledge that by providing access to global supply chains, an adequate and efficient maritime sector enables countries to access international trade markets, which should in theory boost economic development. In effect, it is a vital component of the global transportation network.

It is responsible for almost 90% of the global trade by volume adding over $380 billion every year via freight rates alone to the world economy. The industry acts as bedrock as it brings together multiple parties in the international supply chain. The maritime sector is capital intensive and thus requires huge amount of funding.

With eyes on a trillion-dollar economy which he has boldly envisioned, tweaking the leadership of such a critical and strategic sector like the maritime industry by President Tinubu is a given.

Entering, perhaps the largest stage of his career thus far, powered by an unrelenting will to succeed and a providential presidential fiat fittingly speak to the fact that dreams partnered stern preparation creates a defining reality for those that dare. This is the story of Abubakar Dantsoho, the mint-new Managing Director/CEO of the Nigerian Ports Authority. As it were, for NPA’s Dantsoho, the man unquestionably meets the moment.

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Many top-notch industry stakeholders who know that the history, growth and progress of nations are closely interwoven with the degree of development of their maritime industry expect Dantsoho to move swiftly to improve the running the nation’s premier maritime agency, reposition and infuse it with the essential enablers that determine the prospects of ports to garner market share and face the future with confidence.

This is imperative given the existential economic headwinds both at the micro and macro levels buffeting the nation – added to global disruptions that contain both dangers and significant opportunities for national transformation.

It is also worth noting that maritime trade has played a key role in Nigeria’s economic development. The maritime sector accounts for about 95% of the vehicular means of Nigeria’s international trade. The maritime industry is a key sector of the nation’s economy putting into consideration the country’s status as a major oil exporting country.

To many, it is heartening that Dantsoho brings critical skill sets to his new responsibility at the NPA. He certainly needs them because they will help him to position Nigeria to optimize the comparative advantages that the nation’s maritime endowments as a littoral nation confers.

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Afterall, it’s a given that powerful visions attract ideas, people and other relevant resources. They create the momentum and will to actualize changes.

They inspire individuals, complementary organizations and institutions to commit, to persist and to give their best. These are the strong points of Dantsoho and critical stakeholders expect him to leverage them and also enlist his impeccable professionalism, discipline and persistence to change the traditional narrative of the maritime sector in Nigeria and on the continent.

Dantsoho impatiently rejects staying tamely at the end of received policy prescriptions. He covets knowledge-driven innovations, proactive engagement with stakeholders, policy makers and surefooted action. These dimensions have been boldly mirrored in much of his career trajectory. He is defined by his sheer kinetic energy and revels in pushing new frontiers.

Tracking back, Dantsoho holds a Ph.D. in Maritime Technology from Liverpool John Moores University, UK (2015), an MSc in International Transport from Cardiff University, UK (1999), and a BSc (Hons) from the University of Maiduguri, Nigeria (1992). He started his stint at the NPA in 1993.

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With over 25 years in Maritime Technology, International Transport, and Port Management, Dantsoho is known for his analytical, data-driven approach and versatility as a team player.

He is a member of numerous professional bodies including the Institute of Marine Engineering, Science and Technology, the Chartered Institute of Transport, the Institute of Logistics and Transport of Nigeria, the Nigerian Institute of Shipping, the Nigerian Institute of Management, and the Nautical Institute, UK. He is also a member of the Ikoyi Club 1938.

Dantsoho received the NPA 25-year long service merit award in 2019 and a letter of commendation for successfully berthing the EGINA FPSO Ship in Nigerian territorial waters in 2018.

He has been involved in significant consultancy studies including a 25-year Ports Development Masterplan by Crown Agent, UK, and World Bank projects on port concession assessment and private sector participation in Lagos’ integrated transport system.

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To surpass NPA’s current revenue performance, Dantsoho and his team must look beyond a sole dependence on revenue from core port operations and must put modalities in place to create jobs and add value to the national economy from alternative sources of revenue.

Some examples worth considering are revenue through Public Private Partnerships; Ports Independent Power Production, Bunkering Stations, Fallow Lands for Logistics/Real Estate, Fresh Water Provision, Ship Repairs and Maintenance, and Tourism and Hospitality.

Viewed within the context of current global economic upheavals which have affected trade volumes in all climes, Nigeria’s current growth trajectory urgently needs fundamental tweaking with the leadership change at the NPA as a pointer to just how seriously the President takes his job.

Clearly, strengthening the effective operations of the nation’s maritime agency is certainly not a stroll in the park. Undeniably, modern ports sustainability is dependent on quality infrastructure, equipment and more. But as the leadership of NPA is now being guided by a patriot who believes in Nigeria; who has the capacity and unflinching faith in the ingenuity of Nigerians and who holds dear, the promise of the nation’s shared future – tomorrow is indeed bright.

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The new, unassuming NPA boss, Abubakar Dantsoho certainly deserves the genuine support of all stakeholders as he settles in to instigate even more fundamental and transformational changes ahead.

■ Ayuwei, a public commentator, writes from Apapa, Lagos.

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Opinion

Time to scrap NCE programmes

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The Nigerian Certificate in Education (NCE) programme has been withering from among the courses of choice in Nigeria’s tertiary institutions in the last 10 years, and current statistics point to its death in the next few years. A glaring indicator that the programme has lost its attraction is the fact that fewer students apply through the Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB) to our colleges of education for the NCE.

Some of the data from JAMB shows that the combined 204 colleges of education, made up of 29 Federal Colleges of Education, 61 State Colleges of Education and 114 privately-owned Colleges of Education fill less than 10 per cent of the quota for admission reserved for NCE applicants. For instance, in 2021, the JAMB quota for NCE was 454,700, but the number of students who were admitted was 30,731, representing 6.75 per cent. In 2022, the quota was 269,125, but 35,466, representing 7.56 per cent was admitted, while in 2023 the quota was 472,200, but 11,735, representing 2.49 per cent were admitted.

From the National Policy on Education (2014), the NCE teacher-education level is imperative for the country’s education. It states that the goals of the NCE programme included “producing highly motivated, conscientious and efficient classroom teachers; building prospective teachers intellectually and professionally; encouraging the spirit of enquiry and creativity in teachers; arming teachers with the nitty-gritty of social life and enhancing their commitment to national goals and the teaching profession.”

The lack of interest in teacher-education makes it difficult for the achievement of these goals. Due to the low rate of applications for enrolment for NCE programmes, the various colleges of education have introduced the Pre-NCE programmes where candidates with one or two credits in the West African Senior School Certificate Examinations (WASSCE), with few passes in relevant subjects are admitted to take a crash programme for one year, and later admitted into the full NCE programme. Under this arrangement, those who eventually graduate with NCE certificates may not be well groomed for the important job of training the future leaders of the country.

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This was evident in Kaduna State in 2017 where, in an assessment of the quality of teachers, as many as 21,780, about two-thirds of the teachers, failed to score up to 75 per cent in the subjects they taught in primary schools. It showed that some teachers were taking primary school pupils in subjects they did not clearly understand. This may be the situation in other states.

A major discouragement from applying for NCE programmes is the fact that teachers’ remuneration, especially for NCE holders, is not attractive. Though it varies from state to state, many NCE teachers are paid by local governments that barely pay much more than the minimum wage of N30,000. Such low wages do not only make living difficult, they also affect the prestige of the teacher, who may feel inferior to other professionals. The Federal Government’s incentives that teachers could retire from service at the age of 65 instead of 60 years and the much talked about special salary scale for teachers in rural areas have not manifestly helped the situation.

However, teaching profession is treated differently in developed countries. In Finland, teachers are among the highly-paid workers. So also is the United Kingdom, where the teaching profession is not only lucrative, but well sought after. In these countries, the basic teaching qualification is a university degree in the Arts, Social Sciences, Sciences, Technical /Vocational Education and Education courses. For those who did not acquire a degree in Education, they must possess a post-graduate diploma in Education. It is important for Nigeria to follow this strategy.

Historically, several teaching qualifications have been eliminated in Nigeria when they outlived their usefulness. In the 1920s teachers training institutions awarded Grade III certificate, which was eventually phased out. As at 1948, the Grade II teachers’ certificate was introduced, but it was later scrapped. Then in1960, the government introduced the Advanced Teachers’ Colleges that awarded the Grade I Certificate in Education to Grade II teachers who were exposed to a 3-year programme at ATCs. All these certificates are no longer in vogue, as the NCE is now the minimum qualification for teaching in primary schools. It is becoming clearer that the NCE may have outlived its usefulness and needs to be phased out without delay.

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We call on government to come up with a policy scrapping the NCE certificate and make the first degree as the basic teaching qualification. All the distance learning institutions offering courses in Education should be converted to outposts of the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN) to ensure quality training for teachers.

Our colleges of education should be converted to degree-awarding institutions that admit only students with the minimum WASSCE O’ Level qualifications. This way, every teacher shall earn salaries and emoluments equal to those of other bachelor’s degree holders in the civil service and/or the private sector. The federal, state and local governments must embrace the call for the Teachers’ Salary Structure (TSS) just as government has approved special salary structures for medical doctors, university lecturers, and other professionals. We expect the best from the education sector. The starting point should be an enhanced training and an improved remuneration for our teachers.

Credit: Daily Trust

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