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To Uche Anichukwu: You’re an Excellent Gift to Humanity

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Mr. Uche Anichukwu

By Barr. Ejeh Josh

I’ve momentorily lacked the exact expression to qualify the character and nature of my brother, ezigbo nwannem na Nomeh, Hon. Uche Anichukwu, since the news of his birthday broke out.

Uche Anichukwu, Onyeishi Okanga, as he is fondly called by his friends, and “Otiagbala” by his inner caucus, (laughs, winks, smiles), if I should be allowed to use those local but metaphysical adjectives to qualify him, has proved his mettle of friendship, dynamism, loyalty, dedication, resilience, and discipline.

It doesn’t matter where the sojourn has taken him to. It doesn’t matter the direction. It doesn’t matter the path taken. Anichukwu remains a man that can be predicted on his stand and standard. He is such a refined personality that could be reassuring as a pillar of support and trust. I share his experience. He is a good man.

My meeting with Anichukwu, before providence would finally bring us into the same fold, had always been a mile apart. I read him. Outstanding. Brilliant. Superb. But I avoided him for the simple reason of an elder brother operating from Olympian height. But that wasn’t the reality. It was a mere perception.

In those days, Anichukwu’s name was a household name in the media. The former Deputy President of the Senate, His Excellency, Chief Ike Ekweremadu, would not attend any function without Anichukwu staying around. He transmuted from an aide to a family member of the Distinguished Senator. That’s what loyalty, hardwork and trust could earn.

Anichukwu, lettered, or call him a media veteran, had worked as an aide to the then President of the Nigerian Senate, His Excellency, Senator Ken Nnamani. He did prove his uncommon intellectual sagacity in the media space, even to the point of becoming critical of instruments, including budgets, presented for consideration by the presidency or the federal government. A lot were uncovered. The nation was saved on occasions from the now known infamous padding. He served the National Assembly with expertise, and on the wall of the senate, written with his ink, a defining moment of true service to humanity.

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With Anichukwu joining Senator Ekweremadu, he continued on the voyage of emancipation of the country through critical assessments of projects and scorecards of the executive of their performances vis-a-vis their approved budgetary allocations. On the global plane, the good colours of Nigeria were flown despite the negative impression about the country. With his pen, he joined in the journey of redeeming the image of our dear country. I salute his the audacious belief that Nigeria could always be great with all hands on deck.

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Over the past one year, I met Anichukwu where we worked together to recreate Enugu State of our dreams through a common project, the cause which we were convinced, not on the altar of clannishness or selfish drive, but on the general assessment that such project would mean a new dawn for the people of Enugu State. A project, which if missed, could take the state over a century to get it right. We saw it coming. It was like the journey of the Magi where T.S Elliot wrote about the coming of the Messiah.

We set out, galloped through the rough terrains, where hostile Herod and his men laid landmines, ambushes and launched missiles from all cylinders to extinguish the mission. However, the prophecy foretold would come to fruition. With Dan Nwomeh, Uche Anichukwu and myself, journeyed through the harmattan season, our hope was clad in a new season of a redeemed Enugu State. Then also came Reuben Onyishi. Far from the end of the tunnel, together, we had already seen the light, permeating. Beyond the Magi’s experience, we got a generation of electorate yearning to join the search, and with Governor Peter Mbah in the picture, the electorate exclaimed, “We have found him.”

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Anichukwu would be categorised as a “big guy” in terms of the wherewithal as a foremost consultant for reputable bigwigs and international organisations. But humility would not allow him to display even a modicum of his “big boyness”. That’s a lesson to us that it pays to be humble regardless of economic and social status. I’ve learnt that from him.

I’ve also learnt and added to my stock, how to be proactive and disciplined to achieve my goals. Anichukwu embodies that zeal to work and deliver within time. It’s an indelible experience working with Anichukwu as a Senior Special Assistant to the Executive Governor of Enugu State on External Relations. He does his work with respect and equanimity. All thanks for your understanding.

As you add another year to your age, Onyeishi Okanga, may the Almighty God continue to strengthen and bless you exponentially.

Happy Birthday, my brother, and as that civil defence officer would add, “my oga at the top”. Many more years of God’s goodness and mercy. Congratulations.

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Opinion

Needed: One standard hospital per state (1) – By HASSAN GIMBA

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Hassan Gimba is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Neptune Prime

I never thought I could attend the Eid prayer held on 10th April, a day after I clocked the definitive age of 60: I have now joined the senior citizens’ rank. Not being confident I could attend the Eid prayer seems an understatement; for actually, in February, the way I was feeling within me, it was looking to me that I would not witness Ramadan, not to talk of participating in the Eid marking its end.

I easily get exhausted from the littlest of tasks, making me always gasping for air to fill my lungs. It reached a stage where I could not walk ten metres without bending down, holding my knees and inhaling from both my mouth and nose.

It all came to a head when the news of the death of my mother reached me in the early hours of January, 8. I could not walk at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja which made the flight authorities move me in a wheelchair to the base of the plane, where I climbed the stairs with great effort, stopping at the plane’s entrance to gather myself.

The same routine was enacted when our plane landed at the Malam (don’t know why they spelt it MALLAM with a double l) Aminu Kano International Airport, where I had to be wheeled to the vehicle that conveyed me to Potiskum. To ease my difficulty, I had to be injected intravenously with bronchodilators on the three-hour journey.

Throughout the week I was at Potiskum for her seven-day prayers, I was ensconced in my room and couldn’t be at the family house where the main gathering took place. And I became dependent on my wives for many things a healthy person would do for himself.

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And it is not as if I had not sought medical attention. God knows I had always advocated for our leaders to attend hospitals at home. I did the same. Some seven years ago I went to the Asokoro General Hospital where an x-ray was done for me. They said there was nothing wrong, but I knew something was wrong with me. Even then, I started feeling exhausted because I could not do what I normally did easily. And it had nothing to do with ageing.

I did some tests in some private laboratories, and the results were normal. Then I went to NISA Hospital in Abuja where I was looked after by a pulmonologist, Dr James Agada. It is not a run-of-the-mill hospital and not cheap, moreover, I paid for VIP treatment. Yet, my case kept deteriorating till I became almost an invalid.

Then I had an opportunity to visit my governor, Honourable Mai Mala Buni, over an issue that needed some clarifications and he saw my condition. He became alarmed and sought to know what happened. I explained what I could to him, including my voyage to hospitals here that were quick to give me a clean bill of health that I knew was not true.

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He undertook the process to reverse the ailment and give me back some lost health. He got in touch with an agent, Shettima Alkali, a kind-hearted professional, who got me a visa to Saudi Arabia. Buni, a man of faith, said: “To be there, drinking the holy Zamzam water and praying at the Ka’aba itself would do you wonders.”

And so began my journey in search of health.

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I left Nigeria on 12th February from the Malam Aminu Kano International Airport via Peace Air. I will talk about Air Peace and its wonderful, friendly crew another day.

As had become the norm, I was wheeled into the plane from Abuja to Kano to board the Saudi flight and at the Kano airport too I was wheeled into the plane. It was the same procedure at Jeddah Airport until I reached the apartment where I was to stay. Once there I found it easier and more convenient since I had my son, Abubakar Sadik, a big, strong fella to do the wheeling.

In Saudi Arabia, one goes through the healthcare system from the Primary Health Care Centres except if one wants to go straight to a private hospital. To conserve funds and also see how their system works, I started from the former despite my almost desperate condition.

However, if you are an Umrite (my coinage for one undergoing the Umrah), you have an inalienable right to be accepted and diagnosed in government hospitals free of charge, even though there are fee-paying options.

Relying on that right, I started by going to the Jeddah East General Hospital where various tests were carried out on me: blood tests, electrocardiogram (ECG), x-rays, computerised tomography (CT) scans, etc., and the results were good. With all health issues eliminated, everything pointed to problems to do with pulmonology.

Still, I went to a Primary Health Centre this time around. Their primary health centres are as equipped as our general hospitals, if not better. Being the entry point to the health system, every General Hospital has a PHC that refers patients to it. And so this one referred me to King Abdul Aziz General Hospital, Jeddah, where the same tests conducted at Jeddah East were repeated with the same conclusion.

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With the certainty of what my ailment was, I left Jeddah for Madinah, arriving at Makkah the next day. I searched online for a good pulmonologist and each search result had one Egyptian, Dr Hebatullah Kamal Taha of Saudi-German Hospital, Makkah, coming up tops. She also comes a bit more expensive than the others. I then booked and paid for an appointment with her for the next day.

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At exactly 10 am the next day, accompanied by my wife, Dr Aminat Zakari, and son wheeling me, I was ushered into Dr Heba’s office. A petite, friendly, middle-aged woman. After analysing the results from the two General Hospitals we went to in Jeddah, she made us do a test to ascertain the level of oxygen in my blood and then prescribed some drugs, telling us to return after five days.

Hassan Gimba is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Neptune Prime.

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Opinion

Mr President, salary hike won’t resolve the present hunger, by Hassan Gimba

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Hassan Gimba

These days, the words dominating the air are “hunger” and “protest”. And that, we are told, is because of two others – “dollar” and “salary”. Unfortunately, those capitalising on the latter two words to push for the first two words hardly mention the words “production” and “security” which are fuelled by justice and fairness. And there can be no justice without the rule of law.

I suspect some behind-the-scenes push regarding cries of hunger and a subtle mobilisation for protests that would engulf the entire country. While not discounting the fact that there is massive hunger in town, it is not entirely true that this government caused it.

We grew up regaled with stories of hunger or famine hitting the lands that some people dug into the underground storage of ants to salvage grains. Or people eating wild leaves or even raw calabash plants. Yet there were no protests.

Under the Shehu Shagari administration, the powerful Umaru Dikko, minister of transport, and chairman of the Committee on Rice Importation, once told us when confronted by “cries” of hunger that there was no hunger in Nigeria “because no one was yet eating from the dustbin”, and that Nigerians ought to be grateful as the government was paying salaries without borrowing. There was no protest, either.

I still recall a viral audio of a renowned Sheikh, Malam Qalarawi, complaining in the 80s that the dead were better than the living because the cost of petrol was ₦3 (yes, three naira) and torchlight battery formerly 80 kobo was somewhere around ₦1. And he threw in a puncher: “Ga basir”, meaning people suffering from haemorrhoids. Who does not have it now? Yet, there were no protests.

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We have had periods when even essential commodities were proportioned and rationed and people flogged while struggling for their share, yet there were no protests.

To be honest, there has never been a time in our history when there was no hunger. Perhaps the exceptions were that there were some positive factors in the society that made the hunger and deprivation of yesteryears more tolerable.

In the first place, no hope was misplaced because hard work paid off. People were educated almost free and health care delivery was functional and affordable. Crime was something read about and people felt secure while the judiciary was a sanctuary for the justice seeker.

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Everyone was hopeful that their tomorrow would be better because they had seen those before them getting fair treatment and getting their just rewards.

But even then, Nigeria was a prosperous nation that was on the march to self-dependency. There were hydro basins scattered around that encouraged dry season farming while our farmers, even though predominantly subsistence farmers, were not short of fertiliser supply and other related Agro-allied inputs. Because of the robust and unhindered agricultural activities in the north, there was an abundance of groundnut, grains, cotton, livestock, etc. and these fed many industries in the food, cosmetics and textile industries.

We had rubber and cocoa plantations that served a lot of local and international manufacturers in the automobile and confectionery industry. There was coal and many others as well.

Now, most of the basins in the north are relics, the livestock are still being walked hundreds of kilometres for pasture, while insecurity has driven our farmers away from tilling the soil.

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When Nigeria was facing some economic hiccups, the government of General Olusegun Obasanjo cut down the cost of governance drastically. A leader cannot be talking about improving the economy of his country while taking billions outside its shores to shore up foreign businesses to the detriment of hungry, jobless citizens back home. Among the measures Obasanjo took was the state policy of adopting assembled in Nigeria vehicles, the Peugeot.

In 1972, when the Udoji Commission recommended, among others, a Unified Grading and Salary Structure (UGSS) which embraced all posts in the Civil Service from the lowest to the highest, the naira was stronger than the dollar at about ₦60/$100. The commission increased the annual minimum wage from ₦312 to ₦720 (from ₦26 to ₦60). ₦720 was the equivalent of $1200.

As of the time of writing this, $100 was over ₦150,000! $1200 will be about ₦1,800,000. What this means is that the Udoji Commission’s minimum wage of ₦60 ($100 then) had more purchasing power than today’s minimum wage of ₦30,000 ($20 now). Then, just imagine $100 as a basic monthly salary today! That’s ₦150,000.

I have said it before and I will repeat it now: ₦1 million as minimum wage will help no one as long as the naira is weak. Period.

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What we need now is not a salary increase, but the strengthening of our currency. Take the case of China. As of January 17, 2024, Shanghai had the highest monthly minimum wage among 31 provinces, with $370 per month. Germany had €1,584.00 per month as of June 2020. Spain, as of June 2019, had €1,050, Poland €523.09 and Belgium €1,593.81.

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And these are countries that are richer than us and have higher GDP.

Now cast your mind back to when the naira was at par with the dollar and assume our minimum wage of ₦30,000 is $30,000 taking ₦100 to be equal to $100. Don’t you think that is more than enough?

To print more money just to pay civil servants will no doubt cause inflation, or even hyperinflation, as with Germany after World War II or what we saw in Venezuela and Zimbabwe. The salary gain would be so rubbished that the entire country would regret the increase for less than one per cent of the population.

The best way out is for public service salaries to be uniform, cost governance to be drastically reduced, and for Nigeria to start producing what it eats, wears and drives. And there is no better time to start than now and no better people to start than those running the country.

Then there must be fairness and justice. And security of life, property and investments.

With these in place, Nigeria will leapfrog many countries it is now looking up to.

• Hassan Gimba is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Neptune Prime.

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Understanding Archbishop Chukwuma’s statement, By Osita Chidoka

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Banditry is God’s punishment for the North — Archbishop Chukwuma
Emeritus Archbishop Emmanuel Chukwuma

In many fora, I had called for a definitive and official account of the First Republic, the 1966 coup, and the civil war. The issues will keep rearing their heads and causing, sometimes unintended, deeper division and backlash.

I read ArchBishop Chukwuma’s statement and my friend @renoomokri
tweet about the statement. Both statements could be termed inciteful and unnecessary but I am of the view that they represent the rich tapestry of our uninterrogated past.

My mission today is to contextualise ArchBishop Chukwuma’s statement and correct a historical fallacy.

First, Arch Bishop Chukwuma is from Asaba, in Delta state, and the people of Asaba are still bitter about the Asaba massacre reportedly carried out by Gen Murtala Mohammed. To date, no official account exists about the story that civilian men of 18 and above were rounded up and executed in cold blood in Asaba.

Gen Mohammed tried unsuccessfully three times to cross the River Niger from Asaba to Onitsha. While in Asaba, he was alleged to have killed over 2000 men. Again, reports of the number of those killed range from 500 to 900, and some say from 800 to 2000.

We need an official unbiased historical account that can at least agree on the sequence of events and what really happened.

Osita Chidoka

Arch Bishop Chukwuma’s statement, as insensitive as it may sound, represents the general and strong feelings of the Asaba people. They even feel that the Igbos of the current Southeast do not acknowledge their pain sufficiently. His statement is contextual as many of his people believe that Gen Mohammed and his officers should be held accountable for war crimes.

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The issue he raised is not about the Civil War, it is about a perceived war crime committed against his people amongst whom, many opposed the idea of Biafra and elected to stay in the Mid West and with Nigeria only to be lined up and shot because they spoke Igbo.

Going by historical accounts Gen. Adekunle and Gen. Obasanjo did not shoot civilians in the Igbo-speaking parts of Rivers State after the fall of Port Harcourt. Neither did Gen TY Danjuma shoot the civilian men who elected to remain behind when he captured Enugu. The Asaba people to date wonder what they did wrong that unarmed civilian men were lined up and shot in violation of the 1949 Geneva Convention on the protection of civilians.

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So, there is a need to verify the story of the Asaba massacre, apportion blame appropriately, and bring it to a closure through a conflict resolution mechanism. A truth and reconciliation committee or commission may be a way to go.

In his response on X Reno repeats a historical fallacy that Celestine Ukwu released a song Ewu na ebe akwa rough translation ( a goat is bleating) to mock the Northern leaders killed in the coup. It is not true.

The truth is Cardinal Jim Rex Lawson, a Kalabari man from present-day Rivers State, released that song in 1964. It was not Celestine Ukwu, whose career took off after the war. He lived in the same apartment building 13 Peter Okoye Street, Uwani Enugu, where my parents lived. I was born there in 1971. He died tragically in 1977 in a car crash. I vaguely remember the sound of his instruments rehearsing in the evenings. After his death, Barr Jacob Ugwu moved into the flat he vacated. Barr Ugwu later became Chief Judge of Enugu State.

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These kinds of fallacies, maybe unconsciously, promote hate. The almost conscious reproduction of falsehood will continue to plague us as a nation if we do not confront our past and document an accurate version of history to help dispel false narratives.

The families of those murdered in the coup of 1966 and all those killed in coups in Nigeria deserve justice. We must collectively confront our past to free our present.

• Chidoka, former Corps Marshal of the Federal Road Safety Corps, was former Minister of Aviation during Jonathan era

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