(From NEXT) The Web of Extortion

It has become a common sight on Lagos roads; a uniformed police officer flags down a commercial bus while the tout comes forward to collect bribe from the driver, before the bus is passed.

N50 is the usual fee for passing such road stops; in some cases, N100. To avoid the trouble that could occur from opposing the touts, popularly known as ‘Agbero’, or having one’s bus impounded by the police, the driver often pay. “I don’t understand this police and agbero collaboration,” said a passenger in one of such buses, who declined to be named. “How can the people who are supposed to be stopping their activities be the same ones that are working together with them? It shows how irresponsible our police force is. If they can work together with touts, why won’t they work with armed robbers?”

A brazen operation

Commercial bus drivers in Lagos have complained about the frequent harassment they receive from touts at bus-stops and motor parks. According to the drivers, these touts extract money from them without providing any services in return, except for a few who help in soliciting for passengers. If a driver refuses to pay the fee, the touts often remove or damage parts of the vehicle. However, stubborn drivers who would have put up a resistance find themselves cowed by the police. A bus driver, who gave his name as Baba T, complained about the amount he pays daily at the popular Ladilak Bus stop en-route Palmgrove from Bariga. “If I pass here 10 times and police dey here, I go pay 10 times,” he said. “But if na only agbero, I fit beg them.”

Kolawole Ajala, a resident of Kasumu Street, Egbeda, said he has seen such collaboration happen several times in his neighbourhood. “The thing is these agbero people claim to be the ‘omo onile’, that is the owners of the land, so they have the right to collect money from any commercial bus that passes through this route,” he said. “At the same time, it is a good spot for these greedy police men to extract money from the bus drivers even when they haven’t committed any offence. So the agberos won’t leave the place for the police men and at the same time, the police men won’t leave the place for the agberos so they decide to work together.”

Blame the government

However, a police officer at Pedro Police Station, Palmgrove, who spoke on condition of anonymity, denied knowledge of such partnership with touts. “We only go out to check points to do our work which is to control traffic and crime.” Tunde Dara, a law student, blamed the government for tolerating the operations of touts in Lagos. “The government itself tolerates the operation of these touts at bus stops and parks,” he said. “If not, they would have done something about them. Giving them uniforms only worsens the situation because they will have more power.” Another resident, Chris Ugboaha, described the motor park touts as troublesome. “You see some of them wearing some rough green and white uniforms saying they are from the local government,” he said. “If the driver or conductor refuses to give them money, they will remove something from his vehicle. They are the most troublesome set of people on the roads.”

However, one of the uniformed men, who gave his name as Lawal, denied the accusation of being troublesome. He said they were employed by the Ikeja Local Government and the money being collected from the bus drivers are levies. He added that the drivers are often reluctant to pay these levies which may result in a confrontation. “I tell my boys not to mix with these police men because they are all thieves,” he said. “If you work with them, they won’t like to share the money fify-fifty, they would like to take more than half of the money so when I see them, I’ll just go to another bus-stop and work.”

In August, a report by the Human Rights Watch accused the Nigeria Police Force of being the the most corrupt institution in the country. The report showed that the police made over N20bn from checkpoints across the country between January 2009 and June 2010.

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(From NEXT) Helping others overcome joblessness

Helping others overcome In the mind of almost every youth corps member is the niggling fear of what is to come after national service. This apprehension stems from the high number of job seekers in the country. While only a few think of furthering their education almost immediately, a larger percentage are burdened by the unpleasant reality of the labour market. Such was the case of Onome Akpoyovwuire, a 29-year-old information marketing coach who is now using the skills she has gained over a period of time to help youth corps members and unemployed people get out of the unemployment trap, by starting flexible and lucrative businesses. She recalls her national service year in Kwara State, which was also fraught with the fear of beinsucked up into the world of the unemployed.

“After serving for one year, all that comes to a corps member’s mind is how to get a job. There was some kind of fear inside me. I thought, what if I don’t get a job, what am I going to do? How long will I stay before I get a job? I heard that there are hundreds of thousands of graduates without jobs in Nigeria. This fear persisted while I was serving,” she said.

How she overcame joblessness

Mrs Akpoyovwuire has had her own fair share of job-hunting. She searched for a job for many months to no avail. But a training programme for information marketing helped her kick-start her career which she has in turn used to touch many lives.

“When I finished my youth service in Kwara State, I got married and I still didn’t have a job,” she said. “So I started searching, applying, writing, sending e-mails, browsing, but I didn’t get any replies. One day, I bought a newspaper called Success Digest and the first thing I saw was an advert to learn a kind of business. It looked interesting. It was a training programme on Information Marketing Business, and when I was done, I was determined to go into the business of selling valuable information to people that need it at a price. I actually set up my project, http://www.richcorper.co m after youth service.”

Information marketing, which is done mostly online is perceived by many as fraudulent. This she says is a misconception. “Some people think that information marketing business is a 419 business but it is not. In fact the business has been on even before the Internet came to be. Even when a pastor preaches in church, he is selling information. Some people may want that information in another form, in tapes, CDs, DVDs, and he has to include the cost of producing those things. And if he wants to make a profit, then why not?”

She adds that she started information marketing as a corp member but did not realise what she was actually doing.

“I actually started while I was a corper, but not until I went for a training did I know that was what I was doing. I was learning some things about forex trading and someone who was teaching me gave me some resources in CD format. I also got some information online and put it together in printed form and bound it. I carried it along with me all the time and other corpers saw it and got interested in it and were willing to pay for it. I sold the spiral bound copies for about N3,000 and the CDs between N1,500 and N2,000.”

Speaking on what kind of information she sources, Mrs Akpoyovwuire said, “Almost any kind of information can be sold depending on the way you package it. For instance, an experienced printer might have information on how to print a book at a low cost. An author somewhere might need this information and would be willing to pay for it. If this information is well packaged, it can be sold in different forms. I do a lot of research on businesses and teach people on how to improve their business. Information is not only sold online. It can be sold in CD form, print, in workshops, and one-on-one coaching.”

Mrs Akpoyovwuire, however, encourages people to venture into the world of information marketing, adding that it can be lucrative for anyone who is determined. Realistically, she says that an average information marketer could earn between N100,000 to N200,000 monthly.

“I won’t call myself an Internet marketer. I am an information marketing coach who uses the advantages of the Internet to run her business. To do this, you need basic knowledge of how to use the Internet; how to check your e-mails, how to carry out research online, and how to visit websites.”

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(From NEXT) Their first day at school

“It’s like children don’t cry anymore on their first day at school,” said Adaobi Ikenna, a beautician and mother of one at her son’s first day at school. “My son just saw some kids playing with toys and forgot about me. He didn’t even know when I left.” And so did her son begin his school life; devoid of the tantrums traditionally displayed by reluctant children on their first day in school. According to Mrs Ikenna, she thought it would be an emotional moment for her son and expected him to cling on to her, but he didn’t. He found more interest in the toys and kids in his class and soon forgot about his mother’s presence.

It was however different for Kate Mordi, a banker and mother of two, who took her second daughter to school yesterday for the first time. After spending some time with her two-year-old daughter at Heartland Nursery and Primary School, Yaba, she made to leave but found it difficult to ignore her daughter’s cries. “She cried a lot,” she said. “It was hard to leave her. Most of the kids there were crying also. I felt very sad but her teachers encouraged me to go, saying she was in good hands and would soon get over it. It was very emotional for me.” Joke Hassan also had a similar experience at her two-year-old sons’ first day at school. According to her, his cries followed her till she was almost out of the school compound. “My son has been to a crèche before but I changed his school and put him in a full nursery and primary school,” she said. “I was expecting him to adapt easily but it seems he was not prepared for a new environment. He cried and cried when I was about to leave. But when I called his teacher about an hour after I left the school, she told me he had calmed down.”

The causes

Francine Okonkwo, a teacher at Chrisland Schools, explained why most of the first timers felt comfortable. “Not all the kids are coming to school for the first time,” she said. “For instance these two,” she said pointing at a boy and a girl, “are from Pre School One and they are already familiar with the school environment. When kids are around other kids that are crying, it makes them cry also. But when they see others playing around, they feel happy and join them. They make friends easily. It won’t take them long to adapt to the school environment.” Also, Ogochukwu Imade, another teacher, adds that parents who cling to the child too much on their first day at school make their children cry more. “Parents should not feel bad about leaving their children in school,” she said. “Sometimes, it is the way the parents hold on to them that makes them cry. If you try not to make a big deal out of the fact that you will be leaving him in school, the child will just mix easily and won’t cry.”

To pay, or not to pay

For Shade Ogunlana, a first time mother, it is too early to start paying large amounts as school fees for her child who will soon clock two years. “You should see the amount they charge as school fees for these small kids,” she said. “A good school will charge nothing less than N300,000 for a two-year-old child for one year of schooling. My child will clock two in a few weeks time and even though people around are telling me to send him to school, I prefer to teach him at home for now, at least until next year. I can’t afford such an amount just for him to go and play and sing somewhere.” However, Mrs Ikenna is optimistic that her son would benefit from socialising with his peers, adding that it was enough reason to pay a large amount for his school fees. “Honestly, I don’t know what they are going to teach him in school with the exorbitant school fees they are charging,” she said. “It’s not like he can hold a pen and write yet. But I think it will be good for him to socialise and be among his peers. He is already having fun and for that, I think it is worth it.”

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(From NEXT) The trouble with Lagos Creches

Some years ago, Stella Ike noticed that her one-year old daughter whom she took to a crèche every week day was usually dizzy and inactive whenever she picked her up in the evenings. Her daughter who used to be active and playful suddenly became dull. She took her to the hospital but was told that she was probably tired and reacting to new environments. One day, Mrs Ike decided to visit her child during working hours and was shocked to find her playing with a bottle of pills.

“My first impression was that they were giving her and other children in the crèche pills probably to make them sleep or something like that,” she said. “Unfortunately, there was no label on the bottle so I don’t know exactly what kind of drug it was. I had heard of some crèches where they gave the babies sleeping pills to make them sleep but didn’t actually believe it. Seeing my baby holding the pills made me realise that it could actually be true and I was very upset. When I confronted them, they said the medication belonged to one of the nannies who left it about carelessly. I didn’t believe them and I withdrew my child from there immediately.”

Finding it hard to trust

Many parents attest that it is a bit difficult to entrust the life of their babies at a very tender age to strangers even in an institution like a crèche. Some of their fears are as a result of unsettling incidences they have heard about the way children are cared for at some crèches.

For Jayne Dike, the proprietress of Early Steps Crèche, Surulere, such incidences can be avoided when an employer takes special care in employing only people who are dedicated child care workers. “Early Steps Crèche is a registered and approved institution,” she said. “We take special care of our children here not just because we are paid to do so, but because myself and every other person employed here to take care of children have a passion for children. We enjoy our work and that way, its impossible for us to show anything but love to the children brought here. I think owners of crèches should not only look for nannies with good academic qualification but people who are very passionate about children. It’s very easy to pick out someone who is not really dedicated to child care just by observing the person around children for a while. If any odd behaviour is noticed, the person should be sacked immediately. We cannot afford to take chances with the lives of our children.”

Observe your child

At the crèche, the nannies were seen feeding, carrying, and playing with the babies; even while some of the babies played by themselves. Margaret Braimoh, a children’s counsellor, says that observing the children’s behaviour at home is a better measure of the crèche’s performance. “What is most important is for the parents to be keen observers; especially the mother. They should not let any small detail or unusual behaviour pass them by without reacting to it; I mean any unusual behaviour they notice at home. That way, they can prevent greater damage. For instance, if you notice that your child cries too much at home and you don’t get such complaints from the crèche, then you know there is a problem somewhere.”

Another crèche proprietress, Kikelomo Onifade, of Kinky Kids Crèche and Nursery School, explains that having a limit on the number of children absorbed into the crèche and sticking to it is important so that the nannies don’t get too overwhelmed with work and resort to unscrupulous means of controlling the children. “What we do here is that we don’t take in more kids than we can handle,” she said. “We have only two crèche classes and not more than ten kids in each of the classes. At any point in time, there must be at least four nannies in each of the classes. Most times, they are usually more. But they work in shifts, so they rotate among themselves. If for any reason, any one of the nannies cannot make it to work, she must give adequate notice so that a replacement can be arranged. Also, they have two supervisors plus myself who go round periodically to make sure everything is okay with the kids.”

The ayes

But despite the controversy surrounding the quality of care given to children at crèches, some mothers still say they need their services. Bisi Adedugbe, a stock broker and working mother of two had this to say. “I don’t see anything wrong with putting one’s child in a crèche. As mothers, we have to provide for our children which makes us work. Those of us who work in offices where we can’t take our children to need such institutions. They are not the best option really, but it is God that protects.”

Her view is similar to that of Ngozi Moses, an event planner and first time mother. “I can’t always be at home to take care of my baby,” she said. “I am an entrepreneur but I move around a lot and it is not safe to take my child along with me always. Besides, she will distract me from my work. That is why I chose a crèche that is close to my home. That way, I can be with her often as I can. I don’t even bring her here everyday.”

The nays

However, some parents completely abhor the idea of taking their children to a crèche. “I would never take my child to a crèche,” said Jonathan Ibekeme, a father of three. “Those early months are the best opportunity both parents have to bond with a child and if the child spends those years in a crèche, the parents have lost some precious time that can never be recovered. Babies are too delicate to toy with. It is not possible for someone else to show your baby the kind of love the mother will give. Besides, babies are very demanding and you need patience to deal with them. How won’t the nannies give them drugs to sleep when they are overwhelmed with so much work. As a man, i make sure my wife is comfortable and doesn’t do a job that takes her away from home so much. My wife works from home so she is at home with our children most of the time. That is the way I’ve planned my life and that is the way it will remain.”

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(From NEXT) The dangers of sweeping Lagos streets

Sweeping the roads and highways of Lagos is inarguably a risky task, given the level of exposure to the unending flow of cars, motorbikes, trucks. As a daily job, the risks are increased, often leaving the person performing the task in a perpetual state of fear for his/her life and safety.

In order to keep the roads and highways clean in Lagos state, over 10,000 street sweepers are employed to sweep the roads daily. The job has no age or class discrimination. The job attracts both the old and young, the educated and illiterate, the able and disabled. Physically challenged persons who sweep pedestrian bridges in Lagos have been recognised by Lagos Waste Management Authority (LAWMA) for their work and are given a N10,000 monthly allowance.

Last month, the state Ministry of Environment, in conjunction with LAWMA, organised a two-day sensitisation and awareness workshop to ensure that the service providers are not exposed to any form of danger while discharging their duties and to ensure that all road users are aware of safety rules and regulations. The workshop drew thousands of street sweepers from across the state. Governor Babatunde Fashola promised the workers that his administration would remain committed to ensuring the safety of the sweepers.

Their fears on the job

Despite the governor’s assurances, some of the sweepers have developed a fatalistic mind set about the perils of the job, and have opted to put their faith in God. Gbemisola Sosanya is one of such. “No matter how much they preach, it’s only God that can save us from the hands of these drivers,” she said. “Especially these Okadas (commercial motorcyclists), they ride anyhow. I pray before I go to work every day that no car or okada should knock me down. If I had a better job, I won’t be risking my life like this.”

Bimbo Gbamila, a 47-year-old mother of three, is another street sweeper who attributes her safety on the job to divine protection. “I don’t like this work, but I cannot go and steal,” she spoke in Yoruba. “I was a trader before but I spent all the money I had in the hospital when my son was sick and I don’t have money to continue the business. It is only God that has been protecting us from these reckless drivers because they drive so roughly. Every time I am working, I am always scared that they will not knock me down.”

A perilous trade

Ola Oresanya, the Managing Director of LAWMA, disclosed during the workshop that at least 57 street sweepers have been crushed to death by vehicles at various places in the metropolis while on duty between 2007 and now. Some have also been maimed and involved in minor accidents. He also stated that at the last count, there were about 10,450 street sweepers in the state.

Micheal Arigbabu is a motorist who thinks people should not be placed on the highway to do the job that vehicles can do. “I wonder why we are still using human beings to sweep our highways,” he said. “It is too dangerous. In developed countries, they use street sweeping vehicles. We have to move on and stop risking people’s lives. You have to understand that it is not only reckless drivers that could hit a highway sweeper. What if the car is malfunctioning or the driver just didn’t see the sweeper?”

In response to the issue of the safety of the street sweepers at work, Mr Oresanya, says that risks are found in every job. “In every work that you do, you have occupational hazards,” he said. “Even you as a journalist, you can be on a trip as a journalist and anything can happen. You have journalists covering war zones and things do happen. We all have a risk attached to our profession. We have soldiers that can get killed during the war time, we have doctors that can get infected during the period of treatment. So, every business that you do has its own risk attached to it.”

Calming frayed nerves

The LAWMA boss also stated that the street sweepers were covered by insurance, and reiterated his agency’s objectives to work towards enhancing the safety of its workers “It is a group insurance,” he said. “The individuals don’t have to sign for it. There is an insurance package for all the street sweepers and they are given their compensation whenever there is need for it. But we focus more on the prevention of such accidents. Our approach to the whole issue is to prevent the accidents. On our own street sweepers business, if peradventure anything happens, we have an insurance scheme. But what we do mainly, we prevent any accident and we’ve been doing that very well. You can see that they’ve been wearing highway reflective clothing. You can spot them almost 500metres away. And when they sweep, they face oncoming vehicles. We hardly get any accidents. It’s all about preventing these accidents rather than allowing them to occur. But when they do occur, we do what we are supposed to do as employees. Take care of these people and make sure we treat them. We give them the best care they can get and if we have a loss, they get due compensation.”

But another street sweeper, who preferred to remain anonymous, said that she is unaware of any insurance scheme attached to the job. “I didn’t sign any insurance form when I got this job, I know the work is risky but I have to do it because there is no job anywhere.”

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(From NEXT) Lifting the weight off disability

Living in Lagos comes with its own set of challenges. Being the most populous state in the country, job opportunities are scarce, even for a qualified able bodied person.

For Gbolahan Jonah, a married, 37 year-old man and father of one, being physically challenged reduces one’s opportunities by a great percentage. At the age of two, Mr Jonah contacted polio, a disease which left his legs deformed and consequently, made him disabled. And so, several years after completing his secondary education, Mr Jonah is yet to find a job in Lagos, which happens to be his state of origin.

“I have a secondary school certificate,” he said. “Presently, any decent job that is offered to me, I’ll do. I can read and write. I’d like any good office job or government job. I have been to some insurance companies and a lot of private companies but they didn’t employ me. They don’t have lifts and it won’t be easy for me climbing the staircase.”

But he is not daunted in the face of these challenges. Mr Jonah engages in special sports, weight lifting, and has grown from being an athlete to being a coach.

“After completing my secondary school, I went into sports. I have won silver and bronze medals at different competitions within Nigeria. I stopped actively participating in sports last year. Since then, I’ve been a coach. I have trained people for several competitions. Some of the people I trained won gold, silver and bronze medals at KADA 2009 National Sports Festival.”

Mr Jonah trains not only physically challenged people, but also able bodied people.

“Currently, I have four people that I am training now in weight lifting. Two of them are disabled, and two of them are able,” he said. “When I went for the NIS course, a coaching course, I was trained to be a coach for both able and disabled people.”

His sojourn into coaching has led him into coaching not just for sports, but also life coaching. At different times, Mr Jonah has acted as a mentor to other physically challenged persons who have been facing some form of discrimination. Through sports, he has helped them find value in their lives.

“There is a lady I’m coaching now. Her name is Sherifat. She has polio and she uses two crutches. Before, she normally stayed at home. She felt lonely, she felt rejected, she was doing nothing at home. I approached her, talked to her, told her that she can do something better with her life. I introduced special sports to her. I’ve been training her for the past six months now and she is doing well. By God’s grace, I am preparing her for the next sports festival coming up next year in Rivers state.”

Between participating in sports full time and getting a job, Mr Jonah prefers sports but complains that the income gotten from it is quite insufficient. “Whenever there is any festival or competition, they give us some little allowance. When we win in any competition, they usually pay us some money. But that is hardly enough.

“The National Sports Festival for instance occurs once in two years, while other competitions occur once in a while. We are praying for more help from the government. I’d prefer to do sports full time if it will bring me more money. If the government can support us better than they are doing now, there will be no need for me to worry about getting another job.”

Despite the several challenges he faces daily, Mr Jonah is grateful to the government of Lagos state for the better ease of moving about within the state.

“Our present governor has done a lot of work through the infrastructure he has been providing. All the service lanes now are smooth and there is no much traffic like before. I pray that God will continue to strengthen him and give him the power to do more. It’s better than before. Also, the Lagos state government has given us the privilege to enter the BRT bus free of charge for special people. We have two seats reserved for us just behind the driver.”

He recounts some of the difficulty he had moving around while he was still a student. “During my schooling days, it was not easy to get a bus. Sometimes, I’d spend almost two hours at the bus-stop. With my condition, I couldn’t rush for a bus, so I’ll stay until all the passengers have left before I’d be able to enter a bus.”

Mr Jonah encourages disabled persons to find something engaging to do rather than feel sorry for themselves. He takes pride in the fact that disabled persons have been able to employ able bodies persons through the disabled sports transport initiative.

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(From NEXT) The many colours at traffic points

Traffic lights are signaling devices positioned at road intersections, pedestrian crossings, and other locations to control traffic flow. They assign the right of way to road users by the use of lights in standard colors (Red, Yellow, Green), using a universal colour code.

However, Lagosians are raising questions about the misson of the many traffic officials that are stationed at the same road intersections at a time, even where there are functioning traffic lights. Their multiple colours of uniforms signify their membership of different law enforcement agencies.

In recent times, the Sobo Arobiodu/Mobolaji Bank Anthony junction at Ikeja, is one point that has witnessed the invasion of multiple traffic officials almost on a daily basis. Traffic officials from the police, Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA), and Kick Against Indiscipline (KAI) are seen there at the same time.

According to a motorist, Kayode Coker, the presence of the traffic officials at traffic lights is useful to some extent. “Lagos drivers are a special breed. They still need someone to tell them to stop even when the traffic light is bright red. I think their presence there is necessary, but sometimes they are too much and they confuse drivers, especially when they are from more than one agency,” he said.

His view is reiterated by Ijeoma Onyemem, a banker, who plies Mobolaji Bank Anthony way often. “It is sad that we still need a traffic official to tell us when to stop and when to move, even when the traffic light is functioning. Apart from a situation where a traffic light is not working, people should know how to use and obey the traffic lights. The greatest offenders are the okada riders. They act as if the traffic lights are invisible.”

Another motorist, Jude Iroha, said the reason why people disobey the traffic lights is because the lawmakers and police openly disregard the traffic lights.

“The lawmakers themselves don’t obey the traffic lights. You often see police vans leading a convoy of some politicians blowing their siren away and driving through, even when the traffic light is red. They should show a good example by obeying it. That way, it will be easier for drivers to obey the traffic light, even when there is no traffic official there,” he said.

But for Nnamdi Moses, the presence of multiple traffic officials at intersections are completely unnecessary and should be stopped.

“Sometimes, they even confuse drivers. When the traffic light is red, they will say go so that another agent hiding somewhere will just spring up and arrest you. Sometimes, police will tell you to go and LASTMA will tell you to stop. It’s so confusing.”

Beyond traffic offences

Frank Mba, the Lagos State police spokesperson, in response to the issues raised, said that the presence of traffic officials from the police at traffic lights is necessary because of the irregular power supply experienced in the country.

“The power supply is still epileptic,” he said. “We are running a system that is still developing and the power supply is not regular, therefore law enforcement agencies cannot depend on power operated traffic system or electrical control traffic system. You need men on ground in case of power outage,” he said.

He added that their presence serves in reducing crime rate by a good percentage.

“Also, to arrest traffic offenders, we do not have electronic devices to do that. The presence of the officers will act as a deterrent not just for potential traffic defaulters, but for those that will want to commit sundry crime.”

Young Arebamen, the chief executive officer of LASTMA, also pointed out the problem of irregular power supply as a reason for LASTMA’s presence at traffic lights.

“If you are a Nigerian, you will know how ineffective power supply is. If no one is there and the power goes off, motorists get off doing what they want and sometimes create chaos,” he said.

But Danjuma Maigeri, the KAI marshal general, pointed out that the presence of KAI officials at traffic points is mainly to prevent street hawkers from selling their wares on the streets.

“The KAI’s involvement, where you are seeing the LASTMA and the police, has to do with street trading. As soon as there is ‘go slow’, these illegal street hawkers start coming out and it is the duty of the KAI officials to send them away,” he said.

Responding to their effectiveness in curbing street hawkers, Mr. Maigeri said that he has insufficient personnel to effectively check their activities.

“They are too much and no matter what you do, they will still come there. My biggest problem has been my strength. I am working with below 1200 officials, and I have asked for more staff. I am sure our dynamic governor and my honourable commissioner of environment, Muiz Banire, will listen and will soon increase our strength,” he said.

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Living the blackberry craze

A young man posted this comment on his Facebook page recently, “Na peer pressure make me go buy Blackberry, I for don stick to my 3310 jeje.”

With the surprisingly high number of young, and sometimes, unemployed people clutching some of the most expensive mobile phones in the market today, it is a wonder how they afford these phones and pay the monthly Internet subscription charges required for these devices. NEXT investigations revealed that most young, unemployed people who don’t have a Blackberry desire to have one despite the cost, a situation which Henrietta Davies, a mother of two describes as the result of peer pressure.

At Blackberry Slot, Ikeja, Nigeria’s only authorised Blackberry retailer, the Blackberry Bold 9700 Smartphone goes for 75000 Naira, Blackberry Bold 9000 for 63000 Naira, Blackberry Storm 9500 for 75000 Naira, Blackberry Curve 8900 for 55000 Naira and the cheapest which is Blackberry Curve 8250 for 40000 Naira.

The gadget defines the person

To activate the Internet charges on the phone, daily, weekly or monthly charges are set by the service provider. MTN charges 5000 Naira monthly and 1300 weekly. Glo has three packages, daily charge of 400 Naira, weekly charge of 1500 Naira and 4800 Naira monthly. Zain has a monthly charge of 4750 and Etisalat charges 5000 Monthly. Sandra Kentebe, a 300 level student of the University of Lagos, says that having a Blackberry as a student now defines who is a “big girl or a big boy.”

“These days on campus, if you don’t have a Blackberry, it’s like you don’t have a phone at all,” she said. “With the way people are flaunting it around, it is hard for one not to search for dubious means just to get one. The other day, one girl’s Blackberry was stolen in the hostel and she cried as if she had lost her mother.”

Bimpe Filani, another student of University of Lagos, says her Blackberry was a gift from her boyfriend who has been giving her money to pay the charges monthly. “My Blackberry was a birthday gift from my boyfriend and he pays the monthly charges. He gave it to me because he knows I like it. By the time I leave school and get a job, I will be able to pay the charges myself.”

A psychologist, George Damian, equally attributes the craze to peer pressure. “It’s hard to see a young person or a teenager who is not being influenced by a new fashion, trend or technology,” he said. And parents like Sola Adekunle, the father of an 18 year old son, are starting to get the whiplash. “I bought a phone for my son last year when he finished secondary school,” said Mr Adekunle. “Recently, he has been disturbing me for a Blackberry saying that the one I bought for him is no longer in fashion. I asked him the price and he told me it was 40000 Naira and I wonder what an 18 year old wants to do with a 40000 Naira phone.”

An under-used gadget?

The fuss about the Blackberry however is being over hyped for Femi Garba, a chartered accountant. “Blackberry is a business tool, it is not a fancy phone for young people to carry about,” he said. “If you are not someone who needs to check your email so often, then I don’t see why you need to bother yourself about having one. Most of the people who even carry Blackberries these days don’t really know how to use it.”

At Blackberry Slot in Ikeja, a Blackberry Consultant, Segun Bisiriyu, said that despite the high cost of the phones, a good number of them are sold daily because of the phone’s attractive features. “A Blackberry has so many attractive features,” he said. “The first one is that the email push on it is fantastic. Unlike other phones, once an email is sent to you, it takes a maximum of three seconds to get to your Blackberry. Secondly, the Internet speed is fast. When you are using a Blackberry phone, you have the option of choosing different browsers.”

Considering that the monthly Internet charges add to the cost of maintaining the phone, Mr Bisiriyu was asked if the Internet features on the phone could be ignored. “If you do not enable a Blackberry Internet, then you are making a Blackberry as good as useless,” he answered. “The beauty of a Blackberry is the use of a Blackberry to Blackberry chat called the ‘Ping.’ With a Blackberry anywhere in the world, as long as you have Internet on it, all you have to do is to get the ping number. Each blackberry has its own PIN. You can just add your friend’s name from any part of the world and chat with them at any time. That is why you see every body crazy about Blackberry, you see them walking on their street and they are chatting.”

For Lanre Osho who was seen browsing with his Blackberry, the benefits of a Blackberry outweighs its cost. “Despite the fact that I find it difficult to sometimes pay the monthly charges, it is also a very good source of information,” he said. “Recently, with my Blackberry, I got an information that there was a serious riot at Egbeda. I didn’t know that before and I was supposed to go through Egbeda so I postponed my appointment.”

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(From NEXT) Spreading slums of Lagos

Using the early morning darkness as a cover, Old Soldier, as he is generally known in the area, and his family take their turns bathing outside before beginning their daily work. Their home is a rickety wooden shack sitting dangerously on a small piece of land between another building and the canal that runs from the back of Afolabi Brown Street, in Akoka, to the lagoon behind the University of Lagos. This has been home to Old Soldier, his wife, and two grandchildren for the past eight months.

The Togolese and his family had previously lived in a similar wood shed at another part of the canal, before an expansion work was carried out in it by the state government, rendering Old Soldier and his family homeless for a few weeks.

“They wanted to break the fence of the building beside my tent, so I had to dismantle it. For many weeks, I and my family were living outside. The rain would beat us, the sun would beat us. But thank God, I found another small land to build my tent at the other side of the canal where they had finished working.”

But Old Soldier’s new home is even worse off than the former one. Surrounding his new habitat is a swamp teeming with frogs, fish, and a large breed of mosquitoes. But unlike his former home, he has neighbours, people who have turned the swampy land of the canal side to a new community.

“Do you know that I had to pay more than N10,000 for this land?” he asks, pointing to his ramshackle home. “But I am ok with it. At least, I don’t have to worry about any landlord disturbing me, and unlike my former place, I paid for this one so no one can disturb me here,” he said.

With a population of over 10 million and the highest immigration rate in the country, Lagos State is faced with severe housing problems, which has given rise to the constant emergence of new slums. Some of the old slums are found in Makoko, Ijora, and Ajelologo at Mile 12, among others.

Chris Amadi, an estate manager and housing specialist with Vimod Properties Plc, Ikeja, said slums grow as a result of inadequate housing and neglect of the government on matters of housing.

“Slums are not formed overnight. When one person builds a shack, another one joins, and then another. Before you know it, it would be a full blown community that would have solved some housing problems for some and created more for others.

“Take Ogudu, for instance; it is a mixture of the very high and low class. You can find a mansion in Ogudu, yet there are people living right on top of waste dump sites in the same community,” he says.

Cause for concern

But the presence of these slums, which are spreading by the day, in middle-class residential areas continues to create a source of worry to the residents of such places. Olayinka Sunmonu, a resident of Gbagada, said there is little or nothing that can be done to prevent them.

“The land they are building their houses on does not belong to me or my father, so I cannot go and chase them away. There are over six wooden houses built by some Hausa people at an abandoned land behind my house. They make so much noise, but I have to bear it,” he said.

A member of Akoka Landords’ Association, Tunde Ismail, said that there is not much the association can do to stop them from building their homes.

“We have tried to stop them from building those sheds there before but they said we were wicked, and since we had no backing from the government, we couldn’t send them away.”

Their presence, according to Mr. Ismail, contributes immensely to the dirtiness and pollution of the area. “These people don’t have toilets, so they mess up the area constantly. Some of them fry puff-puff there every morning and the smoke comes in through my windows, and disturbs everybody in the house,” he said.

The difference in economic strata among people in the society is something every society must deal with, said Adams Makinde, a sociologist. Indeed, a situation whereby a well-built and fenced house looms just beside a ramshackle shed, sometimes housing more than one family, describes vividly the inequality in the society.

“There will always be poor people and rich people in every community. The rich might sometimes inconvenience the poor, and the poor inconvenience the rich. We must all learn to accommodate each other,” said Mr. Makinde.

An official of Bariga Local Council Development Area, who declined giving his name, said the local council did not have the powers to stop people from building at such places.

“It is not one of our primary duties. But I’ll look into it and forward it to the appropriate authorities.” But Mr. Ismail said sending them away from those areas does nothing to solve the housing problems most of them are faced with.

“It is government’s land, so we can’t stop people from building there. If you go to the place where Old Soldier lived before, you will see that another person has built his home there.”

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(From NEXT) Second class citizens

Relocating to Lagos was not something Bisola Hassan ever thought of doing.

She had spent all her life in Offa, Kwara State, and was quite comfortable where she was. Many of her peers got caught up in the Lagos fever and left for Lagos soon after completing secondary school, but she was more interested in attending the Polytechnic at Offa. After failing two attempts at gaining admission into the Polytechnic, she decided to learn a trade and chose tailoring. Things turned sour, however, one year later, when her boss’ husband got her pregnant and she was sent out of her parents house. “My madam’s husband was toasting (propositioning) me for a long time but I did not agree,” she said. “One day, I don’t know whether he used charm on me but I found myself in his room and he slept with me. After that I got pregnant and my parents said I disgraced them and sent me out of their house.”

Luckily, a kind aunt took her in and harboured her until she delivered her baby. By an inexplicable reason, the baby was born blind, and that marked the beginning of hostile treatment she received from her aunt. When she was unable to stand the hostility from her aunt and her family any longer, she packed her things, strapped her baby on her back, and migrated to Lagos, where she hoped to find a better life for herself and her son. Things were very tough for her at the beginning but she was able to work and rent a room at Oyingbo where she now lives with her son. “Since I gave birth to my baby, my aunty just changed and started treating me badly,” she said. “She said that something was wrong with me that is why I gave birth to a blind child and she didn’t want me to infect her family. That is why I left Offa and came to Lagos.”

Culture and government as the culprits

Ms Hassan is one in hundreds of people, especially young women, who find themselves abandoned by kith and kin as a result of such superstitious beliefs. As a spill-over of some of the obnoxious cultural practices that were experienced centuries ago in Nigeria, physically challenged people continue to find themselves the targets of discrimination in parts of the country. David Anyaele, the Executive Director of Centre for Citizens with Disabilities, noted that the reason for such discrimination is due to the fact that many people still see disability as a curse.

“The reason is just simple: our cultural practices sees disability as a curse to the family members of the individual living with disability,” he said. “It is either the gods are angry with the individual or the family. Sometimes religious leaders intends to give impression that suggests that the individual or the forefathers have sinned against God; as such it is a punishment for sins of the fathers or the individual. This is propelled by the government’s inability to address disability issues as human rights issue but response to it as non-issue, charity or medical.”

Gbemiro Adekunle, a student of Pacelli’s School for the Blind, is another visually impaired individual who said he faced some form of discrimination from his mates when he was at his previous primary school and had to switch schools for that reason. “My parents didn’t want me to go to a school for only blind children so they sent me to a primary school where they thought I would mix freely with other children,” he said. “But some of them used to laugh at me. Even though I still had some friends who were nice, I didn’t feel comfortable so I asked them to change my school.”

For Henry Aghahowa, a 35-year-old man who lost the use of his legs in an accident over ten years ago, he has learnt to see beyond his natural limitations. “I am a pastor and when I preach the word of God, even on subjects like healing, people listen to me because they see beyond me and are inspired by my testimony,” he said. “It doesn’t matter whether I can’t walk, I am still a human being.”

Protecting their rights

According to Mr Anyaele, Nigerians must seek for an inclusion of laws which prohibit discrimination of people living with disabilities. “Nigeria is a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights. However, section 42 of [the] 1999 constitution made no prohibition of discrimination on the ground of disability,” he said. “People living with disabilities are therefore isolated, excluded, and marginalised due to their inability to socialise and participate in community programmes and events, hence development efforts of the state are designed at their exclusion.”

Sarah Ukong is a woman passionate about promoting the cause of people with disabilities, and intends to start a non-governmental organisation to this effect. “I don’t have a disability but I have lived with people with disabilities and I understand what they face,” she said. “Discrimination not only makes them feel less than they are but limits them from exhibiting certain gifts and potentials they have been blessed with.”

Ms Hassan, who has been living in Lagos with her son for seven years, hopes the wind of change will sweep by soon so that her son will be shielded from such discrimination. “At least, people treat us better here than they did in Offa,” she said. “I am not interested in marrying anyone, I just want to work hard for my son. He has been going to school and I want him to go to the university.

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