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Suddenly, I felt empty without my mobile phone by Ehi Braimah

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Family, friends and associates gathered last Thursday at Hillcrest Event Centre in Okota, Lagos, for the service of songs in honour of Dr. Emmanuel Sunny Ojeagbase — popularly known as SO to his media colleagues — who passed away in Atlanta, Georgia in the United States on February 26.

Before the service began, I met top sports journalists, Larry Izamoje and Isaac Ibhafidon. There were other former colleagues who bantered with each other and we used the opportunity to play catch up. I was a former employee of Complete Communications Limited, courtesy of SO’s large heart and kindness before I moved on to other responsibilities.

The service of songs was right on schedule at 4.00pm. Later, my wife joined me from her cousin’s event which was held at Ire-Akari Estate – a shouting distance away. By the time the service ended two hours later, it was time to share more banters with familiar faces that included Segun Odegbami, Mike Awoyinfa, Dada Ajai-Ikhile, Franklin Ilaboya, and members of the Ojeagbase family.

I took one of my phones containing my MTN and 9mobile numbers with me into the hall but the last thing on my mind was that the phone would be stolen by a pickpocket. Taking the phone with me turned out to be a costly mistake. I’m usually never in the habit of taking my phones with me to such places – not even when I attend church services; I keep the phone far away from me. My attitude is that all calls and messages can wait — for a few hours. After all, we survived when we didn’t have mobile phones.

Personally, I do not believe it is a good idea to take the mobile phone or tablet into the church, a place of worship where we should reverence God in all his holiness. But again, you cannot really fault those who do so because we are in the tech age where the digital version of the bible – one of the apps downloaded from Google Play or the app store – is stored on those devices.

I have never lost a phone since 2001 when the mobile telecommunications revolution began. You can lose a phone or it can be stolen – they don’t mean the same thing. Once I have used a phone for about three to four years, I get another one and pass on the old handset to the next lucky beneficiary.

But this time, I lost my Samsung mobile phone to a thief immediately after the service of songs ended. These thieves are at every event – birthdays, weddings, services of songs, worship centres, and so on. Most of the time, they appear like “important” guests, uninvited but well dressed for the occasion; they are criminals going after the personal effects of invited guests.

Unfortunately, CCTV cameras are not installed in most of these venues by the owners. Masters of ceremony at such functions and social events should constantly remind their audiences to secure their mobile phones and other personal effects from the prying eyes of misbegotten gatecrashers and thieves at these parties.

Why did I take my mobile phone with me into the hall? Well, let us just say that I broke one of my “fundamental rules” and paid dearly for it. But you cannot blame me because I was expecting my wife to call me as soon as she arrived at the venue from her cousin’s place. And she did and joined me after I told her where I was sitting in the hall. It was the last call I received before the phone was stolen.

I was careless to have left the phone inside the left pocket of my Ankara attire, the one Yorubas call Buba and Sokoto. It was inside the left pocket of my Buba. Throughout the service, I knew the phone was with me. But when the service ended, I only took a few steps to exchange pleasantries when, instinctively, I reached out for my phone but it was gone and switched off by the thief.

“Is my phone with you,” I asked my wife, half-heartedly, to be sure even when I could recollect I never gave her the phone. At this time, Tajudeen, our driver, had the takeaway hospitality packs with him. “Please check the packs,” my wife, who was still in shock, instructed Tajudeen just to erase every doubt.

The phone was nowhere to be found. I was confused. Before we left the venue, I told Mumini Alao, Julius Ojeagbase and Thomas Ayodele, my former colleagues at Complete Communications, that my phone had been stolen. The mood changed and feelings of sympathy were expressed. Mumini, Thomas, and I still relate very well as brothers and we stay in touch regularly.

I was initially angry with myself for my carelessness and I became distraught because I knew the inconveniences that would follow retrieving the lines. Although she was feeling bad, my wife pleaded that I should not be too hard on myself. “Don’t worry, you will get another phone tomorrow,” she assured me, trying to calm my nerves. It turned out that the thieves also stole mobile phones belonging to other guests; I was not the only victim.

Throughout the journey from Okota to Ikeja, I was unhappy for being a victim. It could have been avoided. In my reckoning, the effort was like a stroll in the park for the pickpocket. My second mobile phone – containing Glo and Airtel lines – was in the car. But my MTN line that is as old as the network is my mobile office; if you get my drift. All the relevant apps are stored on the phone.

When MTN marked its 10th anniversary, I was honoured as a valued customer with gifts and a carefully worded “Thank You” letter, an exercise that I ranked as excellent public relations. MTN has continued on that path to this day.

My first mobile phone handset ever was the famous and sturdy Nokia 3310. Do you still remember the popular and iconic ring tone booming from the handset each time it rang? It was a phrase from ‘Grand Vals’ (12 – 14 secs), a Spanish classical song composed by guitarist and musician Francisco Tarrega. Well, that was back in the day –- 21 years ago.

Suddenly, I did not have access to WhatsApp which meant that I could not chat, send or receive messages. WhatsApp, as we all know, is a versatile and robust medium of communication for everyone, no matter the person’s status. WhatsApp is a fast, sure and real-time platform for engagement and conversations by individuals and groups — as long as they have access to the internet.

WhatsApp is owned by Facebook, now Meta. Mark Zuckerberg, chief executive of the company in his expansionist drive, acquired WhatsApp. Computer engineers Brian Acton and Jan Koum were young college students in their 30s but cofounded messaging application, WhatsApp, in 2009. They met previously at Ernst & Young, and much later at Yahoo! where they worked together. Acton and Koum launched the app five years after Zuckerberg created Facebook on February 4, 2004.

Then on February 19, 2014, Facebook announced it was acquiring WhatsApp when it was five years old for US$22 billion in cash and stock – its largest purchase to date. Facebook is also the owner of Instagram which the company bought for US$1 billion 18 months after IG was launched.

It is not always a good experience when mobile phones are stolen because of our emotional attachment to the phones. For several reasons, your mobile phone is your companion and personal assistant because the phone is always with you wherever you go. When it is stolen or whether you declare it missing, you instantly feel that a part of you is missing – that sense of loss surrounds you and literally eats you up as if oxygen is draining out of your body.

The phone can be a major source of distraction but can we do without it? According to the Nigeria Communications Commission (NCC), there are over 198 million mobile (GSM) active lines in Nigeria which translate into a huge pot of gold for the telecoms operators. Internet penetration is understandably massive in Nigeria and the numbers keep growing each year. MTN, Glo, Airtel and 9mobiles are the main players in the sector and I’m a customer of the four networks.

Semiu Okanlawon, a journalist and media consultant, said we have a “spiritual connection” to our mobile phones. “It is like owning a dog which is showered with a lot of affection as if it were a human being,” Semiu told me the day after my phone was stolen.

He had a similar experience in Iwo, Osun state, at the wedding reception of his niece but the story of Michael Effiong James, editor of Ovation International magazine, was different. “Instinctively, I felt emptiness around me,” Semiu remembered after a pickpocket stole his phone. He had also placed the phone inside the left pocket of his Buba but he was lucky to have apprehended the thief who was given the beating of his life by angry bystanders.

Michael was unlucky in his encounter with men of the underworld but he is lucky to be alive. After taking him around Lagos for more than four hours in the dead of the night as if it was a James Bond movie, the Ovation editor lost his car, cash, laptop and mobile phone to the armed robbers.

The interesting thing was that he found his phone when the police stepped into the matter. His car was also recovered. Mike told me he was mightily impressed with the police for their professional and thorough investigation. With the help of technology, most of our teething problems can be solved. Mike’s phone was tracked by the police using the IMEI code and the thief or receiver of the phone was caught. It will work for you if you are able to store the code in a safe place. In my case, I did not but it is a useful lesson.

In truth, it is difficult to shake off the mobile phone and pretend as if it is not important. When you are without your mobile phone or if the battery is flat because you are unable to charge it, you actually feel like a fish out of water.

In my own case, I’m completely cut off from the rest of the world but I have had to fall back on my Glo and Airtel lines since last Thursday. When I visited the Friendship and Customer Care Centres of MTN and 9mobile the next day and Saturday, I could not retrieve my lines because the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) portal was down.

If it is a new sim card, registration can be done offline but you would have to wait for at least 72 hours for the line to be fully activated through the NIMC portal. However, if it is an old sim card like mine, the number must be re-validated on the NIMC portal before a sim swap can be enabled.

For security measures, please ensure that your mobile phone is passworded with a mix of numbers and alphabets, finger print or facial recognition. You should also password your WhatsApp and bank apps where it is applicable. Once your phone is stolen, the first thing to do is block the numbers and go through the process of restoring them, but pray that the NIMC portal does not slow you down.

Even when you lose your phone, the good thing is that you can retrieve all your data and information if you stored them digitally in the cloud. Google, for example, provides secure and durable storage for free – but only up to a threshold after which you are required to pay for the service.

I must confess that the customer relations executives were very helpful. Rosemary, Tolu and Michael at MTN and the duo of Stanley and Adebola at 9mobile displayed excellent work attitude when I visited their Friendship Centres. I salute their cooperation, commitment and sense of industry.

My two lines should have been fully restored the next day – under “normal circumstances”. That was my expectation, but I was only able to activate the lines 72 hours after my phone was stolen. Until you are able to scale the NIMC portal hurdle for revalidation of your information, telecoms operators cannot proceed to the next stage in order to retrieve your telephone numbers.

Thankfully, the NIMC portal, with its “bi-polar behaviour” like the British weather, allowed for my sim swap and successful registration after several attempts by the dutiful MTN staff on Sunday.

Braimah is a public relations strategist and publisher/editor-in-chief of Naija Times (https://naijatimes.ng)

Strictly Personal

UK-Rwanda relocation plan for asylum seekers is a hot potato by Charles Onyango-Obbo

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In 2019, Rwanda agreed to take in hundreds of African immigrants held in horrid conditions in detention centres in Libya under an agreement with the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, and the African Union.

There was applause.

In August 2021, as America’s 20-year-old military and state-building campaign in Afghanistan unravelled into chaos, in Africa —Rwanda and Uganda — agreed to take in Afghanistan refugees.

Among the Afghans who relocated to Rwanda, escaping the Taliban’s well-known hostility toward education for women, were all 250 students of the famed Afghanistan Leadership School (SOLA), Afghanistan’s only boarding school for girls.

There were cheers and extravagant praise for Rwanda and Uganda. Today, Rwanda hosts nearly 140,000 refugees and asylum seekers. Uganda, on the other hand, hosts 1.5 million refugees, making it the top refugee-hosting country in Africa.

In April this year, hell broke loose. The UK announced that it had a plan to send illegal asylum seekers to Rwanda, where they would either stay or move on to other countries.

The Boris Johnson government insists the programme is aimed at disrupting people-smuggling networks and deterring migrants from making the dangerous sea journey across the English Channel to England from France.

Critics have come out swinging with fury, calling the plan immoral, racist, and several arguing it is risky because several of the human rights found in liberal democracies are absent in Rwanda. This new “democracy test” for resettlement, has opened up a tricky window into the protection business.

The UK asylum affair, meanwhile, has muscled its way into the headlines about the Commonwealth Heads of Government (Chogm) meeting being held in Kigali.

The high emotions the UK-Rwanda asylum plan has kicked up, are a pointer to how complicated, immigration and refugee have come. There are several contradictory things that are both true at the same time.

If Donald Trump’s election victory in the US in 2016, and his turbulent racist-fuelled term tell us anything, it is that the western world has reached “peak” migration.

Uncomfortable to confront, but it is probably no longer sustainable for, especially, people from the south to continue emigrating and fleeing to the West in large numbers. Domestically, the fear of people of colour “replacing” white communities is reaching a fever pitch, and fuelling extreme right-wing politics.

We’ve to grant it. The demographic make-up of the West is changing, and by the end of this century, white people will be minorities in nearly all the major European countries. Not too many people will take their disappearance with great fortitude.

For the western left and progressives, migration and the diverse nations it makes possible is where they see the future of their play in politics. For businesses, migrants provide a new pool of cheap labour, ensuring their profit in a world where China is eating their lunch. Things like the UK-Rwandan plan, do have long-term political and economic consequences.

Yet, that doesn’t explain why the resettlements of immigrants from Libya and Afghanistan in Africa weren’t attacked. The difference could be because Libya’s and Afghanistan’s crises are partly outcomes of western — NATO and the US — interventions that went horribly wrong. The repatriations are a much-needed clean-up of the mess — and there is some consensus of the western left and right on that.

Charles Onyango-Obbo is a journalist, writer, and curator of the “Wall of Great Africans”. Twitter@cobbo3

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Tanko Muhammad, Ekweremadu and health of Nigeria by Suyi Ayodele

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What happened to the Nigerian judiciary under the now retired Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Tanko Muhammad, is a symptom of an ailing nation. We must all come to admit that Nigeria is a country that needs moral transplant. Who will be the donor is what we don’t know. That the aeroplane-driving CJN retired after his “brother justices” accused him of misconduct is never news to celebrate. The resignation itself is never a part of the diagnosis of what ails the country. And I sincerely do hope that the General Muhammadu Buhari administration will not because of the belated retirement  roll out the drums to celebrate his tough stance on the fight against corruption!  The judiciary is expected to be the healthiest of the three arms of government. Its chronic illness under Tanko is a pointer to the general well being of the government in power. The undertakers should not be far away as their services may be required soon.

In Africa’s worldview, a healthy man is a wealthy man. The saying, “health is wealth,” underscores the importance human beings attach to sound health. Without sound health, man becomes useless. This is why sane countries of the world don’t play with their healthcare delivery. But it is not so in Nigeria, a country which prides itself as the “Giant of Africa”. By that sobriquet, one would expect that Nigeria would tower above other African countries in all ramifications of life. If you are wondering why we are this low in all aspects of life as a nation, just take a look at our health care delivery system. If Nigeria’s health is failing, or has failed, the citizenry cannot be healthy. For those who care to know, Nigeria is not just ill, it is terminally ill.

Some two years ago or so, I had the misfortune of rushing an ailing church member to the University of Benin Teaching Hospital, UBTH. At the close of service that fateful Sunday, a friend and I had planned to go out with our spouses. We drove out of the church premises and saw the ailing woman being aided to the road to get a taxi to the hospital. We picked her up in my friend’s car while I joined him and asked the women to use my own car. By Ehaekpen Road, the woman gave up the ghost in the car. But we continued the journey to the UBTH. At the Accident and Emergency section of the hospital, she was confirmed as BID (Brought In Dead). That was where our ordeal began. The relation in the car contacted other family members and agreed that the remains of the woman be deposited at the hospital’s morgue. To our utter embarrassment, UBTH had no BID form to take the woman’s profile and have her corpse deposited in the morgue. For over two hours, the corpse was left in our car. I had to ask one of the hospital attendants in charge to copy the information of a used BID form at the back of another used form and fill in for the dead woman. I knew then that we had bigger problems than anyone could imagine. If a teaching hospital, as big as the UBTH, had no ordinary BID form, one can imagine the state of the General Hospital at Afrikpo, or Balewa Village or at Itawure!

This is why, at the slightest discomfort of headache, the locust masquerading as our leaders jet out of Nigeria to seek medical help abroad. From personnel to equipment, infrastructure to medications, hospitals in Nigeria are killing fields. In his 2017 article titled: ‘Africa’s presidents keep going abroad for medical treatment rather than fixing healthcare at home,’ published in Qartz Africa, an online publication, Yomi Kazeem has this to say: “The preference for an international doctor’s appointment is steeped in irony as these leaders often make promises about improving local healthcare a central part of their campaigns while seeking office. But by looking beyond the continent for medical solutions, African leaders maintain a vicious cycle which keeps faith in public healthcare low while channeling substantial state resources to hospitals abroad rather than plug local healthcare gaps. In many African countries, this reality is all too apparent. According to the World Health Organisation estimates, with a shortage of 4.2 million health workers, Africa is the region with the world’s second-worst health worker shortage”. Zeroing down on Nigeria, Kazeem  quoted WHO as saying that: “In Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, the shortage  will be less severe if the health system could call on the services of the up to 15,000 Nigerian doctors estimated to be working outside the country. But there’s little motivation for doctors practising abroad to return home with crumbling infrastructure, lack of drugs and poor compensation.” If in 2017, we had 15,000 Nigerian medical doctors working outside the shores of the country, your guess is as good as mine on what the figure will be now.

Nothing, in recent time speaks to the parlous state of our healthcare delivery system more than last Thursday’s arrest of Senator Ike Ekweremadu and his wife, Beatrice, by the Metropolitan Police in far away United Kingdom. According to the reports of the arrest, the former deputy senate president was accused of trafficking a child to the UK for organ harvest and slavery. A statement issued by the Met police says “Beatrice Nwanneka Ekweremadu, 55 (10.9.66) of Nigeria is charged with conspiracy to arrange/facilitate travel of another person with a view to exploitation, namely organ harvesting. Ike Ekweremadu, 60 (12.05.62) of Nigeria is charged with conspiracy to arrange/facilitate travel of another person with a view to exploitation, namely organ harvesting. They have both been remanded in custody and will appear at Uxbridge Magistrates’ Court later today. A child has been safeguarded and we are working closely with partners on continued support. As criminal proceedings are now under way we will not be providing further details”. Ever since, the senator’s team has responded to state that the alleged “organ harvest victim” is not a 15-year-old street lad, but a 22-year old adult who volunteered to donate one of his organs for Ekweremadu’s daughter, Sonia, who is having challenges with her kidney. My thrust here is not to probe into the veracity or otherwise of the claims that the supposed organ donor, David Nwamini Ukpo, was shipped to the UK legally. I would also not bother to interrogate whether Ukpo is on his own an opportunist, who, according to claims, when he realised that he would be shipped back to Nigeria after his organ failed to match that of Sonia,  decided to raise false alarms of abuse and what have you. No, my focus is why, in the first instance, Ekweremadu had to depend on a UK hospital for an organ transplant operation for his darling daughter.

The problem with the Enugu-born senator is the problem with all our political leaders in Nigeria. Like the saying goes: “all are thieves but he who is caught is the barawo”. For crying out loud, Ekweremadu has been in the corridors of power since the time lizards were few. He is a confirmed “omo ijoba” (government child). Two years before the advent of the current political disaster we call democratic governance, he was elected chairman of Aniri Local Government Area of Enugu State on the platform of the defunct United Nigeria Congress Party, UNCP. He was elected into the Senate in 2003 and was deputy Senate president for 12 years, beginning with the era of David Mark, through to Bukola Saraki. In his 19-year stay in the Senate, like his other political leeches feeding fat on our patrimony without a whim of concern for the common good, Ekweremadu did not see any reason why Nigeria should have well -equipped hospitals where ailments like organ failure of any shade could be treated. Unfortunately, Ekweremadu is not the only culprit in the league of Nigerian leaders engaged in medical tourism. The league, as we all know, is led by General Muhammadu Buhari, who holds the life trophy of spending 104 days at a stretch on a London hospital bed at our expense, with the presidential jet parked at Heathrow Airport, accumulating demurrage! When we add the BTA of his personal aides who accompanied him to the UK, Buhari will go down in history as the man who spent what could have built for the nation a decent hospital for the use of the people on a single medical trip abroad. So, when news of the arrest of Ike and Beatrice Ekweremadu filtered in, what easily came to my mind is the saying that when the head is rotten, the tail will be home for maggots! Cumulatively, an August 5, 2021 report by the Premium Times of Nigeria, puts the number of days General Buhari had spent on medical tourism to the UK at 200. You may wish to ask: did Buhari not talk about the parlous state of the nation’s health institution while seeking our votes in 2014? Did he not assure us that he would not go abroad for medical attention? Kazeem, quoted earlier, answers the posers.

That done, as humans, we may also wish to look at the desperation of the father-figure Ekweremadu presents as he seeks a medical solution to his ailing daughter’s health. There is a deep prayer among my people which says: “ki Oluwa ma fi ina omo jo wa” (May God not allow us to be scorched by the death of our child). This is where I believe that our thoughts should be with Miss Ekweremadu as she battles for survival at this critical moment. It is even more important for us to spare a moment of prayer for Sonia, now that the most important caregivers of her life, the parents, are in detention. The thought that her parents are locked up in cells in the UK because of her is devastating enough for the poor girl. While we have the assurance that, unlike what we have in Nigeria, the UK Government would not allow Sonia to be left unattended to, we cannot overemphasise the importance of the presence of her parents at this crucial  time. Again, that the Ekweremadus were picked up on their way to Turkey is an indication of how desperate they were to bring their daughter back to sound health. We may frown at the method employed to achieve that. We may interrogate why the replacement for the failing organ was not sourced within the family circles. In all that, we must have it at the back of our minds that every mother hen uses her back to shield her chicks from the ravenous hawk. We therefore call on the Almighty God, our Healer, to stretch His healing hands on Sonia and make this storm to pass. We pray that she surmounts this mountain before her and becomes useful to Nigerian society and humanity in general. We also pray that after this, every Ekweremadu in leadership in Nigeria will see the need to build up our health institutions and other decayed infrastructure in the country as doing so is also in their own interest. May Sonia live!

 

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