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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

All eyes in Africa are on Kenya’s bid for a reset, By Joachim Buwembo

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Whoever impregnated Angela Rayner and caused her to drop out of school at the tender age of 16 with no qualifications might be disappointed that we aren’t asking who her baba mtoto (child’s father) is; whether he became a president, king or a vagabond somewhere, since the girl ‘whose leg he broke’ is now UK’s second most powerful person, 28 years since he ‘stole her goat’.

Angela’s rise to such heights after the adversity should be a lesson to countries which, six decades after independence, still have millions of citizens wallowing in poverty and denied basic human dignity, while the elite shamelessly flaunt obscene luxury on their hungry, twisted faces.

After independence, African countries also suffered their adolescent setbacks in the form of military coups. Uganda’s military rule lasted eight years, Kenya’s about eight hours on August 1, 1982, while Tanzania’s didn’t materialise and its first defence chief became an ambassador somewhere.

What we learn from Angela Rayner is that when you’re derailed, it doesn’t matter who derailed you, because nobody wants to know. What matters is that you pick yourself up, not just to march on, but to stand up and shine.To incessantly blame our colonial and slave-trading ‘derailers’ while we treat our fellow citizens worse than the colonialists did only invites the world to laugh. Have you ever read of a colonial officer demanding a bribe from a local before providing the service due?

African countries today need to press ‘reset’. A state operates by written policies, plans, strategies and prescribed penalties with gazetted prisons for those who break the rules.  This is far more power than teenage Angela had, so a reset state should take less time to become prosperous than the 28 years it took her to get to the top after derailing.

So it’s realistic for countries to operate on five-year planning and electoral cycles, so a state that fails to implement a programme in five years has something wrong with it. It needs a reset.

A basic reset course for African leaders and economists should include:

1. Mindset change: Albert Einstein teaches us that no problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it. For example, if you are in debt, seeking or accepting more debt is using the same level of thinking that put you there. If you don’t like Einstein’s genius, you can even try an animal in the bush that falls into a hole and stops digging. Our economists are certainly better than a beast in the bush.

2. Stealing is wrong: African leaders and civil servants need to revisit their catechism or madarasa – stealing public resources is as immoral as rape.

3. Justifying wrong doesn’t make it right: Using legalese and putting sinful benefits in the budget is immoral and can incite the deprived to destroy everything.

4. Take inventory of your resources and plan to use them: If Kenya, for example, has a railway line running from Mombasa to Nairobi, is it prudent to borrow $3.6 billion to build a highway parallel to it before paying off and electrifying the railway?

If Uganda is groaning under a $2 billion annual petrol import bill, does it make sense to beg Kenya for access to import more fuel, when Kampala is already manufacturing and marketing electric buses, while failing to use hundreds of megawatts it generates, yet the country has to pay for the unused power?

If Tanzania… okay, TZ has entered the 21st Century with its electric trains soon to be operating between Dar es Salaam and Morogoro. Ethiopia, too, has connected Addis Ababa to the port of Djibouti with a 753-kilometre electric railway,  and moves hundreds of thousands of passengers in Addis every day by electric train.

5. Protect the environment: We don’t own it, we borrowed it from our parents to preserve it for our children. Who doesn’t know that the future of the planet is at stake?

6. Do monitoring and evaluation: Otherwise you may keep doing the same thing that does not work and hope for better results, as a sage defined lunacy.

7. Don’t blame the victims of your incompetence: This is basic fairness.

We could go on, but how boring! Who doesn’t know these mundane points? We are not holding our breath for Angela’s performance, because if she fails, she will be easily replaced. Africa’s eyes should now be on Kenya to see how they manage an abrupt change without the mass bloodshed that often accompanies revolutions.

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Strictly Personal

The post-budget crisis in Kenya might be good for Africa, after all, By Joachim Buwembo

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The surging crisis that is being witnessed in Kenya could end up being a good thing for Africa if the regional leaders could step back and examine the situation clinically with cool-headed interest. Maybe there is a hand of God in the whole affair. For, how do explain the flare not having started in harder-pressed countries such as Zambia, Mozambique and Ghana?

As fate would have it, it happened in East Africa, the region that is supposed to provide the next leadership of the African Union Commission, in a process that is about to start. And, what is the most serious crisis looming on Africa’s horizon? It is Debt of course.

Even the UN has warned the entire world that Africa’s debt situation is now a crisis. As at now, three or four countries are not facing debt trouble — and that is only for now.

There is one country, though, that is virtually debt-free, having just been freed from debt due to circumstances: Somalia. And it is the newest member of the East African Community. Somalia has recently had virtually all its foreign debt written off in recognition of the challenges it has been facing in nearly four decades.

Why is this important? Because debt is the choicest weapon of neocolonialists. There is no sweeter way to steal wealth than to have its owners deliver it to you, begging you, on all fours, to take it away from them, as you quietly thank the devil, who has impaired their judgement to think that you are their saviour.

So?

So, the economic integration Africa has embarked on will, over the next five or so years, go through are a make-or-break stage, and it must be led by a member that is debt-free. For, there is no surer weapon to subjugate and control a society than through debt.

A government or a country’s political leadership can talk tough and big until their creditor whispers something then the lion suddenly becomes a sheep. Positions agreed on earlier with comrades are sheepishly abandoned. Scheduled official trips get inexplicably cancelled.

Debt is that bad. In African capitals, presidents have received calls from Washington, Paris or London to cancel trips and they did, so because of debt vulnerability.

In our villages, men have lost wives to guys they hate most because of debt. At the state level, governments have lost command over their own institutions because of debt. The management of Africa’s economic transition, as may be agreed upon jointly by the continental leaders, needs to be implemented by a member without crippling foreign debt so they do not get instructions from elsewhere.

The other related threat to African states is armed conflict, often internal and not interstate. Somalia has been going through this for decades and it is to the credit of African intervention that statehood was restored to the country.

This is the biggest prize Africa has won since it defeated colonialism in (mostly) the 1960s decade. The product is the new Somalia and, to restore all other countries’ hope, the newly restored state should play a lead role in spreading stability and confidence across Africa.

One day, South Sudan, too, should qualify to play a lead role on the continent.

What has been happening in Kenya can happen in any other African country. And it can be worse. We have seen once promising countries with strong economies and armies, such as Libya, being ravaged into near-Stone Age in a very short time. Angry, youthful energy can be destructive, and opportunistic neocolonialists can make it inadvertently facilitate their intentions.

Containing prolonged or repetitive civil uprisings can be economically draining, both directly in deploying security forces and also by paralysing economic activity.

African countries also need to become one another’s economic insurance. By jointly managing trade routes with their transport infrastructure, energy sources and electricity distribution grids, and generally pursuing coordinated industrialisation strategies in observance of regional and national comparative advantages, they will sooner than later reduce insecurity, even as the borders remain porous.

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