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That slave trade bill on medical doctors, By Suyi Ayodele

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Barring strikes by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) or the Non-Academic Staff Union of Universities (NASU), medical students spend an average of six years in the university. Upon graduation, they go through one year of Horsemanship. Thereafter, they observe the one-year compulsory NYSC programme. So, to become a medical doctor in Nigeria, one must have spent a minimum cumulative eight years! Eight years in the present-day Nigerian environment is closer to hell and its fiery furnace. Now, after the rigours of the eight years, some efulefu in Abuja are saying that an additional five years will be added before the licence to practice will be given. The proposed five years, in labour euphemism, is called labour bond. But the real name is pure Forced Labour or, better still, Modern Slavery.

My late father was 86 years old when I gained admission to the university in 1989. After I left the university and completed my NYSC, I looked for a job for three solid years. When there was no hope, a cousin obtained a postgraduate form for me and paid the initial deposit. I saw hell at the University of Ibadan (UI), undergoing my Masters. I could not go home to ask my parents for money because I knew the condition at home.  Thankfully, as I rounded off the programme, I was employed as a reporter by the Nigerian Tribune, which posted me to Benin, as the Edo State correspondent.

I arrived in Benin and nursed the hope that by the time I would be paid my salary, I would take the whole money home for parental blessings as tradition demanded, then. Lo and behold, before the salary was paid, I got a call from the Vicar of our All Saints’ Anglican Church, Oke-Bola, Ikole Ekiti, that my good, old, loving father had died. He died precisely on November 3, 1999. I was not able to give him a dime before he died at the ripe age of 86! Sad! The two of us were victims of the hopeless situation a failed leadership imposed on the country. Pa Solomon Fafunmiloni Obajusigbe Ayodele died without eating the fruits of his labour on me. This is exactly what the Abuja lawmakers are planning for most parents, who toil day and night to train their children and wards in the medical faculties across the country! May God forbid bad thing!

This is the year of the Lord 2023. But our legislators in the National Assembly, particularly the rancorous House of Representatives, are still living like fossils. Pity! Nigeria is a huge amphitheatre. We churn out lots of comedy daily. If anyone has ever wondered why nothing moves in the right direction in this country, such a person should visit the National Assembly and see the jokers there who make laws for the ‘common good’ of the nation. You cannot put anything perfidious past the ‘honourable’ men and women who live in Apo village. There is no grisly legislation they are not capable of decreeing. One of such is last week’s “Bill for an Act to Amend the Medical and Dental Practitioners Act, Cap. M379, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004, to mandate any Nigerian-trained Medical or Dental practitioner to practice in Nigeria for a minimum of five years before being granted a full licence by the council in order to make quality health services available to Nigeria”, sponsored by Ganiyu Johnson,who represents the Oshodi-Isolo II Federal Constituency of Lagos State in the lower legislative chamber. The Bill seeks to arrest the current brain drain in the medical circle, so, Johnson told us. And look at the ‘novel’ way the Rep member from Lagos State put it. Everyone who trained as a medical doctor in Nigeria will mandatorily practice for five years before he/she will be given the full licence to practice medicine in the country before venturing into other lands to practice.

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) defines Forced Labour or Modern Slavery in its “Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (N029) as; “All work or service which is exacted from any person under the threat of a penalty for which the person has not offered himself or herself voluntarily”. The international body in its The Forced Labour Protocol (Article 1(3) expressly affirms the definition above and goes ahead to expatiate the key elements of the definition to mean: “Work or service refers to all types of work occurring in any activity, industry or sector including in the informal economy. Menace of any penalty refers to a wide range of penalties used to compel someone to work”, adding that “Involuntariness, “The terms “offered voluntarily” refer to the free and informed consent of a worker to take a job and his or her freedom to leave at any time…”.  It, again, in its “General Survey on Forced Labour, ILO Committee of Experts, 2007” states what constitutes “Exceptions” to the definition in Article 2(2) of Convention No. 29, and gives five exceptional cases to include: “Compulsory military service, Normal civic obligations; Prison labour (under certain conditions); Work in emergency, situations (such as war, calamity or threatened calamity e.g. fire, flood, famine, earthquake), and, Minor communal services (within the community)”.

From the foregoing, what Johnson introduced to the House of Representatives last week falls under the ILO’s definition of Forced Labour or Modern Slavery. Hear his incomprehensible verbiage emitted on the floor of the house: “Government has invested so much money in training these medical doctors, on average. Recently, the United Kingdom opened healthcare visas to people, they were all going to the UK, USA, Canada so should we fold our hands? So, to give back to our society after training you, the least we can get from you after your Housemanship. Before you are given full license you practice for five years before you can go”. Even when Nkem Abonta, Ukwa East/West Federal Constituency of Abi State, countered the Lagos legislator, pointing out that such a legislation is “offensive” and “not obtainable in any clime”, the stone-age Lagosian would not have any of that. Expectedly, the Bill was put to a voice vote and most of the lawmakers supported it. That was the Second Reading stage.

There are two issues that Johnson and his co-travellers threw up. One is the issue of brain drain of medical personnel in Nigeria. That is worrisome, no doubt. However, it is rather funny, and even more unfortunate, that the very people that would turn up to legislate our children into modern slavery are the very set of individuals who created the problem of brain drain in the first instance. Can Nigerians ask Johnson and his gang how many of their children, wards and dependents are in our Medical Colleges in Nigeria? How many of their children, who they sent abroad to go and study medicine are back in Nigeria to practice? Again, can we ask them how many of our legislators, executive council members from General Muhammadu Buhari to the least Supervisory Councillors in the various local government areas, patronize Nigerian hospitals for their health issues? Where for instance, is the president-elect, Bola Ahmed Tinubu? Where has he been receiving medical attention for the list of ailments that trouble his frail frame? Will he end medical tourism after his swearing-in? From which government hospital does he receive medical care in Lagos, where he governed for eight years and, we are told, he ‘transformed’?

What do the Abuja legislators think we are? Were they not the same legislators that killed the “Bill for an Act to Amend the National Health Act 2014 to Regulate International Trips for Medical Treatment by Public Officers to Strengthen the Health Institutions for Efficient Service Delivery”, which sought to amend Section 46 of the National Health Act, 2014 to regulate international trips for medical treatment by public officers and to strengthen the health institutions for efficient service delivery? When the Bill came up for debate then, hear what Lasun Yusuf, the then deputy speaker of the House of Representatives said: “This bill is against my fundamental human right. There are two fundamental wrongs in this bill, it is against human right, and it is discriminatory. Do not let us debate this bill”. End of story!  Where is that Bill today? If stopping our leaders from seeking medical attention abroad is against their fundamental human rights, how has compelling medical doctors to work for five years before being fully licensed enhanced their own fundamental human rights?

The second issue is Johnson’s sickening claim that “the Government has invested so much money in training these medical doctors”. Where and how much? How many medical students are on government scholarship? What about those children in the medical colleges of the various private universities? The body who should know, the Medical and Dental Consultants Association of Nigeria (MDCAN), described the Bill as “discriminatory, harsh and not in the interest of the people” and, “an excellent example of modern-day slavery”. MDCAN, in a press statement endorsed by its President, Dr Victor Makanjuola, and Secretary-General, Dr Yemi Raji, said: “In fact, this bill has the possible effect of doing the exact opposite: aggravating the exodus which we have been working with the Executive arm of Government to mitigate… Perhaps, a simple consultation with the primary constituency to be affected by the bill would have afforded the honourable member a clearer understanding of the hydra-headed nature of the problem he is trying to solve”. Indeed, Johnson must have been very ignorant of the nuances of brain drain in the country. MDCAN asked if there would be “another Bill to mandate the senior doctors to stay in the system for 10 years”? it added that the bill “violates the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as Section 34 (1) b states that “no person shall be held in slavery or servitude” while Section 34 (1) c states that “no one shall be required to perform forced or compulsory labour”. The association submitted that “bonding medical doctors who never benefited from any public sponsorship is, therefore, an anomaly, and a clear attempt to reap from where one has not sowed”. It dismissed the notion that doctors received heavily subsidized education as gravely fallacious!

Our leaders are indeed far from the reality of our deplorable situation. I know of a family friend, whose son, after completing his six-year training as a medical doctor, stayed over a year at home before he could secure a place for his Housemanship. I know nursing graduates, who for over six months now have been looking for where to do their internship. How long then will a civil servant or a simple struggling trader who obtained loan upon loan from ubiquitous loan sharks in the country to train a child in a Nigerian medical school have to wait to eat the fruits of his/her labour from such a child? Yet in Abuja, we have absent legislators tinkering with slavery in the 21st century Nigeria! These are people whose children are in the best universities abroad. The same set of people, who will corner scholarship slots meant for public competitions and award the same to their children are now telling us about “subsidized training” for medical students. I asked a friend to send the preachings of Sheik Muyideen Hussein, the Chief Imam Agba of Offa to me.  The ‘rascal’ that he is sent one titled: “Oselu Ika” (Wicked Politics), delivered at the Fidau prayers for a deceased APC chieftain, Alhaji Hassan Eleyingold in Offa. I listened to the one hour, two minutes and forty-three seconds message uninterrupted. I would like to close today’s piece by paraphrasing one of the prayers by the Chief Imam Agba of Offa for all wicked politicians: May all those in authority seeking for the common man to labour but not reap the fruits of their labour, also work and not be available to reap the fruits! God bless Nigeria!

 

Strictly Personal

Forecast is not destiny; Africa is on the path to prosperity, By Mohamed Ghazouani

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Across the Global South, young people are yearning for opportunity and a better life. But while 1.2 billion people in developing countries are projected to reach working age over the next decade, only an estimated 420 million jobs will be available to them, leaving nearly 800 million people without a clear path to employment. Even though some of this cohort will continue their education, that would only delay, and possibly prolong, the crisis.

The challenge of insufficient job opportunities will be felt acutely in Africa, where nearly one-third of this generation lives. But forecasts are not destiny. That is why the continent’s future was a central topic at this week’s G7 summit in Apulia, Italy.

The need to focus on Africa’s future is obvious because a world free of poverty on a livable planet will remain an elusive target if the continent cannot harness its abundant potential and create sufficient employment and economic growth. And it is equally clear that a successful strategy for Africa would benefit from the International Development Association, which wields a powerful development tool: affordable financing.

The task is immense because Africa’s challenges are great. Nearly 500 million Africans live in poverty, while conflict, climate change, unsustainable debt burdens, and other crises cast a shadow over the continent’s economic outlook.

But the good news is that there is a path to progress, as evidenced by other countries that have prospered by using IDA’s grants and low-interest loans, embracing good governance, investing in their people, and fostering a business-friendly investment climate. Africa could take a similar path, but it will need the help of organisations like the G7 and others.

We believe a focused strategy that generates jobs while providing the foundational ingredients for development is essential to that journey. In our view, this plan should be anchored in five pillars.

First, we must improve access to electricity, which is a fundamental human right and essential to development. The World Bank Group is working with the African Development Bank to provide electricity to half of the 600 million Africans lacking access to power by 2030, an effort that will require the support of development partners, governments, and private-sector investors to succeed. Fortunately, we are well on our way to building that coalition.

Second, building efficient, high-quality infrastructure is crucial for trade. Moving goods between African countries can be a lengthy and expensive process, because road and rail networks are insufficient, maritime transport is modest, and border wait times are prohibitively long. In a region where 470 million people don’t have reliable year-round transport, investing in physical and digital infrastructure – including cross-border payment systems – will create job opportunities by increasing trade, integration, and financial inclusion.

Third, investment in agribusiness must increase. Only 6% of Africa’s farmland is irrigated, compared to 37% in Asia, and the continent has one of the lowest rates of fertilizer use in the world, leading to yields that are one-third of the global average. With the right fertilizer for the right soil and improved irrigation, Africa’s farmers could boost production, labour demand, and incomes, which could then be used for food, school supplies, and medicine.

For example, an IDA-financed initiative in Mauritania and its neighbouring Sahel countries is helping 390,000 farmers— almost half of them women — irrigate their farmland using affordable technologies.

Fourth, healthcare systems must be strengthened. The World Bank Group aims to help low- and middle-income countries provide healthcare services to 1.5 billion people by 2030 – which would demand skilled jobs. But we must think even bigger because strengthening health infrastructure and pandemic preparedness is essential to development.

Lastly, promoting tourism would create jobs for women, who make up the majority of the sector’s workforce, and accelerate economic growth. But this will depend on improved infrastructure and access to electricity and health care. Moreover, like the other four areas, it also requires a commitment to education and skills development to succeed, built with a digital foundation.

IDA is an essential partner and knowledge source in advancing this agenda. It is the largest provider of financing and the main source of liquidity for many African countries. Last year alone, 75 percent of IDA’s commitments – more than $25 billion — were to Africa, a 24 percent increase over five years. Its financial model turns every donor dollar into nearly four dollars in new resources. And, if successful, proposed measures to simplify IDA would improve access and help countries focus more on developing real solutions for their people.

Simply put, IDA is the best deal in development, as 19 African heads of state recently recognised. It’s also a reminder of what we can accomplish when we join together as partners in progress. With IDA’s support, we can target jobs — and growth-producing sectors, engage the private sector, and help Africa secure the prosperous future it deserves.

Mohamed Ould Ghazouani is the President of Mauritania and Chairperson of the African Union; Ajay Banga is President of the World Bank Group.

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Strictly Personal

Don’t cry for Mandela’s party; ANC’s poll loss is self-inflicted, By Jenerali Ulimwengu

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There is losing, and then there is losing. The loss that the African National Congress suffered in the recently concluded elections in South Africa is a loss of a special type. It is almost as if the erstwhile liberation movement willed this loss on itself.

This is Africa’s oldest political organisation, which, with its longevity and the special task imposed on it by history, became more than a party or a movement but rather became more like a nation — the nation of Black South Africans.

I mean, if you were a Black man or woman in South Africa and you wanted to identify as somebody who wants to be respected as a human being, you were automatically ANC.

True, this is somewhat exaggerated, but it is not very far from the truth. For most of its life since its founding in 1912, it always identified with and represented the people of South Africa, taking an all-inclusive approach to the struggle for all the racial, ethnic, and confessional groups in the country, even when the exactions meted on the country by the most nefarious ideology on the planet could have suggested, and did indeed, suggest a more exclusivist outlook in favour of the majority racial cohort.

It sought to unite and to mobilise energies nationally and internationally, and create a more equal society for all, that would be in sync with the most advanced and progressive thought of the world at different stages of its career. It became home for all South Africans regardless of colour, creed or social station.

Even after Apartheid was officially promulgated as the philosophy and practice of the national government after 1948, the ANC hardly veered from that steadfast philosophical vision. To galvanise adhesion and grow ownership, the ANC adopted strategic blueprints for the future, including the Freedom Charter of 1955, setting out the basic things the movement would do when it came into power.

In the face of intransigence on the part of the Boers, the ANC saw the need to alter strategy and accept that armed struggle was inevitable, and launched the MK (Umkhonto we Sizwe, or Spear of the Nation) to spearhead armed insurrection.)

Though MK was more effective as a propaganda tool than a fighting force, it did the job of getting the white minority in the country to realise that their lives of comfort were numbered as things stood, and that it made more sense to seek some form of accommodation with the Blacks.

Once that was effected, even those Whites who had been diehard supremacists suddenly realised, with regret, how stupid they had been all along: Not only were these Blacks, long considered subhuman, not only fully human but also corruptible—just like the Whites.

And so the White establishment set out to work on their old enemies, corrupting them to the core with the luxurious goodies that up to then the nouveau riches had not imagined, with things like the erroneously termed “Black Empowerment”, a programme designed to yank from the bosom of the people a handful of individuals with sufficient appetites to make them forget about the Freedom Charter.

Probably more than anything, it was this that spelled the start of the demise of the ANC. In the past, we had seen former freedom fighters in Mozambique, Angola and Guinea Bissau scramble into the blinding lights of Lourenco Marques, Luanda and Bissau, to be destroyed by the perils of Original Sin.

But South Africa was different in that the erstwhile oppressors simply took even the former “terrorists” by making them filthy rich, detached from the depressing realities of the masses of their people, by making them, in effect, traitors. So much so that when the workers at Marikana went on strike against a company owned by the current president of the country, the latter had absolutely no qualms about sending in the police to kill scores of protesters!

Now, the phenomenon of two sitting presidents being replaced by their party is spectacular in itself, but it belied a body politic that was groaning under its dead weight of sleaze and factionalism.

It may seem to some observers that the only thing that kept the various hungry factions together was the white-run oppressive system, and that after this was replaced with money-making cabals of ex-comrades, we found an ANC that was ideologically bankrupt and politically rudderless.

Now the ANC has to deal with the electoral result that has denied it an absolute majority for the first time, its crimes and misconduct have caught up with it. It has been sent to a political purgatory to atone for its sins, but while there, it must choose whom to work with among its sworn enemies:

Will it choose the DA, a lily-White party whose feeble attempt to ‘bronze’ itself with the recent choice of Mmusi Maimane as its head failed miserably? Will it rather be Jacob Zuma’s MK party, which is shamelessly an ethnic outfit bent on rehabilitating a misfit who has been disgraced multiple times as a rascal and a thief? Or could it be the EFF’s Julius Malema, whose day job has become, for some time now, to lambast the person of the current president and chief of the ANC?

We shall see.

Ulimwengu is now on YouTube via jeneralionline tv. E-mail: jenerali@gmail.com

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