Eggheads discuss Nsukka’s life in the wilderness of deprivation

Nsukka is beset by multiple problems affecting the education and health of its people, and the coming of social media offers little hope of the zone’s improvement in the near future. That was a near-consensus of a think-tank, Nsukka Journalists Forum (NJF), which has just ended a week-long discussion on the cultural zone’s teething problems via its WhatsApp platform.

A collection of mainly working journalists, academics and publishers, NJF is currently chaired by Professor Nick Idoko of Christopher University, Lagos. Now comprising 110 participants residing in all corners of the globe, the group is “the virtual public sphere for all with responsibility and commitment” in the zone made up of seven LGAs of Enugu State, Nigeria. It promises to keep leaders from the zone and beyond on their toes until Nsukka is transformed.

On September 16, NJF abandoned “business as usual” with a “shift in protocols, processes, emphasis and commitment”. The first issue Idoko tabled for discussion was the state of education in Nsukka cultural zone.

Schools or scam centres?

Almost everyone had a comment to make: there was no cheery news about education standard or the state of school buildings and other infrastructure, but the estimated population of pupils/students enrolling in schools wasn’t considered low.

The public school had knocks to take from Aniebo Nwamu, CEO of Eyeway.ng, who declared it dead at all levels in Nsukka as elsewhere in the country, so much so that parents have had to seek relief in private schools. Apparently in a bid to protect his primary constituency, Dr Anthony Ekwueme, a journalism lecturer at UNN, promptly cautioned him against use of “extreme language”. “The system has gone down, no doubt, but it is certainly not dead,” he said. “Education in Nsukka is poor, particularly in secondary schools. The so-called private schools are mere scam centres.”

Among those that highlighted the deep rot in the education sector was Hon. Chijioke Edeoga, ex-House of Reps member, ex-commissioner and now commissioner-designate:  “…the beautiful public spaces that the white men left to the primary schools and secondary schools are now being taken over by churches. Right in the centre of school fields, churches are erupting…” Rev. Fr. Fidelis Asogwa countered: “The white men were the missionaries and the so-called government schools were and still remain mission schools that the government took over during the reign of Ukpabi Asika… Let us learn from ndi Anambra and their partnership with the Church in resuscitating our secondary school system.”

Edeoga and Asogwa were later to agree on the effect of converting school fields to churches (on sports development) and on the need to let missionaries run the schools. Many shared that view.

The search for solutions continued.

Nkem Ossai wanted Enugu State to borrow a leaf from Rivers: “…former governor Chibuike Amaechi introduced a model he christened Model Primary Education System. He took pains to rebuild all the primary schools…providing all required infrastructure and science equipment. To attract population from private schools that had taken a chunk of school children population, he provided facilities like boreholes, science equipment, community clinics close to the schools, beautiful recreational facilities etc. In addition, all the schools were fenced round with a security/gate man in every school. He further recruited a large population of well-qualified teachers. These brought tremendous improvement to public primary education in Rivers State. It also drew more people [from] among the middle class back to public schools.”

Felix Abugu: “Indeed, the Anambra model is the way to go… It is not only cost-effective but would also bring seriousness in teaching and learning as well as high moral standard back to primary and secondary school classrooms.”

Ekwueme: “The current curriculum is incapable of giving the required/ desired knowledge. Total reassessment of the teaching staff in secondary schools [is needed to] make all the deficient teachers improve themselves. El-Rufai did it in Kaduna State…. ICT! We will not get anywhere if ICT is not firmly integrated into our secondary education system.”

Dr Ambrose Akor added his voice from the U.K. where he lectures: “In my opinion, first, we need to work out how to make the teachers turn up for work every day of the week, not just on pay day, inspection day or whenever they’re collecting one illegal fee or dues from the school children. Teachers in Uzo-Uwani LGA, for example, are farmers first and work as teachers as a distant second profession.”

The next day, NJF turned the klieg lights on one of man’s basic needs: water.

Not a little water to drink

The lack of potable water in Nsukka drew flaks, some of them extreme. Harrison Ogara, publisher of Starlite newspaper, who was in the driving seat as discussions got underway, started by quoting lines from Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem: “Water, water everywhere/And yet not a little to drink.”

There were reports of no fewer than seven people drowning in Nsukka floods this year alone.

“Nsukka still lacks potable water supply,” said Ogara. “99% of residents still get water supply through vendors whose tankers cannot pass any hygienic test.”

NJF mourned the collapse of “the much-talked-about N2.7b Greater Adada Dam project” and the craze for boreholes in Nsukka.

The tragedy of our country, Nwamu said, is that, nearly 60 years after independence, we have failed to stone politicians campaigning on provision of a basic need like water. “For us in Nsukka, it is a double tragedy.”

Why couldn’t the traditional rulers of Enugu State who were given N10m each to do a project of their choice in their community not think of water? Chinedu Adonu wondered. “We should investigate what they used the money for and advise them on community development,” he said. And Nkechinyere Itodo pondered when traditional rulers became an arm of government that receive allocation to implement government projects.

Obinwa Ben Nnaji described the lack of clean water as “a national embarrassment”, adding that “if a government promised potable water it should at least be seen to be doing something close to achieving that”.

Benson Ezugwu considered it disturbing that after two decades of democracy “we are still complaining of lack of potable water in Nsukka and other parts of Igbo-Ulo”.

But Paulinus Onah was consoled by a fact: “I’m happy they [politicians] will later come back to join us… I want to suggest that we use our position to review the promises of our representatives and make them available to our people.”

More solutions?

Nnaji continued: “Can our local government chairmen in the Nsukka cultural zone have a joint collaboration on the cheapest and effective way to give their localities potable water? It is realizable [and better] than waiting on end for central governments.”

The discussion on water was interrupted by a reported rot in the University of Nigeria, Nsukka: lurid tales of salary racketeering as well as bribery and corruption in admissions and employment in Nigeria’s first indigenous university.

Health of the sick

“Health is wealth,” head of house Idoko chanted in his introduction to the segment. “We need healthy minds, healthy bodies and healthy relationships to survive.”

The statistics are not pleasant at all: What’s Nsukka’s share of high maternal deaths in the country? And infant deaths? Why are our doctors migrating to other countries, thus causing “brain drain” here?

In the near-absence of health insurance and lack of access to health care, Nsukka obviously appears left at the mercy of the winds. There is deficiency of primary, secondary and tertiary health institutions in Nsukka, but privately-owned hospitals, though poorly equipped and manned by general practitioners, have taken their places. Ekwueme provided an insight: “The construction of ESUT teaching hospital located at Orba is just taking off. My understanding is that it is still mired in Enugu State politics. What exists is a staccato of private hospitals mostly run by non-consultants [who] charge exorbitant bills for their sloppy services. Most patients are hardly properly diagnosed, much less treated… The result is that alternative or unorthodox health practitioners are having a field day.”

But herbal healers are very important, said Nwamu who pointed out that most of us are still alive by God’s grace and not by the help of health institutions and personnel. Though he did not completely rule out the potency of synthetic drugs or orthodox medicine, he stressed the need for Africans especially to embrace herbal medicine: “There’s no ailment whose antidote is not found in herbs… Today we have ‘pharmacists’ who know nothing about the potency of the roots, barks and leaves of plants that fill our forests.”

Though not a doctor but an experienced writer on natural health, Nwamu took the house through the white man’s deliberate suppression of the black man’s advancement in herbal medicine and development of vital supplements from common foods found in abundance in Nsukka and other parts of Africa.

Then the alarm!

“Do we know that thousands of Nsukka people are HIV carriers?” asked Nwamu. The evidence, he said, is the crowd at Shanahan Hospital and the general hospitals on days people living with HIV/AIDS go for counselling and to receive drugs for the disease’s management.

Other contributors agreed that our people should learn to prevent diseases rather than seek cure, by ensuring good hygiene, environmental sanitation, and also eating homegrown foods that their grandparents ate, as opposed, for instance, to many women and kids’ penchant for consuming noodles, biscuits and other sugar-saturated processed foods. “Our people should be warned off alcoholic drinks which, like hard drugs, have ruined many lives,” Nwamu said.  

Nsukka foods’ nutrient quality and medical properties should be recognized especially by expectant mothers, Idoko advised. “When you eat good and healthy food, your longevity is assured. You will be saved the trouble of visiting clinics frequently or the tedium of consuming synthetic drugs with their ‘poisonous’ side-effects.”

NJF also lamented the menace of quacks who, on occasion, invade Nsukka communities. Idoko said: “The gaps that exist in the health sector are simply unimaginable. These gaps have been so graphically illustrated by the existence of quacks everywhere.” Alphonsus Eze noted: “There is no specialist or reference hospital in Nsukka till date… It is part of [the] larger politics to perpetually put Nsukka in [the] dark age for as long as our detractors want.”  Onyedika Agbedo agreed: “I would say that the state government and local councils have been playing politics with healthcare delivery in Nsukka zone.”

A brief mention of “UNTH Obukpa” irked a majority of NJF members. Fact:  It exists only on politicians’ posters, for no semblance of a hospital exists in the location decorated with a signpost, an ugly reminder of a brief attempt to build it in the early 1980s when DC Ugwu was health minister. That project – or another started at Elue (an area owned by Lejja, Ede-Oballa and Nsukka — was soon moved to Itukwu-Ozalla in Nkanu-land. And the UNTH has remained there ever since.

How does the National Health insurance Scheme (NHIS) help Nsukka in solving its health challenges? Paul Odenyi testified that he has benefitted from the NHIS as a civil servant. Not many in the forum shared his view that NHIS works, but not many are civil servants either.

Then came time for reflection on the relevance of all the NJF had been discussing on WhatsApp. To what end?

Social media: helper and hindrance

 “Do social media promote social cohesion, communal integration and harmony or do they cause disruption, disaffection and dismay, or promote less of co-existence?” Idoko asked.

Nwamu’s answer: “Social media have done much to enhance enlightenment, bring strangers together and entertain them. At the same time [they] have promoted false values, corrupted young minds and set neighbours apart. Fake friends, fake news and fake identities have been the creations of social media, especially Facebook and its son or daughter WhatsApp.”

The anonymity of users could help, said idoko in a reply to Nwamu who had compared the media to a meeting of strangers in the dark.

There were other views.

Ikechukwu Okenyi: “Social relationships have been so much strengthened. The instantaneous nature of message delivery and feedback has been so much enhanced.”

Nnaji saw little use of social media in rural communities because “90% of the rural folks do not care a two pence” and the enlightened ones hardly have money to buy data.

For Nwamu, the disadvantages of social media are greater than their advantages. Not so for Ekwueme: “There’s little doubt that social media have their ups and downs. But the ups…outweigh the downs.”

The jury is still out. NJF itself will now be tested by its use of the ideas it has generated — using social media platform WhatsApp – on education, health and water issues as they affect Nsukka cultural zone. Will it keep mourning or use the media’s might to compel political and traditional leaders to rescue Nsukka from the wilderness? The outcome will show how social media help or hinder.

FOR MORE, GO TO: WWW.NSUKKAJOURNALISTSFOUNDATION.ORG

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