Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Petrol at £4 a litre?

I left Nigeria less than two months ago and am still very aware of contrasts between Britain and Nigeria, so I know that in Britain overnight, the night being 31st December 2011, train fares increased by 10%, I also know that petrol in Nigeria went up from 65 Naria to around 145 Naria, around 28p up to around 60p.

This is because the government removed the subsidy, but what does this mean to the average Nigerian?  When I was in Nigeria my bus fare to work was NGN30 (about 12p), sometimes depending on the mood of the conductor, the weather, the demand for transport it would be NGN40, I just paid without arguing my salary being around NGN1000 daily.  Many people didn't get on the bus, they chose to wait for another vehicle or walk, I'd like to know what the bus fare is now.

Petrol in Nigeria doesn't just provide transport of course, it provides electricity, I monitored our electricity at work for one month, 3% of the time it came from the mains, the rest of the time from one of two generators, one fuelled by diesel and one by petrol.  Many homes and businesses rely on a small petrol generator for electricity.

Nigeria is the sixth largest oil nation in the world, with the 37th biggest economy, and the 121st poorest people, I think the subsidy is seen as the only thing Nigerians get from their government.  Read my earlier post about this Jesus Wept.

I get frustrated that Nigerian's don't protest more and hold their government and religious leaders to account, there again I am not Nigerian, and don't have recent memories of military rule, or current realities of a very hierarchical society.

I have heard it said that Nigeria politicians are the richest in the world, (perhaps that's why its worth cheating) here are some facts? shamelessly stolen from an internet blog, and re-posted all over the internet including here


1. The American President has only 2 aircraft, our president has 9 in his fleet and voted money recently to buy 1 more!

2. The British prime Minister has only 2 official cars, our president has 23 in his pool and only recently voted 300m naira to buy 2 more bullet/bomb proof ones!

3. Senators in the US earn about $6,000 dollars monthly and that's about what a university professor, or a director in a state department, or a doctor with 20years experience, or a teacher with 25years experience earn too.

In Nigeria a senator earns 245million Naira per annum! Representing the salaries of 25 vice chancellors, or 50 medical doctors, or 60 directors, or 500 school teachers!

4. The US, almost the size of Africa with about 500million people have 24 ministers, and 32 govt parastatals and commissions. 

Nigeria has 42 cabinet ministers, and over 50 government parastatals!

5. America with about 500million people and more mileage to drive consumes 39 million litres of petrol daily, Nigeria with 150 million people 60% out of which live in remote areas, yet our government tells us we consume about 35million liters of petroldaily!

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Electricity, water and plastic money

Last Tuesday morning I got a phone call, which led me to jump on a plane in a hurry, and arrive in the UK.  VSO of course don't encourage this kind of behaviour they focus on "preparing for change" when leaving or returning to your home country, although they and my Nigerian colleagues were very supportive in getting me home on this occasion.

So here are some comments on things that have surprised me on my sudden re-immersion into UK life.
  1. Electricity - it hasn't gone off once since I have been back, now 9 days, and I have not come across a noisy smelly generator.  I notice this mostly when I find myself thinking that I should charge my mobile while the power is on! 
  2. Water - when I need to brush my teeth, I wonder where to find drinking water, actually it comes out of the tap.
  3. Plastic money - after 21 months of living in a  cash only society,  I have rediscovered a plastic card and a secret number, unfortunately I seem to forget it still has to be paid for! 
  4. Shops - in particular supermarkets and Boots the chemist, there is so much variety of apparently identical products, a whole aisle full of hair dye for example, a bit different to a recent trip to a shop in Nigeria that only sold make-up, when I told them I was looking for lipstick they said they were out of stock!

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Happy Birthday Nigeria 51 today!

Today Nigeria is 51, this time last year I was in a crowd of Nigerians in Eagle Square in Abuja, who were proud of their country and their President; and hopeful for the future, with an election looming.  That day however there was a terrorist attack on Abuja resulting in a number of fatalities, MEND the Movement for Emancipation of the Niger Delta claimed responsibility.

The following day, I went to a Jubilee service at the National Christian Centre where the President spoke, again a great sense of hope for the times ahead.  

12 months on, the election took place in April and was claimed by national and international bodies to be the freest and fairest election ever in Nigeria, but nobody said it was the most peaceful; widespread violence and rioting followed particularly in a number of cities in the North.
When I came to Nigeria, I was told Abuja is safe, if there is ever trouble and volunteers are at risk, they are taken to Abuja while things calm down; unfortunately this no longer seems to be the case.  The UN building was bombed in August, causing 23 deaths, in June the Police Headquarters.  This time the group claiming responsibility is Boko Haram, which means Western education is sin, they want Sharia Law to be imposed in the Northern States, and since the election have claimed responsibility for a large number of fatalities mostly in Maiduguiri, situated in Borno State, the Land of Peace, but most recently in Abuja. 

So Nigeria has its new President, or elected President (Goodluck Jonathan was formerly Vice President and became President in 2010 following the death of the Late Yar’Adua), but it also has a lot of conflict, and I think a lot of impatience from Nigerians that the President is not doing enough to address it.  I for one hope they will be patient and give Jonathan time, and that he will have the strength and wisdom to provide the leadership this country needs.  

God bless Nigeria!

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Climate Change - North and South

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change defines an extreme weather event as an event that is rare at a particular place and time of year. The frequency of extreme weather events has already increased and is expected to increase further.  Examples of extreme weather events are intense rainfall, and heat-waves.  The UK has experienced extreme rainfall recently in Gloucester, Hull, Lake District as well as Bournemouth and Poole.  There were around 2000 deaths in the UK as a result of the 2003 heat-wave. 

Few British people have however died as a result of flooding, the Department of Health report – Health effects of climate change in the UK, 2008, states 8 deaths from flooding since 2001, it acknowledges an as yet undefined link to disease, indirect mortality, water-borne disease and mental health problems. 

In Bournemouth, my home town, on Thursday 18th August, a month's rain fell in six hours, resulting in wide spread flooding, disruption of services, water likely contaminated by waste and sewage pouring onto the streets, and the beach and no doubt for a few into their homes.  My Nigerian colleagues were surprised that this could happen in the UK.
Source: Daily Mail
Then just eight days later, Friday 26th August, heavy rain fell in Ibadan, buildings collapsed, bridges collapsed, a dam overflowed, whole families were swept away the death toll is now 120, the events of Bournemouth seem rather minor.
Source: BBC
Of course, I feel for those in Britain whose homes and gardens have been flooded, but they are alive.  I also am angry about what happened in Ibadan, what is the difference, water is water after all? 
I have discussed this irony with my colleagues, and I believe many things contribute to this circumstance.
1.    Urban migration. 
2.    Poverty – resulting in poorly built buildings, ie people taking short-cuts
3.    Lack of planning – and ability to just put up a building anywhere (bear in mind Ibadan is an enormous densely populated city not a village)
4.    Poor infrastructure and enforcement – therefore lack of implementation of building regulations etc
5.    Blocked drains – plastic, rubbish, what a terrible thing to lead to loss of life.
6.    Corruption of course, contributes to all the above.

This is not an attack on Oyo State government, more an observation, in their defence Ibadan is an enormous city that I imagine is experiencing rapid population growth and inward migration from surrounding rural areas. 

Oyo State government are apparently taking action to clear drains, and properties that have been built in places that water should flow.  Nationally and in Lagos, the organisation I am working for NEST is supporting government to develop Adaptation Strategies.  

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Jesus wept

Last week as I sat in car on a journey to the Sunshine State, I was driven at speeds of up to 140kmph by a Nigerian, who maybe thought he was invincible along roads with the usual obstacles of potholes, goats, children, motorbikes and oncoming traffic.  As I admired the beautiful greenery, of bananas, palms, and mountainous countryside I pondered this rich poor country and I remembered that Jesus wept.
He wept over Jerusalem, and I am sure he is weeping over Nigeria, this country that is full of joy, laughter, noise, vibrancy, enthusiasm, and poverty, this country of potential and poverty, this country where the happiest people in the world live, you don’t have to have Jesus’ compassion to weep over Nigeria.
Nigeria is rumoured to have the highest paid politicians in the world, at least some of whom have private jets, it is the sixth largest exporter of oil, the most populous country of black people, has the 37th largest economy, and hopes to be in the top 20 economies by 2020. 
Who would wish the burden of oil on a country, one of Nigeria’s poorest areas is known to be the Delta,  which has for years experienced pollution as a result of the oil trade, a recent UN report ordered a clean up by Shell.  Meanwhile this oil rich country has almost no electricity, with only around 40% of people having access to electricity, even those who do have electricity rarely see it, today I have had none for example – in fact official reports describe Nigeria’s electricity supply as “epileptic.”
A quick look at Nigeria’s Millennium Development Goal report 2010, reveals some harsh facts
·         In 2004, 54.4% of people lived on under $1 a day
·         In 2008, 23.1% of children were underweight
·         In 2008, 88.8% of children were enrolled in primary education, but only between 2 and 98% completed depending on the State.
Nigeria also recently earned a new “claim to fame” as the second worse place in the world to be pregnant.  The MDG report states an under-five mortality rate of 157 per 1000 live births and a maternal mortality rate of 750 per 100,000 births.
As if all this wasn’t bad enough, since the election Boko Haram, allegedly responsible for Friday’s bombing in Abuja, have carried out a number of fatal bombings of police stations, markets and churches in their campaign for adoption of Islamic Law in the Northern States.
Sometimes I wish Nigeria’s people would stop being happy, and hold both their political and religious leaders to account, surely if the people in Nigeria are the 25th poorest in the world, but the economy is the 37th largest, something is wrong? 
Jesus is weeping and so am I

Some facts above from this interesting article
Nigeria: Rich country, poor people

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

OD - Happy Day!

Having promised to tell you more about my work, today I found a message in my inbox from the Chair of the Board congratulating me on leading the Organisational Development plan, saying it is comprehensive, readable, practical and the organisation will do all it can to implement it!  

It has not been easy, actually the doing it wasn't very difficult, the hardest thing was getting the right people together for long enough to discuss it, come up with ideas and make decisions.  The right people being people who were committed and stayed in the meeting room for the duration of the meeting.  They all came with their mobile phones which they also attended to throughout the meetings, but this is Nigeria, I'm getting used to it slowly, at least they didn't bring their laptops and browse or their newspapers and read, which is also common practice in meetings in Nigeria.  Apparently you don't listen with your eyes so you can read the paper and listen at the same time, however I doubt they would do it with their father, or their pastor!

Monday, 22 August 2011

Lagos - Perceptions and Reality

Before I came to Nigeria, I was scared of it, and even more scared of Lagos.  If you are wondering why I am surprised, Nigeria has a reputation for it seems all things bad: crime, corruption, armed robbery, juju, 419 and email scams.  My grandmother told me some friends of hers spent 20 years in Nigeria and hated every minute of it, now I was a little dubious, they could have just flown home!  Another friend who did some consultancy work here told me that she was met at the airport in Lagos by a driver, and an armed guard, somebody else told me not to come at all.  So now I have been to Lagos three times and I rather like it!

So after all these dire warnings I was glad that I was flying into Abuja, a long way from Lagos, and that apart from the intense heat, February is not a good time of year to move from Bournemouth to Abuja, I found Nigeria was surprisingly normal, I could for example walk along the street and use public transport, without the need of an armed guard!  However even in Abuja the tales of Lagos continued to be off-putting, you could waste the whole day in a traffic jam, or go-slow as Nigerians call them, another friend told me she took a UK visitor to a big market in Lagos and she was totally overwhelmed.
So after moving to Ibadan, a mere 128km from Lagos, I finally ventured to Lagos to visit Mike, a British volunteer who is based there.  My journey was a classic example of Nigerian hospitality; first I caught a shared taxi to Iwo Road, a major transport hub in Ibadan.  I asked a fellow passenger to help me find transport to Lagos.  She did, found the vehicle, negotiated the fare, and arranged for someone on the same bus to make sure I got off at the right stop and found connecting local transport. 
Note the bus stop with canopy and name!
One thing that struck me immediately in Lagos were bus lanes, and formal bus stops, almost like a tram or railway station, bus tickets, and buses with destinations on the front.  Na wa o!  This is the BRT or Bus Rapid Transit System brought in by Fashola, the Lagos State Governor who has just been re-elected for his second term.  His campaign slogan was “Lagos is working, Fashola is working”.  Sceptics say it is in the second term you find out if politicians are genuine; currently they can only serve two terms so in the second term they can steal the money!
Lagos is working, Fashola is working
I should add a word of warning here, although I have been from Lagos Mainland onto Lagos Island on a BRT bus and not wasted a whole day in a go-slow, I have only done this journey at the weekend, I cannot vouch for weekdays, when apparently traffic and go-slows are still a big problem!

On my second trip to Lagos, I went to the airport to see off to VSO volunteers and to a wedding, which I have written about here.
On the BRT bus
My third trip to Lagos was just last week, I travelled on Thursday to attend a meal with Lagos volunteers and VSO staff, in particular the new Country Director. The meal was great but we met at 5, and poor Abdul sat politely with us, until sundown around 7, before he could eat (its Ramadam)!  But another reality check, by around 7:30 some of my fellow volunteers started worrying about getting home safely!  Murugan said there were often armed robberies in go-slows at night, Clementina and Rebecca didn’t feel safe it the area they lived in, Mike and I were living the closest but he still said we should really be back by 8pm!

We arrived safely in Mike’s neighbourhood, Mike playing the great host had stocked his fridge with beer and we sat up talking till late.
So on Saturday, I saw another side of Lagos, the one for the rich and privileged, Victoria Island and Bar Beach.  Like a true Brit I paddled in the sea and ate fish and chips, before going off to see Thessa at 1004 estate, see below!
Of course I had to paddle!
To me Lagos is an example of how good leadership can make a difference, Nigeria is an enormous country with big challenges, but it seems that Fashola has really managed to change Lagos, a recent (2008) guidebook makes Lagos sound terrifying, it has clearly changed and other States should learn from what has worked. 
Fish and chips Nigerian style
However it is an enormous densely populated city, with a population of between 8 and 17 million depending on which report you read, and of course it still has many problems including poverty, crime and climate change.  Recently heavy rain caused widespread flooding and a State of Emergency was announced, around 25 lives were lost, a clear example of the challenges that will get worse as climate continues to change.