Taming Paraga Scourge Among Drivers

By Seye Olumide
The flagrant disregard to traffic rules, unavoidable accidents and increasing incidents of road rage by commercial bus drivers and a few vehicle owners in Lagos State were reasons adduced by government for some policy overhaul in the transport sector.
Notable among such policy drive were the enactment into law of the state’s traffic rules and regulation, establishment of the Lagos State Driver’s Institute (LASDRI) and restriction on the activities of road irritants like Okadas and Molues from some routes.
However, one of the causes of ugly incidents on Lagos roads is driving under the influence of alcohol. This is not given the same level of attention by government, though in recent times, there have been attempts at intensifying campaign against drinking and driving on the highways.

Commercial bus drivers helping themselves with local gin at a motorpark in Lagos.

Commercial bus drivers helping themselves with local gin at a motorpark in Lagos.

To what extent such campaigns have gone in changing the attitude of Lagos drivers, particularly commercial bus drivers remain in doubt.
For most conscious commuters, they have grown accustom to doing three things before boarding a commercial bus: observe the state of the vehicle, make a quick glance at the registration number and most importantly check to see that the driver is not operating under the influence of alcohol.
Recounting his experience in one of the commercial buses at Maryland bus stop, Ikeja recently, an undergraduate in one of the tertiary institutions in the state, Kayode Abodurin, said he was scared stiff when he discovered that the driver of the commercial bus he boarded had slept off on the wheel.
“The traffic light stopped our vehicle at Maryland for about two minutes. I was reading a novel when I suddenly discovered that the light had passed us and other vehicles were moving. The vehicles behind us were honking at the driver to move. That was when we noticed he had slept off on the steering. It was when we shouted at him and he tried to respond that we discovered he was completely drunk. I had to alight at the next bus-stop to save my life,” he said.
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Despite the campaign against drinking and driving, The Guardian observed that the leaderships at the motor-parks are not bordered about keeping a tight rein on drivers operating in their parks.
As Tunji Komolafe puts it: “I have noticed with dismay commercial bus drivers operating from Ikorodu, Mile 12 through Ikorodu Road, Ojuelegba to Lagos Island most often operating under the influence of alcohol. Most commercial drivers plying the above route behave like touts and their pattern of dressing portray them as drug addicts.”
Investigations after visit to some the motor-parks reveal that the parks remain a haven for sellers of local gin, known in local parlance as ogogoro and various kinds of concoctions mixed with hot drinks, which drivers take with relish before getting behind the wheel.
The aphrodisiac drinks are also known by different names like paraga, opa ehin, alomo, and kai-kai. For special effects, some of these drinks are often mixed and consumed together or added with cigarettes or Indian hemp.
One of the Road Transport Employers Association of Nigeria (RTEAN) officials at Berger International Taxi Park, Ojodu, Taiwo Oduba, explained that any driver found driving under the influence of alcohol at the park is seriously reprimanded and sanctioned.
He conducted The Guardian round the park to prove the fact that they don’t allow the sale of alcohol within the park. “We conduct seminars for our drivers every fortnight to educate them on the dangers of driving under the influence of alcohol and any driver caught doing that is dismissed from the park immediately,” he added.
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Meanwhile, Governor Babatunde Fashola has reiterated the need for commercial drivers to desist from taking alcohol, drugs or other related substances before getting behind the wheel. He made this known during a sensitization campaign held recently at New Garage motor park, Bariga, which was organized by the state’s Ministries of Health and Transportation, in partnership with Guinness Nigeria Plc.
The governor said evidence abounds that road traffic accidents are influenced and precipitated by substance abuse, which impair driver’s ability to manage and manipulate a vehicle. “The Motor Park Health and Safety Awareness Campaign is an initiative of this administration to raise awareness about responsible consumption of alcohol and initiate change in attitude amongst motor park drivers.”
Represented by the deputy governor, Mrs. Adejoke Orelope-Adefulire, he said the initiative seeks to reduce road crashes and ensure safety of passengers and other road users.
Reeling out data of what the campaign has achieved since 2011, Fashola said over 2,500 commercial drivers have been screened for blood alcohol content, substance abuse, hypertension and diabetes. “The campaign has been taken to Ojota, Iyana Ipaja and Oyingbo motor parks.”
He explained that of the 884 drivers screened at Ojota Motor Park, 239 of them, representing 27 percent of those screened, had hypertension, while 86 people, representing 10 percent, were found to be diabetic. Sixty drivers, representing seven percent, tested positive to substance abuse, and 287 people, representing 32 per cent of those screened, had excessive blood alcohol level.
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At Oyingbo Motor Park, 988 drivers were screened drivers, 363 were hypertensive, 156 had diabetes, 59 tested positive to cocaine or marijuana, and 494 tested positive to the breathalyzer. At Iyana Ipaja Motor Park, 1,025 people were screened, 162 had hypertension, 71 had diabetes, 103 tested positive to cocaine or marijuana and 215 had excessive alcohol in their blood system.
The governor urged drivers to stop gambling with people’s lives. “Every time you drink Alomo or Paraga and get behind the steering wheel with drugs in your system, it is like putting a loaded gun to one’s head and wondering if it can kill or not. It is a huge risk to take and we should stop taking that risk.”
Corroborating the need to reduce road accidents caused by human errors, Managing Director, Guinness Nigeria Plc, Mr. Seni Adetu, noted that the beverage firm is interested in the campaign because it seeks to inculcate the habit of responsible drinking into commercial drivers, which brings with it attendant benefits to the larger society.

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Abe Igi takes shine off National Theatre

By Tope Templer Olaiya, Assistant Lagos City Editor
The National Arts Theatre, Lagos, which is presently a subject of controversy, means different things to different people. While many visit the cultural edifice on weekends and public holidays to be entertained with movies and stage productions on offer, some find the lush green grass that beautify the theatre ground irresistible as a good spot to stand and stare, reflect or court for love.
Fun seekers returning from work on the island and who want to escape the maddening traffic gridlock of a regular weekday in Lagos, visit the theatre to spend idle time gulping bottles of soft or alcoholic drinks. To majority of visitors, it is difficult to be at the complex in Iganmu without attempting a stopover at the popular spot known as Abe-igi.
Named after a grove of sturdy shade trees, the spot is located directly opposite the sprawling complex. It consists of a row of kiosks, which originally served as ticketing booths during the Second World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture, hosted by Nigeria in 1977.

Abe Igi booth at the National Theatre, Iganmu

Abe Igi booth at the National Theatre, Iganmu

Lush and majestic, the trees stand tall with their massive branches giving shade to those underneath. Planted to give shade and beauty to the nation’s premier theater, it is hard to imagine how many movie stars the shades of these trees have produced in the country.
The regular convergence of artists and resulting activities attracted food sellers, hawkers of different items and itinerant musicians to Abe-igi. Eventually, the place rose from being a meeting point to a full-scale leisure spot, after its transformation in 2006 when the management of the National Theatre entered into a mutually beneficial partnership with the Nigeria Breweries Plc.
On the surface, it seems a very good deal for fun seekers, but there are growing complaints that the Abe-Igi should not be limited only to the sales of Nigerian Brewery products, as not everybody is a fan of firm’s brands. “There are those who prefer the competition. It is quiet different from what it was when they had the liberty to sell all brands of beer,” stated Abidemi George, one of the kiosk tenants.
While the Abe-igi congregation are immune to the transformation agenda that seeks to convert a chunk of the 37-year-old Lagos landmark into a five-star hotel, other government agencies are still in a battle of wits over eviction notice handed months ago by the Minister of Tourism, Culture and National Orientation, Chief Edem Duke.

Decay at the National Arts Gallery housing the Artistes Village

Decay at the National Arts Gallery housing the Artistes Village

Mostly pained by the present unstable situation are artists who occupy the space designated as the Artiste Village, at the former head office of the National Council for Arts and Culture (NCAC). Dotun Alabi, chairman, Society of Nigerian Artists (SNA) Lagos and co-ordinator of activities at the Artists Village is not happy at the crowd Abe-Igi is attracting to the nation’s foremost cultural monument.
“It is because the National Theatre lost focus in terms of programming and venue management that Abe Igi grew in significance; if you are talking in terms of enterprise, more business is done under the Abe Igi than in the National Theatre itself. What NB is projecting isn’t good for the image of arts; it is simply reinforcing negative stereotypes for the arts.
“At the moment, Abe Igi has become a full blown joint, which is not very good for artists because it brings wrong and undiscerning audiences. Its audience is just a beer drinking one and of guys who book appointments with their girlfriends. The only time there are activities at the National Theatre are during festive periods,” he said.

Main bowl of the National Theatre

Main bowl of the National Theatre

The culture enthusiast added that although unplanned, Lagos, like most cultural capital on the globe boasts of a creative hub where artists with specialized skills in all art forms can be patronized. Artist Village is a place where ideas in arts are muted, incubated, nurtured and developed to feed the theatre, driving a special kind of audience that are discerning from generation to generation.
“The Artist Village cannot be displaced to make room for hotels and shopping malls. If that happens, that will mean the gradual death of the national theatre as artists and practitioners will be scattered everywhere, therefore denying us of the synergy and creative energy that an Artist Village creates,” he added.

Worries as Lagos communities live on contaminated water

By Tope Templer Olaiya, Assistant Lagos City Editor
It is over two weeks since an oil spillage was discovered in a well belonging to one Mr. Adedeji Ogunba on Aminatu Ilo street, Ejigbo area of Lagos, followed by an infantile clampdown on residents by officials of the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC).
Owing to the infiltration of spilled oil into the underground table water, the lives of the over 500,000 residents of Victory Estate, Ejigbo and environs are at great risk.
Chairman of Victory Estate Community Development Association (CDA), Prince John Akinubi, said communities close to oil pipeline installations in Ejigbo, Ijegun, Amuwo-Odofin, Ipaja, Ilado and Baruwa are in the same situation as those in the polluted Niger Delta communities, while contaminated water pose severe danger to the lives of many Lagosians.
His words: “Lagos is not an oil-producing state, but the lives of so many people living along oil installations in Lagos are in danger. We have been living on contaminated water in this area for years and we made an official report to the NNPC six years ago, but nothing has since been done to address the situation.
“In the whole of Ejigbo, if you fetch water from a well, you can perceive the strong smell of fuel. For those who can afford it, they dig a borehole, since the surface water has pushed up oil. That was in the past; the bad news today is that half of the boreholes in the area are now affected by the oil spill. This is why we are crying out to government and the international community to help us.”

The 'oil well' in Ejigbo

The ‘oil well’ in Ejigbo

According to an oil sector analyst, Victor Ohai, pipelines have a lifespan of 15 years. This means there should be periodical change of pipeline installations across the country.
He went on: “These things are not meant to last forever. I don’t know when but I am sure the pipelines have been there for much longer. The danger is that there is a lot of corrosion that goes on over time leading to some perforations on the pipes.
“Any time oil is being pumped, the product leaks and goes underground. When it rains, the underground water level rises and because oil will always float when mixed with water, the oil will seep through into neighbouring wells. With the present situation, residents of this area are already victims of the negligence of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), who are the owners of the pipelines. Apart from the health implication, the hazards of exposed pipelines cannot be quantified.”
Aside the risk of contaminated water, which studies confirm could cause cancer and physical or mental disability, Akinubi noted that the area’s exposure to highly inflammable materials could result in a fire outbreak like the disaster that occurred eight years ago in Ijegun.
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Reacting to the incident, chairman of Ejigbo Local Council Development Area (LCDA), Mr. Kehinde Bamigbetan, has called for an immediate investigation into the spillage.
He said: “The situation at hand is beyond NNPC just confirming the incident. As a responsible organization, they must investigate the extent of leakage with a view to replacing the leaking pipes and providing new sources of water for the over 5,000 members of the community who can no longer use their wells.
“They should be held responsible for negligence in monitoring the pipelines and replacing them when due. It is expected of the NNPC to monitor their pipelines and alert the physical planning authorities of host states each time the area is being abused so that such attempts would be promptly curbed.”
One of the grave dangers of consistently drinking water contaminated with petrol is the presence of MTBE (methyl tertiary butyl ether) in refined products, which studies have shown to cause cancer. The additive MTBE was supposed to help air pollution by making gasoline burn cleaner in cars, but it fouls underground water supplies.
Some of the effects of the toxic chemical exposure to the body include carcinogen, which is capable of causing cancer, gastrointestinal or liver toxicant, kidney toxicant, neurotoxicant, respiratory toxicant and skin or sense organ toxicant.
Recently in California, United States, city officials shut down a well after it was discovered to contain trace amounts of the potentially cancer-causing gasoline additive MTBE. The well, located near the Old Hot Springs Dance Hall did not contain harmful levels of the contaminant, but it was closed as a proactive measure.
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Speaking at the opening of a one-day Public Hearing on the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA) Amendment Bill 2012 in Abuja, Senator Olubukola Saraki said stringent measures against oil companies have become necessary considering the devastating effect of spills on the environment and livelihood of the people of the affected areas.
Describing the statistics of oil spills in the country as shameful and thier impact on the environment as offensive, Saraki said the amendment to the Bill was aimed at redressing the legal loopholes in the existing Act.
“Oil spill is ravaging our environment and has become one of the greatest threats to our sustainable development. This amendment Bill is a clarion call to us all to put a stop to this,” he stated.
According to him, it is obvious that the Act setting up NOSDRA is too deficient to meet current challenges posed by oil spill, making it necessary to put a better legal framework in place. He added that internationally, when there was a spill, the polluter pays for the cost and damage.
However, that of Nigeria has been characterized by lack of legal framework or structure for determining mode of payment of compensation or recovering damages.

‘Molues’ back on Lagos roads… In red, blue colours

A passenger hanging by the door of a BRT

A passenger hanging by the door of a BRT


THE present state of the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) fleet is a cheerless commentary on the nation’s poor maintenance attitude to public utilities and it best illustrates the often-touted truth that government could be bad managers in business.

Barely six years after Lagos commuters expressed relief with the introduction of the BRT scheme, many of the bright red and blue buses have been badly altered and left to deteriorate into first-grade Molues – the rickety buses infamously referred to as a ‘moving morgue’.

The scheme became operational on March 17, 2007. Currently there are two operators – the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) Cooperative and the LAGBUS. While LAGBUS buses are painted in red, the franchise of the scheme controlled by the NURTW is in blue; and both are regulated by the Lagos Metropolitan Area Transport Authority (LAMATA).

In the beginning, it was the best thing to have happened to the horrendous transport system in the state with add-on benefits that included competitive cost, promptness and convenience. Commuters hop into the crisp buses with tickets having no worries about gridlock, since there is a dedicated route for buses to speed on.

Stranded passengers pushing a broken down BRT

Stranded passengers pushing a broken down BRT


Other convenience package include ban on hawking, preaching and smoking on board, while standing or loitering on the aisle was discouraged by operators.

In all, 220 buses were on the road and took thousands of passengers daily. The bus shelters at the bus stops and the scheme’s garages, housing maintenance bay, fuel dump, offices and other critical facilities, were splendid.

Most people, especially passengers, who have had it rough with the Molue and Danfo buses, applauded the scheme. However, six years is a long time to preserve this cherished legacy. The allure that once made vehicle owners to ditch their cars for a pleasurable ride is lost.

Barely a month after the state government commenced the use of e-ticketing and the e-card, known as the Lagos Connect card, commuters have started faulting the government on the bad state of the machines the card would be tapped on.

A regular commuter of the scheme, Nelson Boboye, said he wanted to board a BRT bus from Barracks bus-stop to Victoria Island, but that as he was about tapping his card on the machine, the pilot rudely told him to get down and wait for another BRT vehicle that had a functioning machine.

Another incident occurred last weekend at Fadeyi bus stop, when a passenger joined a BRT bus. On entering the bus, the tap-to-pay machine wasn’t working and both the pilot and ticketer sharply told the old man to get down and await another bus with a functioning machine.

These avalanche of complaints crudely defeats the aim of introducing e-ticketing, which authorities say was to conform with the cashless policy of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).

Disused buses at Ojota BRT Yard

Disused buses at Ojota BRT Yard


Investigation by The Guardian on the causes of the shortcomings showed that the neglect of success factors, which mega-transport companies like Lagbus and BRT ought to take seriously, was responsible.

A group of aggrieved members of the staff, who spoke to The Guardian on condition of anonymity at the company’s premises at Ojota, pinpointed lack of maintenance of the buses and failure to look into the issue of workers welfare by the management.

The most senior of the aggrieved workers said: “How can a management that does not care about the workers think of maintaining vehicles?

“The staff are not happy to do their job. Most of them have been on the same salary level for seven years now that the company came into existence without promotion. Whereas the salaries of the managers are fabulous and kept in guarded secret, those of the drivers and others remain the same with an average driver’s take home package being N45,000 a month.

“Having been on that poor pay level for seven years with no hope for a better future, most of the workers are disillusioned and discouraged with the work.”

Another worker disclosed that the managers of the buses do not mean well for the companies in view of the way and manner they swindle their employers.

For example, he said, the two trucks that were acquired some years ago for towing buses that break down to the yard have been hired out to a private operator. And now what obtains, is that, if any of the buses breaks down, a different tow van would be hired from operators who are related to key members of management at a cost of N20,000 or N30,000. And on the average, 10 to 15 buses are towed daily.

According to them, in spite of the many buses in the fleet of the companies, there is no vehicle maintenance workshop or hanger with specially trained mechanics.

A damaged seat inside a BRT bus

A damaged seat inside a BRT bus


“All the idle trucks in the premises are wasting away. Huge amounts of money are charged by external auto repair companies on minor repairs that ordinarily would not have cost so much if done in-house.

“How do you expect the companies to survive on such expensive maintenance culture?” one of the workers said.

On the contaminated fuel that is ruining the buses, a worker, who pleaded anonymity, said the management of the corporations, for reasons known to them alone, contracted only one firm, to be the sole supplier of diesel for the buses.

“No matter the high price charged by that company as against the lower price prevailing in the market, the management would insist that only the appointed supplier does the supply,” he remarked.

“BRT and Lagbus ought have their fuel depot and special treatment equipment to purify diesel for use by the large number of buses in their fleets if they really mean well.”

A consultant to the firms, Mr. Peter Taiwo, who is the Managing Director, ADMAGS Environmental, said LAGBUS could save 30 per cent on running cost if it could solve the problem of contaminated fuel.

According to him, “it is not that LAGBUS is not doing enough oil and filter changes at the appropriate intervals, the issue is that a lot of these engine designs are not made for the Nigerian environment. Nigerian environment is harsh on engines and if you do not bring in additional inputs that compensate for this harshness, these engines will not run as long as they ought to.”
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Chidi Anyaegbu, the Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer of Chisco Transport Limited, who fielded questions on the secret behind Chisco Transport success said:

“You cannot manage transport business successfully without having your own mechanics and workshop which is the heart of the business.”

Though Fashola has given the assurance at the Oshodi parley that: “We are trying to bring back all the buses that are not on the road because each bus that is not on the road means that one bus captain and one pilot are not at work,” the workers implored him to do more than that.

They appealed to him to create a regular communication channel between him and the workers to tell him the bitter truth about what the management is doing that is undermining efficient operation of the buses. They stressed that the management is not sincere to the workers, government and to the teeming Lagosians who use the buses.

The Boy Who Beat Security… And Death

NIGERIANS are fortunate that they did not have another air accident to contend with. This fortune, an immeasurable one on account of the gravity of the risk that birthed it, should compel the severest sanction against all who were culpable and engender a thorough overhaul of the Nigerian aviation system to prevent a recurrence.

Daniel Oikhena, the little boy who hid himself in the wheel well of an Arik plane on a domestic flight from Benin to Lagos escaped death certainly; the passengers on board escaped same as the boy’s action put the plane at the risk of a crash and the whole nation was only thread-barely spared another round of mourning.

This grand fortune, however, should be a wake-up call. The Oikhena incident has, once again, ridiculed the country and exposed the lapses at Nigeria’s airports. How the boy managed to beat airport security and succeeded in sneaking into and hiding in the wheel undercarriage of the plane undetected has confounded aviation authorities and all who are now familiar with his escapade. And in this bewilderment resides the terrible malaise plaguing the aviation security unit.

How come Daniel Oikhena (12), an audacious junior secondary school student, was not seen smuggling himself into the plane in Benin and found only when he alighted from the plane’s wheel undercarriage upon landing in Lagos? Disembarking passengers saw him emerge and raised the alarm. He was fortunate that the flight was only 35 minutes, otherwise, he probably would have been dead.

Evelyn Oikhena, Daniel’s mother, has told security officials that her boy had nursed the dream of travelling to the United States of America and the boy actually believed the flight was US-bound, hence, his action was to realise his ambition of going abroad.

Daniel

Daniel


Daniel meant business. He tucked some items into his school backpack and then went out early in the morning to hide in the bush near the airport for the morning flight. He waited patiently until the aircraft was about to depart before he moved stealthily underneath the plane and disappeared into one of the wheel compartments.

Some reports say the plane’s pilot had reported to the control tower the presence of a strange boy in the bush some 200 – 300 metres away. The control tower then told the pilot that security was being sent to check. Apparently, this was not done as the plane taxied away. Whether this was the case is beside the point. There ought to be layers of security checks before clearing an aircraft for take-off. That, of course, did not happen, revealing that security at the airport was anything but meticulous. This total collapse of intelligence and security is unpardonable.

The hope is that Oikhena’s act would not be a template for other undesirable elements with more sinister ideas who would seek to exploit the crass incompetence of the aviation authorities and their lax attention to duty for more dangerous purposes.

The Benin incident was not the first time such security loopholes at Nigerian airports would be exposed. In July 2005, for instance, a herd of stray cows found its way unto the Port Harcourt International Airport runway.

An Air France Airbus 330 with 196 passengers from Paris, upon landing, hit one of the cows. Luckily, no one was hurt but the plane was badly damaged.

Again, in March 2011, a Hawker 850 aircraft with some leaders of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) confronted goats on the runway of the Bauchi airport, threatening safe landing of the plane. Before then, there had been more than a few such life-threatening security breaches, unbecoming of any nation let alone the almighty Nigeria.

Following these ugly incidents, the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), the agency responsible for airport infrastructure and security, promised to take perimetre fencing of the airports as a matter of priority. But this has not happened in all the airports. As usual, in a peculiarly Nigerian fashion, once the dust settles on one incident, attention shifts and nothing is ever done until another incident.

What could have happened if the boy was on a terrorist mission to blow up the plane? It is doubly surprising that the Oikhena saga could happen at a time when Nigeria is waging a war against terrorists, signposting a certain lack of seriousness on the part of the nation’s authorities about ensuring the safety or security of citizens.
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A greater tragedy has since unfolded: Rather than accept responsibility and addressing a grave security issue, regulators and operators are trading blame! This is an insult for which the aviation high command should sanction all concerned. If the managers of FAAN, especially had any sense of duty or shame, they would have quit their jobs by now since the higher authorities did not deem the Oikhena incident grievous enough to do the appropriate thing, namely fire the incompetents!

Some persons and groups have reportedly awarded Oikhena scholarship up to university level to enable him realise his dreams. This gesture is certainly not supposed to encourage his daring but a show of sympathy for his poor family background.

This outpouring of goodwill should, however, not becloud sense of judgment and excuse his action. He may be young and daring but his attitude should be properly channelled to his studies. His escapade should also be a message to parents that an investment of more time in the training of their children is needed to monitor their movements, actions and behaviour. Daniel is reportedly addicted to action movies replete with his kind of escapade, albeit in fiction, and had watched them late into the night before embarking on his famous journey from Benin.

More importantly, the false belief of the Nigerian youth that there are greener pastures abroad and therefore, they would do just about anything to go abroad is a known malaise. Many have died in an attempt to reach Europe through the Sahara Desert. Many have ended up in prison. Yes, the harsh economic situation in Nigeria can be blamed but greener pastures are found only where planted.

There cannot be enough education and enlightenment schemes to cure this malaise.