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Remembering General Sani Abacha



Na-Allah Muhammad Zagga

Today marks the 25th  Anniversary of the death of General Sani Abacha. He died suddenly on June 8, 1998. There is no doubt that he was a controversial person. He was a hero to some people and a villain to others. Regardless of how you perceive him, my intention here is to fairly assess his tenure and his record.

It’s unfortunate that the June 12 presidential election controversy overshadows Abacha’s achievements. In particular, the incarceration of Abiola was a mistake. He won what was believed to be the freest election ever held in the country. Abiola won an unprecedented Pan-Nigerian mandate, dealing a blow to politics founded on ethnic and religious solidarity. He was massively voted for by all Nigerians because he was such a good man that his religion and ethnicity paled into insignificance. I can’t remember any presidential candidate in our recent history that had recorded such political feat.

Therefore, the incarceration of Abiola had cost Abacha the initial goodwill that greeted his intervention. Many Nigerians had thought Abacha took over to correct Babangida’s mistakes by revalidating or restoring his mandate. But little did they realise that Abacha took over to advance his own political ambition. Many June 12 activists who were initially supportive of Abacha’s intervention were ultimately left with a bitter taste in the mouth. Their enthusiasm turned to disappointment as Abacha’s agenda unfolded. His attempt to succeed himself was the final evidence that he didn’t remove Shonekan in order to restore Abiola’s mandate. He took over to advance his own political ambition. The scales thus fell from the eyes of those who thought Abacha took over to restore Abiola’s mandate.

However, despite his own mistakes, Abacha had some achievements to his credit. Abacha was the first leader to bring credibility to the policy of petroleum subsidy withdrawal. For many years, Nigerians didn’t experience the direct benefits of petroleum subsidy withdrawal until the introduction of the Petroleum Special Trust Fund(PTF) headed by General Muhammadu Buhari. It was the first time Nigerians had witnessed the use of the proceeds of subsidy withdrawal to improve the welfare of the citizens. For the first time, thanks to PTF, our hospitals, schools and public roads had witnessed remarkable improvements. Nigerians had access to safe and affordable drugs on account of PTF intervention. Corruption had undermined the use subsidy withdrawal proceeds for years until the introduction of PTF. Civil servants and other vested interests opposed the introduction of PTF from the start. They claimed it was a government within a government because it posed a threat to their greed. They fought against it frantically and succeed in persuading Obasanjo to scrap it upon coming to power in 1999.

The Gwarimpa Housing Estate, regarded as the single largest housing project in Sub-Saharan Africa, is another standing legacy of the Abacha regime. Let’s also not forget the National Hospital Abuja, another major achievement of the Abacha admiration. General Abacha should also be given the credit for kick-starting Nigeria’s railway rehabilitation effort. Obasanjo abandoned the railway projects started by Abacha because he didn’t have the funds to finance them. Ironically, towards the end of his tenure, Obasanjo re-awarded the rails contracts at more staggering costs. When Umaru Musa Yar’adua succeed Obasanjo in 2007, he halted the railway projects for lack of funds. Goodluck Jonathan who succeed Yar’adua restarted the railway projects, but couldn’t see them to completion.

Finally, former President Buhari was thrust into the task of completing the railway projects that Abacha started started, but abandoned by other leaders. So, while Abacha had his imperfections, let us not ignore his own positive contributions to the development of Nigeria. No leader is perfect and Abacha is no exception.

May his soul rest in peace.

This article was first published on Na-Allah Muhammad Zagga’s Facebook account

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President Tinubu, 100 days and leadership as marathon



By Abdulaziz Abdulaziz



What is leadership? Or, more correctly; what makes leadership impactful? Is leadership impact measured by the bricks and mortar actions of today or by aggregation of the strategic steps that gives a delayed but rewarding tomorrow? Is a desired leadership one that puts bought cookies on the table today or the one that aims to build bakeries and produce enough bakers to sufficiently meet our bakery needs in the future?

Well, pardon the barrage of questions, dear reader. Those are no questions that may require immediate resolution, apparent as the answers may seem. But they are vital posers that we need to ponder on in determining the marking scheme for any political leadership.

But while you are pondering, let me draw your attention to an event that occurred at the beginning of the week in Lagos. You might have read about it, or saw the exciting pictures flying around in the media. The Lagos State Government on Monday flagged off commercial operation for its Blue Light Rail Line. The governor, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu, was all smile as he joined the inaugural ride from Marina to Mile 2 in the glistening coaches. While Governor Sanwo-Olu takes the pride and the credit of being the governor under whose watch the rail line opens to passengers, the event on Monday has a history as long as the train coaches.

When the Blue Line was due for commissioning last year, Governor Sanwo-Olu himself gave a detailed recount of the actors and factors that paved the way for the Lagos light rail system. It didn’t happen over night or over the course of one administration. Indeed the story of what is now a beautiful infrastructure started with an election into office of a visionary governor and reformer-leader, over 24 years ago.

It was not Governor Bola Ahmed Tinubu (as he then was) who laid the first blocks for the light rail system. He did not award the contract even. He did much more than that. His decision that Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial nerve-centre and former capital city deserved to be more than the jungle it was, was the most important foundation, well before the engineers laid the first stones for the rail project.

The then Governor Tinubu gave the Lagos the futuristic leadership whose full benefits are still being reaped, over 15 years after he left office. The rail line, as Governor Sanwo-Olu duly acknowledged, was Tinubu’s brainchild which benefited from inputs from successive governors and technocrats before coming into fruition. The story of the Lagos light rail resembles the story of many other tangible and intangible initiatives that made Lagos a model to all states in Nigeria and an envy of its peers anywhere.

This illustration is vital especially at a time like this when a section of the public – buoyed by the media’s near canonisation of a borrowed American concept of “100 days in office” –seems to be in a frenzy to judge 1,460-day tenure by the first 100 days. Yes, there is a saying in Hausa that signs of a good Friday could be perceived from the preceding Wednesday. And in this regard the Tinubu administration has shown good signs of a great future. The strategic leadership being provided by President Bola Ahmed Tinubu are meant to put Nigeria on a sure footing for enduring progress and development.

Conscious of the usual judgement that comes at the end of the first 100 days, many leaders are wont to rush into laying blocks and asphalts to satisfy the mediocre demand of “something to show”, even if those things to show are short-lived niceties that would not translate into any long term gain. Others would opt for politically-correct adventures just to pander to populist appeals. We had, for example, a leader who within his first 100 days rolled back many critical decisions taken by his predecessor to gain public applause but over 15 years later we are here paying for those misguided decisions.

For President Tinubu, who believes, like all great leaders in history, that leadership is a quantum of critical decisions and bold steps capable of impacting positively on the society in the long run, he is in no hurry for quick applause. Quick fixes and populist actions could generate immediate praises, but to what end? For perceptive leaders, leadership is a marathon that is adjudged by how well one persevered, remained focused and strategic to get to the finished line. It is not a relay race which requires all rush and less tact.

For President Tinubu, the best measure of successful leadership is the quantum of qualitative actions and decisions not quantitative. What are the timeless policies and actions that one bequeaths to the coming generation? What are the personal examples and traits, what changes to the system were made to strengthen efficiency? In the last 100 days, President Tinubu has demonstrated that he is made of the finest stuffs as a leader, looking at these parameters.

First, he has demonstrated he possesses the salient traits of many great leaders in history; vision and courage to take action. The visionary is the one who realises the need to save the future of our children by stopping a dangerous trend of borrowing to fund fraudulent fuel subsidy. It is only a courageous leader who can dare the subsidy cabal and, against his wish, administer on the larger public the bitter pill in striking off the fuel subsidy. There are many other examples.

There were government officials who felt they were government unto themselves. Indeed some of them had set up fiefdoms within the government and felt they could even undermine the President while taking Nigerians for a ride. President Tinubu has demonstrated that this was impossible under his watch.

Yet, while taking some of the bold and courageous decisions with inadvertent impact on the average Nigerian, President Tinubu remains a very compassionate leader. I have seen him grimaced every time he discusses the pains people go through as the result of the fuel subsidy removal. He knows, because he has ears to the ground. This was why he kept prodding all officials and state governors who have the mandate to roll out government’s interventions to cushion the effect. But more importantly, he is constantly thinking and working on ways that the savings government made from the subsidy removal would go into meaningful enterprises. The priority sectors are those capable of catapulting growth, notably energy and transportation infrastructure.

Setting the building blocks for solving Nigeria’s legendary problems of dysfunctional public sector, poor revenue base and lack of optimisation of the available resources as well as resolving the infrastructure gaps are the issues on top of President Tinubu’s priority list. It is also around them that he has devoted most of his energy and attention in the last 100 days. The belief, by all development experts, is that addressing those issues are what would turnaround the fortunes of Nigeria. These are not things that can be done in 100 days but the steps to attain them are firmly on course.

Abdulaziz is Senior Special Assistant to the President on Print Media

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Embracing the power of Artificial Intelligence: Making life easier tomorrow



By Lawal Opeyemi Martha

Imagine a world where machines can help us with our everyday tasks, making life smoother and more efficient. This is the magic of Artificial Intelligence (AI), a technology that’s shaping our lives in incredible ways.

You might wonder, why should we care about AI? Well, it’s like having a super-smart friend who can assist us in getting things done faster. This cool technology is a big part of our future, and young people are encouraged to learn about it. By understanding AI, we can open doors to exciting job opportunities in the digital world.

One of the coolest things about AI is how it can be our researcher. It quickly finds the information we need, helping us learn new things or finish tasks faster. Imagine having a speedy helper that never gets tired of searching for answers!

But AI’s talents don’t stop there. It’s a growth superhero, boosting economies worldwide. A report says that by 2035, AI could contribute around $15.7 trillion to the world’s economy. That’s a massive amount of money that could make our world better if we use AI wisely.

Think of AI as a computer-powered buddy that thinks like a human. It can even do tasks like diagnosing illnesses or booking appointments, just like a smart friend would help you out. This smart sidekick can learn languages, too, making communication easier than ever.

Ever heard of Siri, the friendly voice on our phones? That’s another form of AI. It listens to our commands and makes our devices do what we want. With AI, we can talk to our phones like they’re our buddies!

AI’s creativity doesn’t stop at making our lives efficient; it’s also a whiz at creating stuff. It can help us come up with social media posts, which saves us time and energy. Just imagine having an AI friend that helps us be creative and interesting online!

In a nutshell, AI is a game-changer. It makes industries better, helps our economies grow, and even assists in healthcare and communication. As we move towards the future, embracing AI’s powers can lead us to a world where technology and humans work together, making life smoother and more exciting than ever before.

Martha is Student of Mass Communication,  writes from Ahmadu Bello University Zaria, Kaduna State.


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Nigeria’s twin Cardiac Catheterisation Laboratories



By Salisu Na’inna Dambatta

A report in the Nigerian Journal of Cardiology in 2021 indicates that, heart or cardio vascular diseases involving the heart and blood vessels, particularly obesity-induced hypertension, are rampaging among the youth in the country.

Cardiologists or medical doctors who specialized in the treatment of heart diseases in the country, including hypertension and heart attack, need certain vital specialized equipment to treat their patients timely and effectively. One of the facilities they urgently need is Catheterisation Laboratory (Cath Lab).

A Professor of Medicine and Consultant Cardiologist at the Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital (AKTH), Professor Kamilu Musa Karaye indicates that, Cardiac Catheterisation laboratories are specialized advanced medical technology facilities used for diagnosing and treating heart conditions. These laboratories have equipment such as X-ray machines, ultrasound devices and several other diagnostic tools.

The tools in cardiac catheterisation laboratories can also be used in various non-invasive or minimally invasive procedures such as coronary angiography, angioplasty or widening narrowed or blocked blood vessels and stent implantation. Stent implantation is done to keep blood vessels open. Beside using the Cath Lab to detect and treat the over 30 distinct types of heart diseases, surgeons use them for other interventional procedures like valve repair or replacement.

Still on what a Cath Lab is, medical Internet sites described it thus, “A Cath Lab is a specialty laboratory equipment for imaging of coronary and blood vessels in the body. Apart from displaying on the monitor, images can be seen in 360° in details and total clarity. This enable doctors to see the images from many perspectives. The clarity leads to high precision in diagnosing. A catheterisation Laboratory also enabled surgeons to conduct minimally invasive tests and procedures in diagnosing and treating cardiovascular diseases involving the heart and blood vessels.”

The critical role Cath Lab plays in the treatment of cardiovascular heart diseases and blood vessels complications makes it a vital tool for medical doctors, especially cardiac and thoracic surgeons, the super specialists who operate on the heart, lungs, esophagus, major blood vessels inside the chest and the bony structures and tissues that form and support the chest cavity.

In other words, a Cath Lab is a one-stop facility used in procedures to detect, identify and finally treat heart diseases. But in the whole of Nigeria, there are only two catheterisation laboratories, one in a private hospital in Lagos, and the other at the State House Clinic, Abuja. Both are obviously grossly inadequate for the country’s large population.

The two Cath Labs are probably inaccessible to most patients of cardio vascular and blood vessels diseases. They may not have the financial wherewithal to afford the services available at the private one. The other one in the State House Clinic is provided to basically serve the top echelons of the country’ s political leadership.

Data from various sources indicate that Nigeria is one of the countries that suffer high death rates from various heart diseases. Professor Kamilu Musa Karaye, the professor of Medicine and Consultant Cardiologist who teaches and conducts research at the Bayero University Kano, and the Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital, revealed that Kano state has one of the highest rates of death from heart diseases. Such diseases are widely prevalent in Northern Nigeria. So obviously cardiacatheterizationon laboratories are urgently needed to assist cardiologists in diagnosing and treating the large number of patients before it is too late.

The two-Cath Lab status of Nigeria is surprising because the first very complicated open heart surgery was conducted in 1974, evidence of the availability of competent Cardiologists and associated personnel to make it a routine activity. It is astonishing that none of the 22 public University Teaching Hospitals, 20 Federal Medical Centres and 17 Specialist Hospitals in the country has acatheterisationn laboratory. Although the Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital, which serves a huge population and one or two more of the federal Teaching Hospitals are working hard to have one each, as of now that is just an aspiration.

Surprisingly, the price for Cath Lab starts from $200,000 for the most basic with few tools to $3-$6 million for the most advanced version that has sophisticated tools. The Federal Government and some philanthropists can procure Cath Labs for some of the Teaching Hospitals and Federal Medical Centres in the country. Health-care businesses can also invest in Catheterization Laboratories. Doing so will help cardiologists in doing their job faster and with greater accuracy, thereby saving precious lives. It will also contribute in minimizing foreign medical tourism.

Salisu Na’inna Dambatta is an advocate for Health Journalism

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