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Safeguarding our communities through the COVID-19 pandemic BY Olga Arara-Kimani


Olga Arara-Kimani is Regional Head of Corporate Affairs and Brand & Marketing, Standard Chartered Africa & Middle East

Financial leaders are at a tipping point. The choices they are making today will become the bedrock of the industry for years to come. Most organisations have been forced to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic without the luxury of time to consider implications on longer-term sustainability. This begs the question: how can financial executives ensure that the decisions they make today are feasible in a post-COVID future and contribute to a more resilient tomorrow?

At this point in time, private organisations are actioning operational and organisational decisions with profound implications on their local communities, with a generational impact on how they care and indeed, are there for their workforces and the markets in which they operate in. As such, these organisations must understand the needs of specific groups who might experience barriers to accessing information, care and support while engaging with communities and larger populations in the response to the immediate crisis. Similarly, enterprises looking to engage with their communities must consider the threat of potential irreversible economic downturn and a seismic shift in the way industries operate as possible obstacles.

To that end, banks, specifically, have the power to avoid a potential recession and maintain the operation of several businesses throughout the region through the efficient provision of liquidity and support measures. Across Africa, upwards of 20 million job losses are expected, whereas, in the United States, over 40 million jobless claims have already been made as a direct result of the pandemic. This points to a larger issue regarding profitability for corporations across the region, as well as operational stability caused by the pandemic.

At Standard Chartered, we have introduced numerous solutions to alleviate the financial burden implicated on clients during this period of uncertainty. Our actions speak for themselves and, as the pandemic took hold, the bank launched a series of charitable funds and financial assistance to aid those affected. Through our global commitment of $1 billion to finance businesses that aid in the abatement of the crisis, we are hopeful that long term progression in many markets is viable. Likewise, in March, we launched a $50 million global relief fund to directly aid those impacted by COVID-19 and support emergency efforts led by charitable organisations across the globe.

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COVID-19 has presented itself as a powerful reminder of our interconnectedness and vulnerabilities. The virus respects no borders, meaning that combating it calls for a transparent, robust, coordinated, and nationwide response. Tackling the pandemic is a shared effort intertwined with health, social and economic issues and minimising its impact on these factors remains our absolute priority.

At the bank, we are continuing to present a united front against this common threat. As of May, our donations to philanthropic organisations, such as the Red Cross and UNICEF, as well as local non-government organisations (NGOs) and Government Partners in Africa and the Middle East totalled $11.8 million. These funds were directed to provide emergency relief in countries across the region impacted by the pandemic. Funding to UNICEF, for example, will support the immediate protection and education of vulnerable children in Pakistan and eight markets in Africa and other such activities remote education via TV, radio, online and mobile platforms. The capital will also aid in funding child protection measures, including alternative care arrangements and family tracing services for children separated from their families due to COVID-19, training for social workers to conduct home visits to vulnerable children for mental health support, and alternative care and protection services for children of parents or caregivers affected by COVID-19.

This commitment has been vital as we find ourselves at the cusp of a potential financial crisis. Banks lead the way in providing efficient money management services and consumers will continuously look to these institutions for guidance. If we can set a precedent with our commitment to encourage other leading institutions to follow, then we stand to contribute tremendously to the abatement of this pressing crisis.

To aid in relieving the financial burdens imposed by the pandemic on our clients, we’ve introduced numerous measures ranging from short-term payment holidays, the extension of the tenure of a loan, the option to pay interest only on the component of the loan or offering discounts on domestic payments via Striaght2Bank.

To continue adding value during the crisis, companies need to shift their thinking. Public-private partnerships are emerging, supported by a surge in solidarity funds across the continent. COVID-19 is creating new needs, while enforcing enormous financial pressures across a broad spectrum of society. From medical and public health needs related to the response, to economic uncertainty impacting vulnerable populations, COVID-19 is creating unmet needs above and beyond the standard.

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As such, non-profit organisations working directly to meet those needs require more resources to do so, however, all charitable entities are feeling this pressure, even if they are not directly responding to the crisis. The economic uncertainty may cause many donors to dial back. Many non-profits have had to cancel their usual programmes and fundraising events out of concern for public safety, while most of them have limited financial reserves to carry them through lean times ahead, putting them in a difficult predicament. To aid in the continuation of their philanthropic efforts, banks can strengthen their sense of purpose as they fulfil a social mission that supports households and businesses with access to credit and reclaim the bank’s value proposition.

Similarly, containing the pandemic’s economic impact is not only a government task but a collective action that the private sector must play a role in. Businesses throughout the region are contributing to this shared cause and are constantly working in unity to ensure that support is provided in as many countries and areas as possible.

The bank is in touch with manufacturers and distributors in the pharmaceutical industry through to healthcare providers to help provide our communities with these vital funds. This commitment has already seen Joint Medical Store, a leading Ugandan not-for-profit organisation, become the first client to make a drawdown under the bank’s $1 billion financing commitment.

As the fallout from the crisis continues, the private sector must continue to partner with non-profit organisations and government institutions to ensure the resiliency and stability of local communities. Through the provision of financial relief programmes and medical support, these measures must be implemented as a collective responsibility. As the industry adjusts to shifts in the economic landscape, reimagining may be essential, given emerging challenges facing communities, businesses, and the healthcare industry. These efforts can play out in the informal sector as well. From financial services to health issues, value chains have multiple entry points to change the relationship between businesses and citizens.

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To that end, organisations can no longer remain focused on their products and services. They serve as a vital piece of a dynamic puzzle and can make a significant difference by collaborating with a purpose. The question for all leaders to address will be how to partner with the public sector to adapt and learn from the plethora of innovations and experiments applied to supporting and uplifting the local community in times of uncertainty On the African continent, specifically in Kenya,  the United Nations launched a flash appeal alongside numerous NGOs seeking over $267 million to aid in the relief of 10 million of the country’s most vulnerable people, which is complementary of the ongoing efforts extended by the nation’s government authorities. Similarly, in Kenya, the UN has built a model to catalyse public private action: the SDG Partnership Platform, led by the government’s leadership.

While companies’ actions will be remembered during this time for communities and businesses, so will words. As organisations operating within these communities, there is a duty to care for them. The financial world can be taunting for many and difficult to navigate, when the matter is, in fact, a simple one. In times of uncertainty, people are looking to ensure that their money is safe, and are, more than ever, seeking guidance regarding their financial statuses. We must remember that we are institutions that communicate largely with communities that face significant fears and need reassurance. We have made sure that our customers are aware of their options across all of our channels. We have a duty of care which is to inform and reassure as well as listen.

Only by listening to our communities do we know what is keeping people awake at night and knowing how we can address these issues and find solutions will keep our economy going and instil confidence in our consumers. What we do today determines what we become tomorrow. This serves as the primary reason for our continued action today to support businesses, communities, and individuals, as we aim to foster a better tomorrow.

Olga Arara-Kimani is Regional Head of Corporate Affairs and Brand & Marketing, Standard Chartered Africa & Middle East


Magu’s travails BY Segun Ayobolu



IT is a grand irony that those responsible for the ongoing travails of the Acting National Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Mr. Ibrahim Magu, have sought to justify his current investigations for alleged corrupt activities with reference to the need to demonstrate to the people that no public officer in the Buhari administration, no matter how highly placed, is above the law. They may have a point there. For the anti-corruption points- man himself to become a subject of a critical probe by security agencies for alleged financial infractions, it must mean that the administration takes its war against graft very seriously indeed.

But then, can the man reportedly behind the myriad allegations against Magu, namely, the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami, contend credibly that in his over two score list of alleged misdeeds against Magu, he has come to equity with clean hands and that he has no hidden scores to settle with the former EFCC Czar? It is a difficult question to answer.

The office of AGF is perhaps the most sensitive and critical that anyone can occupy particularly in an administration like that of President Muhammadu Buhari, which proclaims from the rooftops its determination to fight corruption and raise ethical standards in the country’s public life. Make no mistake about it, the administration scores above average marks in its endeavours in this regard. However, it could have recorded greater successes and scored exceptionally higher in its anti-corruption rating but for some of the methodologies or lack of it employed in seeking to achieve its anti-graft objectives.

First, let us even talk about the suitability of the administration’s methods employed in its anti-corruption war. There does not appear to be any scientific, overarching methodology that underlies its war against corruption. Thus, the administration ends up scoring own goals against itself and in reinforcing the perception internally and globally that the country is one irredeemable cesspit of corruption. Very early in the life of the Buhari presidency, in July 2016, the security agencies raided the houses of judges in Abuja, Port Harcourt, Gombe, Kano, Enugu and Sokoto in the dead of night, arrested a number of them and charged some to court for alleged financial infractions. The move was described as a ‘sting operation’ in which a number of the jurists were discovered to have huge and indefensible amounts of cash in their residences.

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I am not sure that but for one or two cases who were forced to retire prematurely, the damage done both to the judiciary and the country’s image on that occasion does not far outweigh the gains of an exercise that could have been handled with far greater tact, intelligence and strategic sense.

At about the time that the houses of the judicial officers were being raided in Nigeria and the entire judiciary was being wholly denigrated and humiliated, we are told that Ghana was also fighting corruption in its judiciary with more than two dozen corrupt judicial officers either dismissed or prosecuted. But that was done in a sober and mature way that did not discredit the entire judiciary as a whole or drag the country’s name into needless obloquy.

It appears to me that the handling of the Magu case, both in terms of the allegations against him and the way the case has been handled, illustrates the dysfunctional turf wars that have characterized the Buhari presidency and given the impression of an administration that is perennially at war with many of its highest placed officers undermining each other and engaging in needless internecine battles. There is no doubt that one of Malami’s grouses against the former (?) EFCC Acting Chairman is the latter’s perceived refusal to totally subordinate his agency to the AGF’s control. Here I think the fault lies entirely with the presidency. If Malami was right, Magu should simply have been told to strictly report to and carry out the instructions of the Attorney General in discharging his duties.

Thus, the AGF accuses Magu of insubordination to the office of the Minister and not seeking his approval on some decisions as well as reporting some judges to their bosses without reference to the AGF. Of course, there are also very serious allegations against Magu such as alleged discrepancies in the reconciliation of records of the EFCC and the Federal Ministry of Finance on recovered funds, declaration of N539 billion as recovered funds instead of the N504 billion earlier claimed, not respecting a court order to unfreeze N7 billion judgment in favour of a former Executive Director of a Bank, alleged sale of seized assets to cronies, associates and friends and not providing enough evidence for the extradition of former petroleum Minister, Mrs Diezani Allison-Madueke.

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Some of these allegations are in my view the fault or lapses of the security and intelligence community as a whole rather than that of only one agency like the EFCC. An example is the alleged late legal action on Process &Industrial Development (P&ID), a company that sued Nigeria for $6.6 billion in 2017 for alleged breach of contract. The security agencies should have acted in concert with the office of the AGF in nipping this problem in the bud before it became such a big public relations mess for the country.

Again, can Malami credibly question Magu’s purported non-respect for court orders when he himself has not set a stellar example in that regard? But then, if Magu had firm directives from the AGF to carry out any court directive, he certainly has no excuse ignoring or disobeying such an order.

Again, in the way he has operated as AGF, Malami himself, no matter how well-meaning he may be, has courted too much controversy that may raise doubts about his intentions. For instance, in his handling of the ongoing case of the alleged crime kingpin from Taraba State, Bala Hamisu, also known as Wadume, Malami has raised doubts in the minds of many Nigerians. In withdrawing the case file from the police and bringing the case directly under the purview of his ministry, the AGF inexplicably dropped from the charge sheet, the names of ten soldiers alleged to be accomplices to the crime and who killed three senior police officers while also illegally rescuing Wadume from the custody of the slain policemen.

Reacting to the public outcry that greeted this decision, Malami’s argument was that the military officers responsible for the murder first had to undergo internal military processes of the military through court-martial before they could be charged before civil courts. The question is how long will this process take for a crime that was committed last year and for which the relevant military authorities have been so obviously reluctant to release their men to face the law? The earlier the AGF makes sure the military officers are brought before the courts to prove their innocence, the more public confidence will be restored in his office.

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We can also recall the case involving the pension reforms chief, Abdul-Rasheed Maina, who was a fugitive from the law for alleged embezzlement of pensions’ funds running into billions of Naira. Maina was illegally absorbed back into office allegedly on the legal advice of Malami. It took a presidential directive by PMB for that decision to be rescinded and for Maina to be brought before the law as is currently happening. Malami’s saving grace here is that he has at least not interfered with the ongoing process of Maina’s trial as he has the powers to do.

It is instructive that virtually all Magu’s predecessors at the EFCC have had similar allegations of corruption hurled at them, which they vehemently denied and still do. If those at the vanguard of the country’s anti-corruption war can be so easily and cavalierly tainted by charges of graft, then the country still has a long way to go towards achieving higher ethical standards in her public life. If Magu has his reputation credibly damaged by the ongoing investigation, we can only pray that the Buhari administration’s anti-corruption war may not have come to a pitiable dead end.

For whatever may be his faults, Magu has demonstrated immense courage in the discharge of his duties even if he is no saint. The heartwarming fact in all this is that the investigative, administrative panel is headed by a jurist of the calibre of Justice Ayo Salami, a retired President of the Court of Appeal with a reputation for courage and integrity. If Magu is truly innocent of the charges, he is likely to receive justice before the panel.

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COVID-19 threatens young Nigerians’ well-kept secret (1) BY Tobore Ovuorie



Nigeria is one of the countries yet to implement multi-month refill policies for HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) medicines, which allows dispensing longer prescriptions to People Living With HIV/AIDS(PLWHA) for at least for 90 days rather than the usual 30 days.

The non-implementation of a multi-month policy, even in an era of major restrictions on physical movements and travels which the COVID-19 pandemic has birthed, may adversely affect the country’s response to ending the global epidemic.

COVID-19 and its numerous challenges, as well as rife stigmatisation and discrimination against PLWHA, may knock Nigeria off track to end the AIDS epidemic by 2030. Many young HIV positive Nigerians in dire need of drugs, having run out of supplies because they cannot go to their treatment centres, confided in TOBORE OVUORIE that they have never disclosed their statuses to their parents or any family member and will never do so; even in this critical COVID-19 era.

11 of those affected: Opeyemi, Bimpe, Tokunboh, Chiedu, Lawrence, Olamide, Adaobi, Michael, Osas, Beauty and Abdul spoke with me. All are undergraduates in higher institutions between 17-22 years. They are from diverse backgrounds with different orientations and worldviews. Some know each other. Most don’t. But they share two things in common: top secrets, now well-kept with me. I can only share some of their experiences in this three-part series but must keep their identities top secrets, too.

Here are their stories.

APRIL 7TH, 2020 1.34PM

“Haa! It is not possible, ma. My parents will kill me.”

“This is a dicey one. Your parents won’t allow you leave Lagos for Benin without very good reasons since schools are not in session. Ope, see, your parents cannot kill you. Will they be shocked? Yes. But they will get over it and be involved with your accessing care; at least, for your refill and viral load checks.” I was not done with what I wanted to tell Opeyemi before he interrupted my flow. “Not that kinda kill. They will disown me, stop my education and I will become the topic for sermons in church and painted as evil.”

“Your parents are pastors?”

“My dad is. MFM (Mountain of Fire and Miracles).”


“Now you understand why I can’t and must never tell my parents or anyone in my family that I am HIV positive.”


It all began on Tuesday March 31 after the Federal Government directed all tertiary institutions of learning be shut down to curb the community spread of COVID-19 in Nigeria.

I vividly remember Steven, popularly known as Odogwu Dollars, amongst our peers, started phoning me at exactly 2.54am that day. I ignored his calls and continued with the video editing script I was writing for the first phase of my three-part investigative series on illegal migration for publication on July 30. Odogwu only remembers me whenever he needs assistance. I was forced to answer his call at about 3.10am when it dawned on me he will run my phone’s battery down with his usual but annoying speed-dial.

I wasn’t wrong.

Odogwu needed at least a bottle of antiretroviral. Not for him. It is for Beauty, a 20-year-old third year student of the University of Lagos (UNILAG).

Antiretroviral, also known as ARV, is the medicine People Living With HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) take every day to fight and stop the damages the virus carries out in the body. The World Health Organization (WHO) says the infection attacks the body’s immune system, particularly the white blood cells called CD4 cells.

When affected persons don’t take their antiretroviral medications and consistently, their immunity against infections become weakened because the virus destroys their CD4 cells. This can result in Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS), which can lead to serious illness and death.

While hurrying to pack and leave her hall of residence, as insufficient notice was given to them to exit the hostel, Beauty mistakenly placed her antiretroviral in the wrong box which she had decided to leave behind in school thinking academic session won’t be interrupted for long. She was already at home with her family in Benin, Edo state, when she discovered the grievous error.

“ARVs are not hawked on the streets of Lagos. Neither are they dispensed easily and cheaply like paracetamol in hospitals. But let’s see what happens,” I told Odogwu. I made no promises but was shocked when Beauty phoned me later in the morning same day.

MARCH 31st, 2020 10.05AM

“Please ma, help me. I have missed eleven days already,” Beauty sounded like she would burst into tears.

“It’s not as easy as you think. First, I don’t work in a hospital. Abi did Odogwu tell you I’m a doctor?”

“No, ma.”

E-hen. So, a doctor friend is the one to help out with the drugs if he can. And, he could lose his job if it’s discovered he gave antiretrovirals to someone who is not the centre’s registered and physically present patient.” Beauty interrupted me.

Her voice louder than before and ladened with sobs. “Ma, please, help me ma. My viral load is not yet good.”

“Secondly, we must look for exactly that which you are taking or something in the same family with it.” She cut me short again but already in tears. “Please ma, or can you help me go to my hostel in school? My roommate and friend has the key to where it is. I will call her to follow you to the hostel.”

“UNILAG is empty.  There would be no one in the hostel. You live in Moremi Hall, not so?”


“I was in Moremi Hall on 20th of March when the announcement was made that everyone should vacate the hostel due to coronavirus. Even if we meet someone at the hostel, the hall porters won’t allow us in. What about you simply tell your parents so that they will allow you come to Lagos easily for your ARV, CD4 Count and any other stuff?”

“Haaa. Aunty, it’s not possible! Nobody in my family even knows I have HIV.”

“Why? Your parents will support you if you tell them.”

“Haaaa, Aunty. It’s not possible o. My people don’t believe in girls going to university. In my family, once you have written your first WAEC, that’s it o! You pass, you don’t pass, means nothing to them. They wanted me to learn hairdressing then travel to Spain, Holland or Italy. I hustled for money to write JAMB, passed very well and entered UNILAG without knowing anybody there. Is it people who tell me my going to university is a waste of time that will now support me when they hear I now have HIV?”

I tried to say something but she cut me short again.

“Ordinary to pay only school fees o, they abuse hell out of me that my mates are already in Europe controlling money home to Benin from jand. Aunty, na big excuse for dem nor to pay my school fees be dat o. In short, dem go pursue me comot from house join sef!” Beauty’s pitch was several decibels higher. Her impeccable English thoroughly mixed with pidgin English popularly known as Waffi- in Nigeria.


Opeyemi and Beauty are two out of the estimated 1.9 million persons living with HIV in Nigeria. A 2019 national survey partnership conducted by the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and the National Agency for the Control of AIDS (NACA) titled: ‘Nigeria National HIV/AIDS Indicator and Impact Survey (NAIIS),’ indicates  the national HIV prevalence has reduced to 1.4 percent among adults aged 15-49 years when compared to the previous 2.8 percent, estimate.

The survey states that girls and women between the ages 15-49 are more than twice as likely to be living with the virus than men. A differential ratio of 1.9 versus 0.9 percent is stipulated for both genders, respectively.

However, the difference in HIV prevalence between women and men is greater among younger adults, with young women aged 20-24 years more than three times as likely to be living with HIV compared to men in the same age group. At the national level, viral suppression among people living with HIV aged 15–49 years stands at 42.3 percent. That is, 45.3 percent among women and 34.5 percent among men.

According to the 2019 national data, Nigeria’s South-South zone has the highest HIV prevalence at 3.1 percent among adults aged 15-49 years. The North-Central zone has a prevalence rate of 2.0 percent while the South-East has a 1.9 percent rate.

The survey indicates South-West has a lower HIV prevalence at 1.1 percent while the North-East and North-West Zones follow in same stride with 1.1 percent and 0.6 percent, respectively.

The HIV/AIDS virus remains one of humankind’s greatest global health challenges as it has spread across all countries. The spread is on the increase among heterosexuals and bisexual males but predominantly among young persons in African countries like Nigeria. The rapid growth of HIV positive cases in the last few years globally and in Africa indicates majority of Nigerians infected with the virus are the youths. The UNAIDS says the virus is predominant among young people in Africa because they constitute larger percent of the society.

In November 2016, the National Population Commission put Nigeria’s populations at 182 million people with a widening youth bulge because more than half of these persons were under 30 years of age. However, by Friday June 26th, 2020 at 9.44am, Worldometer elaboration of the latest United Nations data indicates the current population of Nigeria is 206,018,277.

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Nigeria has shown steady progress on increasing access to treatment for PLWHA with the adoption of a test- and- treat policy in 2016. This measure has further accelerated referrals to treatment facilities for people who test positive for the virus.

From 2010 to 2017, the country almost tripled the number of PLWHA having access to antiretroviral therapy moved up from 360, 000 in 2010 to more than 1 million in 2018. However, the NAISS indicates that more than half of people living with HIV still do not have suppressed viral loads.

The COVID-19 and its consequent restrictions and challenges may cause a spike in the number of persons without suppressed viral loads, such as young persons who are hiding their status from their parents, guardians and families.


In the last five years, there has been a significant expansion in the country’s response to HIV. The number of hubs providing treatment has tripled with over 201 centres unlike previous years. For instance, the number of centres providing services to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV have increased eightfold and the number of HIV counseling and testing sites has increased fourfold. A total of 11.3 million adults were counseled and tested for HIV in 2016, four times as many as in 2012.

But the country is still lagging behind in provision of counseling, test and treatment centres strictly for young persons. Nigeria has not prioritised tailor-made policy for HIV control for young persons of institutions of higher education.

Undergraduates, who spoke with me for this story, said they were yet to test for HIV because when they walked into some of the centres, they didn’t see anyone in their age group there. So, they walked out, never to return. Some said they didn’t like the way the adults in the place looked at them so they left, while others feared an adult there may know one or both of their parents.

The prize for rendering assistance is more requests for assistance; not thank you. After I successfully got multi-month refill of HIV medicines which would last Beauty for 90 days/three months, my phone started buzzing with calls from students of various higher institutions of learning in dire need of ARVs.

I don’t know who has been sharing my phone number around telling these young undergraduates that I can help them with free ARVs during this period that they are home and still hide their identities and HIV status. Beauty denies sharing my number with other persons. Odogwu, too. But I suspect Odogwu is the culprit. Well, that is how I got to meet Bimpe and other young persons who are hiding their HIV statuses from their families.

Bimpe, 19, a second year student at the Yaba College of Technology, Lagos, would have submitted herself to be tested for HIV since last year. “When I walked into where I was to wait at NIMR (Nigerian Institute of Medical Research), I didn’t see my mates there,” she stated.

“You mean, not even one young person like you there?”

“That day, I didn’t see o. They were all looking one kind. As I entered and sat down, some were even looking at me like television. I became afraid that they possibly know my mom that’s why they were staring at me. See, they were actually gazing, not staring.”

“Why were you afraid they possibly knew your mother?”

“Haa. Ma, you will understand if ever you meet my mom. She is fire!”


“Yes, fire. Aunty, maami kii n s’eran riro. My mom is tough. Very tough.” I guess she interpreted the Yoruba statement thinking I don’t understand the language. She was wrong.

“So, she will kill you?”

“Aunty, she is unpredictable. But I know everything bad will happen if she hears I am HIV positive.”

“Everything bad, like what?”

“See, my mom refused me accepting admission at UNILAG because she thinks girls that go to universities, especially UNILAG will become corrupt. I passed and my name appeared on UNILAG admission list but my mom refused me going o.”


“Yes. She believes boys can attend universities and girls should not. My mom thinks girls who attend polytechnics are better behaved and won’t get corrupt. That’s how I ended up in Yabatech o.”

My attempt at not roaring with laughter was successful. It was my first time of hearing such. And, I found it highly ludicrous.

Curiosity to get checked for HIV because of some tweets about HIV she had seen made her return to NIMR, Yaba at about past 4pm sometime in November last year. But, the person to administer the test on her was closed for the day. That ended her curiosity to be tested for HIV until January 2020 when the doctor who had been treating her for malaria and excessive weight loss for over four months, recommended XYZ test.

She checked online and discovered it meant HIV test. She left her school environment to the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH), Ikeja to get tested because she felt better protected testing somewhere far from school and home.

Bimpe tested positive.

She was later told her viral load was at an abysmal level, immediately placed on ARV and commenced regular check-up appointments at a treatment facility in Lagos (name deliberately withheld). She was already adapting to the new and healthier lifestyle until COVID-19 and its restrictions arrived.


Bimpe never expected to test positive. Her (now ex) boyfriend was the only person she was seeing. They had been together since the second month of her resumption at Yabatech. And, she never had vaginal sex. So, she found her test result shocking. She went to two other places to retest. The results never changed.

“When you say you have never had vaginal sex, how do you mean?”

“We were doing it from behind.”


“Yes.” I noticed Bimpe’s voice level had dropped, her countenance changed, her light skin turning red, her head bowed down. Relieving embarrassing, painful and regretful memories, I thought.

“One can contract HIV through anal sex.”

“I never knew until then.”

“I’m sorry to ask, why anal? Please, I’m not judging you; just curious.”

“That’s the only way to make my mom feel I’m still a virgin.”

“I don’t understand.”

“She monitors and checks if my hymen is still intact.” Bimpe paused while I stared at her trying to mask my being shocked. She continued “She wants us to keep the bed undefiled until our wedding nights.”

“How do you mean by US?”

“My sisters and I”

“How many are they?”

“We are three girls.”

“Is your father aware of this?”

“He is dead.”

“I’m sorry to hear about this.”

“It’s ok ma. Mom has been the only one fending for my sisters and I.”

“She didn’t remarry?”

“No. She never did notwithstanding she was young when my daddy died.

“Please, how long ago is this?”

“He died three months before I was born.”

“I’m so sorry for your loss.”

“Thanks ma.”

I noticed she was already sniffling, so ended the session with her.

Two days later, I got her three bottles of Tenofovir Disoproxil Fumarate PDM Schedule 2; the exact antiretroviral she is on. They will last her for 90 days. I have been on the lookout for when schools would resume so she wouldn’t be under her mother’s lock and key while I can urge and monitor her going for the proper HIV treatment regimen.


Studies so far indicate when PLWHAs are virally suppressed, they remain healthy and transmission of the virus is prevented. This can be achieved through consistent treatment / taking their antiretroviral medication daily and at the exact time recommended. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 and subsequent restrictions are making this almost impossible for many young persons, such as Adaobi because schools are not in session while their parents are in the dark about their HIV status.

In 2018, Adaobi, 21, now a 400 level engineering student at the Federal University of Technology Akure (FUTA), was in Lagos shopping for clothes she planned to sell on campus when representatives of a nonprofit organization came to inform her about an ongoing free HIV test session. The screening point was a walking distance from her. She was reluctant but eventually agreed to get tested.

Adaobi fainted on seeing her result.

She comes to Lagos every month for monthly refills of her HIV medicine and CD4 count check. This is the test through which her viral load is monitored and has been doing this for the past two years. She chose Lagos because it is far from school and home, so reduces the possibility of a school mate seeing her in a facility for persons living with HIV.

Adaobi has been able to manage her schedule between school in Akure, Ondo state, treatment in Lagos and being with her family in Onitsha. She still finds it hard to believe that “just a mere disease” (COVID-19), can mess her plans and wants to ruin her “little secret.” Her exact words.

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Running out of her medication is not her only challenge. Being able to consistently take the ARV at exactly 8.30pm while with her family has been a huge challenge.

PLWHAs are advised to take their HIV medicines not only daily but at the exact time they took it for the first time. If, for instance, a person took the ARV for the first time at 9pm, he or she must always take it at that time. Not even a minute late. Adaobi has been faithful with taking her medicine until the compulsory long stay with her family in Onitsha due to COVID-19 restrictions.

“I take my antiretroviral at exactly 8.30pm. No matter what I am doing, I leave it and sleep for the day. But it’s been difficult since my being with my people.”


“Always, we start preparing night food at past seven in the night. So, the time I should have eaten and take my medicine is affected. At some point, I found a way to eat early and take my medicine, but when I’m already drowsy and sleeping is when my mom will wake me to come and make soup, serve my father his food, run some errands or join everybody for night prayers. And, prayers are always very long.”

“How do you intend to manage this if I’m able to send you the medicine you need?”

“I don’t know. My father has started complaining that I sleep like a chicken. My mom asks questions anytime she sees me taking the medicine. I tell her its multivitamin supplement for my eyes. I have been having problems with my eyes so she believes me.”

“Believes you?  Even with what is written on the bottle of the ARV?”

“No o. I always put the medicine inside a multivitamin supplement bottle. That way, no one knows its HIV medicine.”


Beauty’s fears that her parents will end her education if her HIV positive status is uncovered turns out to be true. June 20th, 2020, I contacted her father on phone claiming I am a regular customer at his food store situated near one of the higher institutions of education in Edo state.

I then subsequently sent a two-question survey to him via WhatsApp wanting to know what he will do should his child who left home for the university with a HIV negative status subsequently tests positive to the virus after settling on campus.

“If my daughter who left my house HIV negative when going to university for the first time, returns home with HIV, then she should not bother going back to school. I won’t allow her waste my money. Na book I send her go read. I no send her go flex. And, if she thinks say she fit flex so tey she rock HIV join sef, na red card be that for her.

“Sir, but HIV doesn’t affect learning. She can still live a normal life, don’t you think so?”

Which yeye normal life? Which man go free marry woman wey don catch HIV?

“They do o. I know of HIV negative men who are married to HIV positive women.”

E no possible. Stop lying to yourself.”

“I’m not lying sir. They are people well known to me.”

“That’s the problem with you girls wey too read book. Una think say una fit yarn dust and everybody must believe you. I dey always talk am, secondary school (education) don do for woman. When dem go university, dem go become know-know, waka-waka and catching HIV go be the certificate dem go bring come house.

Mr. Obatunde Oladapo, Executive Director, PLAN Health Advocacy and Development Foundation, Oyo state, says persons who believe that HIV is contracted only through sexual intercourse are still living in stark ignorance about the basics of how people get infected and the risk factors. He questions the quality of parenting of the young PLWHAs featured in this story.

“If your child cannot confide in you, then, there is a problem. Parents should also always realise that they have responsibility over their children. If your child is not doing things right, at a point in time, there must be somewhere that you have lost it,” he said.

A day before sending the two-question survey to Opeyemi’s father, I phoned him to say hello introducing myself as one of the students he ministered to at the University of Ibadan two semesters ago. Opeyemi was 100 percent correct about what would become of him should his parents, particularly his dad, be told about his being HIV Positive.

“God forbid! No child of mine will have HIV in Jesus name.”

“Sir, it’s only an assumption for research purpose”

“I will not answer such demonic question. Are you really sure you are born-again?”

“I am, sir. And spirit filled.”

“I doubt it. No spirit filled person will imagine and ask such about another child of God. My children are purified and anointed for supernatural exploits. They will never end up with such evil result. Only carnal people end up with HIV.”

“Sir, it’s only a survey.”

“That is not a question to be asked. I refuse to partake in such demonic survey. I consider this conversation over.”

According to Oladapo, the parents of young persons featured in this story need help because they are the problem. He said in the long run, it is an opportunity for parents such as Opeyemi’s father to realise that he has been fooling himself and come down from his high horse to face the reality of life.

“It is not a matter of faith. It’s not a matter of being holy. It’s not a matter of being religious. It’s a matter of life and HIV is a biological thing, it is not a spiritual thing. He does not understand it. He (Opeyemi’s father) does not understand it.”

According to him, PLWHAs being consistent with their treatments is what is needed, not praying the virus away.

“There are things that are within the control of man (human beings) that we don’t have to put before God… For God sake, one tests positive, and he is talking about being carnal?

“Don’t we have pastors that are HIV positive? At least, I know two medical doctors that are HIV positive, as we speak. I know two ex-Governors, apart from slapping Senator that everybody knows. I know other Senators that are positive and ex-Senators, too. And, Pastors, too. So, what’s the point!? Does HIV care about anybody’s status? It’s a biological thing,” he added.

He said the church is grossly uninformed about HIV. The faith- based response is very weak and uninformed. He said for the faith- based response to be effective, there should be a clear line of delineation from the science of HIV and the religious and spiritual aspect of caring for a person and being able to help young persons with information to prevent themselves from being infected.


Many factors make Nigeria’s population, especially young people vulnerable to contracting HIV. These include Nigeria’s low income socio-economic status, illiteracy, hypocritical, contradictory and negative cultural beliefs about sex, unemployment and large population living mostly in rural parts of the country.

There are over 45.5 million young persons in Nigeria. This is more than half the population of all West African countries. Nigeria has the largest population in Africa. This is why young persons are at the centres of the HIV/AIDS challenge in Nigeria and several others.

Researches indicate persons age15-24 years are the most affected age group. Female undergraduate students are highly vulnerable to contracting the virus and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) mainly because poor access to sexual and reproductive health education and commodities have resulted in low condom use during sexual intercourse.

However, studies repeatedly indicate Nigerians discriminate against, reject and stigmatise persons living with HIV. Such is very common even within families. Reason many persons living with the virus such as Grace, keep their statuses secrets from their families, though they all live under the same roof, eat and laugh together.

Grace, who will be 28 later this year, has been living with HIV for over 10 years. And, her mother is in the dark while Grace has no plan of informing her. “Because my mother will stigmatise me if she knows my status,” she tells me in this video interview she granted but with her identity protected.

Unfortunately, due to stigmatisation and lack of youth friendly testing centres, most of the young persons I interviewed for this story are unwilling to subject themselves for HIV tests.


“If my child is having HIV, there is no need of attending school. I will have to withdraw the child from the school….”

This was the reaction of Mr. Ehigiator Nosakhare, a taxi driver in Benin city, Edo state. He wasn’t talking about his son. He thinks letting “her” go to school with the virus residing in her is risky. Though no specific gender was referred to in the question posed to him, he automatically felt only a girl-child will test positive to HIV. He would protect others- the school community, by keeping her at home. Questioned about her right to education, he said she will school at home. He would get her a home teacher.

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Nosakhare is not the only father with this mindset. Some parents out of the numerous whose thoughts and ideas about HIV I have sampled, share same sentiment.

He described himself simple as Osayimwense, a business man. To him, HIV will not spread in schools if girls living with the virus don’t prostitute themselves. “When she knows fully well that she is such a person, if she can keep herself, she cannot spread it,” were a part of his words.

“… if that child is a female child, if she continues prostituting, she can spread it. When she knows fully well that she is such a person, if she can keep herself, she cannot spread it.”


Mr. Gentle is an automobile repairer at Jakpa, in Warri, Delta state. He says should his younger brother tests positive for HIV, he wouldn’t give a damn. But he fears contracting the virus from him. He however says he will inform the school about the brother’s HIV status only after he has been withdrawn from school. That way, according to him, the school can check other students.

Mr. Gentle believes withdrawing his brother from school is the only way to prevent spread of the virus in the school community.

“People living with HIV do not live long,” he says. He doesn’t know there is a medication- antiretroviral, for HIV. Though he has been seeing it on TV, he doesn’t know it is real.

Many parents interviewed in Lagos, Ogun, Edo and Delta states respectively as well as the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja, feel ending a child’s education is the only way to curb the spread of HIV. Mary, a trader at the Sapele, joined other parents in saying she would withdraw her child from school for testing positive to HIV.


“I won’t allow her go to school if she tests positive for HIV. She will be at home. If contracting it was not of her making (through sex), I will look for solution for her. I am sure there are herbs that will help her. It would be combined with whatever we are given at the hospital,” Baba Tosin, a plumber based in Ekpoma, the part of Edo state, which hosts the Ambrose Alli University, said.

Baba Tosin says if the daughter contracts it through sex, he will abandon her for sometimes after being withdrawn from school. This is to teach her a lesson. Then, “will look for solution for her.” His belief? A combination of herbs and visits to the hospital, he thinks, is the surest way to keep the daughter alive.

“When she is alright, I will enroll her as an apprentice to a tailor. That is the price to be paid for being wayward and contracting HIV in the process. At least, there’s good money in sewing business,” he says in a combination of stammering English, fluent Yoruba and pidgin.

Asked if it were his son who tests positive, what will he do? “It is mostly females who contract it,” he retorts. “Boys don’t prostitute like girls do.”


The investigations carried out so far amongst several young People Living With HIV, and majority of them being students studying in 16 different higher institutions of education in the country, reveal Nigeria has a huge gap and challenge of medical referrals in her HIV treatment programme.

In countries where there is a good medical referrals system, patients simply go to centres at the new place where they located or wherever they are stranded, and the centers where they are coming from are contacted for verification, then medications are dispensed to them at their new locations.

This is made possible because, for instance, in more advanced countries, all the clinics are connected and patients’ medical information are rigorously defended. But investigations for this story reveal that in Nigeria there is no system of referral, whether electronically held, or in hard copies.

Findings so far in the course of this investigative series reveal patients on treatment programmes for ailments such as HIV and Tuberculosis, which need monitoring, do not have reference numbers on anonymous cards which shouldn’t indicate them being for HIV clinics; so that whenever they change locations, especially if suddenly as caused by the COVID-19 outbreak, they can still have access to treatments and medications at facilities closest to them in their new locations.

The plights of these young persons in this story exposes gaps in Nigeria’s treatment programme as the referral system is weak, and the treatment centers are not connected.


Oladapo said the solutions to these problems during and post COVID-19 era is delivery of HIV services and treatment through taking the HIV medicines to the doorsteps of persons living with the virus, if possible. Or, close to them, if they do not want the medicines brought to their homes.

He also recommended Nigeria should adopt mobile phlebotomy services during and post COVID-19 era. This involves taking the samples of People Living with HIV for viral load or CD4 monitoring and this can be done without people around knowing. It can be done through getting the person living with HIV to sit at the back of the car, as if the tester and the person are chatting, take his or her sample and the person goes back home.

He urged the Nigerian government to ensure HIV medicines and treatments get to persons living with HIV irrespective of the restrictions caused by the COVID-19.

One of the respondents whose opinions was surveyed for this story, a student of Babcock university, Ilishan, Remo, Ogun state, who simply described herself as Nehi, suggests that schools or the government should introduce HIV e-learning through academic libraries which will enable young persons like her to learn about HIV/AIDS at their own pace and “away from prying nosey adults.”

She says there is the need for the provision of health information services through libraries to high-risk population such as young persons in Nigeria’s higher institutions of learning because they are increasingly vulnerable to HIV/AIDS through alcohol and drug abuse, peer pressure, unprotected and risky sexual behaviour.  Neri also suggests awareness campaigns on campuses should address the intense social stigma attached to the disease.

Mr. Oladapo suggests biometric registration of persons living with HIV as a solution to ensure medical doctors and key health personnels at other treatment centers are able to access a patient’s records, though registered and receiving treatment at a different facility. He said protocols should be put in place to guard against the information falling into wrong hands. In addition to this, unique numbers should be given to various persons living with the virus at their treatment facilities; that way, they can receive their medications and treatments at other facilities and states.

The former Executive Director of UNAIDS, Michel Sidibe says Nigeria should not let her guard down. He called for better focus on delivery of HIV prevention, treatment and care services to those in direst need of them. That, way, Nigeria will be on the path to ending AIDS in the country by 2030.

Ms. Winnie Byanyima, current UNAIDS Executive Director calls on everyone globally to get involved in the HIV/COVID-19 response and recovery. She urges  “All African leaders and citizens to join hands with others and advocate that a global problem finds a global solution.”


Ms. Winnie Byanyima, current UNAIDS Executive Director

Ms. Winnie Byanyima, current UNAIDS Executive Director

Rotimi Sankore Development Journalist, Rights Advocate and formerly Coordinator of the Africa Public Health Alliance and 15%+ Campaign elaborated that “The problems faced by these youth reflect the lack of a well organised health referral management system in Nigeria which can help all patients moving from one location to another maintain treatment.

“When we launched the Africa 15%+ Health Financing Campaign with Nobel Laureate Arch Bishop Desmond Tutu as Chair, one of our demands was that governments introduce referral systems as a way of reducing inefficiency and ensuring anyone requiring continued treatment for TB or HIV due to re-location can do so. Aside from unnecessary stress and inefficiency, one of the risks of interrupted treatment is development of drug resistant variants of diseases which is making Africa’s disease burden even heavier and more expensive.

“It’s a real shame that 19 years after the Abuja AU Heads of State Health Financing Summit, COVID19 has again exposed the lack of a basic referral system in Nigeria. This problem has to be fixed to strengthen Nigeria’s health systems from Primary to Tertiary levels. We have an estimated 15.8 million young people in Tertiary institutions. Imagine just 10 percent of them needing to continue with any treatment outside school and finding out they cannot.”

The names of the students living with HIV featured in this report were changed for their privacy in accordance with HIV reporting ethics. It is unethical for parents/guardians to learn about their children/wards’ HIV status through this story.

This report was facilitated by the Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism (WSCIJ) under its COVID-19 Reality Check Project.


Source: The Nation

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Arthur Mbanefo at 90: The Odu that I know BY Bayo Ojo



Perhaps there is no better time than on the occasion of his 90th birthday to pay tribute to a man who has become a legendary tributary that has watered and nurtured the blossoming destinies of many young people and touched countless lives in very impactful ways – Ambassador (Chief) Arthur Christopher Izuegbunam Mbanefo, the Odu of Onitsha.

The Odu that I know and whom I am very proud to be associated with is someone from whom I have derived much inspiration and mentorship. Perhaps, it could be safely said that there are very few men of his generation who not only made great impact in building and developing the Accountancy profession in Nigeria but also in building the nation’s economy and in shaping and influencing public policy and political directions of this era.

He is so regarded on account of his admirable personal attributes of character nobility and refinement; unalloyed commitment and passion for the public good; forthrightness, integrity and courage of conviction. He is by every standard, one of the most respected and regarded public figures of his generation on the nation’s socioeconomic and political canvass. Odu’s essence, is perhaps one, that symbolises the greatest measure of commitment to patriotic ideals, loyalty and commitment to the Nigerian dream and the good of mankind in general.

For me, I consider the values he espouses and his personal legacies as worthy references and inspirational model of the highest ideals and impeccable service to his community, the country and the society in general; which should serve as a veritable guide and inspiration to this generation and the ones to come, in living a life of positive impact that is steeped in uncompromising and deep-seated love for the good of the country and advancement of the society.

Odu is a genial and jolly good fellow, a brilliant and greatly resourceful Nigerian statesman, who excelled in the corporate world as a boardroom guru, in the political space and as a public intellectual whose philosophy and values, border largely on a deep passion for the pursuit of an egalitarian Nigerian society, social order and well-being, human dignity and national integration.

The Odu that I know, is a recipient of the national honour of Member of the Order of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (MFR), Commander of the Order of the Niger (CON), Commander of the Order of Merit, Republic of Italy and a Grand Officer, National Order of the Southern Cross of Brazil and Ambassador Plenipotentiary and Permanent Representative of Nigeria to the United Nations. The Odu of Onitsha and Oluwo Adimula of Ile-Ife, is a Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of England and Wales (ICAEW), past president, gold medallist and fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN).

He is a renowned Chartered Accountant who has served on the boards of many publicly quoted blue-chip companies in Nigeria. Odu holds the uncommon record of serving Nigeria for an unbroken period of nine years as a former pro-chancellor of my alma mater, the University of Lagos (UNILAG), Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife (OAU), and Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria (ABU). He is the proprietor of the Arthur Mbanefo Charitable Foundation that donated the Arthur Mbanefo Digital Research Centre to the University of Lagos.

Going down memory lane, I recall that my path providentially crossed that of 0du, for the first time over 25 years ago. In the intervening years between then and now, the relationship has grown deeper and I have had the uncommon privilege of relating very closely and in practical terms with him, in a sort of mentor/mentee relationship that has greatly impacted my life. Ever since I met him, he has always shown and taken keen interest in my career and general well-being. As such, I am very proud that Odu is one of the living great Nigerian elder statesmen who have had great impact on my life. True to his endowment of imposing physique, elite status and monumental private and career attainments, he eminently stands out as a colossus, a human diamond and a phenomenon of some sorts.

The Odu that I know has always stood admirably tall and true to his noble convictions amidst the discomfiting and chaotic Nigerian society. As a pan- Nigerian nationalist and proven detribalised patriot, he is one of the distinct personages on our national canvas who has the most uncommon record of patriotic exertions and extensive commitment to the betterment of the Nigeria’s social, economic and political milieu.

A quintessential statesman with a noble philosophy and orientation that a man truly lives when the years he has spent are spent in the service of others, Odu has in all his adult life, demonstrated unalloyed passion, commitment and devotion to serving his fellow compatriots and humanity by extension, through service to country and the promotion of human capital, well-being and sustainable growth and development of our country.


For his enviable personal nobility and impeccable records of national service which earned him good measure of public esteem, he is considered by very many Nigerians, old and young, as an uncommon inspirational national figure and role model, as well as one of the most accomplished, distinguished and celebrated Nigerians of his generation and, indeed of this era. Of truth, the essence of Odu is far beyond what one could sufficiently capture in a few paragraphs, for he is indubitably a rare Nigerian and nay, African icon whose imprints are indelible and far-reaching.

It is on account of his impeccable character, high refinement, quintessential leadership attributes, as well as his profound commitment to the good of Nigeria, the advancement of the country and the human society in general, that Odu is highly regarded and admired by not a few Nigerians across the divide as a distinguished Nigerian in the true sense of the word. Even at his present considerable advanced age, Odu’s graceful elegant gaits, analytical and sound intellect, as well as his cerebral acuity and the fecundity of the mind, are great admirable attributes. His scholarly orientation and the depth of his creative mind are much reflected in his literary works.

Reading through his autobiography ‘A fulfilled life of service’ which is masterly crafted in his characteristic sophistication, as well as the very colourful, well-written and illuminating treatise on Onitsha as a town that has lost its shine – his latest book which he published in January this year, is an enchanting voyage into the sociological dynamics, where in, he rightly observed that: “history has taught us that no development in the world has succeeded in maintaining its purity over time without change… I do not claim to possess the solutions to the many complex issues that have brought Onitsha to its present state. Nevertheless, it is my belief that we cannot continue to drift like a rudderless ship without thought as to what legacy we are leaving to our children. It is important however that we draw to the various ills I have identified in the hope that some thought would be provoked in those with conscience, to start at least some conversations towards finding solutions to these challenges currently facing the town.”

His highly sought-after compendium of art works is a treasure in itself. It becomes copiously clear that the Odu that I know is a quintessential ideas- merchant, a great thinker and a sort of philosopher-king, one who craves for societal order and a sane human society and living conditions for the people. The Odu that I know is a man who is also reputed to have played an eminent role as a special envoy in the defunct ‘Republic of Biafra’ and who, perhaps at that time, was the closest ally of the chief protagonist of the Biafran revolution, the then Col. Odumegwu Ojukwu, and who reportedly referred to him fondly as his ‘colleague and compatriot.’

This is a man who later went on to become a key figure in the administration of the national affairs of the Nigerian nation that he was at a point on the other side of. It is indeed instructive to note that in the post-Biafra era, he became a leading figure in the development of Nigeria’s education sector, private sector, and occupied very sensitive and strategic positions in our national life. He capped all that up with a sterling tour of duty as an ‘ultimate diplomat’ in the exalted capacity as Ambassador Plenipotentiary and Permanent Representative of Nigeria at the United Nations for four years. Such is his demonstrable super-value as noble statesman and distinguished global citizen.

The Odu that I know is one who has aptly summarised the challenges facing Nigeria as a nation today as being largely engendered and firmly rooted and entrenched in the first republic. He posits that the first republic was bedevilled by an unwholesome loyalty of the political class to ethnic cleavages and that there was the concentration of efforts on gaining individual and group powers for themselves and for the sake of power attainment.

He also submits that the seed of ethnic politics with its attendant destructive effects on our national life was sown by the avoidable errors of judgement of omission and commission on the part of the political gladiators of that era; that those crop of politicians were propelled by inordinate quest for power above true national interest and that they conducted their political enterprise in a manner that had great demonstrated disdain and intolerance for opposing views and dissenting public opinion – all of which according to him, ultimately provided the grounds for the first military putsch of 1966, the consequences of which we are still contending with today in our national life.

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The Odu that I know is one great Nigerian patriot who has played remarkable roles at critical junctures and moments in the life of this great country, Nigeria. Roles and responsibilities that have placed him in higher national reckoning than many of his contemporaries. One of such was the strategic role he played in 1996 at the height of Nigeria’s darkest moments in international relations, a period of the country’s expulsion from the Commonwealth when he was on the entourage of the late Ooni of Ife to London to plead the case of the country with the British government, as well as that of being the face of Nigeria at the United Nations for four years at the onset of this Fourth Republic, during which he succeeded in helping to reposition the country into a respected continental voice at the global arena.

The Odu that I know is a committed Nigerian patriot who has served the country meritoriously on many strategic and sensitive beats, such as being Chairman of the States and Local Government Creation Committee which was set up by the late Gen. Sani Abacha’s military administration in 1995. It was the implementation of the recommendations of his Committee by the junta that brought to life the last set of six new states, namely – Bayelsa, Ebonyi, Ekiti, Gombe, Nasarawa and Zamfara which gave us to the present 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).

It is worth mentioning here that his committee underscored critical elements of development thus: “…in this context therefore, the committee defines development as those efforts that directly impact positively on the lives of a people and human status. This will include the provision of social infrastructure as well as opportunities for economic activities, human and cultural development.

“Essentially, development efforts of a people must aim at copiously making available good health care delivery, sound educational facilities, a stable sociopolitical environment, etc., as salient preconditions for the genuine and full liberation of mankind from the grips of the forces of social degradation and its attendant consequences. When the basic essentials of life are within the reach of everybody……… it can be reasonably argued that rural development is firmly taking root in human society…”

The Odu that I know is a first-rate administrator and leader who has consistently argued and advocated that in order to build a robust Nigerian nation, developing effective and efficient public institutions is fundamental. As an advocate of the integrity of institutions and the integrity quotient of the drivers of public institutions as being vital to achieving national development, he is one public figure who has consistently called for the putting at the helms of our affairs and institutions, right and competent men and women whose minds are well attuned to integrity imperative; putting up deliberate policies and programs for national integration and the adoption of a liberal and nationalistic approach to public service by public officers, particularly in relating with a broad spectrum of Nigerian compatriots from the national divides, being guided by the ideals of equity, respect and fair play while at the same time mindful of their various interests and tendencies.

The Odu that I know is an accomplished and noble man who has always placed high premium on virtues of integrity and ethics as he endearingly demonstrated in 1977 when he surprisingly turned down an offer of a seat on the Board of Guinness Nigeria Ltd, on account that the accounting firm Akintola Williams which he was working for (as the Managing Director of AW Consultants Ltd, a subsidiary of Akintola Williams & Co) were the auditors of Guinness at that time. That singular act of high ethical disposition and integrity earned him admiration and increased his reputational rating amongst his colleagues as well as high consideration in the corridors of powers.

This was what led to his being called upon for several special and important assignments by states and federal governments, and which culminated in his being recognised and honoured in 1981, with the exalted national honour of Member of the Order of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (MFR) for “his services to the development of, and practice of Accounting profession in Nigeria” which made him become the record holder as the first Accountant in Nigeria’s private sector to be so honoured.
The virtues of integrity, humility, gentlemanliness and statesmanship of the Odu that I know were aptly corroborated by Mr. Charles Sankey, a retired Partner of Akintola Williams, who gave his impression about him thus:

“…there was no question with his efficiency. He is a brilliant man. If you look at Arthur Mbanefo, you look at a perfectionist; someone who wants to do things in the right way, in a particular way, and in his own way. No compromise! It could be quite challenging for that kind of person to work with people…”

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Yes, Mr. Charles Sankey was right in his foregoing submission. The Odu that I know is an uncompromising stickler for form and protocol, for integrity of process and outcomes and he would always demand that you do not only do the right things, but do things right at all times. It is generally believed that politics in Nigeria is dirty, particularly for men who are high on integrity. Although it could be said that he became a remarkable political figure and an acclaimed public policy influencer within the government circle by way of political appointments, the Odu that I know is one man who never allowed the characteristic stains of the murky waters of Nigerian politics to mess his white robes.

He conducted himself with admirable dignity all through his engagements within the nation’s political space. In the foregoing regard, I consider it worth mentioning here that even at the top echelon of the political space where he operated, he is held in high esteem by his associates and colleagues. For instance, at the end his tour of duty as Nigeria’s Ambassador and Permanent Representative at the United Nations, there were many encomia that were showered on Odu by his colleague envoys for what they considered the strength of his personality and reputational nobility. The following remark of Professor George Obiozor, who at the time was Nigeria’s Ambassador to Israel was one of such tributes:

“…for me and many others too numerous to mention, you (Arthur) represents the voice of reason, compassion and the most articulate analyst of our national conditions. That you do so with disarming humility in spite of your esteemed position in life equally amazes many of us and further enhances our propensity to come closer to drink from your fountain of wisdom and extraordinary statesmanship…”

By way of conclusion, it gives me great pleasure and honour to on behalf of my family and I, to give the foregoing tribute in celebrating a great Nigerian patriot and a truly distinguished gentleman, our own Chief Arthur Mbanefo, Odu of Onistsha, proprietor of the Arthur Mbanefo Charitable Foundation, a committed Nigerian patriot and a highly esteemed first-rate technocrat and nation-builder whom I have and will always have tremendous regard and admiration for, on account of the greatness of his soul and persona as well as his immense contributions to the development of our country Nigeria.

The Odu that I know is a great man with cosmopolitan and broad worldview. To him, religion and other pedestrian considerations take back seat in his relationship with people. He is a liberal, generous, selfless, honest and dependable mentor, role model, friend, business associate and ally that anyone can ever ask for. One not to ever abandon his friends. He is a pathfinder and an illuminating figure whose life has been a light and illumination to the world around him.

It must also be said that one of the endearing attributes of the Odu that I know, is his delightful endearing humility which he has always demonstrated over the years by not allowing the age differential between him and some of us his ‘friends’ and associates that are much younger to him to be a barrier in our friendship and relationship as we have always mingled and operated freely with him.

It is therefore with a high sense of honour, that I congratulate Ambassador (Chief) Arthur Christopher Izuegbunam Mbanefo, Odu of Onitsha for the uncommon grace of good and healthy life at the advanced age of 90, the great and extraordinary noble life he has lived, as well as the huge impact he has made in the lives of we his mentees, the countless lives of Nigerians that he has touched in our communities as well as those he has inspired to high attainments in his sojourn in the corporate world. Odu’s ideals and lifetime career and public life accomplishments will continue to be a huge source of inspiration to generations to come for the building of the good Nigerian society of our dream – one that guarantees a future for the present and future generation of Nigerians. While praying that the tribe of the Odu of Onitsha that I know increases in our national life for our nation to continue to draw from his fountain of wisdom and experience, my special birthday wishes for him is the grace and blessings of God in length of days, good health, all-round fulfilment, peace and joy.

Chief Bayo Ojo, Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), is a former Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice.

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