Ebonyi educationIn this piece, VICTOR NZE examines the level of literary awareness in Ebonyi State from the era when it carried the ‘educationally disadvantaged state’ tag to the present most appreciable level and examines the role played by stakeholders in achieving this feat. Excerpts:

In August 2015, the Ebonyi State government moved to rescue the state’s downward spiraling education sector by setting up and inaugurating a committee to prepare a working plan for making the learning convenient for students in the state.

The decision followed the presentation of a preliminary report on the state of public schools in the state by a consultant, hired by the State’s Universal Basic Education Board (UBE) to the state Executive Council at the Government House in Abakaliki.

The committee headed by Rev. Father Abraham Nwali submitted its report two months later.

Years down the line, Ebonyi can recorded a huge improvement from its previous ‘educationally disadvantaged state’ status to one with relatively outstanding results in the recent times.

Many thanks to commitment from both the private and public sectors, the state has steadily climbed the ladder of literary awareness such that it has become a reference point in educational growth.

Even at the national level, the state has become a choice destination for test-running of educational projects and programmes geared towards improving the lot of students or literary awareness as a whole.

“The degree of literary awareness in Ebonyi State is presently high. People, especially the youths are becoming more and more aware. There are book clubs and literary societies, some of which are founded by young people for the purpose of meeting their literary ends.

“On our part, there have been vigorous awareness campaigns at various schools in the state, which feature talks, quiz and book donations. We reveal to the students what lies behind the doors of creativity and healthy reading culture; we show them individuals who attained greatness and global reckoning through creativity; give them tips on how to reach such enviable heights, making reading the bedrock.

“In all, we follow a strategic option we named Bring Back the Book. It is aimed at increasing awareness in the area of healthy reading culture and literary awareness. In doing this, we now have chapters in different higher institutions and secondary schools in the state.

“As a matter of course, members of the chapters are members of our branch. We have also perfected plans to explore the use of the electronic media for our membership drive. This we are to do in line with radio and TV programmes we are already straightening out.

“However, our social media handles have been of immense value in this regard. Hardly our meeting ends without an individual coming to join courtesy of the social media,” enthused Mr Richard Inya, present chairman of the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA).

Observers believe the upward trajectory of literary awareness in the state is to some extent attributable to efforts at the government level geared towards correcting the previously feared school drop-out syndrome which ravaged the state and prevented it competing at the regional let alone national levels of academic performance.

Immediate past chairman of ANA in the state, For Elder Matthew Odono, who would prefer to rate the state’s level of literary awareness at a moderate ‘average’, says, however, that his organization has put in a lot to ensure the state reaches where it is today.

 

“In the state, the association has done quite a lot in this regard. Aside from its monthly readings where works by members are read and critiqued, the association has embarked on “Bring Back the Book Campaign” to some post primary schools in the state.

“During the exercise, books worth several thousands of naira donated by ANA/Yusuf Ali Literary Awareness Campaign Projects were read and distributed to students. Books authored by members or sourced by members from the market considered valuable to inspire the students to develop interest in reading and creative writing were also added to promote the exercise.

“The association has also introduced “teen authorship” programme to some post primary schools in the state and is at present mentoring students of Holy Ghost Secondary School Abakaliki Literary Club to ensure that they come up with quality creative outputs. It is pertinent to add that a cash prize of N 5,000 each was placed for the best students in poetry, prose and drama respectively by the association.

“Also the King Agwu Ude poetry Award of N 50, 000 for secondary School students sponsored Elder Matthew Odono is on in the State now. In 2016, the Chapter in collaboration with the Federal University Ndufu-Alike Ikwo, Ebonyi State organised Yusuf Ali (SAN) Literary Awareness Campaign with the theme “creativity and success in life” for students of tertiary Institutions in Ebonyi State.

“The programme was held at the FUNAI Auditorium. I am glad to inform you that virtually all the tertiary institutions in the state participated in the workshop. I will also be right to state that literary activities in all the literary groups of these institutions are going on as directed. FUNAI crew and Federal College of Agriculture Ishiagu Literary Club, Ivo council are doing very well.

“The understanding and cooperation of the Vice Chancellor of FUNAI, Prof Chinwuba in driving literary activities in the state need special commendation. Himself, a literary activist, readily avails us a helping hand in our drive to discover and mentor budding creative writers in the state. This explains why the national body is planning an international creative writers’ submit to be held in the University by July this year,” said Odono.

Incidentally, Ebonyi State will also provide a veritable platform for this year’s Yusuf Ali (SAN) Literary Awareness Campaign.

“It must be stated without fear of contradiction that no project, policy or programme in this nation in the dimension of improving the reading culture or increasing literary awareness can be compared with the Yusuf Ali nationwide literary awareness campaign.

“Its consistency is astute; its gains are high, and its vision, clear. The project has a very high capacity for sustaining the level of literary awareness in the state. We have benefitted twice, and on each of the occasions embarked on activities that opened avenues for our people to realize what lies ahead and how to be part of it,” said Inya.

For Odono, the state stands to benefit ‘to a very large extent,’ even as he pleaded for more support from government to fully realize the goals of the campaign.

“If a single person, Yusuf Ali could provide N3m to the association annually, imagine where the Federal, State and Local Governments can provide N50m, N20 and N2m respectively for the association activities, without politising it.

“I bet you, a lot of transformation will be achieved in the reading, writing and behavioural lives of the people. Wealthy individuals too, especially serving political leaders can come up to assist in this area. “They can call it their constituency project, raise fund for ANA to mentor budding artists, give cash prizes to people that excel and so on. This is preferable to drugging the youths and giving them guns to cause mayhem in the society.

“In our state, Distinguished Senator Chris Nwankwo funded the organisation of training for aspiring creative writers, though not through ANA. The beneficiaries of that training are doing marvellously well in the creative industry today. We need more like him,” he said.

Inya corroborated Odono’s position in wooing the public sector towards the project.

 

“It must be stated without fear of contradiction that no project, policy or programme in this nation in the dimension of improving the reading culture or increasing literary awareness can be compared with the Yusuf Ali nationwide literary awareness campaign.

“Its consistency is astute; its gains are high, and its vision, clear. The project has a very high capacity for sustaining the level of literary awareness in the state. We have benefitted twice, and on each of the occasions embarked on activities that opened avenues for our people to realize what lies ahead and how to be part of it.

“It cannot be gainsaid that a project of this standing needs partnership with the government of the benefitting states to further take it down to rural areas. We have put plans in place to partner the government of our state in this direction. We as well seek to identify individuals, groups, corporate bodies and organisations that share the ideals and aspirations of the association for the project,” Inya said.

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wp-1490262309560.jpegMarriott International, Tuesday, announced it will introduce one set of unified benefits across Marriott Rewards, The Ritz-Carlton Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) for its members in August 2018. This will create an incredibly rich hospitality loyalty program in which members will earn more points faster than under the prior programs — on average 20% more points for every dollar spent.

For the first time, members will have access to book stays and earn or redeem points among 29 participating global brands comprising 6,500 hotels in 127 countries and territories.

Additionally, the Moments experiential platform is expanding, with more than 110,000 experiences in 1,000 destinations from must-see attraction tickets and tours for purchase with cash by all guests, to once-in-a-lifetime events only available to members using points, including the new bespoke Moments Live event series.

“We listened to the travel aspirations of our members and set our sights on unlocking the full potential of our loyalty programs,” said David Flueck, Senior Vice President of Global Loyalty, Marriott International.

“We are excited to announce that this August, our members can enjoy one set of benefits across our extraordinary portfolio of hotels from iconic full and select service, to extended stay, to unique boutiques and luxury brands. We hope to inspire our members whatever their travel passion, whether it is resorts featuring overwater bungalows, peaceful secluded island settings, ski-in / ski-out mountain resorts, towering hotels with picture-worthy views or even former palaces converted into hotels,” he said.

Beginning in August, members will be able to combine their separate Marriott Rewards, The Ritz-Carlton Rewards and SPG accounts into a single account spanning the entire loyalty portfolio. The Marriott Rewards, The Ritz-Carlton Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) names will continue to live on under the new set of unified benefits until a new program name is introduced in 2019.

Also beginning in August, travelers will have the ability to book stays across the entire portfolio for the first time on http://www.Marriott.com, http://www.SPG.com and the Marriott and SPG apps, or by contacting customer engagement centers.

“There are no more important customers than our loyalty members,” said Karin Timpone, Global Marketing Officer, Marriott International. “With good news for our members, we decided to announce the new benefits now and launch them as quickly as possible, so members could take full advantage. At the same time, we will continue to introduce more exclusive member experiences throughout the year on our Moments platforms.”

In August, members will be able to earn and redeem across the entire portfolio of participating hotels and earn elevated benefits and elite status faster with new elite tiers. For example, earning Silver elite status after just ten nights and Gold elite status after just 25 nights will become standard in all three programs. With Platinum elite status earned after 50 nights and Platinum Premier elite status earned after 75 nights, these tiers will become easier to attain for Marriott Rewards and The Ritz-Carlton Rewards members and align with SPG’s current offering.

In addition, all Platinum Premier members surpassing 100 nights and $20,000 of spend will enjoy the highest level of personalized service – the popular ambassador program – along with all the other benefits in that tier. Members who have achieved Lifetime status will continue to have their status recognized.

The breakfast offering for Platinum and Platinum Premier members will be expanded to 23 participating brands, including Courtyard, AC Hotels by Marriott, Protea and Moxy, as well as all resorts. For certain brands, members will receive free breakfast or an on-property food and beverage credit for breakfast or other dining options.

 

Under the unified benefits, a single points currency will be introduced. When SPG members combine their accounts in August, their points balance will triple. SPG, Marriott Rewards and The Ritz-Carlton Rewards members will all earn ten points for every dollar spent at all brands except for Residence Inn, TownePlace Suites and Element which will be five points per every dollar spent. With bonuses, elite members will earn even more for stays.

In August, all members will begin earning points for food and beverage and qualifying incidentals on their folio, rather than just the room rate.

To make it easier for members to redeem points, all hotels throughout the loyalty portfolio will have no blackout dates for points redemptions. In addition, a Free Night Award chart with peak, standard and off-peak pricing will be adopted for all hotels. The chart, which will launch with standard pricing in August, will add off peak and peak in 2019.

Members will enjoy a significantly improved digital and mobile experience.

SavedPicture-2016105143142.pngCarlson Rezidor Hotel Group announced its rebranding to Radisson Hotel Group, effective immediately, at the International Hotel Investment Forum (IHIF) in Berlin.

The new identity leverages the powerful, international brand equity of the Radisson name to drive awareness in the marketplace, increase marketing efficiency across the global portfolio and offer exceptional experiences to make ‘Every Moment Matter’ for guests, owners and talent. ‘Every Moment Matters’ will be the new signature service philosophy of the company and all its hotel brands.

The new go-to-market name, Radisson Hotel Group, capitalises on a strong partnership between Radisson Hospitality (formerly Carlson Hotels) and Rezidor Hotel Group (publicly listed on Nasdaq Stockholm, Sweden and headquartered in Brussels, Belgium) who have master franchise agreements to develop and operate several brands across Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

Currently the 11th largest hotel group in the world, Radisson Hotel Group is made up of eight hotel brands with more than 1,400 hotels in operation and under development. The launch of the group’s new identity is a significant milestone in a five-year operating plan that will transform the business and position it to become the preferred choice for guests, owners, investors and talent.

“Today is the start of an exciting era for the Radisson Hotel Group, united by our new brand and long-term vision to become a top three hospitality company in the world,” said Federico J. González, president and CEO, the Rezidor Hotel Group and chairman of the Global Steering Committee, Radisson Hotel Group. “Our five-year operating plan includes initiatives that redefine our value proposition, optimise our portfolio, streamline operations, invest in new technology systems and align our team members to deliver on our signature, Every Moment Matters.”

“The creation of the Radisson Hotel Group is an evolution of our long-term partnership with the Rezidor Hotel Group. Together, we are clarifying and executing a new brand architecture to create more value for our guests and owners,” said John M. Kidd, chief executive officer and chief operating officer, Radisson Hospitality. “It’s the right time for us to align our strategic and operating plans and go-to-market as one solid player.”

In conjunction with the alignment around the Radisson brand equity, the Radisson Hotel Group has restructured its brand architecture and redefined guest experience pillars to be implemented across all eight brands: (1) Brilliant Basics (2) Memorable Moments (3) Local Experience (4) Feel at Ease.

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Delta

United States-based carrier, Delta Air Lines, has reported financial results for the March quarter of 2018 with figures indicating an adjusted pre-tax income (APTI) of $676 million, representing a $104 million decrease from the March quarter of 2017.

According to the carrier, record revenues were offset by higher fuel prices and other increased costs including a $44 million impact from severe winter weather.

“The Delta people delivered a strong March quarter, and our record revenue was a direct result of the great service and operational reliability they provided for our customers. It’s an honor to recognize their hard work with $183 million toward our 2018 profit sharing,” said Ed Bastian, Delta’s Chief Executive Officer, adding: “We have confidence in our plan to grow earnings in 2018 through top-line growth, improving our cost trajectory, and leveraging our international partnerships.”

On revenue environment, Bastian said Delta’s adjusted operating revenue of $9.8 billion for the March quarter improved 8 percent, or $715 million versus the prior year.

“This revenue result marks a March quarter record for the company, and was driven by improvements across Delta’s business, including a 23 percent increase in cargo revenue and a $78 million increase in total loyalty revenue. Delta’s Branded Fares initiative drove $421 million in premium up-sell revenue in the period, a 23 percent increase from the prior year.

“Total unit revenues excluding refinery sales (TRASM) increased 5.0 percent during the period, with foreign currency contributing just over 0.5 points of benefit. This marks the fourth consecutive quarter of year-over-year growth, with all geographic regions delivering positive results.

On his part, Delta Air Lines President, Glen Hauenstein, said the company expects to keep the momentum with further projected growth of over 4 per cent.

“We are seeing Delta’s best revenue momentum since 2014, with positive domestic unit revenues, improvements in all our international entities, strong demand for corporate travel and double-digit increases in our loyalty revenues.

“With our solid pipeline of commercial initiatives, delivered with industry-leading Delta service, we expect to maintain this momentum and deliver total revenue growth of 4 to 6 percent for the full year,” said Hauenstein.

On the cost performance of the airline, the figures showed that total adjusted operating expenses for the March quarter increased $817 million, driven by higher fuel prices, investments in employee wages and profit sharing, and higher depreciation expense.

Also, adjusted fuel expense increased $317 million, or 20 percent relative to March quarter 2017, as the year- over-year increase in market fuel prices was tempered by the lapping of prior year hedge losses and improved fuel efficiency. Delta’s adjusted fuel price per gallon for the March quarter was $2.01, which includes $0.05 of benefit from the refinery.

CASM-Ex also increased 3.9 percent for the March 2018 quarter compared to the prior year period driven by April 2017 wage increases and accelerated depreciation due to aircraft retirements. Unit costs were further pressured by approximately 1 point from the impact of severe weather and foreign exchange. Delta expects this period will mark the highest non-fuel expense growth for the year.

“We expect unit cost growth of 1 to 3 percent in the June quarter, as we lap prior year investments in our people and our business,” said Paul Jacobson, Delta’s chief financial officer, adding: “As we move through depreciation pressure from our fleet retirements and gain benefits from our upgauging and One Delta initiatives later in the year, we are on track for our 0 to 2 percent full year unit cost target.”

 

Adjusted non-operating expense was flat year-on-year for the March quarter as a $62 million improvement in pension expense was offset by higher interest costs and the seasonality of joint venture partner earnings. The company expects 2018 full-year adjusted non-operating expense to be $200-250 million lower than 2017, due to pension expense savings.

Tax expense declined $117 million for the March quarter, primarily due to the reduction in Delta’s book tax rate from 34 percent to 23 percent.

Similarly, Delta generated $1.3 billion of operating cash flow, as the seasonal build of cash was partially offset by the $1.1 billion profit sharing payment to employees and a $500 million voluntary pension contribution in the March quarter, completing funding for the full year. Delta generated $173 million of free cash flow during the quarter, after the investment of $1.2 billion into the business primarily for aircraft purchases and improvements.

For the March quarter, Delta returned $542 million to shareholders, comprised of $325 million of share repurchases and $217 million in dividends.

The company has already been named one of Fortune magazine’s Most Admired Companies for the fifth consecutive year; as well as one of the 2018 Fortune “100 Best Companies to Work For” for a second straight year.

AfDB.pngAfrican Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank) has called on African governments to set up and develop strong national airlines to utilise the huge opportunities presented by their huge population.

Global Head, Client Relations for Afreximbank, Mr Rene Awambeng, made this call at the Russian Aviation Road-Show organised by the bank in collaboration with the Russian Export Centre (REC), Thursday in Abuja.

Awambeng who said the African aviation industry has tremendous growth potential with intercontinental air traffic growing at eight per cent per year over the last decades, noted that the continent services a large and growing population with numerous opportunities for entrepreneurs, businessmen across the entire value chain of the aviation sector.

According to him, there are opportunities for developing passengers and cargo, infrastructure and air services with many of the fastest growing markets in terms of annual additional passengers within Africa.

 

Awambeng disclosed that Nigeria commanded the larger part of those opportunities with it current estimated population of around 200 million people, adding that Nigeria had tremendous opportunity to dominate African air travel market.

“I am challenging you to do aircraft and aviation business because Nigeria has 20 national airports and 22 domestic airlines and it is a destination for 24 foreign airlines, which offers significant opportunity for growth.

“Why do the western fleet carriers continue to be the attractive and priced destination for Nigeria? Last year, I participated in a protest against British Airways for overcharging route from Lagos to London. Why can we not develop our own national and regional airline companies and private airlines to bring down the cost of travel?

“Why must Air France dominate the route to the Franco phone West Africa and why can’t African countries become champion in the air transport industry? These are some of the questions that our Nigerian leaders and industry players should think about. We as Africans need to take responsibility of our future,’’ he said.

He said that the management of the bank believed that developing Africa’s aviation infrastructure would not only connect Africa to the world but would also build bridges among African countries.

This, according to him, would enable business activities to flourish in many sectors and lower business costs and attracting investors to create great business opportunities.

Awambeng disclosed that Afreximbank with its significant experience and expertise in providing funds and service solutions to airline industry had supported a number of airlines in the continent.

He added that the bank had financed more than 660 million dollars of transactions in the aviation sector in Africa to date.

According to him, in recent years Afreximbank had arranged and participated in some aviation related deals and these include a 200 million dollars financing for Kenya Airways for 20 aircraft.

“We participated in a syndicated fleet delivery payment facility for Angolan airline; we arranged acquisition of aircraft in Nigeria for several companies including Arik Air. This is a clarion call to our brothers and sisters in Nigeria to look at how we can work together to set up a strong national airline that would service domestic, regional and international routes.

Managing Director for International Development, Russian Export Centre, Anna Belyaeva, said that there was need for more collaboration with African governments to develop their aviation infrastructure.

Belyaeva said the cooperation between Afreximbank and REC would give them the opportunity to discuss how to help domestic and international airlines meet the challenges and opportunities facing them.

According to her, there are experts from airline manufacturers and trade financiers at the road-show and will be able to provide specialist advice and guidance on all aspects of aviation.

“REC offers a wide range of support tools for Russian Exporters and already has success stories of supporting export of civil aircrafts and helicopters. We see a considerable potential for Russian aviation industry products in Africa and we are ready cooperate with Russian exporters and Afreximbank on this market,’’ she said.

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Delta

United States-based carrier, Delta Air Lines has officially its new nonstop Lagos-JFK, New York service from Lagos.

The New York-JFK route complements the airline’s existing Lagos to Atlanta, providing a daily departure and more travel choice to the U.S. than ever before.

The New York-JFK flight will operate three times weekly, with Delta’s existing services to Atlanta departing on the other four days. Customers flying to Delta’s New York-JFK hub will benefit from more than XX connections across the U.S. to destinations including: Washington D.C., Baltimore and Chicago.

Delta’s Lagos – New York-JFK service is scheduled to operate as follows

“With the U.S. the largest foreign investor in Nigeria, this new route underscores our commitment to the market by facilitating trade and commerce between our nations,” said Corneel Koster, Delta’s senior vice president – Europe, Middle East, Africa and India, adding: “We’re proud of Delta’s 10-year history in Nigeria and that we are the only airline to offer daily nonstop flights, bringing benefits to Nigerian business travellers while also providing more opportunities to reunite with families and friends across the United States.”

Delta’s New York-JFK and Atlanta flights from Lagos are operated using 234-seat Airbus A330-200 aircraft.

Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport Abuja

Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport Abuja

Nigeria has unveiled Transaction Advisers for the six projects in the Aviation Roadmap in line with the Infrastructure Concession and Regulatory Commission (ICRC) guidelines and public procurement act.

This was made known by Minister of State Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika at the 4th Aviation Stakeholders Forum, Thursday, in Abuja where he also unveiled the logo for the 59th Airport Council International Africa (ACI-Africa) Conference and Exhibition next month.

The six projects in the roadmap include the concession of the four major airports, establishment of Maintenance Repair and Overhaul (MRO) Centre and Aviation leasing company, development of Aerotropolis and cargo/ Argo allied terminals, establishment of national carrier.

For the concession, Sirika announced that Infrata, Dentons, Rebel, WSP Parsons Brinkckerhoff, Proserve as the five Transaction Advisers for the handling of the concession of the Abuja, Lagos, Kano and Port Harcourt Airports.

The consortium of five firms are vastly experienced and are experts in airport management, Public Private Partnership Legal Advice, Finance, Project and Construction Management and Environmental and Social services.

On the establishment of an MRO Centre and Aviation Leasing company, Sirika revealed that govern,Ray approved a consortium of five firms, Arup UK, Catamaran Nigeria Limited, RDC Aviation Economics UK, Aubert Business Consulting UK and Olawoyin &Olawoyin.

The firms according to the minister are experienced design and planning, specialty in infrastructure development with bias for transport, international business management consultancy and a legal firm specialised on corporate, securities, maritime, foreign investments and litigation matters.

For the development of the Aerotropolis and cargo terminals, a consortium of three firms was chosen: the Infrastructure Bank Plc, PWO GIBB and Abdulai Taiwo& co each specialising in raising and management of funds, engineering and a full service commercial and IP Law firm.

Sirika also announced that for the national carrier, UK-based Airline Management Group, with strengths in start-up carriers, as well as Aviation International and Tianerro FZE has been appointed.

According to Sirika, the Transaction Advisers will be liaising with the Project Delivery Team to ensure it all comes to fruition in record time.

He further stated that all the Transaction Advisers except for the National Carrier were engaged in May 2017 and have a 9 month contract.

Nigeria

Nigeria Tourism

Nigeria’s Travel industry’s contribution to employment is expected to rise by 3.6 per cent per annum to 2,598,000 jobs in 2027.

Travelstart Nigeria, an online African travel agency, gave the figure in a statement in Lagos on Tuesday.

Country Manager, Travelstart Nigeria, Phillip Akesson, said that the statistics was part of an economic impact assessment of travel and tourism by the World Travel and Tourism Council.

“The expected rise per annum can be attributed to the fact that Nigerians now spend more on domestic travels. The statistics further disclosed that the total contribution of the travel and tourism industry to Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was N5,124. 3 billion (4.7% of GDP) in 2016.

“It was expected to rise to N7,507.7 billion in 2017,’’ he said.

Akesson said that the travel industry contributed 4.5% of employments in in Nigeria in 2016.

 

The country manager said that in view of the travel industry’s contribution to employment, Travelstart Nigeria was focusing on local content that would reshape the industry.

He said that the organisation had catered for more than half a million Nigerians in its six years of existence and grown its affiliate networks.

He added that the organisation had employed about 50 Nigerians.

According to Akesson, there is a huge demand for a technology-based solution for travelers in Nigeria.

According to him, the demand has helped the travel agency to expand its Nigerian operations to surpass established markets in Namibia and Kenya.

“The industry focuses on meeting customers’ needs within the aspects of price, payment choices, trust and customer service. In order to play our part in developing the industry, Travelstart added a walk-in service to allow customers build human connection with the company.

“This has helped to improve customers’ trust in us,’’ he said.

tiv manRivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike, has inaugurated the Executive Committee of the National Festival of Arts and Culture (NAFEST) to organise the NAFEST 2018 cultural festival.

The development was contained in a statement by Special Assistant to the Rivers State Governor, Electronic Media, Simeon Nwakaudu.

Inaugurating the Committee, Thursday at the Government House, Port Harcourt, Wike advised that the NAFEST 2018 to be held in Port Harcourt should be a world-class showcase of the cultural beauty of the country.

Chairman of the Executive Committee on NAFEST, Mrs Tonye Oniyide said that NAFEST 2018 will be the best in the history of the cultural fiesta.

By VICTOR NZE

Kebbi student

A student participating at the flag-off of statewide campaign on Reading Culture and Reactivation of Literary and Debating Clubs for Primary and Secondary schools in Kebbi State which held at the Ummaru Illalu Model Primary School in Birnin Kebbi

Undoubtedly, one of the few highpoints of the country’s educational sector was achieved early March, this year, when 40 year-old Nigerian father of three, Bayode Treasure Olawunmi set a new Guinness Record in the ‘Longest Marathon Reading Aloud’ Category as he clocked 120 hours at the YouRead Library Yaba in Lagos, beating the previous record set by Nepal’s Deepak Sharma of 113 hours and fifteen minutes set in 2008.

Up until now, the gloomy scene has only left many shaking their heads wondering what has become of a system coated with huge potential. And while those who can afford it have since shipped their kith and kin abroad for better opportunities, the rest rather unfortunate ones have to wade through the sorry state of Nigeria’s educational system hoping to salvage whatever they can to improve their lot.

The problem may be multi-faceted, but the root appears to be in the capacity of the sector to build the future leaders of tomorrow as a consequence of sustained neglect and abandonment by governments at several levels of the larger society.

In December, last year, the Kaduna State Governor, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai directed the immediate sack of 21,780 teachers in the state for shockingly failing a Primary Four-level competency test conducted by the state government for them. About 33, 000 sat for that test.

Reacting to the Kaduna teachers episode at the State House in Abuja during a special retreat of the Federal Executive Council (FEC) on the challenges facing the Education sector in Nigeria themed: “Education in Nigeria: Challenges and Prospects,” President Muhammadu Buhari said: “It is a very serious situation when teachers cannot pass the examination that they are supposed to teach the children. It is a very tragic situation we are in, and this our gathering is one of the most important ones in this administration.”

The recently-released West African Examinations Council (WAEC) results of West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE), for private candidates in 2017-First Series recorded a 17.13 per cent pass in English Language and Mathematics.

Head of Nigeria Office of WAEC, Mr Olu Adenipekun, said the percentage of candidates in Mathematics and English Language in the WASSCE for private candidates in 2017 was a mere 26.01 per cent.

The case is not with Kaduna State alone, it is a national problem. Pupils still study under tree shades; classrooms remain shockingly over-crowded; teacher to pupils’ ratio is embarrassingly in favour of the former. And all that in addition to the new menace of terrorism with its attendant abduction of students from their schools by armed groups who appear bent on crippling whatever little progress that may have been achieved in the past.

Nigeria did not attain the second of the eight United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) launched at the turn of the century which called for every child in the world, boys and girls alike, to receive a full course of primary school education by 2015.

According to the Guardian UK research, in 2012, the most recent year for which worldwide data is available, 58 million children aged between six and 11 were out of school with the problem being more pronounced in Nigeria and the rest of sub-Saharan Africa, where roughly 30 million children were affected.

Speaking exclusively to Oracle Today, President of the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA), Mallam Denja Abdullahi, said: “I do not readily have the factual data but I know we are not there yet. There is still widespread illiteracy in our society. There are also some other kinds of illiteracy beyond just the inability to read and write in any language. There is internet illiteracy and other kinds of sub-forms, which altogether affects societal response to general reading, writing and comprehension.”

Such is the dilemma of the Nigerian educational sector that the effort initiated by lawyer and philanthropist, Yusuf Ali that is geared towards driving literary awareness and entrenching it as a culture in the country becomes better appreciated.

In February this year, renowned legal practitioner, author and dedicated philanthropist, Yusuf Ali (SAN) doled out the princely sum of three million naira to the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) for the 7th year running for the funding of the ANA/Yusuf Ali Nationwide Literary Awareness Campaign.

The grant was first secured by the National Executive Committee of ANA in 2012 and all state chapters of the association received sub-grants of N150,000 at various times between 2012-2014 for local literary awareness campaigns involving secondary schools across the country.

In 2015, the grant was applied by the then National Executive Council of ANA to host a workshop on fiction writing in Abuja in which about 25 students, drawn from tertiary institutions across the country via a competitive process, participated.

In 2016, the National Executive Council of ANA opted to focus on innovative literary awareness campaign among tertiary institutions across the country through the States’ chapters using the grant which was awarded to 16 State Chapters that met the requirements.

In 2017, the grant was used to publish three children’s literature titles under the Nigerian Writers Series (NWS) which have been distributed to chapters of ANA Nationwide to power ANA‘s A-Book-A-Child nationwide project.

“The project has been on-going since 2012 through a yearly grant received from Yusuf Ali (SAN). Over the years we have executed a number of innovative literary awareness projects in secondary and tertiary institutions across the country through our chapters in 36 States of the Federations and the FCT. The project has given our association a sustained linkage with our educational institutions across the Country and has led to the discovery of new young writers and infused the habit of reading for general purpose in the students that have been encountered,” said Abdullahi.

For Oyo State chapter chairman of ANA, Funso Omotoso, who rated the literary awareness in his state as ‘poor,’ the Yusuf Ali Literary Awareness Campaign ‘has a two-way benefit. One; it helps ANA members whose works are purchased with the grant. Two; it helps the students to whom the books are donated.’

Continuing, Omotoso said: ‘The campaign is anchored on having students read the donated books from questions will be asked. A date will then be set at which winners will be awarded prizes. Generally the programme has helped a great deal in promoting the reading culture among secondary school students in the state.’

On ways to improve the campaign, the immediate past Ebonyi State Chapter chairman of ANA, Elder Matthew Odono said: “If a single person, Yusuf Ali, could provide N3m to the association annually, imagine where the Federal, State and Local Governments can provide N50m, N20 and N2m respectively for the association activities, without politising it. I bet you, a lot of transformation will be achieved in the reading, writing and behavioural lives of the people. Wealthy individuals too, especially serving political leaders can come up to assist in this area.

“They can call it their constituency project, raise fund for ANA to mentor budding artists, give cash prizes to people that excel and so on. This is preferable to drugging the youths and giving them guns to cause mayhem in the society. In our state, Distinguished Senator Chris Nwankwo funded the organisation of training for aspiring creative writers, though not through ANA. The beneficiaries of that training are doing marvelously well in the creative industry today. We need more like him.

For the current Chairman of the Ebonyi State chapter, Mr Richard Inya: “A project of this standing needs partnership with the government of the benefitting states to further take it down to rural areas. We have put plans in place to partner the government of our state in this direction. We as well seek to identify individuals, groups, corporate bodies and organisations that share the ideals and aspirations of the association for the project.”

Denja

Malam Denja Abdullahi

On his part, Abdullahi said: “I think we have to creatively move the campaign into the larger society. The focus on schools over the years by ANA and other bodies has been overwhelming but the result has not been that overwhelming. So we need to look at what we are yet to do better to achieve better result. We will need the partnership of governments at all levels to help bridge all the gaps and overcome the shortfalls. There are also other sectors of our population we are not capturing in this drive to make reading interesting.

“Sometimes we assume some sectors do not consist of literate individuals particularly the informal sectors which may not be altogether true. What are mechanics and other artisans reading? What are bankers, lawyers, architects and other professionals reading? Do soldiers, policemen and others read? What kinds of books are they reading and what should they be diverted to reading? We need to start answering these questions with practical activities which governments must support us to answer,” he said.

Summing the position of the scholars and education stakeholders across the country, Inya opined: “It must be stated without fear of contradiction that no project, policy or programme in this nation in the dimension of improving the reading culture or increasing literary awareness can be compared with the Yusuf Ali nationwide literary awareness campaign. Its consistency is astute; its gains are high, and its vision, clear.

“The project has a very high capacity for sustaining the level of literary awareness in the state. We have benefitted twice, and on each of the occasions embarked on activities that opened avenues for our people to realize what lies ahead and how to be part of it.”