Visions Of A Wellbeing Economy: Nigeria

A multi-diverse country, made up of over 200 million citizens, and about 250 ethnic groups, where more than 500 languages are spoken. This is Nigeria. And so, we have coined many ways of describing ‘wellbeing’. To mention just a few: The Yorubas call it Alafia, Omakpupo is what the Urhobos say, Tivs say Mlu u dedoo, it is Odimma in Igbo and Lafiya describes wellbeing in Hausa.

Still, even with the differing beautiful translations of wellbeing, the message remains the same and we all want the same thing – a wellbeing economy. An economy where the health and alafia of people and the planet come first. So, what will a wellbeing economy look like in Nigeria?

A Wellbeing Economy can be described as ‘yôu-yôu u uma’ in Tiv

My vision of a wellbeing economy in Nigeria encompasses several aspects of our world. A wellbeing economy in Nigeria cannot be attained while the three main problems of health, insecurity and education exist. I’ll be exploring these issues in this blog post and also pointing out government actions thus far. In conclusion, I’ll be voicing my thoughts on steps that need to be taken to accomplish my vision of a wellbeing economy in Nigeria.

 

 

“The groundwork for all happiness is good health,” – Leigh Hunt

Mothers have their babies vaccinated at the Primary Health Care Maraba, in Karu, Nigeria on June 19, 2018. Photo © Dominic Chavez/GFF

 

Good health is paramount to accomplish wellness in people. When good health institutions are not put in place, healthcare is going to suffer greatly. This is the situation in Nigeria today. Two foremost health problems are inadequate health institutions and hospital negligence. In recent years, there have been thousands of deaths in Nigerian hospitals, for reasons such as (i) non-existent healthcare database to verify health insurance, which led to treatment refusal, (ii) no wrench to turn on oxygen cylinder, (iii) unqualified personnel handling care, – and the list go on.

Thousands of health institutions loiter Nigeria but they are mostly unequipped, either in manpower or apparatus. It is therefore not surprising that industrial strike actions by medical personnel is a norm. These health practitioners constantly demand better working conditions and better pay. How can the people be cared for when the healthcare professionals lack the facilities to handle care? How can the health of the people be achieved when health workers are not well cared for?

Rather than invest in Nigeria’s health sector, most government officers are “health tourists”, globetrotting in search of good healthcare, which the people back in Nigeria are lacking. It is sad that government officials have personally experienced the true definition of working health systems, yet refuse to work towards it in Nigeria.

Mental health systems are not left behind in the neglect. It was Glenn Close who said, “What mental health needs is more sunlight, more candor, and more unashamed conversation.” This statement depicts what mental health in Nigeria desperately needs. Mental health has been consistently ignored and shoved aside as the years have rolled by. Where do I start from here? Is it with the sub-par mental health systems? Or the high suicide rate? Or wait, how about the fact that the mentally unstable are left to roam the streets nude and dirty? Why don’t we discuss the common Nigerian who’s utterly exhausted, the one suffering from job dissatisfaction, the one who keeps working with nothing to take home at the end of the day? Let’s turn to the young ones who find solace at the bottom of a bottle of pesticide. Depression is real and unfortunately, many have been ignored and told, “Get over it.” Of course it would be easier to get over it if one had access to mental care and support but in Nigeria, that is a luxury for those with fat pockets. And even now in these pandemic times, the situation has become more dire.

Nevertheless, progress has been made in recent years. Firstly, in some states like, Delta state, free medical care for pregnant women and children aged 0 to 5 has been established. Additionally, healthcare used to be very difficult to access because it was unaffordable. In recent times, the government as well as private firms have implemented insurance schemes, making healthcare more accessible. The current health insurance scheme implemented by the Nigerian government covers employees at government parastatals, their spouses and dependents between the ages of 0 to 18 years. Today, most private employers give their employees comprehensive health insurance. Most private educational institutions also provide insurance for students. During my secondary school education, I was actually a recipient of Salus Trust health insurance scheme, paid for alongside my school fees.

Though many in Nigeria own health insurance today, there are more without this privilege. For those in the rural areas, the average Nigerian working at a small establishment, the jobless, the students, health insurance remains a luxury. It is no wonder that pharmacies rather than hospitals are the first stop whenever most Nigerians are sick.

Still, more has to be done. A yôu-yôu u uma cannot be achieved if the people are unhealthy. I envision a Nigeria where access to good health will not be a luxury, a Nigeria where people are not reluctant to care for their health because it would rip a hole in their pockets. I dream of a Nigeria where hospitals will not be considered death traps. No more should the Nigerian saying, “Many are mad but few are roaming”, be an accepted reality in Nigeria. This is my vision. To achieve this, there has to be:

  • Public investment in health.
  • Employment of more health professionals.
  • Higher pay and benefits for health workers.
  • Facelift of existing healthcare infrastructure with facilities made suitable for patients, and medical technologies provided.
  • Health campaigns, to educate the public on health issues and subsequently, aid prevention.
  • Inclusion of health prevention programmes in school syllabi.
  • Establishment of community-based mental health facilities, to make access easier
  • Enlightenment programmes to sweep out the misunderstanding and stigma associated with mental health and to educate on its importance.
  • Incorporation of psychiatrists in schools (primary, secondary, tertiary) and workplaces (no matter the sector), security agencies not left behind.

 

 

“The safety and security of the citizens of a country is so important. If the citizens are unsafe, the nation cannot move forward,” – Tonye Cole

Peaceful End SARS Protests at Lekki Tollgate in Lagos, Nigeria. October 2020.

 

A yôu-yôu u uma in Nigeria is kept at bay by the insecurity that persists. Insurgency, banditry, terrorism, cattle rustling, police brutality, these are the insecurity issues that plague our everyday lives in Nigeria. In October 2020, police brutality by a particular unit of the Nigerian Police Force, Special Anti-robbery Response Squad (SARS), birthed the End SARS movement. Nigerian youths were exhausted by the wanton killings by SARS and with one voice rose to say, “Enough is Enough!” Peaceful protests took place in states across Nigeria as we called for not just the removal of SARS but the overhaul of the Nigerian Police system, as well as justice for the lives lost. Unfortunately, even during these peaceful protests, the protesters were still victims of police brutality. Our security, our safety, our peace of mind, this is part of our alafia, our wellbeing, and when they are lacking, we are miles away from creating a yôu-yôu u uma.

Some efforts are being made by state governments to curb insecurity. Currently, there exists local policing in states across Nigeria such as Amotekun in western Nigeria. Local vigilante groups also work in conjunction with police, and they assist in reaching remote areas the police cannot access. This has helped beef up security a bit although we are still lacking in many areas.

My vision is that Nigerian youths will be able to walk the streets without being profiled as criminals just because of their appearance or their gadgets. I hope we can walk the streets without fear of a stray bullet. I hope to not be greeted with images of deaths and attacks whenever I watch local news. This could be accomplished by:

• Total overhaul of the police system.
• Routine mental health assessments of cadets and those in the police force.
• Investigation of police brutality cases and punishment of the guilty.
• A criminal database for storage of convicted criminals’ information, which will help make policing easier.
• Increment of pay and provision of benefits for security officers.

 

 

“When you make education inaccessible, you make prosperity only possible for the already prosperous,” – Khaya Dlanga

Photo by Doug Linstedt on Unsplash

 

Discussing the issues that prevent Nigeria from becoming a yôu-yôu u uma cannot be complete if education is omitted. Now, Nigeria is not lacking in educationists. On the contrary, we have exemplary teachers across every tier of education. What we are lacking is proper educational structures. While government and private educational institutions exist, it is understandable that the government-owned institutions are more affordable. Unfortunately, government educational institutions are plagued with problems.

From 1999 till date, Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) (Nigerian union of university academic staff) always embarks on annual strikes. Since March 2020, Nigerian university students have been home due to an ASUU strike, while their counterparts in private institutions continue their education.

Government-owned secondary schools are plagued with poorly paid teachers (demotivating them), poor facilities, and overcrowded classes. Most government secondary schools that are actually of good standard were improved by their Alumni Associations.
Not everyone can attend private educational institutions so these students have to wait strikes out, endure the poor standards, what ever the case may be.

“Education from six-year-old to 14 is compulsory in Nigeria, but the simple fact is that a lack of resources, coupled with peoples’ inability to afford books and uniforms mean the reality for millions of Nigerian children is a life without education,” – Jay Jay Okocha

In prior years, Nigerian government has done quite a lot in education. There was the Universal Basic Education free education policy that aimed to make education free for primary students. There was also the change of our educational structure from 6-5-4 to the current system of 6-3-3-4 in 1983 (6 years in primary school, 3 years in junior secondary school, 3 years obtaining senior secondary/technical education, 4 years or more in tertiary institution). The aim of this structure was to encourage technical education and back then facilities were provided. Unfortunately, this main aim was not achieved because of poor implementation – although facilities were provided, trained personnel to teach students were not made available. Before long, the practical aim of this structure died out.

Our educational system needs lots of work but I am proud of all youths who have managed to survive a system that seems designed to frustrate, youths who have succeeded with their grit. My vision is of a Nigeria with an educational system that does not frustrate the lives of the Nigerian child. How can we be a yôu-yôu u uma when we are not well educationally? We can improve our educational system by:

• Government owned educational institutions need reforms.
• There needs to be huge investment in education. Most of the problems that persist today can be corrected by financing.
• Proper implementation of policies to prevent towing the path of the failed 6-3-3-4 structure which was a good initiative.
• Prompt payment of salaries of educationists.

Source: Twitter

 

The image of a wellbeing economy that I have every morning when I wake is of a Nigeria with healthy and safe people. We need to improve our health systems and uproot insecurity. And we need to improve our educational systems if we are to improve our lives and leave our communities and the world better. Healthy people equate to happy people and this is the only way we can achieve a yôu-yôu u uma.

 

I am not alone when I dream of a yôu-yôu u uma in my country. Many people across the world have this vision for their countries. Wellbeing Alliance birthed this series to highlight our voices as we dream of a wellbeing economy in our countries. You can see more of these diverse voices here.

As always, if you have something to say, comment below! Or you can send us an email. Don’t forget to subscribe to SOGH’s newsletter to keep informed.

By: Avwerosuoghene Onobrakpeya