Tuesday, 28 August 2012

(21):Nigerians in diaspora and healthcare intervention

If you would like to know how blessed Nigeria is with talents, although absent from the country of their birth, then walk into a hospital in the United Kingdom. There is every likelihood the doctors that will look after you are Indians, Pakistanis or Nigerians.

Among Africans working in the health sector in foreign countries, without doubt, Nigeria leads the way. It is actually interesting that there is a famous hospital in London that charges exorbitant amounts for its private services, and a large portion of the patients are Nigerian officials who ran away from the Nigerian hospitals, only to come to the UK and be treated by Nigerian medical doctors that have been trained at ABU, University of Ibadan, University of Lagos or Bayero University, Kano.

Brain drain is certainly an issue today, whether the victims did it by choice or by coincidence. An interesting research conducted by Professor Nkechi Mbanefoh  on the effect of brain drain on the University College Hospital, Ibadan, suggests that of the 640,000 professionals working in the United States of America, medical doctors from Nigeria, Uganda, Sudan and Ghana constitute about 120,000. Writing in a paper entitled “The Brain Drain and Retention of Health Professionals in Africa”, Dr Delanyo Dovlo, a Ghanaian consultant who once worked in Leeds as a medical doctor, explained six key reasons for the migration of medical doctors to foreign countries. The reasons are income or good salaries, job satisfaction, organisational environment, governance and administrative efficiency, protection and favourable environment against occupational risk, and social security and benefit.

The issues mentioned are not beyond the capability of African countries; unfortunately, African leaders prefer health tourism over investment in the health sector that will look after their interest and those of their people. Despite this challenge, there is something positive that can come out of this brain drain. We have seen how professionals, both in the healthcare sector and other sectors of the economy, have contributed in transforming the economies of China and India. And to date, these two countries exploit the advantage of their skilled population living in the Diaspora to improve their economy.

But another perspective to it is that the doctors themselves can use their expertise and make maximum impact, especially in the rural areas where access to healthcare remains problematic. This brings me to some of the efforts being made by some charities like the Nigeria Muslim Forum, UK (www.nmfuk.org)  and Africa Healthcare Development Trust (http://www.ahdt.org/) to provide free healthcare service to some rural dwellers in Nigeria. In just two days, the joint effort of these two charities treated over 1000 patients in Kibiya local government area of Kano State.

So, what are the lessons to be learnt from here, and how can our highly talented medical doctors carry this forward? The first lesson is that medical doctors working in countries like Britain, the United States, Saudi Arabia and Qatar have an immense opportunity because of training, favourable working environment and access to modern equipments. They can, even if once a year, volunteer some of their time to do some voluntary work in their localities to help the poor and the needy.

Secondly, which I think is as important as the services they provide, is pursuing the transfer of skills whenever they visit home. I always appreciate how our colleagues work in Nigeria in the most difficult circumstance. A single day workshop, not necessarily on the technical side of the job, but for instance on work ethics will change a lot of things. As some of our colleagues in the health sector normally tell us, part of the problem of the healthcare system in Nigeria is not necessarily lack of equipments or qualified personnel, but it is simply attitudinal. For instance, does a consultant sit and ponder the effect of his action if he refuses to come to the hospital on time, but instead starts the day in his private clinic, and then come to the public hospital and spend one or two hours? What message is he sending to do the junior doctors that look up to him as a role model?

Thirdly, although an individual effort is good, working collectively as a group will make tremendous impact. If one medical doctor from the UK, working with other colleagues in Nigeria, can treat over 1000 patients in two to three days, imagine the impact a team of 20 doctors can make with proper coordination and team-effort.

Fourthly, another advantage the doctors in the Diaspora have is access to charities that provide healthcare equipments and drugs at a highly subsidised rate. In fact, some hospitals do give some of these equipments free to their staff. So, if  each medical doctor from Nigeria working in the Diaspora can identify a registered charity that works in his locality back home, and volunteer his service once in a year or  every two years, imagine the impact that could make on the healthcare system in Africa.

It is very easy to sit and criticise the government for failing in its responsibility. But each one of us can make as much difference within his area of specialisation as the government could do within its capability. Over to you.
Newcastle upon Tyne

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

(20): Studying in UK universities: Tips for new students

September is normally a busy period, especially for students coming to study in UK universities, because that is when the new session starts. It is an important period especially for international students coming from Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, China, India, Pakistan, United Arab Emirates, etc. But a point of interest is that a lot of these students would be coming for the first time. As with almost every society, there are a lot of differences in the way things operate.
As such, due to differences in culture and even political system, some students easily become affected by culture-shock.  Some even return home immediately, and others get affected by loneliness, depression and other social pressures in the society.
In the few years that I have been living in the UK, I understand that there is one key ingredient to success. It is not money as some people might think. That ingredient is information. Those who face difficulties, particularly among new students, lack the basic information that will help them succeed in their academic endeavour. In this short essay I shall explain the few things that are important for prospective international students.
The first thing that you need to do is plan your arrival. It is extremely important to look at the location of your university. The common mistake that people make is to make their travel arrangement through London only. If you are coming to universities in cities like Birmingham, Manchester, Cardiff, Newcastle, Bradford, Edinburgh, Bristol, etc, understand that there are international airports in these cities, and it is much easier for you to arrange your flight directly to these airports than come through London, and then travel another three to four hours before arriving in some of the cities mentioned. If there is no airport in the city, look for the nearest airport to your destination and come through it. Most major airlines have a connection to these airports. So, save your time, energy and even resources by taking few minutes to look at the map and decide the nearest airport to your destination.
The second thing you need to plan is accommodation. A number of people make the mistake of not making proper arrangement for accommodation, and decide to come few days before the commencement of studies, lodge in a bed and breakfast hotel and then start looking for accommodation. The reality is universities allocate accommodation sometimes as early as May, and the few spaces left for international students are allocated on first come first serve basis, therefore those who get admission early normally take them, so do not wait until September.  Private accommodation is also not easy to get at this period of the year. So, understand the challenge you are going to face. For those coming with family, ensure that your family have their visa at hand, then come and prepare the ground so that they can have a smooth arrival.
The third advice, which is the most important, is about your studies. It is particularly important for new students to understand that the method of assessment in most UK universities is a combination of examination and essay writing, with essay writing more predominant at the postgraduate level. This could be a challenge, especially if you come from an educational system where examination is the only method of assessing students. So, learn to practice the art of writing, as in many instances you will be asked to write essays of between 3,000-4,000 words. If you are not conversant with using computers, please learn to do it, as you will hardly find a business centre where somebody will type your assignments for you, and if you do find one, the price of that service will shake the few savings you have made for your studies.
The fourth tip is about food. Look at your budget carefully; you have the option between cooking and eating in restaurants or from takeaways, the latter being more expensive. Understand that there are local markets where you find local food items and recipes as you do back in your country. If you have dietary requirements, particularly for religious reasons, like halal for Muslims, always ask, as there are shops or even conventional restaurants that offer those services.
Fifth, take note of the weather.  It is important to wear warm clothes, but do not bring in too many wears that you may end up not using but on few occasions. The type of dress people use is normally associated with the weather, so make simple plans and buy the clothes you need according to circumstance.
The final tip is about life style. Understand that coming to the UK does not mean you should change your life style. This is a common mistake that new students make. So, remain natural and respect your tradition and customs. Becoming a caricature of your normal person will neither earn you respect nor enhance your status anywhere. If you are a religious person, there are people of faith everywhere like you. In most public places like airports, hospitals and universities there are prayer rooms; there are even multi-faith chaplaincies where you can find representatives from different faiths who can offer you support.
It is also important to make it clear to your friends, relatives and associates that you are coming to study, and not to make money. So let them not over-burden you with the flood of requests asking you to purchase iphones, laptops, shoes or even help them with shopping for their wedding.  The price of these items can actually pay your accommodation for at least a month, as accommodation is one of the most expensive things over here. The time you will spend going to shops in search of these items is needed for your studies. Be patient as you go through this important stage in your life, and I wish you good luck.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

(19): International community and the terror against Rohingya Muslims

As the attention of the world focuses on the Middle East, particularly the conflict in Syria, there is an on-going terror unleashed on the minority Muslim community in Myanmar, the official name of the country as recognised by the United Nations, or Burma as used by Britain, Canada and the United States. 
The conflict is not new, but the recent wave of massacre began in June when a Buddhist woman was allegedly raped and killed in May this year in the Rakhine region.  This was immediately followed by the massacre of 10 Muslims in a bus on June 4, 2012, and what followed is the massacre of the minority Muslim population in this region of the world. Later, three Muslims were arrested, and two of them sentenced to death immediately by the Myanmar authorities.
Media reports suggested that following the bus attack, Muslims gathered in the town of Maung Daw after Friday prayers, and the crowd became angry as reported by the BBC, and began attacking buildings. The police quickly intervened, but you know the security services are hardly bias-free as we have seen with many conflicts. The London riots of 2011 were partly caused by the police, so also a lot of the mistakes going on in the on-going unrest in Nigeria. Soon after that, the conflict spread to other towns and villages.
When a conflict has a religious dimension, bringing it under control is a huge task. The Syrian uprising today becomes so complicated because of the religio-sectarian dimension.  In Myanmar the religious divide is at play, because the majority of the population are Buddhist, while the minority community are Muslims, also known as the Rohingya, who are now facing ethnic cleansing as was done in Bosnia nearly two decades ago.  According to the U.N., the Rohingya Muslims are among the most persecuted minorities all over the world.
The Myanmar authorities have since declared a state of emergency in the region, and using state power and support for the majority Buddhists, the Muslims are now under siege. The Myanmar government has closed all doors that will allow humanitarian intervention. They have also embarked on a propaganda, suggesting that the Rohingya Muslims are foreigners. What is even more surprising is not the attitude of the Myanmar government, but that of Aung San Su Kyi, the media-elevated Nobel Prize winner, who refused to acknowledge that the Rohingyas are citizens of Myanmar. Since 1948 when Myanmar got political independence from Britain, the persecution of the Rohingya people has simply skyrocketed. The 1982 Citizenship Act of the country declared the Rohingya community as simply stateless.
The Myanmar authorities claim that the Rohingya community are from Bangladesh.  This seems to be the position of Aung San Suu Kyi, who is supposed to be a human rights campaigner. But historical evidence has shown that the Rohingyas are not a homogeneous ethnic group, but a conglomeration of different communities living in the area. According to Dr Habib Siddique, an expert on the plight of minorities and author of eleven books, “The original inhabitants of Rohang were Hindus, Buddhists and animists. From the pre-Islamic days, the region was very familiar to the Arab seafarers. Many settled in the Arakan, and mixing with the local people, developed the present stock of the people known as ethnic Rohingya. Some historians mention that the first Muslims to settle in the Arakan were Arabs under the leadership of Muhammad ibn Hanafiya in the late 7th century (C.E.). He married the queen Kaiyapuri, who had converted to Islam. Her people then embraced Islam en masse”. More and more communities also settled in the area after the British conquest of Myanmar.
The Rohingyas are now migrating en mass to Bangladesh, yet the Bangladeshi authorities under the leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina are returning them on the pretext that there are already over 400,000 Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. Among Muslim countries so far only Turkey and Iran have spoken against the state terror unleashed on these helpless individuals. The United Nations human rights chief Navi Pillay has called for an investigation, but I wonder whether she shouted loud enough for her boss, the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon, to take note and call for an emergency Security Council meeting to discuss the situation as the UN did previously on the situation of the minorities of East Timor, and most recently Southern Sudan.
To address the situation, at least three steps need to be taken immediately. First is for the entire international community to put pressure on the Myanmar government to allow humanitarian aid into the affected region. At the moment all effort for humanitarian intervention stops at the Bangladeshi border as access to cross the water into Myanmar has been denied.
The second step is for the Organisation for Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to immediately call for an emergency meeting and provide economic support to Bangladesh in order to contain the influx of refugees on one hand, and put diplomatic pressure on the other hand on the government of Myanmar to treat its citizens with dignity. And this should work as a short term solution.  Failure to do so, all diplomatic ties should be cut until Myanmar calls its military to order and punish all those involved in the genocide.
Finally, a process should be set for the self-determination and independence of this region, since from all indications there is little hope the Rohingyas will be recognised as equal citizens in their own land.
Newcastle upon Tyne

Sunday, 5 August 2012

(18):How to complete a PhD successfully

It is nice to have a doctoral degree. But what does it take to acquire the title Dr? In this brief piece I will discuss some points that will be helpful to prospective students on how to finish their PhD successfully.

Being a PhD student is a unique experience, but it also comes with challenges. Some students embark on this journey without fully understanding the requirements of such a venture. Completing your PhD successfully is surrounded by so many factors.

These factors include your interest as a student. Did you really want to pursue this research because you want to make contribution to a field of study and become a trained researcher, or are you just overtaken by the glamour of having the title? Were you motivated by an inner conviction to become a scholar or do you want to have a PhD simply because your friend has one? The honest answer will only come from you.
When you make the final decision that you want to start on this journey, here are some points that will help you to achieve your objectives.

First of all consult widely with people who have either acquired a PhD or who are in the process of acquiring one. Their experience will be an important treasure for you. It will also help you decide which approach to take. You are likely to hear different experiences from the beautiful, the horrible and something in between. But be aware that your own experience is going to be unique to yourself, so do not panic.

After the consultation think of a research area that is interesting to you personally. Read widely and narrow it down to a simple researchable area. Developing a provisional title will be helpful at this stage. Once that is done the next thing is to develop a proposal. Your proposal should clearly explain why it is important to research that area, outline the aims and objectives of the research, suggest some research questions that will help you achieve the aims and objectives of the thesis, and explain what the research will be contributing to your field.

The first year: seeking direction

The first year of your studies is the most difficult, but it is also the most promising. It is advisable that in the first year you avoid any distraction that will take you away from your studies. Although some students do engage in extra-curricular activities in the first year, this should be highly moderated until you are able to stand on your own feet. Develop an excellent working relationship with your supervisor. Understand that their criticism of your work is not intended to belittle your efforts, but to ensure that your work has the quality to be called a PhD.

Read widely, develop a context for the research and write your literature review. Even though, when the study progresses further, you may need to revise the literature review, at least you will have made a good start. Outline a clear and a realistic timeline that you intend to adhere to as you finish each aspect of your work up until the conclusion. This will help you to gauge your progress from beginning to end.

The second year: developing hope

At the end of the first year, you may well be asked to present a report which will be used to determine whether your research has the quality of becoming PhD or not. How you used your first year will help in determining this. Once you are done with this, and you are given the green light to continue with the research, it gives you a lot of hope and the feeling that the PhD is possible.

However, there is still some work to do. At this stage, study carefully the aims and objectives of your research. Critically look at your research questions, and then think of the methodology that will help you address them. This requires extensive reading. Look for research similar to yours in academic journals and other PhD theses. Study the methodology they used. Familiarise yourself with both quantitative and qualitative methods. When you make a decision, test your data gathering with a pilot study. The pilot study will help you modify the methodology, make additions, and explore other areas you haven't thought of.

After the pilot study go for the fieldwork. Organise the data, and then start writing the methodology chapter. This is one of the most important chapters in a PhD, because if the methodology is not right then answering your research questions or hypothesis will be difficult. Here once again you need to exercise patience as you go through this stage with your supervisor.

The third year: confusion

While you have indeed made much progress, the third year comes with its own challenges. Possibly some of the things that you needed to finish in the second year might intrude into the third year. This year could be a bit confusing as you may need to be referring back to your previous work while trying to make progress. Your attention might also be focused on finishing the entire PhD as there is the possibility that your funding will end after the third year.

Revisit your literature review and update it. At this stage, since you have some data, you may wish to consider attending conferences. Present part of your work as you will receive some feedback that will enhance your work. Attend university workshops on how to write your thesis successfully. Use some of the conference papers you have presented and the feedback you have received in writing your analysis chapters.

The year of progress

There is every likelihood that your research will go beyond three years. At this stage you are almost exhausted. Be patient with your supervisor and work through this stage. Finish your analysis. Ensure that the thesis fits together. Develop some of the conference papers you have produced or parts of the thesis that make significant contributions to some academic journals. Your supervisor can guide you on this. This will impress the examiners, but most importantly it will be good for job hunting.


Revise the draft of your thesis, make corrections and arrange a mock viva with your supervisor. Never rush through the final process: it will be better to get it right than rush the process and be asked to resubmit. Discuss things with fellow PhD students who have finished successfully and benefit from their experience. Relax and wait for the moment you will be crowned with the highest prize of the academic world.

Note: I originally wrote this article for the Department of Journalism Studies, University of Sheffield.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

(17): Nigerian Muslims and the sweetness of difficulty

Five years ago an elderly brother, Hajj Omar, who was originally from Somalia, invited me to his house in Sheffield. After enjoying the Somali dishes, one of them actually an equivalent of what the Hausa people call “dafa duka” or jollof rice, he handed me a gift. And believe me the Somali jollof rice is superb, apart from the exceptional spices it contains, it is cooked with large portions of lamb to the delight of every guest unless he is a vegetarian. So, understand that Somalia is not just about Al-Shabab as the media would like us to believe. Before you accuse me of making “santi” (another Hausa word that describes the comments that normally follows from eating a sumptuous meal), I am actually fasting while writing this short piece.

The gift that Hajj Omar gave me was a book called “La Tahzan” in Arabic, translated in English as Don’t Be Sad, written by Sheikh Aaidh ibn Abdullah Al-Qarni. Don’t Be Sad is an important treasure that should be on the bookshelf of every person who cares to be content and live a peaceful life.  In fact, as the Sheikh mentions in the preface of the book, it was not meant for Muslim readers only, but for everybody, and I can guarantee that whoever reads it, irrespective of faith, will definitely enjoy the admonishment it contains.

One of the most captivating parts of the book is a sub-section entitled “Convert a Lemon into a Sweet Drink”. In this section Sheikh Aaidh states that “an intelligent and skilful person transforms losses into profits; whereas, the unskilled person aggravates his own predicament, often making two disasters out of one”.

If I were to summarise the content of that book in few sentences I would mention that no matter the state of difficulty, whatever the level of hopelessness, no matter the level of hardship or how far the solution might appear to be, you can always get something of benefit out of a bad situation.

When you critically look at the situation of Nigerian Muslims today there are those who have lost hope completely, and there are those who remain hopeful and working to bring change. For too long Muslims in Nigeria have been deceived by the fact that there were Muslims at the helm of affairs even though they did very little to address the concerns of not only the Muslims but also the entire citizenry.  The loss of political power created a huge vacuum and made some to become spectators and others to follow the existing tide. But there are still those who are working hard to produce Moses in the house of Pharaoh.

Two factors here are important; the outcome of the 2011 elections and the current state of insecurity in the country has created some form of consciousness that was hitherto unheard of. It created a desire for people to be responsible for themselves and guide their people, using the limited resources available. The effort made by some individuals within Nigeria to collect donations and distribute relief materials to the victims of disasters, both natural and man-made, as we have seen in Plateau state with the military ultimatum against a section of the population, and the flood that followed is encouraging. The spirit of brotherhood and compassion exhibited is very sweet even though it was created by a difficult circumstance. And part of this difficult circumstance was created by our own hand.

As suggested by a friend who sent an email in response to my article last week, if the Muslims had done their home work properly, perhaps we may not have the large population of Christians in northern Nigeria as we do today. And the fact that we do does not provide an excuse for either section of the religious divide to take the law into its own hands.

From the spirit shown by people, there is hope for a light at the end of the tunnel. Those who started this charitable work should not stop there. It should carry own, for I couldn’t see a better chance of salvaging our people than through community spirit. The people who collected the donations and those who contributed may not be rich, but the outcome of their work is what provides a foundation for a successful society. Muslims, especially from northern Nigeria, can learn a lesson from Muslims in southern Nigeria. They have faced so much difficulty to the extent that at a point they could not name their children with names that are clearly identified as Islamic. They faced forceful conversion and discrimination in work places. Yet they endured and developed a community spirit. They established schools and worked hard to send their kids to study away from Nigeria. Gradually, they are growing and becoming powerful forces that are intellectually and economically cogent to withstand any challenge that comes their way.

Sheikh Aaidh Al-Qarni reminds us in Don’t Be Sad: “If you are afflicted with a misfortune, look at the bright side. If someone were to hand you a glass full of squeezed lemons, add to it a handful of sugar. And if someone gives you a snake as a gift, keep its precious skin and leave the rest.”

Newcastle upon Tyne