Spectacle amid poverty


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A manual laborer pulls a cart of hay as men drive past on a motorcycle, near the offices of the Independent National Electoral Commission in Kano, northern Nigeria Thursday, Feb. 14, 2019. Nigeria's main opposition party charged Thursday that the election commission has kept more than 1 million ghost voters on the national register, raising fears of vote rigging ahead of Saturday's presidential election. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)

A manual laborer pulls a cart of hay as men drive past on a motorcycle, near the offices of the Independent National Electoral Commission in Kano, northern Nigeria Thursday, Feb. 14, 2019. Nigeria's main opposition party charged Thursday that the election commission has kept more than 1 million ghost voters on the national register, raising fears of vote rigging ahead of Saturday's presidential election. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)


A customer, right, buys fruit from a street seller by the side of the road at a busy intersection near Nyanya, on the eastern outskirts of the capital Abuja, Nigeria Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2019. Nigeria is due to hold general elections on Saturday, Feb. 16, 2019. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)


The face of incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari is seen on a campaign poster fixed to the pillars of a highway bridge near Nyanya, on the eastern outskirts of the capital Abuja, Nigeria Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2019. Nigeria is due to hold general elections on Saturday, Feb. 16, 2019. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)


In Nigeria, election spectacle at odds with rampant poverty

By RODNEY MUHUMUZA

Associated Press

Friday, February 15

RUGA SETTLEMENT, Nigeria (AP) — It’s hard to find a campaign poster in this threadbare settlement on the outskirts of the Nigerian capital, where thousands live in makeshift structures of tarpaulin and sticks of timber.

From his little grocery shop, 65-year-old Jafar Ali awaits the moment a presidential contender will visit Ruga. He isn’t hopeful.

“Of all the funds that have been spent, not even one naira has come into my hands,” Ali said, referring to the Nigerian currency that is equal to about a quarter of one U.S. cent.

“We have been hearing that a lot of money is being shared,” he added, referring to the cash the top candidates hand out to draw crowds to their rallies and the no-interest loans the government has been distributing before the vote.

“All we ask God is to give us a leader who will remember us one day and come here,” Ali said.

On the eve of Nigeria’s election on Saturday, the spectacle of campaign expenditure is at odds with the rampant poverty afflicting many. The lack of campaigning in this impoverished area contrasts with the election-time bustle of downtown Abuja, where the capital’s tree-lined streets are adorned with colorful posters of presidential candidates and where their followers are ferried in buses to boisterous events.

It also highlights the frustration many of Nigeria’s poor feel amid an election campaign said to be one of the country’s most expensive ever as incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari tries to shake off the challenge of his billionaire rival, Atiku Abubakar.

Although there are legal limits to how much a presidential candidate can spend — one billion naira, or about $2.7 million — the campaigns of Buhari and Abubakar are widely believed to have spent far in excess of that, often with the support of groups that donate huge amounts of cash as well as gifts.

In one notable case, a group in northeastern Adamawa state that’s loyal to Nuhu Ribadu, once revered as an anti-corruption activist until he threw his support behind the ruling party, donated 40 vehicles to the campaign to re-elect Buhari last month. That donation raised eyebrows because it is well over the donation limit of 1 million naira.

Buhari, who ruled briefly as a military dictator in the 1980s, was voted into power in 2015 with promises to fight corruption, boost the economy and end the deadly insurgency of the Islamic extremist group Boko Haram.

Many Nigerians say he has failed on all three counts, citing an ineffective war on graft that appears to target opponents, persistent insecurity in the northern part of the country, and an anemic economy that is struggling to attract foreign investment.

In addition to his lackluster performance, the 76-year-old Buhari has spent months out of the country for medical treatment for an undisclosed ailment.

Unemployment in Africa’s most populous nation of 190 million was over 23 percent in the third quarter of 2018, up from 8.2 percent when Buhari took office, official figures show. Nigeria was in a recession for five months until early 2017, according to the International Monetary Fund, after the price of crude oil plunged to less than $30 a barrel in 2016.

Although Nigeria remains Africa’s top oil producer, more than half of the country’s total revenue goes toward servicing the public debt, according to the Brookings Institution, which reported last year that Nigeria had overtaken India as the country with the highest number of people living in extreme poverty.

Whoever wins Saturday’s election will have to contend with a plethora of economic challenges that have left many Nigerians despairing, and often angry, with the government in Abuja. Despite its oil wealth, Nigeria’s per capita income was $1,968 in 2017, according to the World Bank. There is an unresolved labor dispute over the minimum wage, which currently stands at 18,000 naira (about $50) per month.

Abubakar, a successful businessman and former vice president who is contesting the presidency for the fourth time, has seized on the wave of popular discontent with a vow to “get Nigeria working again.”

For some Nigerians, the idea of their country as weak and uncertain is annoying.

“We the masses are suffering in this country. What we are seeing is negative change,” said Emmanuel Chimezie, 29, who said he hasn’t found a job since graduating from college in 2015.

“Nigeria has a lot of potential, but how to harness it is a big problem in this country. We need a good leader who can diversify the economy, not depending on oil, oil, oil.”

Inflation rates pushing up the prices of food staples such as rice should convince the government to invest heavily in agriculture, he added.

“Buhari has to go,” said Eze Onyekpere, who runs the Abuja-based Center for Social Justice. “If the masses don’t sack him, then they should stop complaining.”

Campaign rallies, he added, have become “places for vulgar abuse” and rarely focus on bread-and-butter issues, mirroring how the candidates would govern.

Critics point out that the high cost of running campaigns fuels official corruption as elected officials bid to recover their costs once in office.

“None of their manifestos speak directly to the needs of people,” said Idayat Hassan, director of the Abuja-based civic group Center for Democracy and Development. “Politics is not the same as service to the people. If it were service to the people, they would not invest so much. It would not look like a do-or-die thing.”

Similar concerns were raised last year in a report by the Chatham House think tank, which noted that Nigeria’s two main parties are indistinguishable and both “function as patronage-fueled coalitions of fractious elite networks” whose goal is to get power and the associated financial rewards.

Some locals agree.

“In Nigeria, politics has become an investment,” said Wole Adeoye, an unemployed college graduate in the commercial capital, Lagos. “The losers lose all their money and the winners become rich overnight.”

Associated Press writer Sam Olukoya in Lagos, Nigeria, contributed to this report.

The Conversation

Why poor storage and handling are to blame for Uganda’s poor quality seed

February 14, 2019

Author: Nathan Fiala, Assistant Professor, Agricultural and Resource Economics, University of Connecticut

Disclosure statement: The authors received funding from the International Growth Centre (IGC) and the Northern Uganda-Transforming the Economy through Climate-Smart Agribusiness Development Market Development (NU-TEC MD) to run this study.

Partners: University of Connecticut provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.

The quality of purchased seeds, such as maize, groundnuts and others, is a major concern in Uganda.

Evidence from recent studies indicates that farmers all over the country have been slow to adopt improved seeds, such as those that protect against drought. Farmers prefer to use seeds they’ve saved from the last season; these are generally of poor quality and don’t protect against weather problems. This suggests that, for Uganda’s farmers, the cost of improved seeds – which are more expensive than home-saved seeds – outweighs any of the benefits.

Farmers are also concerned about the quality of agricultural inputs like fertiliser, seeds and pesticides. They worry about the potential for these to be adulterated and contaminated. For example, a recent study found that a bag of fertiliser picked at random had only half of the nitrogen content it should. This meant there was little value to using it. The authors also looked at yields from improved maize seeds and discovered a similar situation.

One reason that’s widely cited for low yields is deliberate adulteration of seeds by sellers along the supply chain. The assumption is that sellers deliberately introduce grains or even stones into bags of seed to increase the weight. When the farmer uses these seeds, most don’t germinate. However, no one has ever identified adulteration – it’s simply assumed this is what is causing the problem.

This means that agricultural policy has tended to focus on certification of seeds, including labelling at the source, e-verification and requiring bags that are not easy to open until the farmer has them. But little effort has been made to improve the quality control of the seed supply chain as a whole, including transportation networks and storage at the end seller.

Uganda’s certification and oversight of seeds has proven inadequate for ensuring that farmers obtain good quality inputs. Neither seed companies nor input shops are well regulated and market failures have emerged, meaning that the access to optimal quality seeds is still very limited.

Our project expands on the recent work of researchers looking at the quality of agricultural inputs in Africa. To diagnose where quality issues crop up in Uganda, we explored 21 varieties of maize across the supply chain. What we found is that quality, rather than genetic purity, appears to be the main problem. The results are consistent with mishandling and poor storage of seeds.

What our tests found

To collect a representative sample of seeds – as if an actual farmer would have purchased those seeds – we employed a mystery shopper approach. A well-trained team of enumerators self-identified as farmers and purchased seeds from a census of companies at all levels of the supply chain, across three districts in northern Uganda and the capital, Kampala.

The seed samples were then sent to testing facilities in Uganda for purity and performance examination. To identify how genetically similar the seeds were to each other (or in other words, to screen if any seed was adulterated or contaminated) the sample of seeds was shipped to a laboratory in Australia to test for genetic purity.

Seeds were tested on three main indicators. First were DNA tests for genetic purity. Second was a physical test for the percentage of the seed containing stones, dirt, or sand. Last came germination tests – defined as the percentage of seeds that can germinate normally under standard conditions. Vigour tests determined the percentage of seeds able to germinate under suboptimal conditions and after storage while moisture tests determine how much water has gotten into the seeds, which leads to lower quality germination.

We did not find evidence of serious seed adulteration by sellers. Instead, we find high levels of seed genetic and physical purity across all levels of the supply chain. Seed samples collected are genetically very similar to each other and on average presented good physical purity (above 99%), or good content of pure seeds (and absence of inert matter or dirt, sand, stones, sticks, and stems.

Poor handling

Results from tests of vigour and moisture content, combined with high levels of DNA similarity, lead us to believe that the causes of low quality are most likely due to poor management in the downstream levels of the supply chain (wholesalers and retailers) that create poor storage conditions.

Monitoring mechanisms, collective action by stakeholders, and further exploration on seeds during storage and transportation are key for better seeds. Although rules are in place, few resources are available for regulators, meaning that currently seed monitoring is almost non-existent.

On top of seed certification, implementing complementary mechanisms, such as regular quality control inspections, is key.

Future evidence is needed

A note of caution is needed for these results. We were only able to trace the supply chain of maize in one year, and across three districts (plus Kampala). The results are potentially limited in their application to other crops, years and districts. We are also limited in our sample size as we were only able to collect 120 samples in total.

A replication of this proof of concept is needed in different regions, seasons, and years to confirm the absence of counterfeit seeds more broadly. We also recommend further studies on the practices and conditions during seed storage and transportation. Future evidence is needed to determine conclusively what is driving low quality seeds in Uganda.

If the results we obtained can be generalised, it is possible they could significantly change the way policy makers approach the issue of low quality seeds in Uganda. If adulteration is not the problem, but instead storage and transportation are the major constraints to quality, money currently being spent on certification processes could be better spent. Future work will need to confirm this interpretation is in fact true.

Vatican’s envoy to France facing ‘sexual aggression’ probe

By SAMUEL PETREQUIN

Associated Press

Friday, February 15

PARIS (AP) — The Paris prosecutor’s office has opened an investigation into alleged “sexual aggression” by Catholic archbishop Luigi Ventura, the Vatican’s envoy to France, according to French officials.

Confirming a report published by Le Monde newspaper on Friday, a judicial official and a spokesman at the Paris mayor’s office said the police investigation targeting the apostolic nuncio came after a young male city employee claimed he was sexually molested inside the French capital’s town hall.

Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to be named in media reports.

The Vatican said it found out about the investigation from media reports, adding that “the Holy See is awaiting the conclusions of the inquiry.”

Ventura, who has been holding the post within the Holy See’s global diplomatic corps since 2009, is suspected of having groped the buttocks of a young male employee at the Paris City Hall three times during a ceremony on Jan. 17.

Paris City Hall’s press office told The Associated Press that the victim is a man in his 30s working for the town hall’s international relations department. He was in charge of welcoming guests at the ceremony.

“He caressed and fondled his buttocks several times in front of witnesses,” a spokesman at the City Hall told The Associated Press. “Our employee was very surprised and did not know what to do.”

According to the spokesman, Ventura touched the employee three times over a period of about an hour before the young man left the ceremony after reporting the incidents to his superiors. The spokesman said Ventura didn’t apologize.

Ventura, who was born in northern Italy near the city of Brescia, turned 74 in December. He was ordained in June 1969 and elevated to bishop’s rank in March 1995. He was appointed nuncio to France in September 2009 by Pope Benedict XVI, a position regarded as a crowning achievement of a Vatican diplomatic career.

After serving as nuncio to Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso and Niger, he then held the position in Chile and Canada before landing the French post.

When he turns 75 in December 2019, he will be required, as all bishops are at that age under Vatican rules, to submit his resignation to Pope Francis, who can either accept it or let him stay on a little longer.

Ventura is the third Vatican diplomat accused of sexual wrongdoing. In June last year, the Vatican tribunal convicted Monsignor Carlo Capella of possession and distribution of child pornography and sentenced him to five years in prison. In 2013, the Vatican charged its then-ambassador to the Dominican Republic, Monsignor Jozef Wesolowski, with sexually abusing young boys. Wesolowski was defrocked by the Vatican’s church court, but he died before the Vatican’s criminal trial got underway.

Frances D’Emilio and Nicole Winfield in Rome contributed to this report.

The Conversation

The ‘real’ St. Valentine was no patron of love

February 13, 2018

Author: Lisa Bitel, Professor of History & Religion, University of Southern California – Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences

Disclosure statement: Lisa Bitel does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

Partners: University of Southern California — Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.

On Feb. 14, sweethearts of all ages will exchange cards, flowers, candy, and more lavish gifts in the name of St. Valentine. But as a historian of Christianity, I can tell you that at the root of our modern holiday is a beautiful fiction. St. Valentine was no lover or patron of love.

Valentine’s Day, in fact, originated as a liturgical feast to celebrate the decapitation of a third-century Christian martyr, or perhaps two. So, how did we get from beheading to betrothing on Valentine’s Day?

Early origins of St. Valentine

Ancient sources reveal that there were several St. Valentines who died on Feb. 14. Two of them were executed during the reign of Roman Emperor Claudius Gothicus in 269-270 A.D., at a time when persecution of Christians was common.

How do we know this? Because, an order of Belgian monks spent three centuries collecting evidence for the lives of saints from manuscript archives around the known world.

They were called Bollandists after Jean Bolland, a Jesuit scholar who began publishing the massive 68-folio volumes of “Acta Sanctorum,” or “Lives of the Saints,” beginning in 1643.

Since then, successive generations of monks continued the work until the last volume was published in 1940. The Brothers dug up every scrap of information about every saint on the liturgical calendar and printed the texts arranged according to the saint’s feast day.

The Valentine martyrs

The volume encompassing Feb. 14 contains the stories of a handful of “Valentini,” including the earliest three of whom died in the third century.

The earliest Valentinus is said to have died in Africa, along with 24 soldiers. Unfortunately, even the Bollandists could not find any more information about him. As the monks knew, sometimes all that the saints left behind was a name and day of death.

We know only a little more about the other two Valentines.

According to a late medieval legend reprinted in the “Acta,” which was accompanied by Bollandist critique about its historical value, a Roman priest named Valentinus was arrested during the reign of Emperor Gothicus and put into the custody of an aristocrat named Asterius.

As the story goes, Asterius made the mistake of letting the preacher talk. Father Valentinus went on and on about Christ leading pagans out of the shadow of darkness and into the light of truth and salvation. Asterius made a bargain with Valentinus: If the Christian could cure Asterius’s foster-daughter of blindness, he would convert. Valentinus put his hands over the girl’s eyes and chanted:

“Lord Jesus Christ, en-lighten your handmaid, because you are God, the True Light.”

Easy as that. The child could see, according to the medieval legend. Asterius and his whole family were baptized. Unfortunately, when Emperor Gothicus heard the news, he ordered them all to be executed. But Valentinus was the only one to be beheaded. A pious widow, though, made off with his body and had it buried at the site of his martyrdom on the Via Flaminia, the ancient highway stretching from Rome to present-day Rimini. Later, a chapel was built over the saint’s remains.

St. Valentine was not a romantic

The third third-century Valentinus was a bishop of Terni in the province of Umbria, Italy.

According to his equally dodgy legend, Terni’s bishop got into a situation like the other Valentinus by debating a potential convert and afterward healing his son. The rest of story is quite similar as well: He too, was beheaded on the orders of Emperor Gothicus and his body buried along the Via Flaminia.

It is likely, as the Bollandists suggested, that there weren’t actually two decapitated Valentines, but that two different versions of one saint’s legend appeared in both Rome and Terni.

Nonetheless, African, Roman or Umbrian, none of the Valentines seems to have been a romantic.

Indeed, medieval legends, repeated in modern media, had St. Valentine performing Christian marriage rituals or passing notes between Christian lovers jailed by Gothicus. Still other stories romantically involved him with the blind girl whom he allegedly healed. Yet none of these medieval tales had any basis in third-century history, as the Bollandists pointed out.

In any case, historical veracity did not count for much with medieval Christians. What they cared about were stories of miracles and martyrdoms, and the physical remains or relics of the saint. To be sure, many different churches and monasteries around medieval Europe claimed to have bits of a St. Valentinus’ skull in their treasuries.

Santa Maria in Cosmedin in Rome, for example, still displays a whole skull. According to the Bollandists, other churches across Europe also claim to own slivers and bits of one or the other St. Valentinus’ body: For example, San Anton Church in Madrid, Whitefriar Street Church in Dublin, the Church of Sts. Peter and Paul in Prague, Saint Mary’s Assumption in Chelmno, Poland, as well as churches in Malta, Birmingham, Glasgow, and on the Greek isle of Lesbos, among others.

For believers, relics of the martyrs signified the saints’ continuing their invisible presence among communities of pious Christians. In 11th-century Brittany, for instance, one bishop used what was purported to be Valentine’s head to halt fires, prevent epidemics, and cure all sorts of illnesses, including demonic possession.

As far as we know, though, the saint’s bones did nothing special for lovers.

Unlikely pagan origins

Many scholars have deconstructed Valentine and his day in books, articles and blog postings. Some suggest that the modern holiday is a Christian cover-up of the more ancient Roman celebration of Lupercalia in mid-February.

Lupercalia originated as a ritual in a rural masculine cult involving the sacrifice of goats and dogs and evolved later into an urban carnival. During the festivities half-naked young men ran through the streets of Rome, streaking people with thongs cut from the skins of newly killed goats. Pregnant women thought it brought them healthy babies. In 496 A.D., however, Pope Gelasius supposedly denounced the rowdy festival.

Still, there is no evidence that the pope purposely replaced Lupercalia with the more sedate cult of the martyred St. Valentine or any other Christian celebration.

Chaucer and the love birds

The love connection probably appeared more than a thousand years after the martyrs’ death, when Geoffrey Chaucer, author of “The Canterbury Tales” decreed the February feast of St. Valentinus to the mating of birds. He wrote in his “Parlement of Foules”:

“For this was on seynt Volantynys day. Whan euery bryd comyth there to chese his make.”

It seems that, in Chaucer’s day, English birds paired off to produce eggs in February. Soon, nature-minded European nobility began sending love notes during bird-mating season. For example, the French Duke of Orléans, who spent some years as a prisoner in the Tower of London, wrote to his wife in February 1415 that he was “already sick of love” (by which he meant lovesick.) And he called her his “very gentle Valentine.”

English audiences embraced the idea of February mating. Shakespeare’s lovestruck Ophelia spoke of herself as Hamlet’s Valentine.

In the following centuries, Englishmen and women began using Feb. 14 as an excuse to pen verses to their love objects. Industrialization made it easier with mass-produced illustrated cards adorned with smarmy poetry. Then along came Cadbury, Hershey’s, and other chocolate manufacturers marketing sweets for one’s sweetheart on Valentine’s Day.

Today, shops everywhere in England and the U.S. decorate their windows with hearts and banners proclaiming the annual Day of Love. Merchants stock their shelves with candy, jewelry and Cupid-related trinkets begging “Be My Valentine.” For most lovers, this request does not require beheading.

Invisible Valentines

It seems that the erstwhile saint behind the holiday of love remains as elusive as love itself. Still, as St. Augustine, the great fifth-century theologian and philosopher argued in his treatise on “Faith in Invisible Things,” someone does not have to be standing before our eyes for us to love them.

And much like love itself, St. Valentine and his reputation as the patron saint of love are not matters of verifiable history, but of faith.

A manual laborer pulls a cart of hay as men drive past on a motorcycle, near the offices of the Independent National Electoral Commission in Kano, northern Nigeria Thursday, Feb. 14, 2019. Nigeria’s main opposition party charged Thursday that the election commission has kept more than 1 million ghost voters on the national register, raising fears of vote rigging ahead of Saturday’s presidential election. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)
https://www.sunburynews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/48/2019/02/web1_122329957-2120e6d2646d48f3a3515a67d48fcb26.jpgA manual laborer pulls a cart of hay as men drive past on a motorcycle, near the offices of the Independent National Electoral Commission in Kano, northern Nigeria Thursday, Feb. 14, 2019. Nigeria’s main opposition party charged Thursday that the election commission has kept more than 1 million ghost voters on the national register, raising fears of vote rigging ahead of Saturday’s presidential election. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)

A customer, right, buys fruit from a street seller by the side of the road at a busy intersection near Nyanya, on the eastern outskirts of the capital Abuja, Nigeria Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2019. Nigeria is due to hold general elections on Saturday, Feb. 16, 2019. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)
https://www.sunburynews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/48/2019/02/web1_122329957-78fb744aedaf49098dcd0a83ceefd409.jpgA customer, right, buys fruit from a street seller by the side of the road at a busy intersection near Nyanya, on the eastern outskirts of the capital Abuja, Nigeria Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2019. Nigeria is due to hold general elections on Saturday, Feb. 16, 2019. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)

The face of incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari is seen on a campaign poster fixed to the pillars of a highway bridge near Nyanya, on the eastern outskirts of the capital Abuja, Nigeria Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2019. Nigeria is due to hold general elections on Saturday, Feb. 16, 2019. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)
https://www.sunburynews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/48/2019/02/web1_122329957-0a456982cfd243bcab6c56d0584b0469.jpgThe face of incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari is seen on a campaign poster fixed to the pillars of a highway bridge near Nyanya, on the eastern outskirts of the capital Abuja, Nigeria Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2019. Nigeria is due to hold general elections on Saturday, Feb. 16, 2019. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)
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