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Women Empowering Africa

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Women in Egypt Via Wikimedia Commons

CAIRO – 7 January 2018:The Business for Africa and the World summit, Africa 2018, focuses during its first day on the theme “Women Empowering Africa.” The summit will discuss ways to further empower African women and to enhance their engagement as agents for change in the continent through active participation in shaping economic and social policies. It seeks to mobilize established and emerging women leaders from across Africa to propel their success as well as provide a platform for them to showcase and celebrate their achievements.

Investing in women’s economic empowerment sets a direct path toward gender equality and respect for women’s rights, poverty eradication and inclusive economic growth. Women make enormous contributions to economies, whether in businesses, on farms, as entrepreneurs or employees, or by doing unpaid care work at home. But they often face discrimination and persistent gender inequalities, with some women experiencing multiple discrimination and exclusion because of intersectional identities including ethnicity or social class. Gender discrimination means women often end up in insecure and low-wage jobs. It restricts women’s access to economic assets such as land, loans and productive assets. And, because women perform the bulk of household work, they often have little time left to pursue economic opportunities. Hence, women’s participation in shaping economic and social policies is very limited.

Having empowered women in any country means great reduction in dependence rates, reduction in violence against women, increased house- hold income leading to an improved standard of living. Women’s economic participation and empowerment enables them to have control over their lives and exert influence in society. It leads to independent decision making regarding career, education, health in general and reproductive health in particular, investments and rights. Therefore, it is inevitable that empowering women economically will directly enhance sound public policies leading to any country’s development and equal distribution of resources.

The approach to empower women economically was first recognized at the Beijing conference, the fourth global conference on Women: Action for Equality, Development and Peace in 1995. Ac- cording to the Beijing platform of action, the areas that need improvement if the position of women is to be improved include: reducing poverty among women, stopping violence, providing access to education and healthcare and reducing economic and political inequality. Twenty years later, the Sustain- able Development Goals (SDGs) were launched, in line with Goal 5 called for gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls by 2030. The global development agenda suggests that emphasis should be placed on the preconditions necessary for women to become economically empowered and that gender-aware economic policies should be promoted to advance both economic and social development.

Both the Beijing platform of action and the SDGs should no longer be viewed as a set of aspirations, but must be used as a tool to push for the adoption of gender-sensitive policies and to emphasize the accountability of all actors. They should also in- form partnerships for women’s economic empowerment and translate to increased dialogue among development actors to improve support for women at the global level.

Despite global improvement in the health and education levels of women and girls, no such progress has been seen in economic opportunity as women continue to consistently trail men in formal labor force participation, access to credit, entrepreneurship rates, income levels, and inheritance and ownership rights. Women can no longer be discounted as the weaker sex, particularly given their impressive success as micro-entrepreneurs around the world and as thoughtful leaders and community-builders. Under-investing in women limits development, slows down poverty reduction and economic growth.

Status of gender equality in Africa

Gender equality in the African continent witnessed some progress; but African women are held back from fulfilling their potential by many constraints, whether as leaders in public life, in board- rooms, or in owning and growing their businesses. The constraints are not only limited to widespread poverty, but also include social constrains, lack of access to education, poor health and highly segmented labor markets. Despite the fact that women of Africa make a sizeable contribution to the continent’s economy by growing most of Africa’s food, they remain at the bottom of the social hierarchy. Some areas of the law, such as family laws governing marriage, divorce, inheritance and land rights, limit women’s economic rights, hindering their economic and social decision-making and restricting their ability to enter into contracts to own, administer, or inherit assets and property.

By limiting women’s options and alternatives, such laws hinder their ability to contribute as economic and social actors to Africa’s development. Furthermore, gender inequalities are exacerbated by weak institutional structure, particularly among those mandated to promote gender equality such as ministries for women, and by lack of reliable gender statistics.

In 2015, the African Development Bank (AFDB) launched the “Africa Gender Equality Index”, a comprehensive tool that provides ongoing evidence on gender equality for 52 of Africa’s 54 countries. The index is designed to promote development and inform actions in three important dimensions of gender equality that can bring out change: economic empowerment, human development, and laws and institutions.

The Gender Equality Index concludes that across

Africa, women and men often experience different opportunities conditions and privileges; they earn different wages, do not have the same access to education and are not always equal before the law. It also shows that gender inequality in Africa is exacerbated by the fact that primary development policies in many African countries, known as poverty reduction strategies, still do not take into account differences in income and power between men and women, hampering efforts to finance programs that reduce inequality. This in turns holds back the productive potential of more than one billion Africans and negatively affects the continent’s economy.

It also highlights that the most inhibiting factor is that women in Africa continue to be denied an education, often their only ticket out of poverty. Disparities between girls and boys start in primary school and the differences widen up through the entire educational system. Since the early 1990s, Africa registered the highest relative increase among region in total primary school enrollment due to policies specifically targeting girls – but the continent is still far behind. African education-gender-responsive policies included special programs to sensitize parents through media, reducing school fees for girls in public primary schools in rural areas and increasing the proportion of female teachers to equalize the gender balance among teachers as Africa has the lowest global proportion of female teachers. Also, many African countries embarked on programs to build latrines, assist pregnant students and distribute free textbooks. On the high school and collage levels, the gender gap becomes even wider especially in science, mathematics, computer sciences and technical programs. On the bright side, the index shows that Africa has registered improvements in adult literacy rates. However, in some countries the female illiteracy rates are still much higher than the regional average of about 50%.

Widespread poverty also hampers the expansion of education in Africa; poorer families often face the stark choice of deciding whom to send to school and often it is the girl who stays home. Costs of tuition, the requirement to wear uniforms, long distances between home and school, in- adequate water and sanitation, all are factors that further re- strict girls’ access to education. Moreover, poverty in Africa continues to wear a woman’s face as women make up the majority of the poor, as much as 70% in some countries.

The gender gap in employment remains high in terms of pay, labor segregation and access to support from institutions such as banks. Women dominate informal sector employment and they work 50% longer than men but they rarely own land.When they do, their holdings tend to be smaller and less fertile than those of men. Removing the hurdles women face in their economic activities, which are mainly concentrated in the informal sector, will help unlock potential for economic growth in the continent. For example, the Gender Equality index shows that if women farmers had the same access to inputs and capacity building as males, overall yields could be raised by between 10 and 20%.

Poor infrastructure, including clean water, sanitation, electricity and transport, in the majority of African countries also limits women’s economic participation and impacts how women allocate their time. Thus, efforts to provide affordable infrastructure for water, food and energy in Africa will help women engage in more productive market activities and promote growth.

One area where Africa is showing progress in relation to world averages is in women’s political participation. Seventeen African countries established quotas for women’s political participation at the national and sub-national levels. As a result, in women hold close to one-third of the seats in parliaments in 11 African countries, more than in Europe. African women also have made significant strides in the continental political body, the African Union (AU), in 2003 five women and five men were elected as AU commissioners. The following year, the AU’s Pan-African Parliament was headed by a woman and ever since; women make up 25% of AU members.

Actions by Africa countries to achieve gender parity

Despite the presence of national government bodies that deal with gender issues in almost all African countries, since Beijing, these units, departments or ministries showed weakness and inability to be responsive to the challenges presented by the struggle for gender justice in the continent, according to discussions at the African Social Forum in Lusaka, Zambia in 2004. They have poor resources, few staff and no power or authority within governments to advance equality and justice for women.

However, a number of African countries took action to redress the bias in macroeconomic policies that favor men and boys at the expense of women and girls through adopting an approach known as gender budgeting. This approach drives countries to allocate a percentage of its national budget to implement gender-trans- formative programs; guided by a thorough analysis of governments’ spending choices and their impact on women and men, boys and girls to identify dis- parities. In turn, it helps mobilize more financing to narrow the gaps.

Some African countries also adopted a women- quota system to increase attention to reform in areas like family law, and affirmative action policies that address economic inclusion, land rights and increasing women presence in decision making positions including in businesses.

Women Economic Empowerment themes discussed at Africa 2018

Pro-women policies can drive change

To enable women to escape poverty, African development policies should place more emphasis on women contributions to the economy through labor force participation or entrepreneurship. Policies should also facilitate the process of obtaining basic opportunities for women and actively thwarting attempts to deny those opportunities.

Promoting African women’s ability to influence how decisions are made, how public policies are shaped and how resources are allocated can have a significant impact on boosting their productivity rapidly.

The first step is to build knowledge for evidence- based policy making that is based on real-time diagnosis and analysis of the current landscape. Next is reforming and enforcing laws. While all African countries recognize the principle of nondiscrimination in their constitutions, the traditional practices are not in sync especially in areas like marital property, inheritance, land ownership and labor where women are not treated as full citizens. By custom, often only male heads of households are able to enter into contract, travel and access markets. Many men also exercise sole control over household finances even when the women contribute equally to the household’s earnings. As a result, women’s participation in society and the economy continues to be mediated by male members of their families.

Introducing reforms to available laws, including family laws, to increase the minimum marital age for women, remove the husband’s ability to deny the wife permission to work outside the home, requiring the consent of both spouses to manage marital property and guaranteeing women access to reproductive health services including family planning commodities; can lead to increased levels of women’s labor participation and levels of vocational skills that increase women ability to move from self- employment into more sustainable entrepreneur- ship.

Adopting a pro-women agenda of action

Translating gender-sensitive policies and laws re- quires a progressive pro-women economic agenda of actionable strategies, plans, justice mechanisms, programs and interventions to strengthen African women’s economic empowerment in all sectors. Such an agenda can also facilitate the elaboration of a clear road map that supports increased country level dialogue on gender equality, contributes to closing the gender pay gap and maximizing women’s economic security.

Actionable steps to promote gender equality include adopting gender-responsive free trade agreements and agriculture policies that ensure women’s access to local and regional markets, support women’s access to agroprocessing and post-harvest management, investing in regional centers for excellence and business incubation hubs to foster training and learning processes focusing on women’s financial literacy training for women and entrepreneurs, increasing countries’ focus on providing financial services for women, including loans, savings, guarantee schemes, insurance and grants, and building partnerships with the private, social and voluntary sectors. Countries should also seek to address constraints on women’s access to quality employment in the formal sector and invest in promoting women’s access to new and labor-saving agricultural technologies to boost production, including innovative technologies aimed at supporting climate-smart agricultural approaches.

Removing hurdles faced by African women can create future business leaders and drive growth

To end poverty and accelerate development in the continent, women in Africa must be able to develop their full potential as business leaders. According the AfDB Gender Index, African women are both economically active and highly entrepreneurial. They form the backbone of Africa’s agricultural labor force, and they own and operate the majority of businesses in the informal sector. However, they are predominantly in low-value-added occupations that generate little economic return and they face an array of barriers that prevent them from moving into more productive pursuits. The challenge in Africa is not one of encouraging women to be more economically active, but rather to remove the barriers to women becoming more efficient business leaders.
Outside agriculture, African women’s labor force participation rates are high throughout Africa, except in North Africa. However, African labor markets are heavily gender segregated, with women working primarily in low- paying occupations. African women are far more likely to be self-employed in the informal sector than to earn a regular wage through formal employment where they earn on average two-thirds the salary of their male colleagues.

– EGYPT TODAY

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Africa speaks

Take Responsibility of Your Life – Henry Ukazu

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Henry Ukazu

Being responsible is one of the attributes of a reasonable rational being. Nobody wants to associate with an irresponsible man or lady. In fact, once you are perceived as an irresponsible person, you’ll lose not only credibility but also opportunities. It is instructive to note that you are the architect of your life. According to the Book of life, your joy is your joy, your sorrow is your sorrow, no one can share it with you.

Taking responsibility for your life is understanding that you are fully in charge of your own destiny through your own decisions. Taking responsibility for your life means that you acknowledge that no one has the power to determine how your life turns out – not your friends, not your parents, not even your spouse.

In the journey of life, we are always instructed to take care of our life. As a student, you are advised to take your academics very serious, as a man business man or woman, you are expected to make prudent decisions, as a Christian or Muslim, you are expected to be of sound moral character in order to not derail from the teachings of Christ or Allah.

When you take responsibility for your life, you are simply taking ownership of whatever concerns you. You don’t wait for anyone to create an opportunity for you, rather you create the opportunity yourself. Whether you fail or succeed, it’s up to you. Most of the time, we blame other people for the misfortune that comes our way. As much as you may reach out to cerebral minds to advise or suggest their kind opinions to you, it’s imperative to you know that the buck stops with you.

If you really want to get any work done, you’ll create the pathway. Isn’t it true that the whole world sets apart for the man who knows where he’s going? You may be experiencing many challenges in your personal life, marriage, professional work, academic, or business. In order to reset the button, you must take charge.

Let’s share some practical ways of how you can take responsibility for your life.

Marriage

Marriage is a sacred institution for mature minds. In law, before you go into marriage, you must be of age and capacity. Capacity here means maturity. If you are not fully prepared for marriage, you are bound to experience challenges when you get married, Therefore, it is highly advisable for you to take care of your financial life by having a stable source of income nor matter how little it is, in that way, it will help in planning. You’ll only enjoy your marriage when you decide the buck stops

Another area you need to fix is emotional life and this has to do with your mental state of mind. When you are not mentally rich upstairs, you can make a little problem a big problem, but if you can mentally strong you can make a big problem little the way you handle it.

Finance

One of the best ways to study a human being is to see how he or she spends his or her money. Just like you can use time to decipher the interest of someone, in the same way, you can use money to know what someone likes. The true test of financial maturity is being able to control your appetite and buying only what you need as opposed to what you want. If you don’t take care of your finances it will control you like a slave. No one is responsible for your money or lack of it. No one can make you broke if you don’t give them permission. Have you ever wondered why some people are able to build wealth from humble beginnings, while others remain stuck in the same place despite having better incomes? To build wealth from your current income, you might need to spend money on a strict budget.

Professional work

To succeed in work, you must be ahead of your game. If you need a promotion, you must be proactive and detailed. No one is responsible for your performance or lack of it. So long as you believe your boss is against you, you’ll never grow in your career. You’ll grow in your career when you realize you’re responsible for your professional growth. You’ll never be fired from any job when you know you’re responsible for keeping your job.

You Start Achieving Your Goals

This is one of the greatest benefits of taking responsibility for your life. Here’s the thing about success – it is never accidental. If you want to become a star athlete, you have to sacrifice your morning sleep so that you can train more. If you want to build a successful business, you have to sacrifice the weekly night out with your group of friends so that you can work on your business.

Quit the blame game

One of the hallmarks of someone who has not taken full responsibility for their life is the propensity to blame others for everything wrong in their life. Whatever kind of life you want to live, not one will give it to you or take it away from you.

Stop Complaining

Just like finding someone to blame, complaining about your situation or circumstances puts you in the position of a victim who has no control over their life. The reality is that the world is not an ideal place, and therefore, things will not always go your way. If things don’t go as expected, or if something happens to put you in a position of disadvantage, instead of complaining about the situation, focus on what you can learn from the situation and think of what you can do to get in order to get yourself from the situation.

Take responsibility for your thoughts, feelings, words, and actions.

To take responsibility for your life is to take responsibility for your powers of thinking, feeling, speaking, and acting, because this is the structure of all human experience. You create your life with your thoughts, feelings, words, and actions. You take responsibility when you accept that the thoughts you have, are your thoughts coming from your mind. How you feel happens in your body and is a result of your thoughts. The words you speak come from your mouth and voice. The actions you take are taken by you.

What this means is that nobody can make you think, feel, say or do anything. Nobody can push your buttons, because you are the button maker!

Make yourself happy

Taking responsibility for your happiness is liberating. Firstly, to realize that happiness does not come from outside of you. It is not the job of your partner, parent, friend, child, to make you happy.

To be happy is a decision and the gateway to happiness is gratitude. Keep a gratitude journal and you will find lots to be happy about. Also, do things that make you feel happy. Listen to your favorite music, surround yourself with beauty, express your creativity, do acts of kindness, etc. According to Miya Yamanouchi, “Don’t let society fool you into believing that if you don’t have a girlfriend or boyfriend then you’re destined for a life of misery. The Dalai Lama has been single for the last 80 years and he is one of the happiest people on earth. Stop searching for happiness in places outside of yourself and start finding it where it has always been: within you.”

Also Read Closing The Gender Gap: An Interview with Dream Girl Global (DGG) Founder, Precious Oladokun

Live in the present moment

Life is now. There is only one moment, now. The past is history, the future is a mystery, so there is only now, this moment. Take responsibility for this moment and make the best of it to redeem the past and create the future you want.

It’s easier to blame your partner. It’s easier to blame your boss. It’s easier to blame a father who was never there for you. It’s easier to blame the economy. It’s easier to blame an errant boyfriend. It’s easier to blame a controlling woman. It’s easier to blame a misfortune in your past. While losers blame others, winners take responsibility for their lives.

Therefore, the first step to taking control over your life is to quit the blame game and acknowledge that everything boils down to you. Once you do this, several positive things will happen in your life.

You will start achieving more of your goals, your health and finances will improve, you will enjoy better relationships with others, you will become more courageous, your decision-making will improve, and your life, in general, will become better.

Henry Ukazu writes from New York. He’s a self-discovery expert and works with the New York City Department of Correction as the Legal Coordinator. 

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Africa speaks

Exploring a new model for cooperation between business and society- Nonny Ugboma

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Nonny Ugboma is the Executive Secretary of the MTN Foundation (Image source: Nonny Ugboma)

The hand-me-down capitalism models Africa inherited from her colonial masters have failed to yield a prosperous continent despite its vast resources. Therefore, Africa is in desperate need of something different that takes into consideration its unique history, qualities, and context.

Experts have mostly seen the interdependence of businesses and society as transactional, with the society needing business for products and services, for jobs, for government taxes revenues. In turn, business needs the society for the market, sales and profits and public infrastructure, security and the rule of law! According to Amaeshi (2019) businesses, though sympathetic to societal challenges, are reluctant to act positively through their companies as they sometimes see such requests as irrelevant to their objectives.

However, due to the interdependency and interconnectedness of business and society, companies must work collaboratively with the government for a common purpose. That purpose is to build local resources.

There have been calls for western economies to rethink their capitalism model (Jacobs & Mazzucato, 2016). There have also been calls for Africa to develop its model of capitalism, with theorists and entrepreneurs exploring ideas like Africapitalism (Amaeshi, 2015). Africapitalism, coined by Nigerian entrepreneur Tony Elumelu, focuses on the role of business leaders, investors, and entrepreneurs on the continent’s development to create economic prosperity and social wealth. It rests on the following four pillars: a sense of progress and prosperity; the sense of parity and inclusion; a sense of peace and harmony; and a sense of place and belongingness.

Africa does need its model. However, I would argue that this model should be spearheaded by the state in collaboration with willing stakeholders in the private sector and third sector, unlike Africapitalism. A government-led push is especially relevant now that a few 21st century economists are reassessing and rethinking capitalism in its present form. One of such critics is UCL’s Mazzucato (2018) The Entrepreneurial State: Debunking Public vs Private Sector Myths who debunks the mainstream neo-classical narrative that the private sector alone drives innovation but takes the position that the state is the driver of innovation.

Mission-Oriented Innovation Approach (MOIA) could help address some of the identified gaps to ensure state and business work jointly to solve grand challenges, to co-create public value and co-shape a robust and sustainable society that it can bequeath to future generations.

There is, therefore, a need for an alternative model of collaboration for business, society and government. A suggested way forward for Nigeria, and indeed Africa, is to embrace a mission-oriented innovation approach. The concept of the mission-oriented approach that involves government co-creating and co-shaping the market with the private and third sectors has enormous potential for Africa. The four pillars of ROAR, developed by Mariana Mazzucato (2016), is a useful tool-set to anchor MOIA in Africa:

1. Routes and directions– Government and Public institutions and agencies to set
missions. Also, private sector leaders can nudge government agencies to agree to
work collaboratively on national priority areas.

2. Organisational Capacity– Building of dynamic Capabilities within the Public sector through advocacy, capacity building, conferences and training.

3. Assessment and evaluation– Agencies, academia and organisations to determine new
dynamic tools to assess public policies to create new models and markets.

4. Risks and rewards– Government and private organisations need to engage on the
best risks and rewards sharing formats from initiatives to ensure smart, inclusive and
sustainable growth.

Also Read Closing The Gender Gap: An Interview with Dream Girl Global (DGG) Founder, Precious Oladokun

In conclusion, as Western Economies are reviewing and rethinking capitalism and their operating models, Africa must ensure she does the same. The reason is that the future of the development of the continent depends on the economic model that it chooses to adopt, in the future, especially with the growing youthful population.

Aurthor: Nonny Ugboma is the Executive Secretary of the MTN Foundation and has recently returned from one-year Sabbatical studying for a master’s degree in Public Administration from the University of London Institute for innovation and Public Purpose.

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Africa speaks

The Education Of Our Youth is the Key to Nation Building – Matthew Odu

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Matthew Odu (Image credit: Matthew Odu)

Like all of us I was shocked and outraged to learn that unarmed youths were confronted by live bullets on Tuesday evening (20.10.2020) at the Lekki Toll Gate Lagos, Nigeria after almost 2 weeks of a peaceful, relatively successful protest.

Initialy I had observed the start of the #EndSars demonstrations with admiration for the cause. The lamentations of the youth are genuine and difficult to argue against. If we haven’t personally been affected by an encounter with a callous police officer then I am sure we know somebody that has. Calling out police brutality and demanding an end to the extra judicial killing of predominantly young Nigerian males is a moral duty. It is clear that the vast majority of Nigerians had some empathy for the social movement.

Unfortunately what soon transpired in Lagos and across the nation was a display of anger that was about so much more than police brutality. The open agitation exposed a frustration with the system. What we have witnessed over the past week is an extreme manifestation of decades of youth segregation from governance and opportunity which has left millions of Nigeria’s youths unemployed, under employed and absolutely desperate for a way out of poverty and despair.

According to Nairametrics, data from the National Bureau of Statistics reveals Nigeria’s unemployment rate as at the second quarter of 2020 is 27.1% indicating that about 21.7 million Nigerians remain unemployed. The highest unemployment rate was recorded for youths between 15 – 24 years at 40.8%. This is followed by ages 25 – 34 years at 30.7%. To put things into context, Nigeria’s unemployed youth of 13.1 million is more than the population of Rwanda and several other African countries. Youth Population is also about 64% of total unemployed Nigerians suggesting that the most agile working-class population in the country remains unemployed.

I am a firm believer in the economic future of Nigeria and the catalyst to this future is our young people. Youth engagement and youth inclusion in governing arrangements is paramount if Nigeria wishes to succeed. As 2020 marks the 75th anniversary of the United Nations, Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana the Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of the UN’s Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific recently acknowledged:

“Young entrepreneurs have been a source of innovation and economic dynamism, creating jobs and providing livelihoods to millions. To achieve and accelerate action on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), we urgently need their expertise and voices on creating solutions to social and environmental challenges, as well as economic opportunities. First, we need to ensure that the next generation of business leaders think about social purpose as well as profit. To achieve this, education will be critical. Governments play a key role.”

Alisjahbana is right to call out the government’s role in ensuring their youth are sufficiently educated, however private investment is also needed to solve the problems that the education sector is currently facing in Nigeria.

A lack of access to quality education and the sluggishness in adopting new methods of learning has immediate and long-term effects. The immediate effects have been playing out on the streets of Nigeria over the past few days. The long-term consequences are almost
unthinkable.

HESED Learning is an initiative and my own personal contribution to providing quality education to Nigerians, as a borderless structure with an unrestricted curriculum. The e-learning platform compliments the current school system by using a national curriculum with the option of studying an international syllabus.

Also Read Closing The Gender Gap: An Interview with Dream Girl Global (DGG) Founder, Precious Oladokun

It is time for our youth to become more competitive. Not a select, fortunate few but the vast majority. Increasingly in the sectors where our children do excel – in medicine, science and finance – they sadly leave the country for better prospects abroad. Who can blame them?

Education is the key to nation building. A quality education propels industry. In countries where the children are educated the likelihood of civil unrest is reduced.

We cannot afford to under educate our youth.

Aurthor: Matthew Odu, A Fellow of the Chartered Accountant of Nigeria

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