By Ayodeji Jeremiah
The beginning of a New Year. For some it is an opportunity to make a new start, to have new ideas, new vision, new plans and new aspirations. Such are ready to overlook the mistakes of the past year and forge ahead notwithstanding the bleakness in the horizon. For others, it is the same old song. Nothing has changed and nothing seems to want to change. Such are not ready to have new faith in anything, for the faith of yesteryears has waned out and has not gotten them anywhere. And rightly so. We live in a very difficult world. A world that is not fair. A world where everything that can go wrong has done so and will continue to be so. A pessimistic outlook you might say. And in Nigeria an even more difficult country, we are oscillating between George Orwell’s Animal Farm and William Golding’s Lord of the Flies.
But then what do you want to tell someone who has served his fatherland for over thirty years and finds it very difficult getting his pension every month? What kind of hope do you want to preach to someone who has left college for four years and has not been able to get a single job? What kind of a new horizon does a youngster who has been waiting for admission to a college for three years since leaving high school want to look forward to? Primary school teachers have to march on the streets waving leaves in protest before their salaries are paid. One can go on and on. The Nigerian situation is a pathetic case. A country so blessed. Yet we never seem to be able to get it right. We have tried every palliative under heaven and none seems to want to work here though they have been proven to work in other places. In governance, we have been through both the parliamentary and presidential systems. In economy, there has been austerity measures and SAP (Structural Adjustment Programme). In agriculture, we have had OFN (Operation Feed the Nation) and Green Revolution. We have had every kind of committee that you can think of set up to investigate almost every possible scenario under the face of the earth.
Everyone in Nigeria knows our problems but no one seems to know the solution. There is so much insecurity, poverty, illiteracy, hunger, disease, deprivation and uncertainty across the land. The UNDP human development report of last year placed us at the 156th position with a life expectancy of 52. For a nation that produces over two million barrels of oil per day and is adjudged to be the eight largest oil producing nation in the world. In this country there are people living below two dollars per day. In this same country, some of our children are still dying from polio – a preventable disease that has been wiped out in other parts of the world. That is the irony of the Nigerian situation. Poverty in the midst of abundance. A small rich minority controlling the larger majority of the wealth of the nation at the expense of the large poor majority.
And then to make matters worse, our leaders are robbing us blindly. It has now become the rule rather than the exception that you must enrich yourself while holding political office. Not to do so will leave your flanks open to the vituperations of your family, friends, colleagues and neighbours. It is no more honourable for you to be honest and trustworthy in today’s Nigeria. People are stealing not only from the nation’s treasury but also from their churches, mosques, political parties, companies and organisations.
In the ICT age that we are in, our governments roll out the carpets and call out the drums and trumpets to celebrate the commissioning of a borehole project, an electricity project, a road project, a school building and donation of motorcycles as worthy achievements. These are things that are supposed to be part and parcel of our everyday lives. Things that are being taken for granted in other parts of the developed world. Nigeria presently doesn’t have a national airline. Its’ four refineries have refused to work. Sources have hinted that it is due to sabotage by those benefiting from fuel importation. It is going to take another ten years to deregulate NEPA and make it work. The powerful unions would not allow that to happen. The Chinese that we brought in have not been able to revitalise our comatose railways. Ajaokuta would probably never work in this lifetime. Again one can go on and on.
Nigeria has a covetous, barren and unproductive leadership and an equally greedy, impoverished and apathetic following. It is high time we get it right. We don’t have any excuse for not doing so. Our multiplicity or ethnicity is not an excuse. The political or economic systems we use are not an excuse. We the people are the only excuse available if we don’t get it right. And posterity will not forgive us if we don’t get it right. We have to get it right in our economy. We need to make the manufacturing sector attractive so that goods can be produced and employment generated. We have to get it right in our education sector. Our universities can still recover their lost glory. We have to get it right with our public utilities. Our public infrastructure need not continue in their decay. 51 years is more than long enough to be wandering about in the wilderness. We need to decide what we want to do with every facet of our national life. We are not short of ideas; we are not short of intelligent people. What we need is a behavioural change. A change in orientation. It is time to stop changing policies and decide to make present ones work.
Nigeria is a blessed country. There are numerous untapped potentials everywhere. But the environment must be made conducive. Our leaders must stop being selfish and start doing the right things. How many of us are going to ‘check’ out? How many of us are going to send our children to schools abroad? How many of us are going to be travelling abroad for medical check-ups and surgeries? No matter where we go or what we do, eventually when we are in this country, we still have to face the same bad roads, epileptic power supply, comatose schools and hospitals and confront the same social problems of crimes, terrorism, and prostitution. For our leaders, no matter the things that may be working to their advantages right now, a day is going to come when the people are going to get fed up, march out, pound on the streets and demand for what is rightfully theirs – good governance.