By Victor Ikhatalor
There is a French expression, – “plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose”, which means, the more things change, the more they stay the same. This expression aptly gives life to the grim realities of Nigerian governance experience. It unveils the spectre of a nation saddled with a uniformly debauched political class, damning it to the ravages of pestilential political actors, no matter the particular political studio the acting cast is sourced or the timing of their releases. To think that we are in unique times and consider ourselves special spectators with exclusive viewing rights to ongoing multiple episodes of Nigerian political actors game of thrones series, is to delude ourselves that the elitist theatre only just opened for business.
To the greater majority of Nigerians, I am sure the depictions by a reporter of Nigerian elitist actors pre and post-independence will seem all too familiar. Frederick Forsyth, now universally known as a writer was at some time a renowned reporter with amongst others, Reuters. He knew Nigeria well as he intermittently covered the Nigerian beat for the B.B.C, the Daily Express and Time magazine. Here are excepts from his book which was first written in 1969, “THE MAKING OF AN AFRICAN LEGEND: THE BIAFRA STORY”
Frederick Forsyth wrote, – “Corruption in public life was no new thing: It had been present under the British and had flowered alarmingly after independence. The ’10 per cent’ that Ministers habitually required of foreign firms before granting them lucrative contracts, the holding of stock in businesses subsequently singled out for preferential treatment, down to the open bribing of Native Court officials and policemen, was the order of the day. Few ministers held power who did not make a profitable thing out of it, partly no doubt from simple cupidity, partly also because any man of power was expected to maintain a large retinue, fix his forthcoming re-election, and shower benefits on his home town. Along with simple financial corruption went nepotism, thuggery and ballot-rigging”.
As the world has grown in technological and other advancements from those times, the most noticeable mirror change in our country from pre independent Nigeria, through the first republic to these days of the fourth republic is the upscaling and sophistication of corrupt practices. No longer can our political actors be said to be 10 per centers! No more can they be charged with the mere looting of millions! These ones, in these times, take 100 percent and more, and deal in billions. In the crude contests of elections, no more are the thugs chanced with contesting predominantly with cutlasses and cudgels! They are sufficiently armed like a force of war, with deadly high caliber assault weaponry.
The absoluteness of the cupidity of Nigerian political actors knows no bounds and it’s stench and overwhelming destructive tentacles encompasses the whole of the Nigerian estate. With plunder as their watchword, Nigerian political actors perform bestride a non functional economy aligned with widespread insecurity across the land. The cultivation of rapaciousness over time have resulted in wholesome infrastructural neglect, decay, and deficit.
The educational sector has been left to moulder, to rot, to die, after all the spawn of our political actors do not school in these parts. The Niger bridge is increasingly becoming a vibrating mass, it’s integrity waning by the day even as the promise by successive administration’s of the delivery of a second Niger bridge still continues to elude us. Since the advent of the fourth republic, successive administration’s have budgeted and expended mind boggling amounts on the never ending reconstruction work of the 132 km Lagos – Ibadan road. 20 years on from the outset of this republic, the tales by moonlight narrative of this highway continues.
50 years on, and the incomplete Ajaokuta steel project is an open sore that reflects why our quest for industrialization is still in limbo. The Mambilla power project, like the general power sector has become, a, the more you look, the less you see enterprise. The dearth of the Kaduna textile Industry, the redundant Yaba vaccine production laboratory, – the list of abandonment, of waste, of inertia, of dubious priorities goes on and on.
To put into perspective the magnitude of destruction wrought by our political actors, we do not have to look further than the most challenging issue the world faces today, which is Covid -19, vis-à-vis our health sector. The UK prime minister was admitted to St Thomas hospital, a public, N.H.S run hospital when he fell prey to Covid – 19. Caught in the glare of the headlights, in a classic case of hubris come knocking, our elitist political actors suddenly realized and admittedly so, that our health care facilities were inadequate, moribund, debilitated, understaffed and death traps to the mass of our citizenry. Obviously, these seemingly gut wrenching revelation performances by political actors of a poor and debased health care sector must be counter-balanced with the understanding that we are dealing with a political class, who without the constriction of Covid 19 will as a matter of course jet out at the outset of belly aches and headaches.
The extent of the neglect of the health care sector can be glimpsed from recent statistics released by the UK General Medical Council, which stated that no fewer than 7,875 Nigerian doctors are currently practicing in the U.K. To shine a light on this disturbing hemorrhage of our country’s greatest resource, which is it’s human capital, is to understand that in the U.K alone, this number of doctors constitute 10.5 per cent of doctors registered to practice in Nigeria. To put that into context is to note that statistics from the World Health Organization shows that Nigeria currently has a shortage of medical doctors with a physician-to-patient ratio of 4 doctors to 10,000 patient’s.
The words of Chinua Achebe still rings true, – “The trouble with Nigeria is simply and squarely a failure of leadership. There is nothing basically wrong with the Nigerian land or climate or water or air or anything else. The Nigerian problem is the unwillingness or inability of it’s leaders to rise to the responsibility, to the challenge of personal example which are the hallmarks of true leadership”.
Ours is the tragic saga of a grasping, rudderless, visionless and missionless political class. A tragic tale of ineptitude, sickening wastage, corruption and malfeasance. It has oft been said that a people that fail to take stock of the mistakes of the past are in danger of repeating the same mistakes in the future. To move from the same to better, we must deliberately seek a paradigm shift of the type of political actors we allow to give us a performance.
Victor Ikhatalor is an Ambassador of Nigerian Industry and Business.