WEDNESDAY COLUMN by USSIJU MEDANER
I have over time and repeatedly submitted that Nigeria will, and can only be as great and developed as its citizens allow. A nation does not exist in isolation and on its own as much as it is not an entity that decides its own path regardless of external influences. Nations are abstract enclaves that are given an identity by its occupiers. A settlement is a mirror image of its inhabitants as much as the country is the reflection of its citizens.
The United States of America grew from a primitive nation to the economic and development giant it is today not because of the massive population of its federated states but of the decisions made and actions taken by the people of the United States. America becomes a world leader because its people want to become the world leader, and move their actions and dispositions in the direction that progressively give the people and their country a decisive say on global matters, until the world recognises the U.S. as the bedrock of modern civilisation, human right, freedom and economic development.
The republic of China decisively rose from being a wasted population, absolutely depending on the developed nations for its internal sustenance to what it is today; high on the rank of developed worlds and a candidate for the position of global power. The population of China did not translate to what the country has become today, neither did the country miraculously transcend its limitation, but its people, in agreement with their leaders, agreed the time has come for their nation to rise.
Nations would rise to become whatever they desire when their citizens are ready to arise. It is not a function of the density of complaints and arguments, not of blame shedding and sharing, not of competency in propagandas, politicking and oratory, but a factor of the people’s readiness, individually and in unison to wake up and respond to the needs of the country to develop.
Over time, Nigerians have narrowed the wellbeing of the country and even their streets to the activities of the presidents at the center and when there is a robbery or kidnapping at a corner of the country, they rush to blackmail the president for inactions and inefficiency. The illusory rush to effect a change of the baton at the presidency becomes the only feasible solution; we go berserk, demanding for removal of the individuals and shouting the praise of a new messiah.
We utterly share the belief that our national and individual problems are traceable to the performance of the president and believe a mere change of leadership is all that it takes to transform the country to the dreamland we want. Unfortunately, we have toured this fruitless path since the 1960s without expected results and no lessons yet to learn. We have literally gone against virtually every other government since independence of the nation and repeatedly enthrone a good number of “messiahs,” but we are still at the same position where we grapple with reality. This is what they call chasing a mirage, imagining some utopia. Unfortunately, utopias are rarely realised in life.
We have come to the point in time when we ought to recognise that our problems as a nation are not mostly premised on the individuals occupying the position of the president of the country, or the various individuals that constitute the leadership blocks of the nation at all levels, nor entirely on their deficiency, if any, of the president or the others, whether we like them or not. This is the time when we must recognise that our leaders, whoever they are, at any material season, are never solely responsible for the national woes of the country. We must realise they are first Nigerians before they become presidents and political officeholders, and by extension, are citizens too. The problems of Nigeria are Nigerians, the citizens; the problem of Nigeria is our adopted screwed values and mentalities, the collective atrocities we commit against the country on a daily basis in all corners of the nation and consideration for the cumulative effect they have on the nation totally ignored. The day we realise this and wake up, and stop searching for external enemies and scapegoats is the day we will begin to get closer to finding a Nigerian solution to Nigeria problems.
I am seriously of the opinion that the beginning of the solutions to our problems as a country would be the self realisation of the individual part we play in the rottenness of the institutions and systems in the country. Occupiers of leadership positions and potential future leaders of the country are all youths of the country at one time or the other; they are youths our society exposed to the aberrations that have become the accepted norms of our systems, yet we frown at what they become when they begin to manifest the seeds we sow in them.
Starting with our education system, the values that preoccupy the minders and managers of the schools and institutions are no longer quality delivery of knowledge and development of well equipped future leaders and resources for the country, but the personal gains they make from the services they render. At the primary education level, the headmaster as much as the class teachers are always busy devising ways to get the parents pay some charges for frivolous, drum up needs at every available turn; the teachers are more interested in the wares they bring to school to sell than the classes they teach; and then at the exit point for the final year pupils, at that critical level of mind development, they introduced the pupils to paying for assistance during their common entrance examination into secondary school, and most parents willingly obliged them for their wards to pass. Now, at secondary school level, except for a few schools, it is now a national norm that students do not need to prepare for examinations to obtain good grades any longer. The school administrators ‘organise’ it, the teachers conduct it, external examination officers financially get paid for allowing it and parents directly or subtly fund the nauseating act. So, we become a nation where poor, unintelligent and unserious students make the best of results in our examinations.
And finally, our university education becomes a caricature; lecturers becoming more interested in selling lecture handouts, attaching prices to grades and sleeping with female students in exchange for marks. Reading and studying is no longer attractive when you can pay to get the marks. Every lecturer now has a price tag.
We all become part of the bastardisation of the nation education system; the building block of knowledge and integrity in the youths and future leaders of the nation. Yet, we see nothing wrong in the part we play. When WASSCE, NECO and even JAMB (UTME) questions leaks are paraded online for sale before examination date, we only get amused at the possibility as we all rush to get the services and never realise that, that is the beginning of rot in the administration of Nigeria. The same youths who were prepped to see that they do not need to work hard, and that integrity as a virtue is needless while achieving stated goals are the ones becoming councilors, chairmen, legislators, ministers and leaders of our country in various capacities. And the same society, individuals that indulge in the practices that trained the individuals thought they possess the moral status to condemn what they offer the society.
We are a society that loves, celebrates and defends corruption but ironically blame another for the consequences of corruption. It is only in Nigeria, that citizens, of all ages and dispositions, file out to sing praises of registered corrupt individuals; march on court premises in solidarity for corrupt politicians and castigate the government for trials of these same individuals that we choose to tag intimidations. It is in Nigeria that the rhetoric “We don’t care if he is corrupt,” “It is our national cake,” “It is because he is not a northerner” and the likes are used to register our support for corrupt individuals who have unapologetically slaughtered the country. We supported individuals with questionable characters and their likes.
We are Nigerians, the willing foot soldiers of politicians. We beckoned on them, offering our services to protect and defend them and carry them to power. We are ever battle-ready to turn the street into a pool of blood if that is what it takes to aid them to become our leaders; not because they care for us or for the country, but because we obtain temporary financial crumbs as relief from them – for the service. They give us guns to kill and maim ourselves and we gladly do their biddings. I almost lost hope in this country when I saw the massive youth population lined up behind some acclaimed corrupt individual in the last presidential election; they are all aware of the waves of non-refuted allegations of massive atrocities against the country and its citizens, but they do not care if he is corrupt or do not care about Nigeria as long as they get immediate respites from him. This is the country, where we still lined up behind some characters simply due to to pecuniary interest or our ethno-religoous affinities with such corrupt individuals while condemning the sitting government of inactions.
Between 1999 and 2007, under Olusegun Obasanjo Presidency, political corruption and economic corruption became institutionalised for not only the men in the corridor of power but also the ordinary man on the street.
The records were numerous and alarming. Both internally and externally; Obasanjo’s vice president was caught colluding with a US Congressman, Jefferson who stashed cold hard cash in freezers. The KBR and Siemens bribery scandals broke out under the same administration, investigated by the FBI and led to international indictments of yet high-level corruption in his administration. Even when the Nigeria government under PDP pretended all was well and chose to cover up, the United States Department of Justice on January 18, 2012 announced that Marubeni Corporation, a Japanese construction firm, has agreed to pay a $54.6 million criminal penalty for allegedly bribing officials of the Nigerian government to facilitate the award of the $6 billion liquefied natural gas contract in Bonny, Nigeria to a multinational consortium, TSKJ. The said bribe was paid to Nigerian government officials under the nose of Obasanjo between 1995 and 2004.
Under Olusegun Obasanjo, the Transcorp shares scandal that violated the code of conduct standards for public officers and the presidential library donations at the eve of his exit from powers that pressured associates to donate were widely reported to no avail because of the PDP stance on use of coercive power to effect decisions. Corruption was taken to an unprecedented level when Obasanjo broke the banks to bribe everyone to bend the rule for his third term bid. The magnitude of lobbying engaged in by Obasanjo to alter the constitution became the undoing of the legislators till date and the resultant effect being the further deepening of political corruption in Nigeria.
Between 2010 and 2015 under President Jonathan, partly because the President was easily controlled by everyone around him, corruption was driven altogether to a new height. The impunity and maladministration of public funds without fear of consequences took a toll on the economy and infrastructural development of the country. Yet, knowing all these, we chose the part of aligning with the same people against a man of integrity and honour because we could not have our way as usual to make ill-gotten wealths.
And we are the same people who will occupy the street to torment the sitting government for failure to provide basic amenities that the resources earmarked for them have been squandered by the corrupt people we celebrate. The country budgeted and expended $16 billion on power generation and distribution some years back and there is no evidence of transformation in the nation’s energy sector; yet we celebrate those who perpetrated the act and blame their successors for lack of electricity in the country.
Nigerians are well informed that between 1999 and 2015; when PDP held sway as the ruling political party and occupied the presidency, over 200 major strategic companies, both private and public, were forced to close shop across the nation. These include Dunlop, Michelin, Bata, Volkswagen Nigeria, Nigeria Airways, Nigeria Railway and an unending list of names of companies and businesses. The mass exodus heralded the new era of mass unemployment in the country, but we all chose to shed the blame for the increasing joblessness in the country on the present Administration while we eulogise the same people who sold out the country’s opportunities at development. It was Atiku Abubakar who, among several atrocities, sold out the nation’s leading Aluminum Smelting Company, that cost the country $3.2 billion to build and commence operation for a paltry $130million, to his friends who merely dismembered the company and abandoned it, taking away the much potential and opportunities the company offers the immediate community and the nation. It was the same Atiku Abubakar, like several others like him, that rose from being a public servant to billionaires that we have accepted as heroes, while men and women of integrity, who refused to misappropriate and divert public funds for personal use are hissed at for being foolish. They said President Muhammadu Buhari must be foolish to have occupied all the exalted positions he previously occupied without having an oil well to his name and billions of naira attached to his name; so we prefer the Atiku Abubakars, the leaders who used the position of leadership and trust to satisfy their personal desires while throwing crumbs to us, above leaders who chose to take the country via the hard but necessary path to sustainable development.
When politicians steal from our commonwealth and we celebrate them in our various communities, conferring on them undeserved honours, for the good jobs they are not doing, instead of ostracising them from our society as it should be in a civilised society; when we celebrate common criminals, what messages do we send to the impoverished, common citizens who are overtly intimidated by the magnitude of unapproachable wealth roundabout them? Our society has clearly sent the message that crime, criminality, corruption and whatever means and route we follow to wealth is acceptable; and so we breed kidnappers, armed robbers and arm-bearer-insurgents across the country. Then, we complain of the consequences of a Nigerian who chooses to take a gun to become rich while we celebrate the Nigerians who steal our commonwealth to become rich.
Today, our nation is rocked by reemerging insecurity after we thought we had weathered the storm. Northern Nigeria, just as much as other regions of the country, is becoming worrisome , and equally is the urge to allocate blame, and cast the failure on the person of the president and his cabinet. The only thing we fail to do is to look inward to recognise and analyse the part we all played in escalating the national insecurity we face today; the saying that security is everyone’s business is quite forgotten by Nigerians,
We naturally ignore good works and exaggerate faults; we enjoy the sensation of the reportage of incidents of insecurities and criminalities across the country; exaggerating the events and giving much publicity to them not because we care about the victims but because they happened just as we wish they do. When our disposition and reaction to insecurity in our country is not borne out of the sincere desire to see an end to it but of the satisfaction to see the president and his cabinet burn for the insecurities under their watch; that is already a complex level of insecurity for the country already. Even without the killings, we are insecure. In the days before the 2019 elections, we desperately waited out every morning for the news of the next killings by the purported herdsmen, and without hiding it, enjoyed the sensational satisfaction it gave us as fellow citizens were gruesomely killed. Not for once, then and now, did PDP, or all the outspoken citizens who are spearheading the castigation of the government and enjoying the airtime on Television and radio programs analysing the government errors without providing solutions.
The factors that promote insecurities are the things we enjoy fraternising with as citizens; we support and praise corruption instead of standing together against it, we preach and give religious and ethnic superiority a wing, in every corner of the country we dominate and oppress ourselves, flaunting wealth and exploiting the poor. We refuse or choose to recognise that the country is a victim of high levels of corruption, inequality, and broken bridges. Nigerians have mostly constituted a primordial public, where we all see our attitude to the civic public as purely materialistic and exploitative; altogether, we possess no moral urge to consider the well-being of the nation, but the benefit to individuals and their primordial groups. This mentality explains the endemic corruption and the resultant insecurities plaguing our nation.
This is a nation where we expect political officeholders to dole out money as we bombard them with visits and invitations to functions. A visit at any material time will be met with a long line of citizens who come for all forms of demands for assistance and invitation to programs. The politicians cannot travel home empty handed; we expect there should be sharing of money and goodies and nicknamed them stingy when they do not spread the cash as much as we want. Yet, we want these people to be confined to minimum wages. We occupy the street demanding for the reduction of political officeholders’ salaries but spend the evening making huge demands on them. We speak from both sides of our mouth; our actions do not match our moral grandstanding. In response to the skewed society, these politicians found a way to raise their income to meet up. In the developed world such as the UK and the USA, politicians walk freely on the street, boarding the same train with the people without being harassed for money; that is not feasible in our land, the politicians hide because of the harassments of endless demands.
This is the country where we complain about corruption but willfully bribe to get our wards to pass examinations and even get into some school; a nation where we are easily bribed to pick employments; a nation where we disobey everything called rules or norms. This is a country where we condemn the politicians and our leaders but live our daily lives exhibiting openly the same evils we condemn in them. This is a country where we look out for ways to cheat ourselves at every turn, where the mechanic collects money for parts not purchased and the carpenter intentionally produces substandard products to optimise his profit. This is the same country where business partners assassinate themselves because of money. We are as bad as and probably worse than the scapegoats we are searching for. We complain of government incompetence, yet go ahead to champion incompetence in every aspect of our lives where government has no control. Does the government also control the private sector that is owned by ordinary Nigerians? If the incompetence of the government is destroying the public sector, how come the nation’s private sector is as done as the public sector and in most cases even less efficient? Private businesses are failing as much as public businesses.
The time has finally come for Nigerians to look critically inward and see that we are the very demon we are trying to fight. If President Muhammadu Buhari and is cabinet are the only incompetent elements in the country, and all of us are all perfect, shouldn’t our personal homes be flourishing and our street be bubbling. Shouldn’t our private investment be setting the standard and pace for the country? Shouldn’t we be living peacefully with our immediate neighbours?
GOD BLESS THE FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA!