Commentary on the State of the Nation –Nigeria

Commentary on the State of the Nation –Nigeria

By Muyiwa Olasehinde

 

Texas is a state of mind. Texas is an obsession. Above all, Texas is a nation in every sense of the word. And there’s an opening convey of generalities. A Texan outside of Texas is a foreigner –John Steinbeck

Nigeria is a state of mind. Nigeria is an obsession. A Nigerian outside of Nigeria is a foreigner.

Okay! Scratch the last statement. It must not be true. I would not want to call the president a foreigner. In any case, we all were alerted a few weeks ago to an audio recording circulated and purported to be the official message of the President (not acting) to Nigerians on the occasion of the Sallah, the Muslim festival signaling the end of the Ramadan fast. Usually, such an audio would have elicited sounds of rejoicing, celebration and gladness in the camp of Nigerians who have not seen or heard from the President for over 60 days. The President is reportedly recuperating in the United Kingdom from an unknown ailment which has kept him away from his duty post for more than 100 days already in the year 2017 (today is the 202nd day of the year). It would have been an occasion of note to receive confirmation that the president is hale and hearty, as opposed to the permutations of the naysayers who would have us believe that the president was not in a state of health to even afford everyday communication, However, the circulating audio drew more flak and condemnation from Nigerians, who rather than savor the intent of the message to calm restive nerves, rose to the rooftops in condemnation, not at the content of the message (no one has even reported on that), or the means of transmission (some people have said it should have been a video recording, and not an audio transmission). The bone of contention is the language of communication - the President chose to send his first message to Nigerians in 50 days in his native Hausa Language, spoken by just a section of Nigerians. All efforts by the presidential aides, both official and unofficial to defend this faux pas has only drawn more gunfire from the Nigerian populace, who are still not fully convinced that the tribal and religious tag that the opponents of the president have always slammed on him is not without merit. Without mincing words, the release of that audio is a major goof. The president’s handlers could have done a better job.

In what capacity was the President speaking to Nigerians? There is an Acting President who the President handed over to on the eve of his medical vacation in May; so for the traditional Sallah message from the Presidency, we had one from the acting president and another from the Vacationing president which is a big goof. A similar scenario played out a few weeks ago when the same handlers announced that the President has authorized the Acting President to sign the country’s 2017 budget that had been passed by the National Assembly. Question time! Did the Ag. President need the authorization of the President to sign the budget? Is there a limitation to the issues of state an Ag. President is allowed to arbitrate, without a fresh authority from the president? What are the constitutional implications of having 2 “ruling presidents”?

Secondly, whoever advised the president to send a “message” to Nigerians in a language more than 50 percent of them would not understand did not do the president’s image and perception any good. In a multilingual and multi-ethnic society like Nigeria’s, any attempt by any leader to be seen to be favorably disposed to one ethnic group over another is viewed with suspicious lenses which have been developed and sharpened with the various events of our national life since independence. Truly great leaders who have commanded the most respect from the generality of the Nigerian populace are those who were able to rise beyond the temptations of tribal nepotism and ethnic bigotry that Nigerian politicians are popularly known for and who were able to promote a nationalistic agenda. Theodore Roosevelt is reputed to have said that “We have room but for one Language here and that is the English Language , for we intend to see that the crucible turns our people out as Americans of American nationality and not as dwellers in a polyglot boarding - house.” In a country that is regarded as a hot pot for over 200 ethnicities who speak different languages, English as the lingua franca was chosen for convenience sake and would be the only acceptable language of communication by a detribalized president to his fellow compatriots. The handlers of the President just had a communications learning moment there - message and medium might be right and the language would just mess up the whole sequence.

A final note on this issue - at a time when there has been so much ethnic sentiments whipped up by so many pressure groups all over the nation, and at a time when the prevailing language is beginning to sound like we are in 1966 again, it behooves on the handlers and advisers of the president to ensure nothing is done that will become a catalyst and provide a tipping point in the ester that is being prepared from the acidic jargon being promoted by the bigots.

A great man once declared that “The nation behaves well if it treats the natural resources as assets which it must turn over to the next generation increased; and not impaired in value“. Strive Masiyiwa, the Founder and Chairman of the Econet Group recently observed that the “the true wealth of Nigeria is its extraordinary human capital, and passion for education. Unleash that and no one can stop them!” The month of June was a significant month, especially in matters related to security. There was hardly a day without a report of a triumph by the security forces especially as it regards the spate of kidnapping and armed robbery in Nigeria. In the preceding months, Nigerians had been treated to tales of incessant kidnapping of political figures, civil service bureaucrats and, worst of all, school children. The temerity with which the kidnap gangs operated within our bothers and on our roads was frightening; hardly would a week pass without the news saturated with headlines of yet another kidnap of a bigwig, or a “small-wig” in the case of the innocent children kidnapped from their schools in Lagos. Juxtapose these with the almost daily reports of attacks by supposed herdsmen which have had no respect for territorial barriers and state boundaries. A few Chief Executives of States have tried to introduce legislations to curtail the activities of these men whose stock-in-trade, -from the hills of the Benue to the heartlands of the Imo, from the green pasture of Ekiti to the undulating interstates of the confluence city, - is to maraud causing havoc with kidnappings, rapes and destruction in their wake. Of worthy note also, is the spate of jaw-dropping gangsterism in some parts of Lagos masquerading as cult/gang wars with loss of many innocent lives caught in the crossfire or as intended recipients of the skirmishes of these blood thirsty ones most notably the Badoo gang which has been terrorizing the Ikorodu axis of Lagos for a few months now. All these activities of criminals have caused a lot of blood shedding in a country traumatized already by the pangs of a recession which is only abating on the pages of newspapers and by a gang of political actors who have since independence raped the collective well-being of the citizenry and prevented the nation from attaining the ideals propounded by her founders. It was therefore a most worthy achievement when the security apparatuses apprehended the kidnap kingpin, Evans who is reputed to have been involved in quite a number of kidnappings all over the country. There were also other reports of arrests of kidnapping gangs, armed robbery crews, criminals and bandits who have made it their stock-in-trade to reap where they do not sow and bring sadness and gloom into the lives on Nigerians. The security apparatuses of the county must be commended for these feats and re-energized for more achievements through the provision of up-to-date equipment, more effective inter-agency collaboration and the benefit of modern intelligence methods.

However, the events of the past month must set us on the path of deep thoughts. We are sitting on a ticking time bomb and no one seems to be alarmed. There is a pervading problem that has taken its root in our country and could eventually lead to her extermination if not carefully tackled from its source. What is the Value of Human Life in Nigeria? Today, there is a total absence of respect for human life. Our news headlines are filled with gory stories of murders, manslaughters and killings that can be avoided; we sleep and wake up each day and we just see these tales as a part of our national life. Hardly would any day pass without the killings being on the major headlines for the day. Yet, we claim to live in a sane society; a society where there is no value for life; where the best of our brains and minds are sacrificed to mother earth in avoidable plagues fuelled by criminality from the darkest depths of the human mind. The Life expectancy in Nigeria is already low, owing largely to the backwardness of the health system we operate, but would be lower when these issues are tallied up with the aforementioned. The memory of the nation is still fresh from the collective assault on her senses, howbeit with some comic relief, when a former president saw it fit to dance at a political rally just a day after some criminals had abducted innocent schoolboys from their hostels in what were the darkest days of our national life. Fatalities from criminal escapades are reeled out as statistics with no one to mourn them but their immediate families. The recent armed robbery attack on a branch of a bank in Imo state comes readily to mind. A few policemen attached to the bank were killed in the process of defending the attack, and not a mention of them was made until the cctv recording of the incident managed to emerge on the public space a few weeks later; it was at that point that efforts were made to compensate and reward the gallant officers who were involved in the melee. One can only imagine the number of officers who have been killed in similar circumstances, which cctv recordings we do not see. Again I ask, What is the value of the Nigerian life? A while ago, I remarked that the biggest challenge that would spring from the militancy and terrorism that pervaded our country in the not too distant past is the ease with which small arms can find their way to the hands of those who are up to no-good. Any Dick and Harry who needs a gun now for any untoward purpose would easily get it, without a single ray of focus from the security agencies. We just might soon have a similar situation to the gun control problem being experienced in the United States. It is important to understand what these events are doing to the subconscious and conscience of our nation and of her citizenry. Think of the children of the state director who watched helplessly as their mother was kidnapped a few weeks ago while on a trip on the Lagos-Ore road. What faith do you think those children would grow to have in this country? This is an inherent problem that must be tackled headlong if we ever hope to keep the sanity and saneness in this nation space. We must restore the dignity of the human life in our country. We cannot make any meaningful progress until we start again to have respect for lives, rather than treat each life as a statistic. #NigerianLivesMatter

Reuben Abati recently wrote about his experiences as a privileged observer of the last JAMB Matriculation exams, the first to be conducted by the recently appointed registrar, Professor Ishaq Oloyede. The exams were not without its peculiar challenges, even though one would expect a famous tests and measurements institution like JAMB to have evolved with the times and not have to be dealing with teething troubles as experienced at the last round of exams. However, a major concern that arose from the conduct of the examinations is the unfortunate sequence of malpractice that has become associated with exams in Nigeria. Watching the JAMB registrar when he analyzed the problem, you could see a man who was overwhelmed with the magnitude of dishonesty and fraudulence he had to deal with in an exam taken by the “future leaders” of our great nation. Of more heartbreaking concern is the level of collusion between the candidates, café operators, invigilators, JAMB officials, and …wait for it… Parents that have connived to produce these levels of malpractice, which surprised even the Professor himself. The question to ask is, did these issues begin just at the last exam? The answer is No. the country has in the past been replete with reports of “miracle centers” where candidates pay to take exams at a higher cost than the official cost in exchange for an assurance of success at the exams. Most of them would not need to even show for the exams. This has led to a circumstance where we have students who come out with flying colors in the SSCE exams with a distinction in English Language but do not have the capacity to construct basic sentences without a misplacement of tenses and the shooting of cataclysmic ammunitions without recourse to grammatical guidelines. How did we get here? It is worrisome that while young people in other nations of the world are strategizing and plotting the next technological revolution, ours are still caught up in this web of dishonesty and fraud in the acquisition of that, which is supposed to be the liberating factor for the ills that have bedeviled this nation. What are the other nations doing right that we seem to be getting wrong? The American Statesman, Thomas Jefferson said “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be“. There must be a fundamental reform of the Nigerian educational policy to reflect prevailing global standards. What worked for us in the 70s and 80s, or even in the 2000s might just not work for us in the current climate which we are forced to operate and compete in. There must be a shift in emphasis from the acquisition of a certificate to the acquisition of skills that will be used for the nation’s development. We don’t need more certificates, we need more skilled people who will hold the keys to researches that will solve the problems of Sub-Saharan Africa. When we shift our focus from certificates to skills, we take the pressure off our young people who would gladly give a limb just to acquire these certificates even if they were certificated for a “chronic ability to do nothing”. We must also begin the process of requiring from our universities and research institutions value for money spent in funding them. Research questions must be in response to a challenge or a problem affecting the community and these researches when carried out must be amenable by the problems they solve. We must encourage a system that rewards productivity, not by number of years spent in “service” as obtained in our Civil Service. If it is true that the civil service is the life of every country, then we must re-energize our civil service, including our universities and demand service for value from the workers therein.

As a side note, there was a report a few weeks ago of a youth corps member who was recently killed in Bayelsa State, with his phone and wallet taken. The NYSC authorities have come out to debunk the fact that a corps member was involved. Well, that doesn’t still excuse the incident. However, it is also noteworthy that there has been an increase in reports of corps members within the last 7 years and especially in the last 2 years; reports of some corps members dying even at the orientation camp. These heroes who have been conscripted to a mission to serve their fatherland in a land far away from where they know as home, would probably have gotten a better healthcare if they were in their homeland or closer to their communities. When HOS General Gowon established the scheme in 1975, it was for the national integration of a nation that had just emerged from a divisive civil war. The country needs to take a holistic look at the scheme, re-evaluate and review it, and possibly scrap it, if it has outlived its usefulness.

 

On a note of broad-spectrum, there is a need for a value re-orientation and enforcement for the young people of Nigeria if the country is going to ever live up to her enormous potential. In other words, the country must put her money where her mouth is. Two incidents come to mind. First, the case instituted against the Senate President at the Code of Conduct Tribunal was recently concluded and he was discharged and acquitted on all charges. Not a few people were demoralized with the turn of events at the tribunal, partly as a result of the profile of the accused (he is probably the highest profile officer of state to be so prosecuted), but also as a result of a belief in the renewed vigor, that most Nigerians felt the government of President Buhari would bring to the anti-corruption war. Even in the days of President Obasanjo when he was accused of using the anti-corruption agencies for his own political vendetta, we never had such a low rate of convictions. Secondly, Folarin Falana, better known by his stage name Falz, the multi-talented legal-read son of popular lawyer and activist, Femi Falana, recently found himself in the eye of a little storm when he attempted to moralize to the Nigerian youths and his fellow musical artistes on the need to stop celebrating and praising in their arts, individuals who have acquired their wealth via questionable means, especially the internet fraudsters popularly known as the yahoo-yahoo boys. His premise was on the need for these artistes to be an example to the teeming Nigerian youths and not give them an impression that these things are unequivocally right. His attempt at sermonizing drew criticism from a section of young Nigerians who felt he was in no position to “pontificate” especially because he came from a privileged background and probably had everything thrown into his laps. Others felt there really wasn’t anything wrong in praising these “criminals” as it was all part of the arts. These two unrelated incidents stirs up a conclusion: It is very difficult today to convince the Nigerian youth that hard work and honesty pays. When they need proofs, they take a look at the political class and the extent of pilfering and embezzlement that is associated with them; the fact that it is probably impossible to bring them to book and obtain a conviction even from the “Just Judiciary”; the few who have unluckily gotten a conviction have been slapped with sentences that have seemed like child-play when compared with the allegations that brought them to court. As further proof, they examine the folks who are living the supposed “good-life” as a result of fraud committed behind the keyboard of a computer; the rate of unemployment in the country even among those who graduated from college with excellent grades and a few with postgraduate degrees; the peanuts that the government pays employees of her civil service as remuneration; and the rate at which salaries are owed to deserving workers. Any young person with even a below average intelligence would not need to be compelled before drawing the conclusion that hard work and honesty does not pay. There needs to be concerted efforts towards value re-orientation and a conscious political will to punish wrongdoing, if there would be a change to this mindset and value system among our young hearts. Then and only then, would the virtues of hard work, integrity, honesty and decency be restored to our space.

CONCLUSION

Wow! What a time to be alive!

Controversies after controversies; issues upon issues. The Nigerian space is indeed a theatre of the absurd, with the actors and players trying so hard to outdo and “over-do” themselves in the competition for the most ridiculous and the prize for incongruity. I mean, we can never hope to earn a place of worth in the comity of nations if these are the matters that keep pervading our space on daily bases. Nations have moved far away from the toddler issues that Nigerians have not yet learnt to apostatize about. Until we come to put on our front burner the issues that really matter - basic respect for the sanctity of human life, safety of life and property within our borders and these other issues (not in any order of importance) - a support system that espouses our young people to thrive and fully maximize their potentials, social services and security, a focus on the upgrading of Educational processes which should incite a cavernous thirst for technological innovations, an unbundling of the political process in the country to make it more “the-people” responsive, a reorientation of the value system of the populace that is independent of the religious systems currently in operation and basic respect for the application of the rule of law, order and processes as outlined in the extant regulations that guide us. The desire to make the country (or contraption) work must be inculcated in the minds of our fellow country-people. This “Labour of our Heroes Past” sacrifice made by our Founding Fathers and which still needs to be continually serviced by the current breed of “fathers” must be impressed in the heart of all Nigerians irrespective of tribe or tongue, race or religion, philosophy or political inclination. Only then would we be ready for the realization of the fundamental ideals enumerated by our heroes at the epoch of our independence 57 years ago. So help us God…or May the force be with us.

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