NIGERIA UPSIDE-DOWN, THE PEOPLE SUFFERING AND SMILING
By Zik Gbemre,
In 2003, the UK’s New Scientist magazine conducted a survey that found that Nigeria had the highest percentage of “happy people in the world”. Seven years later, another survey, a Gallup poll this time, found that Nigeria had the world’s highest rates of optimism. Truthfully, we do not think we need to trouble ourselves much to see that there is some veracity in these claims. Sayings like ‘e go better’ in reaction to the Nigerian situation attest to the phenomenal level of our optimism in the face of the myriads of challenges facing us daily as a people and a nation.
“Suffering and Smiling” is a phrase popularized by the late Afro beat maestro Fela Anikulapo-Kuti. It is the title of one of his hit songs in the 1970s which satirizes the uncanny ability of Nigerians to endure ANYTHING, even if it is in their power to influence things for the better. Suffering and smiling in itself is not really a bad thing per se. In fact, many times smiling through suffering is a mark of strength, because smiling is not the first natural reaction to suffering. However, smiling through suffering should not keep us from doing whatever should be done to deal with the myriad of problems plaguing us daily. Here lies the dilemma of the Nigerian Suffering and Smiling situation. With very few exceptions, it seems about all we do is ‘smile’ at our problems and shrug them off with ‘e go better’. But rather than things ‘get better’, they are getting worse by the day.
This reminds us again of another phrase: “Nigeria Jaga jaga everything scatter scatter” by the late Afro beat maestro Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, which describes the deplorable status of Nigeria where everything is going from bad to worst and to the detriment of the poor masses. Funny enough, when Fela sang this song over 30 years ago the then Nigerian Government and even those after, never took him seriously. But today, sadly, that is the ‘reality’ facing the Nigerian populace; where the standard of life and everything in the polity has been on a downward trend of deterioration. Aside the obvious insecurity in the land, which has become a persistent nightmare that has practically rendered our Nigerian government helpless/clueless, every sector of the Nigerian polity, is in a state of chaos. It is as if we are taking one step forward and two steps backward as a developing nation.
A cursory chronicle of Nigeria’s successive regimes till date would graphically show that the crucial problem facing the Nigerian masses since independence was, and still is, how to institute a truly democratic society where the citizens’ general interests and welfare are consistently catered for by the political class within a society that is free from rancour. We all would agree with the fact that Nigeria, despite being a supposed democratic entity that has adopted the Presidential System of government similar to that of the United States of America (USA), has however not been able to ensure that its citizenry enjoys the dividends and benefits of a democratic system. It is even more frustrating and disturbing when we consider the fact that Nigeria as a nation is blessed with overwhelming natural and human resources, yet more than 70 percent of her citizenry are living on less than a dollar per day. While the few that are in corridors of power and the elite class, are living in stupendous wealth. For us, the best way to describe the Nigerian political and socio-economic experiences since independence is that it has been a bitter and sweet one; bitter for majority of us and sweet for some selected few that have tasted political power and have refused to leave that circle. And even within this circle, there is still much bitterness, rivalry, and bad blood that are often attributed to insatiable greed and quest for political power. At the end of the day, it is the poor masses that bear the grunt.
There is no sector in Nigeria today that is not currently being overwhelmed with problems of varying degrees. Is it the Power sector that has been made worst with the Privatization process, the Agricultural sector that is still mostly subsistent, the Transport sector that is bedeviled with bad and non-existing road networks plus an archaic railway system, etc. Even the Aviation sector that is supposed to portray the Nigerian Image in good light to foreigners who come visiting the country, is going from bad to worse.
Flight delays, rescheduling and cancellations of flights, congestion at airport terminals, over-stretching of airport facilities in departure halls etc, are some of the nightmares almost daily experienced by Nigerians and foreigners alike, in major Airports across the country particularly the Murtala Mohammed Airport 1&2 (MMI and MM2) Ikeja Lagos, that are considered to be the busiest Airports in the country. The situation is so bad that sometimes, air travelers miss opportunities, scheduled appointments and valuable man-hours as a result of spending the whole day or more than the time expected to be at a particular place.
The Murtala Muhammed International Airport has been turned into a nuisance. Out of all the shuttle buses that were acquired recently to convey flight passengers and their personal luggage, only one is working. Then there is the issue of bribery/extortion. Virtually everybody working at the airport are ‘beggers’; from the Security personnel, cleaners, customs, immigration to the management authorities of the airport. The Nigerian Custom Officers in the said Murtala Muhammed International airport have turned the international airport for extortion of money from travelers. If one does not bribe them, they will harass one. Despite the billions of Naira that had been budgeted by the Nigerian Government for the upgrade of the said airport, the infrastructure and facilities of the Murtala Muhammed International airport is nothing to write home about.
Sometimes we wonder why can’t the Nigerian relevant authorities look at other international airports like the George Bush Airport in Houston, Texas, USA, the Heathrow Airport in London, UK, the new Kennedy Airport in New York and build something like that in Nigeria. But agaian, our problem in Nigeria has always been the lack of maintenance culture towards every government infrastructure in all the various sectors. We treat government property with disdain and gross negligence.
Without a doubt, Nigeria is the most complicated and complex country in Africa, and indeed the entire world, for anybody to lead unto an admirable economic power to reckon with. However, God in His infinite mercy, and who allowed us to be together as a nation, has blessed our nation with vast human and natural resources beyond measure, which, if adequately harnessed and appropriated, would catapult us as one of the leading economies across the globe in the 21st Century. Unfortunately, our political leaders as custodians over the years have succeeded in complicating the national woes for their own benefits, but to the detriment of all.
On a daily basis, it is increasingly becoming clear that our political leaders at all levels do not have the ‘will,’ ‘commitment,’ the heart of ‘service,’ the integrity, the Charismatic and patriotic spirit and the responsiveness to judiciously use the abundant available resources in the country for the overall benefit of all citizenry. The obvious ‘insincerity’ evident in the government’s response towards addressing the insecurity situation in the country is evidence of this fact. At one moment it looks as if we are making a positive headway in terms of development as a nation, at other times everything seems like we are on a retrogressive course, moving backwards or remaining stagnant. Rather than things get better, they are getting worst by the day and the unfortunate thing is that in the midst of this chaos, some highly placed persons are ‘benefiting’ from the woes of others.
Regrettably, this unfortunate state of the nation is as a result of the ineptitude in the country’s political leadership expectations over the last 14 years or so. Despite the fact that our political leaders are constantly reminded of their dysfunctional status of not being able to deliver the dividends of democracy to its citizenry, they appear to be unrepentant from their mis-guided, inappropriate and anti-democratic ways of governance. Our political leaders are more interested in grabbing political power by all means necessary, even if in the face of their incompetence in handling the demands of their political office. Every now and then, there are blatant reminders and tongue-lashings from both domestic stakeholders and the international community about Nigeria’s deplorable status but our leaders usually turn deaf ears to all of this as they continue with their self-centeredness. Nigeria, despite priding itself as the supposed giant of Africa, is far from being recognized as a significant player in global affairs, particularly in the area of the entrenchment of good governance and democratic principles.
This has made Nigerians to become like the proverbial people that live by the riverside, yet, wash their faces with spittle. The worst thing that can happen to a people is for them to live in abject poverty and insecurity and daily die and languish in the process while in the midst of stupendous wealth, abundance, riches and blessings in both material and human potential terms that can be used to address all issues. That has been the Nigerian story for over 50 years of her independence and discovery of oil and gas economic wealth. Obviously, Nigeria is getting the rest of humanity worried over so many issues. Among them is its unwillingness to lift itself out of the crippling tendencies of its political leaders for attempting to reorder the international setting to meet and accept its mediocre standards of governance. With every sector replete with overwhelming problems, many have given up on Nigerians and their country. The few perennial optimists hold onto their belief that Nigeria would be a great nation “one day”. While we acknowledge and heartily pray for that ‘one day’ to come, prevailing situations, especially with the current level of insecurity in the land, suggest the dream is gradually fading away as the anxiety mounts with the country, yearly dodges the threshold of ‘greatness’.
On the other side of the coin, the “followers”, as citizenry are seriously not helping matters because they have been encouraging those at government circles as political leaders to brazenly misappropriate/steal public funds with reckless abandon and impunity. It is only in Nigeria that ‘thieves’ in political circles are celebrated and exulted. People tend to ‘worship’ and respect those that are in government circles who obviously, from their lavish lifestyle and affluence in wealth, indicate that they have been stealing public funds under their care. Imagine a situation where someone, who some few months back, was struggling to fend for himself and family. All of a sudden finds himself in government circles and within months, the person has fleet of state of the art luxury cars and different mansions all over the country. Nobody cares to ask questions and find out the sudden change of financial status. Rather, people tend to worship and adore such a criminal in government. As one that steals in government circles, you tend to have more followers in Nigeria.
When, on the other hand, one decides to be upright at all cost and refuse to compromise standards in the appropriation of public funds, one is often tamed as a ‘fool’. And since the show of wealth will not be there, one is termed as “money miss road.” In fact, in some communities, such an individual whose integrity is intact in the management of public resources, is written off as a ‘nobody’. As someone who does not know how to ‘take advantage of his position in government to amass public funds, better his/her life and that of his/her family, friends and followers/supporters. In other words, majority of Nigerians as followers, respect and give more value to riches (no matter the means one acquires it), than moral values like honesty, integrity, accountability, hardwork, selfless services in public office and so on. It is rather unfortunate that those who have stolen and misappropriated our public wealth are worshipped and adorned with all manner of nicknames and chieftaincy titles with which they are praised by their followers. Traditional rulers and supposed Ministers of the Gospel/Church Pastors, have equally joined the band-wagon of praise–singers, as long as their hands are constantly greased with kick backs and generous offerings as the case may be. They are more than ready to compromise the traditional system and Biblical principles/standards of doing things. Titles are sold for naira and kobo (pounds and pens), greek gifts are given in exchange of one faviour or the other, all to the detriment of the general good of all. The level of corruption and mediocrity over the years in circles of government is amongst the reasons we believe, that is fueling the level of insecurity in the country.
Like we said earlier, every sector of the country is suffering from one serious defect or the other. From Health, Education, Power, Agriculture, Infrastructure, Security, Housing, and what have you. Yet, every year billions upon billions of Naira are budged for these sectors to address them. But at the end of the day, there is nothing to show forth. Even with all the different public and private probes often instigated by members of the National Assembly, to find out what went wrong in these sectors, there is still nothing tangible to show forth. Nigerians are yet to witness a comprehensive, well-deserved, prosecution of a serving or ex-public officials that were found wanting to have misappropriated public funds meant for the general good of Nigerians.
Our leaders that failed over the years to revive and sustain these dysfunctional sectors of the country, now prefers to patronize and enjoy them in other countries in Africa and across the globe. Worst still, frightening statistics about our relentless push to global irrelevance no longer evokes shocks or concern in the hearts of our political leaders. In fact, Nigerian public leaders only ‘react’ to these damming revelations with absolute indifference and laxity. How else can we explain the situation where our political leaders, in the name of governance, are daily milking the nation dry with their ‘extravagant lifestyle and government activities’. Rather than being ‘Public Servants’, our leaders at all levels are more like ‘Public Masters’. With their usual long-entourage of state-of-art cars; living in yearly-furnished houses/mansions. Our political leaders only go into government to enjoy these fringe benefits and at the same time, misappropriate whatever public funds they could lay their hands on. In other words, they go into government circles (through fraudulent, manipulated elections) without any clear-cut ‘vision’ to leave legacies that would transcend their time in office. They have made Nigeria to become the country where the “cost of running the government” is far greater than what the government eventually leaves behind as evidence of its time in office/governance. Only very few government officials as State governors, have proven to be different during their time in office.
The crux of the matter is that our Nigerian political leaders have not demonstrated sincerity of purpose and the sacrificial and patriotic spirit in their co called efforts towards the fight against terrorism/insecurity and underdevelopment in our land. This ‘indifference’ attitude and lack of empathy/care has to change. Nigerians need to see our political leaders rising up to the challenge in addressing these issues daily afflicting its citizenry. They cannot be saying one thing and doing another. Nigerians might be suffering and smiling now, but one day even the smiles will be no more and a revolution, we fear, might be eminent. We saw a glimpse of this during the fuel subsidy removal protests across the country in early 2012. That is just a tip of the ice berg. When a people are pushed to the wall they are left with no choice but to revolt. Enough, we say, is enough! Let the right things be done, this we urge.