I was confronted last week by a student who has shown a significant interest in Africa and other developing regions. The student asked me in a sombre tone: Why is Nigeria a country in which nothing works? Why do so many citizens of your country endure economic hardships when the country celebrates yearly federal and state budgets that make no impact on the lives of citizens? Why do so many people suffer when your country has many human and natural resources that could improve the socio-economic conditions of the citizens?
I was stunned by the questions. I was not expecting them but, on reflection, I found the questions represented the student’s deep understandings of the paradox that is Nigeria.
The student was absolutely correct. It is difficult to analyse methodically and critically in one essay the numerous problems that have overwhelmed Nigeria in the past 57 years. Quite simply, the nation’s problems are inoperable. In the same week, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) gave us the bad news that Nigerians are getting poorer, the Ooni of Ife, Oba Adeyeye Enitan Ogunwusi, warned that the nation would be sitting on a keg of gunpowder if no action was taken to address increasing youth unemployment. These are dire warnings the nation can ignore to its detriment.
There are so many absurdities that underpin life in Nigeria. For example, when you criticise poor services provided by telecommunications providers, someone will jump at you with a pedestrian remark that, before the advent of mobile telephones, things were much worse than they are now. It is this kind of weird argument that defines and justifies the shabby treatment we receive from government and political leaders, and the disrespect we receive from foreign businesses that operate and make huge profits in the country.
Different people have used different metaphors to illustrate the crisis of leadership in Nigeria, and the irreparable nature of the problems that confront the nation. The most appropriate metaphor, I would argue, is the one that depicts Nigeria as a mischievous adult that still behaves like a teenager. The moment you drag the teen out of the doctor’s clinic, you realise he or she has far worse injuries requiring urgent treatment.
Since the attainment of political independence in October 1960, the country has been governed by military dictators and wily politicians who promised to transform the nation to improve the living conditions of citizens. Everyone thought these leaders had figured out the solutions to the nation’s problems. Little did anyone realise the nation had been conned big time.
Nigeria is so blessed in many ways but has been unlucky with poor quality of leaders that have emerged so far in the history of the country. Haven’t we been reminded many times that every country deserves the leaders it gets? Nigeria has been weighed down by naïve and incompetent leaders, men and women who lack the capacity to govern but who are always the first to climb onto the bandwagon of leadership that has so far led the country to the edge of disaster.
We owe our generation and future generation honest and effective leaders with the foresight and undying determination to commit to educational, economic, technological and social transformation of the country. We need this model of leaders to recover what the country has lost since independence, namely genuine socio-economic development, improvements in the living standards of the people, meaningful health care system, improved agricultural production, an effective manufacturing sector, efficient air, sea, road and rail transportation systems, and uncomplicated telecommunications network.
The slow and painful downfall of Nigeria is symbolic not only of the failure of leadership but also failure of public and private institutions. It is proof of the failure of civil society to stand up and hold political leaders to account for their transgressions. Take a look at the level of youth unemployment in the country. Take another look at the frail condition of federal roads relative to the large sums of money that were budgeted over the years for road construction and repairs. Take a further look at the financial swindles that go on undetected at federal and state levels. All these and more will make you wonder why Nigeria has not yet been mortally wounded. How much longer can the country withstand uncontrolled pillaging of its financial reserves?
There is something cowardly about a society that opts to remain silent rather than question vigorously the state of poverty, vulnerability, and defencelessness of the citizens. I have often asked the question: Where is the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC)? There is something crooked about a previously active labour union that served as the voice of the voiceless but now remains silent in the face of tyranny. The NLC, unfortunately, has become a servant of the state rather than a representative of the people and the conscience of the nation.
Across the country, many people are so broken financially, spiritually, emotionally and physically that they endure anything the government throws at them. There is no union or social movement that represents the people against abuses committed by government officials. When citizens drive on bad roads and develop headaches or suffer injuries, the only way they respond is to murmur, curse, express irritation and pull at their hair. Unfortunately, nothing changes. Their condition and the condition of the roads remain. No one has the courage to ask questions about how the money budgeted for road renovation has been used.
Take the power sector as another example. How many people can estimate correctly how much the country has budgeted in the past 18 years to fix the problem of volatility in electricity supply, including initiatives designed to make electricity regularly available to businesses, private homes, government offices and other consumers? Everyone complains about the darkness that has enveloped the country but no one is willing to do anything to hold political leaders, ministers, and stakeholders accountable.
Right from 1999, when democracy returned to the country, Olusegun Obasanjo, as President, threw so much money into the electricity sector but after eight years, during which he superintended the nation, nothing happened. Everyone has been asking the same question: Where did all that money go? Other presidents who came after Obasanjo made no major impacts on the electricity sector.
Public concern that money allocated for federal projects has been hijacked or misused or redirected into some other useless projects has not gone beyond mere chit chat. Certainly, that is not a good way for citizens to scrutinize political leaders or promote accountability and transparency in government.
President Muhammadu Buhari should compel his ministers and other senior officials of his government to develop a culture of accountability and transparency that would see them conduct quarterly or monthly open forums with citizens in various parts of the country, where the ministers can respond to questions about their performance.