Monday, October 1, 2007

WANTED: A Proactive Government

"The value of life has suddenly become greatly fractionalized and the worth drastically reduced. Is that due to poverty too? Probably it is a combination of poverty, frustration and anger. It is nevertheless unacceptable..."

This Guardian Newspaper article by Kunle Sanyaolu paints a picture of the current frustration (nay, depression) among Nigerians as we mark our 47th year of independence. Various pockets of "unrest" throughout the South have left citizens jaded and back in the pre-election mood of 'indifferent spectator'. So where is our government in all this?


Four months after President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua assumed the mantle of leadership, the focus of his government is hazy still. The period is short for any meaningful impact-assessment. But it is long enough to have more than a faint idea of what a government will deliver...[and so far it] is not living up to the momentum. Too many issues are urgently begging for resolution and Nigerians are simply losing patience, not minding that the problems did not crop up, or assumed their present dimension overnight.

Can one blame Nigerians? They are living through a difficult time presented by poverty, unemployment, disease, frustration and crime, against the backdrop of a practically non-existent police. In Lagos and a few other western states, armed robbers have taken over, targeting banks in the main, eliminating policemen, bank workers and other citizens who either get in their way or constitute an obstacle - real or imagined. In Port Harcourt and other Niger Delta states as well as some Eastern states, kidnapping has become the order of the day. The serious offence is certainly not new to the country, but it has never attained the seriousness, frequency or pathological fervour with which it is now carried out. Initially, the focus was on expatriates, particularly those working in oil and related companies. Then attention shifted to just any white-skinned in the region, the underlying idea being that they could fetch handsome ransoms, which they did, even where nobody so acknowledged or officials denied outright. It was a question of time before the South-South ran out of white men, a development that led to the kidnapping of children going to school. This was closely followed by their politician parents, particularly those elected. When parents became elusive, grandparents consisting of aged mothers and fathers, became the targets. The rest of the country is only slightly better in terms of security.

The fact that political, social and economic conditions differ in different parts of the country at any particular time has its implications. When Port Harcourt is under the siege of kidnappers and cult members, Kaduna is peaceful, with everyone going about his normal duties. And when Lagos and environs are reeling under incessant armed robbery attacks, Katsina is deep in Ramadan fasting with the entire town praying and atoning for sins. Therefore, anyone commending or condemning particular situation stands the risk of not being perfectly understood by citizens outside the vicinity of his focus. Notwithstanding this, a central theme usually runs through the nation most times, depending on the circumstances. News reports in the media, including live television, in the last few weeks tends to elicit a feeling more of depression, sadness and frustration, that despite the numerous resources and high potentials of this country, its fabric seems to be going from bad to worse. When and how did we get here?

There is little doubt that what is happening now took roots firmly under Obasanjo's government and its reform that lacked a human face. Obviously however, the criminals have been emboldened because no one is challenging them. There is a lot wrong with Nigerians for our newfound love of dispensing with fellow citizens at the slightest provocation or no provocation at all. The value of life has suddenly become greatly fractionalized and the worth drastically reduced. Is that due to poverty too? Probably it is a combination of poverty, frustration and anger. It is nevertheless unacceptable, even if Nigerians have cause to be angry at the insensitivity of political leaders who spend millions renovating official houses, buying Ramadan gifts for themselves and awarding jumbo salary and allowance packages for themselves. Government's assignment in this regard is two-fold. One is to provide a machinery to effectively challenge and subdue violent criminals, be they robbers, kidnappers or political assassins. There is a thin, imperceptible line between them anyway. Two is to provide real governance which entails provision of service to the people; spending public fund judiciously and in public interest; and bringing to book highly-placed officials found to have abused their office or corruptly dealt with public assets. So far, government is not discharging any of these duties either out of insensitivity or out of incompetence...

(read Guardian link for rest of the article in which Sanyaolu points out the need for a proactive government at the state and federal level to tackle the current state of affairs)

HAPPY INDEPENDENCE DAY!! May the best of our past be the worst of our future.



Happy Independence Day!

I am actually writing a future post that deals with the psychological problems Nigeria faces, so I am glad to read this article. I continue to be amazed that more of us Nigerians are not mentally engaged with what is going on. I fear that we are suffering the consequences in a way. Oh well, even Americans have an inability to be mentally engaged, so we know that it is not just a Nigerian problem. But in the case of Nigeria our 'persistent psychological paralysis' is deadly because we lack credible institutions and/or moral standards.

Um, let me stop preaching and focus on finishing my post.

Also, did you vote in the Speak Up Nigeria Campaign? There seems to be a clear winner already. Just go to

Misan said...

Yes i did vote o, they were all pretty good, even the short succint ones, but i really liked the first one.
There is definitely a mental disconnect among Nigerians, even those in Nigeria itself. As the author points out - of course it's easy for pp in Kaduna to feel disconnected from what's going on in Port Harcourt for instance, when the closest they get is the 5-min NTA news debrief on the situation!

Then there's us over here...who feel incapacitated by the distance from home/the magnitude of the problems, and end up either completely disconnecting ourselves from the goings-on in the motherland, or delving even deeper with a renewed sense of inexplicable hope/desire to see things improve. Hopefully we can convince more of our compatriots (who USES that word in this day and age?!) to adopt the latter response.

Look forward to reading your post!

Obinwanne said...

im really disappointed by the state of affairs back home

Kome said...

I think much like everyone else that there is a lot to be done. Nevertheless, i also believe that this is the point where begin to look to the subject matter experts for answers (the president is always held accountable), but with regards to infrastructure what is the minister of house/development doing? with regards to security, what is the commisioner of police doing?

As much as alot of the instability may or may not lie in the root of the past adiministrations inability to work effectiviely and quantitatively...those who occupy the posts should have planned milestones none can dispute with over their four years.

This post reminds me of an article that questions the legitimacy of the local governments - what do they do exactly?

I think we are heading in the right direction...asking questions is not enough, but we begin to ruffle some feathers - and that's better than nothing!

Misan said...

i think the importance of civil society shouldn't be underestimated as a potential solution to the problems you've mentioned Kome. At the grassroots level, people ask these questions but are too busy hustling to put food on the table that they don't have the time (nor know the right channels) to chase for answers to these questions. Civil societies (NGOs, nonprofits) need to be empowered at the local level so that they are given legitimacy (publicly) to demand answers to these questions without being turned down by LG officials. if the media shines a light on their efforts, then the government will find it harder to ignore them, and we can eventually develop more accountability at the lower levels of government.

Taryn said...

Well said.

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