It seems we're not the only ones writhing in that frustration that comes from the realization that hardly anything has changed when it comes to the key development issues Nigerians struggle with. This generation finds itself complaining about almost the same things our parent's complained about, if not more...we now have a flailing education sector to complain about,a dead health sector to add to our worries, a buried power generation sector, and an anti-graft sector currently in limbo. Abati laments/prophesies: "As it was in 1999, so it was in 2003 and so it is now, and so it seems it shall be for the rest of the year and beyond". We hope this is not the case. In the spirit of Nigerian Curiosity's person of 2007 Awards, we would like to know what you think is the most significant progress Nigeria had/made in 2007? It could be the obvious: The "elections"? the war on corruption? or the not-so-obvious: the war of poverty? relations with China? the commencement of the Abuja light rail? We know it'll be a tad difficult, but we hope you'll humour us...
When Will Nigeria Ever Make It?
By Reuben Abati
There is nothing more exasperating, living in Nigeria, studying Nigeria, and analyzing Nigeria, and being Nigerian, than the realization that our lives have become one long piece of monotonous repetition of failures and uncertainties. We celebrate our capacity to manage the crisis in our lives, the optimism that is derived from our religiousity and our capacity like tragic heroes, to suffer and endure, but for a nation that seeks to make progress, the biggest challenge remains the development challenge. We seem rooted in one spot...absolutely nothing appears to work.
Even that which works, even that which appears to move eventually careers towards a dead end, and we greet the closure of our dreams, the abbreviation of our enthusiasm with a little spittle, some intra-class name-calling, the media makes the usual noises and soon, very soon, we all move on and adjust to the reality of our circumstances. Next year and the year after, almost interminably, we repeat the same patterns.
Companies manage to survive, crawling from year to year, even if the banks declare absurd balance sheets in a country where no real productivity is taking place. Tokens, mere tokens make us happy, and so we get called the happiest people on earth and we celebrate even that as if it were the badge of valour. A new year has started and there is still little to celebrate. Those of us who spend our time on public affairs would soon discover that last year is no different from this year, and that thematically, the year to come may not be different because, our nation is trapped in the vortex of half-measures, and tokenisms and sheer monotony...Check the newspaper editorials, every year they comment on essentially the same themes. Check the commentaries: the subject matter is the same.
And these are not happy stories at all, but necrophilous accounts of the lack of progress in national life. For eight years, we talked and wrote about the crisis in the energy sector, about the poor supply of electricity and how our cities are almost permanently in darkness and the power generator mafia that is smiling to the banks while electricity regulators try to increase tariffs for services they do not provide. We are starting a new year and the subject is the same because we have not moved an inch nearer the satisfaction of public expectations in this regard.
For eight years, we lamented the rot in the education sector, the collapse of such a strategic part of the national development plan. Schools are under-funded, standards are so poor, rich parents are either sending their children to private schools or abroad. Today, employers of labour prefer to travel abroad to recruit Nigerians in diaspora who are supposedly skilled because they have been exposed to a different education system.
They are compelled to do so because of a terrible skills shortage in the Nigerian environment, many of our local university graduates have skills no doubt but certainly the wrong kind of skills: the girls are adept at luring men to bed in order to secure advantages, many of the young men are graduates of cults and 419 groups. And there is the latest phenomenon of crime on campuses: the menace of "the Yahoo boys" who are simply internet fraudsters. All this while the Academic Staff Union of Universities, the umbrella association of university teachers has been asking government to pay more attention to the education sector. In 2008, it is the same crisis of funding and empowerment of the education sector that we are still talking about. Not even one step has been taken at any level to address the identified problems.
For eight years, we lamented the insecurity of life and properties, and the reign of violence in our lives. Rather than abate, the culture of violence in the Niger Delta and elsewhere has remained a problem. Armed robbers, bandits, and terrorists are so bold they even challenge the state openly. And so we continue this year again to write about unresolved murders, about armed robbery, about national insecurity. The list of the stasis in our lives, the predictable uncertainties in our lives is so long, and never short.
Government is unable to make a difference because governance in Nigeria is yet another veritable ritual. Public officials are more interested in the perks of office rather than the difference they are expected to make in the lives of the people. They want official cars, they want to live in government quarters and buy those houses later for their personal use; they want to collect fat salaries and allowances, they all want government land in choice areas for themselves and their spouses. They all want to use, abuse and advertise power and travel around in siren-bearing vehicles which enable them to chase other Nigerians off the streets.
As it was in 1999, so it was in 2003 and so it is now, and so it seems it shall be for the rest of the year and beyond. I lament. We are a terribly short-changed people, holding the wrong end of the stick. Civil servants work with every government that comes along, one after the other, but the Nigerian civil service at all levels has the largest collection of saboteurs within the national boundary. Civil servants are the ones helping the politicians to run Nigeria aground. And they are privileged and powerful, these are entrenched forces helping to sustain a tradition of national failure.
The media is the fourth estate of the realm, we probably will never get tired of documenting the rot in our lives, out of patriotism, out of a sense of obligation and out of a feeling of commitment. Nigerians can talk and there is clearly no shortage of pundits; in Nigeria, opinion is cheap, every certificate holder is an intellectual claiming to understand the issues better than the other man. But it looks like we can only do that much, charting the paths and identifying the issues for leaders who do not even read newspapers or do not listen to local news, and who are quick to boast about this.
Nigeria needs nothing short of transformation at all levels. The catalyst for that must still come from the leadership, a leadership that is willing to dispense with the boring routine that the civil servants, and political contractors have imposed, a leadership that is prepared to take the problems one after the other, day after day and slaughter the dragons that have kept us at the shore of progress. The cock is crowing in other lands; in Nigeria it is silent. Shall we prod this cock to crow or slaughter it for dinner, and damn the consequences?