Monday, January 14, 2008

Same Ol', Same Old?

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...
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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?

14 comments:

Atutupoyoyo said...

Great piece there by Abati.

Atutupoyoyo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sherri said...

well written and concise!
however, i disagree about waiting for the leadership for any kind of lasting solution...

for any change to begin, the people must decide they've had enough and be willing to fight to the very end for change.

for any lasting change, we the people must renew our minds and rid ourselves of the stigma and dogma of latency and complacency.

the change should begin in the four corners of every home, in four chambers of every nigerians heart.

btw, liking this blog..(1st time here)

Ms. emmotions said...

NO! NO !! NO !!!

i dont believe nigeria is this bad, commmon , nigeria aint the best place to be in the world yes, but also it aint the worst. most countries are worse, i mean its not this bad .....at least yet.

lets just pray rather lament for nigeria, i totally understand where u coming frm , but pls lets just pray and am sure some day it will be perfect.

TheAfroBeat said...

Yes atutu (mind if i call you that?), you can sense abati's frustration in this piece. the dude probably went through all his columns for the past decade and realised he's been writing about the same old issues for Lord knows how long! That's enough to drive anyone up the wall!

@ Sherri, welcome! I totally agree that it's up to every nigerian to get off their ass and start making that change they want to see, no matter how small. We can't sit around and wait for our government to do everything. But as it stands, they're taking the piss and it's gotten beyond ridiculous. As we struggle to find solutions (private sector/ NGOs/ philanthropists/ you & me) to these big problems of education, health and social infrastructure, we have to keep in mind that best-case scenario: working collectively, we can still only put a dent in the problem, we need change/support/work from our government/leaders...they control the budgets and the power to yay or nay our solutions, and so as much as we work around them, if we cna finally get some accountability framework set up (As ms Sula mentioned in her last comment 2 posts ago), we would begin to see some large scale solution to some of these problems.
NEPA, Ministry of Education, Health, etc. need to release their 2-year plans to the public and referanda need to be held to determine if these ministries need to be purged completely if they haven't met their goals by a certain date, or hold a public tribunal to determine who the enemies of progress are in these various institutions.

anyways, my brain is turning again (my new excuse for my ADD ;))

TheAfroBeat said...

hehe, ms emmotions, sorry that Reuben (and we ourselves!) are a tad bit on the frustrated side, but as much as you would like to think Nigeria's "not that bad" and "things could be worse", they really ARE that bad, and most countries are NOT worse off than us o. they really aren't. We don't have to look to far out to see the fruits of "not-so-bad" governance - for all the problems Ghana has, they are still eons ahead of us! So i'm not saying we should sit and curse, and you're right, prayer definitely moves mountains, but people do as well, and while we've got the brains, the passion and the youth to DO things to change the situation, let's at least TRY.
But yes, the aim of my blurb intro to abati's article was to try and look on the positive side of things, as we sometimes get caught up in the complaints.

So ppl, what do we have to be thankful for as Nigerians who made it through '07? Do share!

Jinta said...

"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" - if ppl were not happy with tokens, we will probably have the highest incidence of madness in the world.

The majority are so poor they depend on tips and money sent home by relatives abroad to survive.

I'm not bashful in calling for the Jerry Rawlings' solution in Nigeria. See how peaceful Ghana has been since then?

It is only in Nigeria that ppl of questionable character are seen as heroes, I suppose we all have some uncle or family friend in that category. Look at Akinjide, the late Akinloye, Joseph Wayas, Arthur Nzeribe, Shehu Shagari, Babangida (living like a prince in a 50 room mansion in minna), Maryam Abacha, Jubril Aminu, Bode George, Ahmaddu Alli, Muhamadu Buhari (and his oil wells), Obasanjo, Olusola Saraki, there's not enough space in this comment box to take all the names

NIGERIA POLITRICKS said...

yes, u'r right. we don't have to look too far out to see the fruits of "not-so-bad" governance - there are some states that r on the right track; we just need to duplicate this model of development all over the nation. the issue is; this darn corruption can't make our politicians see beyond their noses. that's our nation's curse!

TheAfroBeat said...

@Jinta,welcome! I definitely agree with your Rawlings comment. My Ghanian friends often marvel at how we can have ex-dictators still roaming the streets, let alone living large and trying to run for President!! we forget too fast!

@ Naija Politricks, is it really a curse we're stuck with till the oil runs out? True, the stakes
(and temptations) are high, but if these governors feared a credible threat of punishment, i think they would at least think twice about the thieving.

SOLOMONSYDELLE said...

@ Jinta: ah, if Jerry Rawlings style action comes to Naija, it would spell serious trouble, oh!

@ The Afro beat: another good post that forces us all to think. Thanks so much.

Buddylittle said...

Great post! Thanks for visiting my blog too. I just got wind of James Shikwati's views on African development. Check out my post on that
http://afropolitans.typepad.com/my_weblog/2008/01/boy-builds-wind.html

Sugabelly said...

I personally think Nigeria needs to abandon the war on corruption for a while and focus on real developmental/infrastructural issues for a change. Lordy, do we know how to talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk,talk,talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk...
....and never do anything.

guerreiranigeriana said...

i agree with sherri...our leaders have and continue to let us down and lead us further astray...until we as people take to the streets, and say to hell with the fuckery, it will not change...for how long will we wait for greedy puppets to think about the average nigerian?...the people should plan their own coup and install their own leader...i'm tired of this defeatist, this is our plot in life, put it in the hands of God pussy-ass attitude that seems to have gripped many people around the world and moved them to inaction...excuse my french, it's just that this really annoys me...look what has happened with the whole corruption crusades...a joke...we are too rich as a nation to still be walking along littered, unpaved roads, sharing walking space with rats, complete fallacies of education and health care sectors, etc...

...this may sound a little radical and violent, although i am a very peaceful person (sometimes violence is needed when others don't have any regard for your life) but what stops the common and middle class naija man and woman from banding with the armed robbers to otherthrow and kill all those corrupt government officials and allowing the citizens to decide who will rule (anarchy until it is decided what we want?)...yes, you can't satisfy everyone, but maybe it wouldn't be so bad if biafra broke off and the north went it's own way...afterall, was the british who created these boundaries and country, abi?...or institute a homegrown dictator to get things in order before return to the fallacy of democracy the world practices?...ok...haven't thought any of thes through, obviously...but just some food for thought:)...like this blog of yours...

Folakemi D said...

I have only recently read this article and it seriously depressed me because for ages I have always been looking on the bright side. Easy to do because I dont live in Naij at the moment and have been home twice in 2 years.

I am a bit of a socialist and I really believe that is what Nigeria needs, a socialist govenrnment for a while because I believe capitalism in a developing country only widens the rich poor divide even more. We need a government that is committed to providing the three key things a government should provide for its people- healthcare, education and infrastructure. Unless there is serious investment in these areas by the govenrment and not some company or individuals who are trying to increase their profit margin, the majority of Nigerians will continue to do what they do best, look out for themselves and their immediate family and not think of the greater good of Nigeria.

I got emailed this article and the sender asked for some good news to counter all the depressing things outlined in the article. I am attaching a link to an article in the Guardian newspaper in the UK and it cheered me up and made me sad in equal measure but at least something is being done......

http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2007/nov/09/7