Nigeria: Who Really Cares?

February, 2008

Perhaps the first exclamatory remark that is likely to come from a foreigner visiting a typical Nigerian city for the first time will be “What a dirty place!” or “How do these people cope?”. The Nigerian situation and society are in such a pathetic state. Pause you who read this and look around you. There is definitely something wrong. At every square meter in this country, something is wrong. If you are reading this in a commercial vehicle, the driver is probably ill equipped to drive. He respects neither his nor your life. Simple regulations like the use of seat-belt, he violates. You probably have to uncomfortably squeeze yourself around to be able to read this paper from where you are sitting now. This is because the vehicle is most certainly over loaded. At least you could afford to purchase this paper, the gentleman sitting next to you couldn’t. Right now, he is waiting eagerly for you to borrow him the paper so he can glance through. If you are in your private vehicle, perhaps you are on your way to your office, where you will spend half the day doing nothing, just like you did yesterday and the day before. Naturally, there is no electricity and the generator in your office has either broken down or has no fuel, and the monthly “over-head” that usually comes from your ministry, has been shared by your bosses. And so, like every other day, you know today will also be wasted. Right now you worry more about your car tyres or battery than you do Nigeria or her offices. After all, the very country you are supposed serve has failed in providing you with basic amenities like portable water and electricity. Your brand new made in China generator, which you bought once again after the old one lasted you three months, has failed you last night, you didn’t sleep well. For as long as you can remember, every day, you buy 5 kegs of water at the cost of 50 Naira per keg for domestic use. All the same, you carry on and hope things will get better some day. Perhaps you are the boss himself. Not that you got the job by merit. For after all, it was your uncle who, as a friend to the former minister or commissioner, got you the job and made sure you rose to this level even when you knew then, like you know now, that you are not qualified. But you don’t really care. As far as you are concerned, your bread has been secured. That was in fact why you had no problems inflating the contract brought to your desk last week, which was, after all, equally endorsed by your boss.
Everything is wrong and no one seems to be genuinely doing anything about it. And so you ask, who really cares? From architecture to academics; ecology to economics and philosophy to politics, the looming danger is so apparent and threatening that even a primary pupil can tell you. We are so incapable of even the most ordinary civilized behavior. For example, littering the street is so common that we accept it as a normal way of life. How many polythene bags did you throw away yesterday? There is a very high chance that your vehicle has no trash can. Forget about the commercial vehicles.
The life of a typical Nigerian is such a life of misery and uncertainty. You were probably born at home and had not received proper healthcare right from infancy. At least you managed to escape infant mortality, attended an LEA school, made a couple of credits in WAEC and managed to secure an admission into a University. You spent close to a decade there, pursuing what, under normal circumstances, would have lasted you only 4 years. But with incessant strikes, you still count yourself lucky to have graduated after 8 years.
Although NYSC taught you about other people’s culture and way of life, you still think your tribe (whatever that means) is the best in the world. You don’t even know the meaning of tribe. Yet, you are so terribly and pathetically prejudiced against anything and anyone outside your tribe, that you hardly see anything good in the other. Although your religion teaches you to be tolerant with and kind to people, irrespective of their faith or tribe, you have nothing but hatred and contempt for anybody from the other tribe or religion. Where you have to live or work with a person from a different creed or extraction, you live in mutual suspicion of one another. Whatever he or she does, you view through the prism of your personal prejudice spiced up with your tribal or religious sentiments. And prejudices are just that, prejudices; products of ignorance, stagnant mind and obstructed vision. You are so pathologically afflicted that, even your superior education is incapable of providing a cure for your ailing mind. Although you have never really voted, you don’t hide your support for political office holders as long as they are from your side of the country. Never mind the fact that you, of all people, know them for what they truly are; common thieves who loot and continue to loot your treasury. But you are proud of them for being one of “your own”. You know that the 100 Naira notes they give to the crowd that beseeches their houses whenever they come for weekends in one of those fancy cars, do not in any way help. Why, the other day your friend even slept in the guy’s boy’s quarters when he was in Abuja for an interview. Every time he comes for weekend, people gather around him and practically worship him. Whatever he says is the gospel truth. He dictates the way they think. It is these same kinds of people who share your subvention and rob you of over $ 16 billion.
Perhaps you are some miserable fellow whose little daughter is once again down with something between typhoid fever and malaria. You know you’ll be wasting your time going to a public hospital, and private hospital is well beyond your reach. A test in a poorly set up private laboratory in your neighborhood revealed that she is infested by both plasmodium and typhoid. Now you must get some drugs. You wonder how drugs bearing the same name and purportedly containing the same components, should cost differently. All the same you managed to buy the “original” one. You know that the malaria comes from mosquito bites and the typhoid from the very “pure water” you buy. While government is busy distributing (actually selling) treated mosquito nets, you know very well that that can never solve the problem. With the terrible drainage systems around, the incredibly high heaps of refuse all over the place, it will take a whole century to get close to “kicking” malaria out of this country. Having graduated an addiction to panadol, you now live with a constant supply of panadol extra. Perhaps you are unaware of the fact that, part of the causes of the incessant headache you experience is due to the constant supply of carbon monoxide and other poisonous gases emanating from the old smoky cars in your city and of course from the thousands, I mean millions achaba swarming around like flies. You don’t need to be a neurologist to know the danger posed by the millions of generators we use in the country. Apart from the gas emission, the mechanical noise produced is a source of great health concern. Just take a look at the next guy on the street and you’ll notice how nervous and confused the menace of generators has rendered us. The heat you experience is not a natural heat after all. With the kind of town planning employed and the constant felling of trees, you couldn’t have asked for a better microclimate. And talking of this, if ever the reader has reason to be in Kano, please take a trip to
Daura. A couple of kilometers to Kazaure, you’ll see a network of shelter belt which serves to, not only impede desert encroachment, but actually improve the microclimate of the place. It is one of the most beautiful sites up northern Nigeria. But it is a big shame! Yes, a big shame because those trees were planted almost thirty years ago by the legendary Audu Bako. Thirty years later, not one of the so called frontline states has been able to achieve half of that. What a lazy and wasted generation of people. This is merely one, of the millions of examples that speak volumes of our failure as leaders and followers alike.
This is Nigeria and in it, you are expected to go on living like this, until one day you are down with either a partial paralysis as a result of the poor diet you consume, or simply get knocked off by some reckless achaba. Or until the day you are gunned down by some armed robber. That is if you don’t fall into one of the numerous potholes on our highways and “lowways” and die while driving your 14 year old Toyota on your way to Ikot Ekpene from Aba. And talking of highways, you couldn’t help but pity the 40 year old policeman that stopped your vehicle and practically begged you for some “Kola”. His reasoning must have been, since you could afford a 14 year old car, you should be able to spare some change for him. At least that will ease the scorching sun he has been under since morning, and will automatically buy him a plate of gari later in the day. His case is probably worse than yours. He has not received salary for the past six months. So you gave him 100 out the remaining 800 Naira in your pocket. You silently prayed that the next filling station will be selling petrol at 70 or 80 Naira per liter. That way, you will get some 10 liters (if the filling station does not cheat you with its manipulated fuel dispensing machine, that is). The policeman thanked you and returned to his shade. As a policeman, he always wonders why things have to be this way in his country. He wonders who really cares. Could it be that all those teachings back in the Police Academy were merely empty rhetoric from his instructors? He wonders how, in a country like Nigeria, with its vast natural resources and riches, people are so poor that many cannot afford to eat a decent meal. He reflects on how, one individual would use 10 yards of “shadda”, with each yard costing about 3,000 Naira, a cap of over 50,000 Naira, a pair of shoes worth 50,000 Naira. What can you say about the conscience of a person who would spend hundreds of thousands of Naira to buy a cell phone and wristwatch worth fortunes in a place like Nigeria where? And the money, he got from your treasury. One possible explanation is that we miss the point and the point is not about what you wear. It is about building a just and equitable society free from corruption, poverty, illiteracy etc. It is not about using titles like “Chief, Dr, Alhaji, Barrister, Senator”, so and so. How much do you think the most expensive suit or jeans are, or the long white dress worn by the Arabs, no matter how rich? In Nigeria, an individual would own over 20 private cars and over 50 houses? The questionability of these becomes obvious when that person is a civil servant, politician etc. The truth is, we miss the point.
You were driving the other day when the convoy of a governor passed you by. You counted over 25 vehicles. A quick mental calculation told you that if that entourage was travelling from say, Kano to Abuja, each vehicle would consume petrol worth at least 5,000 Naira. Suppose that there were 4 persons per vehicle and each were to be paid night allowance of 10,000 Naira. Now, for the sake of arithmetic convenience and analytical simplicity, let us assume that His
Excellency’s night allowance is also 10,000 Naira (of course we know better). We’ll be talking about some 1.1 million Naira of public funds on a trip that would ordinarily require 4 vehicles. No, the trip is probably unnecessary. These figures are as conservative as they come. Be rest assured, what actually goes on will require our multiplying the figures by 2 or 4. All of these in one day! You wonder what other country on this planet is similar to Nigeria. With deep sense of sorrow, you regret to note how the common value of respect for one another has been eroded in the country. Corruption has so brought us to our knees that our children are confused and unaware of the value of the truth, let alone pursue it. Hard work and honesty are hardly rewarded and a couple of preachers can always be recruited to justify corruption and crucify those how attempt to bring in positive changes, asking you to recite Tabatyada and incur the wrath of God on them for daring to step on the untouchables. And the poor guys whose ignorance is exploited do it with all sense of schizophrenic overzealousness. No one seems to work for the sake of work itself but for the sake of how much he or she will materially gain. Most Nigerians actually discharge their “duties” with the sole intention of repressing or oppressing you. Step into any establishment and you’ll understand. In hospitals, the arrogant and dehumanizing attitude of many doctors and nurses are legendary. A clerical officer will conceal your file for days out of sheer wickedness or greed for bribe. A bus conductor will insult you any day for no just cause. A banker thinks he is doing you a favor, if your account does not run in millions (never mind how you got the money). Your mechanic will not only inflate the prices of the spare parts to be replaced in your car, he’ll steal some and you will do nothing about it.
We, Nigerians are a hypocritical lot. In this country it was, we had a governor who claimed to have “introduced” the Islamic shari’a system. However, the same person was indicted for large scale corruption and misappropriation. This is a guy who books an entire floor or more, of one of the most expensive hotels in Saudi Arabia for him and his cohorts on a supposedly state sponsored “holy” trip for months. His state remains one of the poorest in the country even after his double term in office. Whether in a religious gathering or public function, most of us simply want to impress, oppress or repress others. We like to hear the sound of our voices even when what we say is dim-witted and balderdash, that leaves one in a premature perdition of hopelessness. I illustrate this with an example. A onetime governor from northeast of Nigeria once declared proudly and quite pointlessly, that his son was studying in London. The occasion was a lecture in memory of Malam Aminu Kano; a man who sacrificed his entire life trying to make sure that you and this writer attended Nigerian schools whose standard is as good as the schools in London. There is nothing wrong with sending your child to study in London, especially if the money used in doing so is not ours (which is doubtful), but the fact that the declaration came unashamedly from a guy who could not provide water to his people for 12 years, made it repulsive and pathetic.
A country, any country has failed, if it cannot provide the most basic services to its people. Take the case of fuel for example. After a period of relative abundance, we are now back to square one, drifting even below the status quo ante. Surely, you recently bought fuel at the cost of over a 100 Naira per liter. This, in a country which is the sixth largest producer of petroleum, is unacceptable. And no one seems to be giving a good reason for the scarcity. Is anybody listening? Which brings us to one of the causes of our
woes as a country: we do things half way. Whether it is the renovation of Kano- Abuja highway, the repair of refineries, the purchase of electric transformer, preparation for examination, prayers, the execution of a purportedly community based project , issuance of national ID card, election or any other thing you can think of, it is done half way. We got it all wrong in almost everything; politics, religion, economy, mathematics, family and sports. Millions of examples can be cited to illustrate the woes of the Nigerian society.
Everything and everywhere, everything is wrong and no one seems to care. Yet we’ll keep asking, who really cares for Nigeria?

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