Dealing with Perennial Problems: the Question about Rebranding Nigeria

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However much we try to forget about Nigeria and its many problems, some of us are incurably Nigerian that wherever we are, we would always remain Nigerian. That said I know that it is not the same for everyone as there are many who actually reside in Nigeria but would rather not, especially because of its numerous and varied problems. The truth is that no country of the world is without its own problems, the difference is in how each country is dealing with and resolving its problems. Rather than address our monumental problems all indications are that we are not addressing the problems which explains why we seem to be moving in vicious circle. It takes at most twenty years for us to be back in the same old place again, talking about the same problem and suffering from similar problems. Where are we? And what are we doing? When will every soul truly matter in Nigeria? These are particularly apposite questions at the turn of 2009.

Thinking of Mrs Akunyili's rebranding project is one that one cannot easily get away from, especially as one of the initiatives of 2009. While the idea itself is a lofty one, one cannot help feeling that the energy and resources channelled into it could be better used elsewhere. Not because Nigeria cannot do with a better image, which has become especially vital following the arrest of the first-ever known Nigerian attempted bomber in the US on December 25. Rather it is because we are ignoring the right approach and issues by focussing on this rebranding project. The amount of money being allocated to this in the 2010 budget further raises the question as to the desirability of this project. One is not simply out to criticise the project, but it is by far important to raise important questions once again regarding some of what need to be addressed, if Nigeria is ever to move forward. In practical terms, some of the problems are not insurmountable rather they only need concerted efforts and, maybe, what is often called 'political will' to deal with them.

The re-run gubernatorial election in Ekiti State earlier in 2009 is a very clear example of some of the problems that require more urgent attention than is needed to give to the so-called rebranding project. The drama surrounding the sudden disappearance of the State Electoral Officer, Chief Mrs Ayoka Adebayo, and her reappearance after the threat issued by both the police and information minister and the subsequent declaration of the result that she had previously judged to be against her conscience, remains a riddle yet to be resolved for many Nigerians. If Nigeria is to truly move forward or rebrand as the information minister would like us to believe, it is indeed the leaders and politicians who really need political rebirth, or shall I say “spiritual and moral rebirth”? This is a serious issue as in many cases attention is directed towards the ordinary people who have no problems except to deal with the daily consequences and implications of inept government and selfish politicians.

Incessant petrol scarcity remains a big problem that our government has consistently failed to tackle. It is so serious that the Vice President has recently had to issue a no-holiday directive to some ministers until the problem was resolved. Whatever the real story behind the alleged disregard of this directive by the Minister for Petroleum Resources, Dr Rilwanu Lukman, the truth is that the government and its ministers owe Nigeria a genuine explanation for the perennial scarcity of petroleum products in an oil-producing country. It seems not only ridiculous to talk about rebranding but also insincere and unfair to expect Nigerians, many of whom have had to stay overnight at filling stations, instead of the comfort of their bedrooms, to go about proclaiming 'Great Nation Good People'. It is difficult to see how this could be seen as a sign of greatness. Sadly the government that should be seen to be dealing with this and associated matters would seem to have abandoned its citizenry to the devices of a few who are benefiting from this situation. It is rather sad and unfortunate that an oil-producing country of the status of Nigeria would continue to suffer in the midst of plenty. Why refineries cannot work remains a mystery. Is the Nigerian government really unable to deal with this monster? Surely it is unacceptable for government to claim that it does not know how to deal with this problem, including the brains behind it. Who is going to rescue the Nigerian masses from these lots?

More disturbing is the argument that deregulation is the only veritable solution to the perennial problem of fuel scarcity in Nigeria. To suggest that is admission that it (FGN) has failed the Nigerian masses, the same people they had promised to serve. The frequent reference to the UK or the US as instances of deregulation is absurd. The situation in Nigeria is such that deregulation will continue to lead to hike in the cost of petroleum products, essential commodities and transportation whilst increasing the level of poverty in the land. In developed countries, deregulation means that prices go up and down within reasonable limits, but the reverse would be the case as is already known that whatever goes up hardly comes down in Nigeria. If government cannot control the prices and distribution of the product now that it is still not deregulated one can only imagine what would happen in the eventuality of deregulation of the oil sector. And what is wrong in government subsidising petrol for the sake of the masses majority of who are bellow the poverty level. This monster called petrol scarcity would seem to be part of the script to force down deregulation on the masses and it is unacceptable. There can no rebranding unless the situation and its accomplices are first rebranded.

Poverty of leadership and inability to make things work would seem to be the only obvious explanation for the situation in Nigeria. Ideally such a government ought to be bold enough to admit to Nigerians that they have failed them. They are simply unable to deal with these problems and there is no sign of an imminent end to this crisis. So where does Nigeria go from here? What is most disturbing is that it is the poor masses who are suffering from this. The rich and wealthy and the political elites are always clever in avoiding or dealing with the pains.

The long industrial action embarked upon in Nigerian universities in 2009, was another case in point, and it was simply a demonstration of the short-sightedness, and lack of appropriate commitment of our government to deal with the issues that matter to our people. Government's failure to address key issues facing all sectors of the Nigerian society, not least education that now seems to be on the road to permanent destruction unless concerted efforts are made to rescue the situation, manifests its lack of understanding and appreciation of what matters to our people. Our universities and academic staff are suffering whilst legislators go home with ridiculous sums of money every month. Government's dealings with universities and their unions are so tenuous that it is only a matter of time before they embark on another industrial action. This is often because the agreements are not far reaching enough and also because government lacks the ability to follow up on the deals reached with the university staff unions. It seems rather absurd that our government has to wait each time for the warning or threat of industrial or strike actions in our universities before they see the need to negotiate or update the facilities in our higher institutions of learning. As a result of its inability to handle the situation effectively in our universities, many Nigerians have become captive to the very expensive private universities in our country whilst the majority who cannot afford the cost are left to their own fate. Sadly those who are vested with the responsibilities to look after our institutions either send their own children to private institutions in Nigeria or overseas universities. For how long will this continue?

It would seem to me that instead of rebranding Nigeria or, rather, instead of bothering the Nigerian masses with unnecessary sermons about rebranding, it is the political class, the uneducated and illiterate politicians who desperately hold on to power in Nigeria that need serious political, moral and, I dare say, spiritual rebirth. As a preacher, I often watch helplessly how fellow preachers have undue expectations of the ordinary people in the pews in Nigerian churches. Sometimes it appears as though there is a deliberate attempt by preachers to continually exploit the people in the pews, not least the poor and ordinary who would listen notwithstanding how long such sermons go. It feels like preaching to the converted when you ask of these people not to engage in corruption and various kinds of vices whilst the real thieves are spared. Of course, I have no quarrel with the content of such messages, but my question is whether this is directed at the right audience. The same is happening on the rebranding project. For how long are we going to continue in this situation?

We continue to pray for genuine leadership in Nigeria, but maybe 2010 is the time to begin to actively seek the people with vision and purpose who are willing to genuinely serve our people. This is the revolution that needs to start now. We have wasted too much of the last 50 years; we cannot afford to continue this way. The fight back really needs to begin now. Nigerians must stand up to these politicians and say enough; every soul matters, not just the wealthy and powerful. Not until then will Nigeria see a turn around. Lord have mercy; Christ have mercy. Happy New Year.

By —Dr Stephen Ayo. Fagbemi

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