WHY'S OUR PAST SO BETTER THAN OUR PRESENT?
Lecturers were respected and respectable. Students bought books and read them. Few or no hand-outs were in sight. Strikes were few and far-between. In those good old days, when National Association of Nigerian students (NANS) called its members out on a protest, rally or lecture boycott, everybody took note. You did not want the wrath of students. They spoke with one voice. Now, that voice is long lost. But that is a matter for another day. The universities were residential and accommodation was decent. An undergraduate worked hard because there was a future to look forward too. He got a job straight out of school, most often with a car and house attached. Honest work paid then. Cutting corners pays better now.
Tertiary education was government-owned. Until our no-distant past, states did not own universities. It was a federal matter. The federal government was alive to its responsibility. Now, neither the federal nor the state universities are well. If you want what we got, you go to the private universities or take your kid abroad. Quality graduates can only come from quality universities. But even when the quality graduates come out of school now, there are no jobs for them, quality or non-quality. I guess that is why the Federal government is no longer interested in negotiating with Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU. What's the hurry to graduate? There ain't no jobs out here, anyway. ASUU threatened to publish a list of children of government officials who are schooling abroad. Government threatened to publish the names of children of ASUU members who are also in foreign universities. Equation balanced. We are yet to see either list. Even if the lecturers resume today, what will it give us? I know a failed sector when I see one.
General Hospitals were once great hospitals. I remember once when a classmate ran into me while I was cleaning my ear with my pencil in the class and rammed the pencil further into my ear. It got infected, of course. I was too afraid of my father to tell him what happened until he asked how puss got on my pillow. When he whipped out his very long cane, I confessed quick. My punishment was to go to the General Hospital on my own. I was in primary three. Can you trust your primary three kid to our transport and security system? We'll come back to that shortly.
Anyways, I went to the hospital, obtained a card, sat with those who wanted to see the doctor, saw the doctor. I was sent off with my 'big card' to the injection room and then to the pharmacy. I can't remember if I paid anything. I was only eight, remember. It was an episode I never forgot. The place was big. Perhaps because I was small. There were plenty of pregnant women, plenty of school kids and yes, women in purdah. But I got through. I had to return to school on time too if I did not want my buttocks to be baked by daddy.
He was the school headmaster, did I tell you? That General Hospital was where three of my siblings were born years after my ear infection episode.
Then, there were a few private hospitals. Government hospitals were da bomb. Now who knows where the General hospitals are? Private hospitals are da bomb now. There are four in the estate I live. Four in one estate! Today, all our government officials go abroad for their 'medicals'. Next time there is a doctors' strike, the doctors should publish the hospitals our governors, ministers, lawmakers go abroad. If an eight-year-old could get 'unassisted' treatment in a government hospital in the 70s but now have to depend on private hospitals, there is trouble.
How come you have to pay for syringe, cotton wool and iodine now? How come nurses and doctors have to go on strike every year? Now there are fake drugs, fake death certificates, fake hospitals, fake everything. The diagnostic machines are not working and when they are, the doctors don't see the ailment until a calamity occurs. God rest the soul of Uncle Yinka Craig and preserve Gani Fawehinmi. Tell me how a failed heath system looks.
I grew up in the South West and we had a special season when kidnappers 'came out.' We called them 'gbomogbomo'. Once that time of the year passed every child was safe again. Only children got missing and very few were hardly ever found. Gradually, we moved to a point where adults got missing and their bodies were found without their genitals or breasts. And then human body parts started surfacing inside bags and boxes of ritualists. That was followed by men who faked madness to kidnap children and cannibals who lived under the bridge. Now we have kidnapping as a business.
We have young men who rent out their apartments to kidnappers for a fee. It is now a nationwide or is it a national business and a juicy sector of the economy? Now kidnappers do it with such finesse it won't be long before they start selling IPO on the Stock Exchange. They are the new 'Ololo' of our economy. They are raking in all the money, no tax, no Farida trouble. Everybody is getting kidnapped. Everybody is afraid to go to the police. Everybody is paying up. Everybody is denying that they paid a farthing. Could it be they are afraid of their kidnappers whose words they trust more than the words of the security agencies which can't protect them? Pray, how does a failed security system look and feel.
Once upon a time, water wells were a rarity. Those were the days we took public taps for granted. I remember the day the force of gushing water from a water tap 'threw' away my purple plastic cup. Those were the good old days when there was such an institution as Water Corporation. We had 'Water Works' and when the dam in Iwo (Osun State) was 'opened', the gushing frothy splash was a beauty to behold. Those who could not afford to connect to Water Corporation depended on public taps. Now there is a phenomenon called boreholes, privately owned like private hospitals and private universities. Those who can't afford to own them have to buy water. Yes, you must also buy water. That is how far we have come from our beautiful past.
What's there to say for electricity? It is also privately owned. We all have generators and PHCN can go to blazes. Now, we threaten them when they go on disconnecting rampage, after all if you want to enjoy a good football match from the beginning to the end, your best bet is your generator. You only switch on to PHCN so your 'I-pass-my-neighbour' can catch its breath. In those days you paid your water bills and NEPA bills. Now, you don't. Why should you?
In those days, I remember my Uncle's wife, Mama, used to go by rail to Minna and Mokwa in Niger state to bring dry fish for sale in Lagos. It was safe. It was fast. The trains have since died along with hundreds of railway men and pensioners. Just a few days ago, the federal government threatened to bring the rail transport back by earmarking $550m via yet another contract. Of course, nothing will come out of it. The trains are gone forever. I dare them to prove me wrong.
It is sad, disheartening that to be happy, we have to look back. Where we have found ourselves is bad, to say the least, and the future seems not promising at all, that is when we can imagine it.
•This piece is being repeated to remind President Jonathan of what we, the people, want. This piece is a reminder to those who are printing posters and defacing our walls that we know what we want even if they think elections are about great billboards and horse-trading. This piece is to remind the electorate to scrutinize the men asking for their votes once again. We have been raped for too long.