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COST OF VOTERS' REGISTRATION VERSUS THE ORDINARY PEOPLE

By NBF News
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Recently, I got a phone call from a man soliciting for my aid. The tone was very low. 'I am dying slowly from renal failure and I need help urgently,' he said. 'I need a kidney transplant and I have been referred to a hospital in India; I need funds. I spend a minimum of N100, 000 every week on dialysis. I have spent everything. ' From the other end of the phone, I could feel the state of a man deeply depressed.

He had seen similar stories of very sick patients in the print media soliciting and getting financial help and he wanted me to do a story for him appealing to kindhearted Nigerians to donate and keep him alive. The estimated cost, when I inquired from a colleague just back from India on a kidney transplant for his son, is about N5million!

If he is lucky, he will get it. Because I remember the pathetic case of a younger brother to a colleague of mine who died just as the life-saving fund raising for his kidney transplant was ongoing. I flashed back to the story a teacher friend told me of one bright young boy who topped his class from JSS1 to SSS3. 'Emmanuel was born a genius,' the teacher said of this boy. 'But the last I heard of him was that he was a barber somewhere in Abuja.' The story was that he lost his parents in his final year in secondary school and couldn't proceed to the university to study medicine.

'I spoke to him on phone recently. And he was very optimistic that next year he will be in a university,' the teacher said. 'His explanation was that he had admission quite alright in a federal university but had to defer it as he found it very hard raising money to pay his first year school fees and had nowhere and no one to run to for help.' According to the teacher, Emmanuel had worked hard and saved some money now and has a strong belief that once he is able to start school, he will be able to get some form of financial assistance from the scholarships given by oil companies yearly, which he said friends drew his attention to. What Emmanuel actually needed to resume college was less than N200, 000. So far, he had lost a year and half at home.

We had hardly finished talking about Emmanuel when the teacher friend introduced another more pathetic story. This time, it was about a pretty intelligent young orphan girl he had taught, who was brought to Lagos from one of the South-South states by his aunty. Unfortunately, the aunty lost her job where she was working and this immediately translated to the young girl also losing her education. 'She stopped coming to school; dropped out completely,' the teacher said.

Not gifted with the patient and industrious people like Emmanuel, she opted to be on the fast lane and the last the teacher said he heard of her was that she was in Libya – working as a prostitute!

Imaginably, if one was to calculate the total cost, irrespective of her choice of course (at least in a state-owned university), an investment of less than N1.5million would have salvaged her destiny. Only in a country where the government is sensitive can this be achieved.

All over Nigeria, tragic-stories like these abound. They are too numerous to count. One is bound to hear stories of the plight and trauma of ordinary citizens who are not able to access funds at the most critical periods of their lives. Sad tales of men, women, the aged, the very young, intelligent, all in various tribes and tongues - dying daily, not just physical death, but dying with their dreams unrealized because when it mattered most, government, relations and even the so-called philanthropists who are supposed to provide succor, are failing to come to their rescue. To these ones, they see no state, no government, no hope, and therefore no future. These are the daily tales of woe, forever confronting the ordinary man in the street. Such sordid stories, unbelievable as they sound, happen in a nation that spends billions of dollars on most times, mundane projects.

Stories of infrastructural decays, where the ordinary citizens dwell, abandoned projects; dilapidated schools, ill-equipped and poorly staffed hospitals, absence of potable water, epileptic electricity generation and supply and its absence, and failure to provide motorable roads etc. I know one of such bad roads where a sick woman was trapped in traffic, and she needed to be rushed down to hospital for urgent medical attention, as hours ticked down to minutes and seconds, the traffic failed to clear. And when eventually it did and the car conveying her got past that bad portion, so much time had been lost - and she couldn't make it alive to the hospital. Fixing that bad spot, I am sure, won't cost up to N5million.

In Nigeria, it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for the poor who are critically ill and deprived among us to get access to life-saving funds. Anyone who knows how much Nigeria rakes in daily from the sale of crude oil at the international market would not help but express deep worry over the continuous suffering of the ordinary citizens. Personally, I have been battling to understand why, paradoxically, Nigerians, citizens of one of the world's top ten crude oil producer nations, are also ranked amongst the world's poorest.

But then, my ability to comprehend or resolve this paradox has not been helped in any way with the ease with which INEC's Chairman, Prof. Atahiru Jega got over N87billion to conduct the forthcoming elections in Nigeria from the Federal Government. And that figure excludes the N6.6billion he got to extend the voters registration exercise for an additional one week. It boggles the mind. Elections, whose end results are usually pre-determined, except I am made to believe the trend will change from previous experiences in 1999, 2003, and 2007.

Over N94billion just to conduct elections? Haba! And then come to think of the speed with which approvals were issued for the release of the funds by the government. Except, I am mistaken, the essence of elections under a democracy is to allow the people elect the persons who will provide leadership that will cater for their socio-economic needs. If this is true, has the lot of the majority of ordinary citizens fared better as expected in the last ten years? How fast, compared to the Jega experience, can our government, release much needed socially designed intervention funds to cater for the urgent needs of the suffering peoples in Nigeria? This shouldn't be an uphill task that they are making us to believe is the case.

Talking about the first case in this article - where Nigerians are now queuing in Indian hospitals for kidney transplant surgery- one can't help but wonder the cost of establishing such hospitals in Nigeria; or even one in Abuja. Will it take up to N94billion to float such a standard and quality hospital where Nigerians can go to? How much will it cost to give free dialysis to kidney patience or even subsidize the cost in a year? Will it take up to the N6.6billion INEC got in a week?

What about establishing a pool of fund where identified intelligent but indigent Nigerian children can access to keep their education hopes alive; will it take up to N6.6billion in a year to do this? I am sure this N6.6billion is more than the annual budgets of some neighbouring West African states.

Jega must really be a very lucky man. He got what he wanted for obvious reasons: the funds were rapidly released to perpetuate a regime - a political process - whose beneficiaries can't afford to tolerate any form of setback. They can't afford to lose grip of a free flow of income that is devoid of stress.

Considering the huge amount of funds sunk into the registration project, it would have been far more rewarding if the ordinary suffering Nigerians can have access, and rapidly too, to some forms of respite from government, after all, human resource should be considered the most valuable resource of any nation.

The registration processes have come and gone and the political gladiators and of course, the National Assembly members are most likely patting themselves in the back for doing a great job. Also, they must be imagining that the monies they rapidly approved to INEC was well spent, but I hope not at the expense of the same people they claim to be 'dying' to govern in obviously 'do-or-die' elections. History is waiting to record the deeds of these so called leaders.