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SUFFERING IN THE MIDST OF PLENTY

By NBF News
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Nothing bothers me as much as the sufferings majority of Nigerians go through at this particular time in our nation's evolution. I have made efforts in the past to draw attention to the problems blocking the progress of our country. Since independence, Nigeria has remained generally underdeveloped, even though it has severally been referred to as the Big Brother of Africa. And surprisingly, it has played the Big Brother role with clinical perfection and immeasurable generosity. This is why, despite our own internal problems, many nations in Africa still look up to us for help.

Each morning I wake up, I am engrossed in deep thought about Nigeria. I ruminate on many issues, especially those that border on the welfare of the common man. When we say Nigeria is not making progress it is not for the rich men and women who walk every nook and cranny of the country like colossuses. Rather we talk about millions of Nigerians who live on less than I dollar a day - eking out a living in a most demeaning and dehumanizing manner. Is it contestable that some of our fellow citizens making a living from scavenging the mountains of refuse dumps that dot almost every street in our urban cities? For those of them in the rural areas, life cuts a different picture. Only God knows how they survive.

I have come to believe that what the Bible writes about God's boundless love for the weak, the poor, the needy, the hungry and the sick is true. The Bible tells us that God has promised to take care of man who He has made in his image and likeness. Read the Letter of St. Paul to the Philippians, Chapter 4 verse 19, and you will appreciate the graciousness of our God. He takes care of the birds in the air and the rats in the hole, let alone man. Man is a creation of God's bountiful love and He treats him with all the care and attention he deserves, which was why He sent his only begotten to die for the salvation of mankind.

But my worry stems from the fact that man has failed to reciprocate God's love. The evil that rules our lives has continued to grow in geometric proportion. It has got to a stage that our existence as a nation is perilously threatened. Let me ask: What is the real cause of our backwardness as a nation? I tried to provide the answer in one of my recent articles in this column, but I doubt if I did justice to that question. And that is why I have deemed it proper to repeat the question. Probably, somebody may be able to proffer the answer.

Ask an average Nigerian why Nigeria is not making progress and their reason will vary, as their faces differ. As I indicated in one of the articles I wrote in this column this year, I alluded to selfishness as Nigeria's biggest headache because around it revolves other problems. Selfishness is wholly responsible for the high incidence of corruption, robbery, child trafficking, prostitution, licentiousness and avarice that have formed part of our national life. I have hardly seen any Nigerian alive who can die for the nation. Everybody thinks about himself and his family, and little about Nigeria. It is this self-aggrandizement that is responsible for the absence of patriotism and nationalism in almost all of us.

The irony of it all is that those who amass wealth illegitimately do not live to enjoy it. Sooner than later, they develop one form of terminal ailment or another. The next thing they end up in the hospital and before you say Jack Robinson they kick the bucket, leaving behind their wealth to be shared by even their enemies. There had been cases in the past where it was reported that some wealthy Nigerians, who stashed billions of Naira in foreign bank accounts, died leaving them behind, without anybody being aware of it. Even their families were not aware that such huge amounts of money ever existed.

Why should anybody steal government money? And if he or she ever does, why should the money find its way to foreign bank accounts where it lies dormant? If such money is invested locally it may generate employments and lift the lives of our people. No matter the amount of money one makes, so long as it does not touch positively the lives of people around you, it is useless. Wealth makes sense when it is fairly distributed. Sadly, in Nigeria the distribution of national resources is dictated by stipulated man-made rules and guidelines that hardly promote equality and fairness.

Look at the contention continually generated by the National Revenue Sharing Formula. While some have called for its review along specific parameters, some others have called for its total scrapping. The lopsided sharing of national resources has accounted for much of the tension in our polity. It is painful that where the resources get to the states and local governments they are not judiciously utilized. If the money is well used it will promote even development and growth. Go round some of the states in the federation and you will marvel at the level of backwardness they face.

I asked some time ago: 'When will Nigerians enjoy their country?' without any answer. Are we going to enjoy Nigeria when all of us are dead? I still remember asking this question in the article in question. The level of poverty is worrisome and widespread. The situation keeps getting worse and worse by the day. What is the purpose of government when the people do not profit from it. The essence of government is to provide quality governance that will have direct positive impact on the lives of the people. This is why many nations of the world practise democracy in the belief that power belong to the people.

It is unfortunate that our people have continued to transit from one corrupt and inept government to another. The worst of these governments was the Olusegun Obasanjo government of 1999-2007. This government made life unbearable for the people. It had no definitive agenda on how to develop Nigeria. All its developmental initiative ended on the drawing table, despite the huge sums appropriated and released for them. What reason can anybody give for the inability of that administration to achieve sustainable electricity generation? It voted over 16 billion dollars for the projects that would ensure steady supply of power. After eight years, the projects are yet to attain the set target.

It was on this faulty foundation that the administration of Umar Musa Yar'Adua built its hope of realizing the proposed 6000 megawatts by December 2009. Without assessing the conditions of the projects it inherited the administration proposed its own projects. Today, Nigerians are groaning under the weight of epileptic power generation.

I cannot understand why successive administrations failed to achieve steady power generation when smaller countries, like Ghana and Seychelles have since attained 75 per cent of their Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) - less than four years to the 2015 deadline? Countries across the globe have tackled this endemic problem through diverse pragmatic strategies - peculiar to them. What Nigeria needs to attain the goal of steady power supply is to develop a local and peculiar strategy that will be based on the availability of raw materials and manpower. Depending on gas and hydro is no longer the in-thing globally. Alternative fuel, such as bio and solar, including other modern technologies, have been used to generate power. Coal, which is produced in quantum in Enugu, is another source of generating steady electricity. Before the Nigerian Civil War broke out coal, groundnut, rubber, cashew nuts, palm oil were the mainstay of our economy. Suddenly, focus shifted to crude oil. It is the neglect of agriculture that is responsible for the many problems besetting the nation.

Today, nobody talks passionately about agriculture any more. All attention has been focused on oil. This misplaced priority accounts for the poverty and hunger that threaten to snuff life out of many Nigerians, specially the underprivileged, who live from hand to mouth daily, and are not sure where the next meal will come from. It is regrettable that despite the huge sums appropriated yearly for agriculture hunger still ravages our nation. The farmers who are supposed to benefit from agricultural loans, fertilizers, improved seedlings and other farm tools are consigned to the background while impostors and other cabals hijack these things for their selfish interest.

Can anybody volunteer any reason Nigeria cannot conveniently feed its teeming population, considering the huge resources available to it? At least, the money we make monthly from oil is enough to meet almost all our financial needs.

The major roads across the country are death traps, yet huge sums are earmarked for their rehabilitation every year. The worst hit is the eastern part of the country. The situation is so bad that one cannot move from one state in the region to the other that easily. A journey that will ordinarily take 30 minutes stretches for as much as three hours. Apart from electricity, which is the major driver of any economy, good roads are next. Good roads promote increased economic activities, facilitate mobility of men and materials, and reduce carnage, which has been a regular occurrence on our roads.

All of us should be worried as well by the steady falling standard of education. It is now a national malaise, and nobody is doing anything concrete to remedy the situation. Cultism, flirtatiousness on the part of students, immorality and examination malpractice have combined to threaten to destroy our educational system.

The mass failure at the 2009 National Examination Council (NECO) examination is something for us to worry about. Out of the over 300, 000 candidates that entered for the examination on 4, 233 obtained the compulsory five credits. What then happened to the other 98.955 per cent? Imagine what will happen if we consider cumulatively the performance of students in the other examinations, such as the West African School Certificate (WASC) and the General Certificate of Education (GCE). The same sordid situation obtains in the Joint Matriculation Examination (JME), in which less than 10 per cent of those who seek admission succeed. I fear that unless something drastic is done the situation will get to a stage where many of our graduates will become totally unemployable.

The surest way to arrest this abysmal performance by students is to declare an emergency in the educational sector. It is stating the obvious that education is the cornerstone of any nation's advancement. Without solid education all other factors or indices of development will become inoperable. It is not the intention of this article to apportion blame. All I want to achieve is to arouse the consciousness of government and other stakeholders in the sector to begin to do something strategic to reposition the sector.

Education has been given adequate attention in developed countries. Surprisingly, countries, such as South Africa, Seychelles, Cape Verde, Burkina Faso, Egypt and even, Ghana have all overtaken Nigeria educationally. The surest way to measure the veracity of this claim is to take a census of the number of Nigerian students studying abroad. Almost every wealthy Nigerian or top government functionaries have their children and wards studying abroad. Why have they chosen to send their children abroad while leaving the sector in Nigeria comatose?

It may not be out of place should government choose to decree that no top government functionary should send his/her child abroad for studies. This will force them to do something urgently to make education back home functional and qualitative.

Investment in education is a life thing. This is why wealthy Nigerians are encouraged to invest in education. This responsibility should not be left for government alone if we are to make any headway in our effort to salvage the sector from total collapse. It is an undeniable truth that our nation will be doomed if education is not saved from collapse.

I have devoted sufficient space to the problems confronting education because of its central role in moulding the character of our children and developing them cognitively. If I am asked to proffer solutions to the problems I will recommend first the declaration of an emergency, then this is followed by the establishment of a special committee to study the sector critically and suggest the way forward. Funding has been identified as an intractable problem. Many of our higher institutions are nothing but glorified primary schools. They lack the basic facilities needed to make them functional and qualitative. Again, the twin-issue of cultism and prostitution should be confronted squarely in order to make the school environment real centres of learning and excellence.

I may not want to deal with the recurring electoral problems of this great nation, because they make me cry. I have never believed that Prof. Maurice Iwu is the problem of elections in Nigeria. After all, there had been other helmsmen before him who had been blamed, one way or another, for the way they handled elections. The major problem of elections is the absence of a well-articulated electoral procedure or law. Even the people - the voters themselves - are part of the larger problem. It is they that give in to the many antics of the politicians. My position does not mean a clean slate for the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). INEC, no doubt, needs some overhaul, in line with the imperatives of reform. When INEC and the entire electoral reform are ultimately strengthened it will have direct impact on the nation and fast-track the process of development and democratization.

The greatest challenge that faces any government in power in Nigeria is how to remove Nigeria from the sceptre of corruption, poverty and insecurity that tend to destroy the root of our nationhood. No matter how much we pretend to be growing, it will not make any meaning until these ills are uprooted.

I do not subscribe to the idle talk by some charlatans that Nigeria is the giant of Africa. How can we make this bogus claim when we cannot even feed ourselves? The hallmark of any egalitarian and progressive nation is prosperity for all. From available statistics, at least 70 per cent of our populace are poor. What we have in Nigeria, at the moment, are two classes: It's either you are rich or you are poor. That is no sign of development.

Let me say it loud and clear: Nigerians are suffering and need some respite. Who then will bell the cat? Whoever succeeds in belling the cat will have succeeded in writing his name in gold for posterity. This objective is achievable once we can demonstrate strong will and tenacity and utilize our God-given wealth judiciously and equitably.