Should We Have A Lavish 50th Independence Anniversary Celebration?
The news is almost stale that the Federal Government has budgeted a whopping N10 billion for the celebration of Nigeria's 50th independence anniversary come October 1st 2010. Some Nigerians feel there is every reason and need for us to throw a lavish party to mark this event. They argue that “it is a big achievement for Nigeria to clock 50 years as a politically independent nation”. Interesting! This reminds me of an amusing incident which occurred during my secondary school days. A classmate of mine wrote only his name, date and subject title as his answer to an assignment on Literature in English. When the teacher queried him, he answered thus: “Madam that is an achievement”.
Conversely, many Nigerians regard the amount budgeted for the celebration as outrageous, unnecessary and a misplacement of priority. They feel we do not have any good reason to roll-out the drums. Their opinion is that our current and past rulers should rather mark the anniversary by soul-searching and self-assessment, mindful of our dismal performance over the years as a nation. They argue, and very rightly so, that the N10 billion naira will serve a worthy purpose if judiciously and conscientiously deployed to the provision of basic amenities and infrastructures which are starkly lacking in the country. I pitch my tent with this group.
Every past Nigerian ruler claims to have performed excellently well during his regime, yet we are still in the doldrums. Contrariwise, successive administrations always blame previous ones for our woes, yet no past Nigerian ruler has been convicted and jailed for mal-administration. Rather, these past rulers continue to dictate the fate of Nigeria and the pace, shape of her politics. Is this part of our reasons for having a lavish 50th independence anniversary?
Should we celebrate the fact that Nigerians have over the years received epileptic electricity supply despite the many hydro-electric power dams, gas turbines and power stations in the country and billions of naira spent in the sector? Is it justifiable that Nigeria supplies steady and reliable electricity to neighbouring countries while its citizens enjoy blackouts always? Is Nigeria's status as the world's largest importer of generators a thing of pride? Are we happy that many companies hitherto located in Nigeria (and even Nigerian businessmen) have relocated to Ghana and other neighbouring countries which boast of steady electricity? Is it fair that Nigerians pay through their noses for electricity that is never supplied or consumed? In the face of these, how do we justify the planned hike in electricity tariff? Now, the same lame arguments for the hike in the prices of petroleum products are being used for the planned hike in electricity tariff. So, as with petroleum products, poor Nigerians must pay exorbitantly for items with which God has bountifully blessed our country?
Are we happy that potholes and gullies litter all the roads in Nigeria, continuously resulting in daily loss of uncountable human lives and damage to vehicles? What happened to the billions budgeted or realized through tollgates which were not applied towards the repair, maintenance and reconstruction of our roads? What of contractors who, though substantially or fully mobilized, abandon the road construction jobs and go away scot-free? Should we celebrate these or the planned re-introduction of tollgates in spite of our ugly experience or that new and reconstructed roads in our country have a lifespan of just few months?
Perhaps, we may brandish our collapsed educational system as part of our numerous “achievements” as a nation. Pray, are the brain drain in our academic sector; the recurring examination malpractices; the yearly churning out of half-baked graduates; the irrepressible monster of cultism; the use of nepotism, ethnicity and religion in the appointment of administrators, recruitment of lecturers and admission of students in tertiary institutions; the politicisation of boards of tertiary institutions; the commercialization of academic certificates; and government's apparent abandonment of public primary, secondary and tertiary schools worth celebrating? How do we see the touted planned privatisation of public schools? Is it worth celebrating that countries with less than 10% of Nigeria's gross national product provide free education for their citizens up to university level, while “government alone cannot fund education” in Nigeria? Do we also celebrate the shame that Nigerians now seek quality education in Ghana, Cameroun and other African countries?
Should we beat our chests over the recurring decimals of unresolved assassinations, armed robberies, kidnappings, ritual killings, electoral malpractices and violence, menace of fake drugs and adulterated products, politically-motivated sectarian crises and the ever rising unemployment level? Do we celebrate our successive governments' apparent helplessness in the face of all these? Yearly, governments at all levels in Nigeria allocate huge sums of money for capital projects which end up in private pockets, leaving the targeted projects unexecuted. Are we to showcase the many communities ravaged by gully erosion over the years, apparently abandoned to their fate?
Are we ecstatic that the quickest route to stupendous wealth in Nigeria is by getting “elected” or appointed into political posts? Do we rejoice that since 1999, almost all the state governors, legislators (Federal and State) and Local Governments' Chairmen have been taking the electorate for a ride, channelling public funds into their private pockets? Does the fact that many of them see their positions as opportunities for self-service and enrichment thrill us? Should we dance that our legislators, most of whom do absolutely nothing, periodically approve huge emoluments for themselves while denying same to civil servants?
Are we elated that we lack functional and equipped public hospitals in Nigeria? How do we rejoice that insecticide-treated mosquito nets – supplied by the World Health Organisation – do not get to the targeted poor Nigerians but are sold in open markets at exorbitant prices? What do we say about agricultural inputs – fertilizers, insecticides, etc – subsidized by the government for use by farmers, never get to them but find their way to the open markets? Is it hilarious that the daily refrain in Nigeria is government's plan to abandon the provision of social amenities – schools, hospitals, housing, pipe-borne water, electricity, motorable roads (for which we pay taxes) – to the faceless and amorphous private sector and investors?
So, we want to imitate Ghana and India which, at different times, celebrated their 50th independence anniversaries? Comparatively, in what sphere can Nigeria hold candle to any of these countries? Sometime ago, Ghana celebrated 10 years of having had uninterrupted electricity supply! Let us also imitate this. Despite its enormous size and population, India has functional and well-equipped schools, hospitals, potable water, dependable electricity supply, good roads and a people-oriented government. Its government has reduced maternal and child mortality by offering financial incentives to pregnant rural women to have their childbirth in hospitals. Can't we have such in Nigeria? Can we bask in euphoria regardless of our rating as one of the most corrupt countries in the world?
The litany of things which yawn for urgent attention in Nigeria is very long. Public office-holders spend so much public funds and time to theorize on “how to move Nigeria forward”, but in fact work against that end, because they are not committed to same. Frankly speaking, Nigeria is lagging far behind, and has a lot of catching up to do. There is so much work for us to do. Let the government work sincerely towards closing the gap between Nigeria and her peers between now and 2020, and then we may celebrate our 60th independence anniversary.
President Goodluck Jonathan is renowned for his humility and indisposition towards ostentation. He should discountenance the urgings from selfish advisers, politicians and unpatriotic Nigerians who desire to milk the country through a flamboyant 50th independence anniversary celebration. The fact that the project was initiated by late President Yar'adua does not make it binding on him. Experience has shown that whenever Nigeria organizes any money-gulping ceremony, some persons utilize the opportunity to rake in millions of public funds into their private pockets. This was so with COJA, CHOGM and all the FIFA games held here. The N10 billion should be channelled towards providing social amenities what will better the lot of hapless, poor Nigerians.
Ikechukwu A. Ogu, a legal practitioner, writes from Central Business District Abuja. Email: [email protected]