Nigeria: Our Nation is on the verge of losing its Soul
Our Nation is in crisis and we are at the crossroads of making a monumental choice in our next elections between reactionary, revisionist forces and progressive forces. The heart of our great Nation's moral compass and indeed fabric has had driven through it what can be likened to the sharpest available rusty nail which in its process of entry has contaminated the entire nation. It is now a cliché that whenever statistics are banded for growth, development, and sustainability we are in football terms usually in the league's third division not leading the league but mid table that position half way between being relegated and staying in the league. As we approach elections next year, I ask myself and indeed I believe I speak for others when I say what kind of leader are we seeking? History serves and reminds us that for a country to attain greatness and success in all facets of development it is sin qua non, that it must have a brilliant and effective leader. A leader with vision, clarity of purpose, drive, decisive, gravitas, strong convictions, ideas, composure, good judgement of the biblical Solomon, manager of talents and an intellect to match. The challenges of our leadership no doubt compounded by those not fit to govern but have unduly appropriated to themselves offices of state for which they do not deserve to occupy. Thus there exists a huge gulf and great disconnect between those who govern and the governed in Nigeria. Furthermore the glut in the lack of knowledge by those who govern of their constituencies, which is glaring and evidenced in the poverty of programmes to improve the quality of people's lives.
I had the good fortune and opportunity a few weeks ago to listen to a talk (the venue and country shall remain nameless) by one of our brightest minds whose field I choose not to reveal. With much laughter the audience edged the expert on, what happens if our Oil reserves are exhausted would this be a blessing in disguise? Our expert states that though our Oil resource is a resource cause we are no where at the stage of a depletion of our Oil resources because Nigeria can best be described as an Island of Oil in an Ocean of Gas – herein lies the bane of our challenge (as 'problem' is a negative word) I avoid using. A typical Yoruba saying when translated says, 'that the person who has a head has no cap' and 'the person who has a cap has no head.' Indeed one of our challenges is our capacity for self-denial. We are full of empty pride and too arrogant to admit our own challenges. Often in Diaspora, social gatherings are full of heated and intense discussions about our Nation's challenges. However whilst we are good at this, are we actually good at proposing and implementing solutions? I admit and confess I am culpable too but self-recognition of our challenges is the first place to start to admit our failings.
Whilst other countries are good at taking stock, admit their failures and learn lessons from their past mistakes. We resort to the same old tried and tested failed approach through conferences that are no more than glorified talking shops with no tangible results to point to but the profligate spending of valuable public funds. If Nigeria were a public limited company listed on the stock exchange, its shares would not be sellable, as you cannot flock a dead horse or bad performing stock with a poor track record for return on investment. Do we really have anything going for us as a Nation or indeed can we point to an institution of state that is miles ahead of its counterparts that can be bench marked against its counterparts in other south emerging countries? If we conduct a worldwide survey is our Nation one of the most hospitable places to live and work? Despite our so-called re-branding what is our reputation abroad? To use the common phrase are we exactly punching above our weight? To begin to answer these questions opens a Pandora's box of challenges. One challenge leads and it's intricately linked to the other. We often do not work in synergy in tackling our challenges and the much-heralded economic programmes (a mouthful of jaw breaking acronyms including vision this vision that!) launched with so much fan fare have had little or next to nothing impact to uplift the lives of the ordinary man, the man on the creeks of the Niger, the man on the banks of the Niger, Benue, Chad and the man on the obalende molue.
We say we are a rich country but we have nothing in way of a Sovereign National Fund like other countries blessed with our resources have. We virtually have no investments outside Nigeria and even our so-called Excess Crude Account according to experts is almost empty. Depending on which source you choose to rely on, our flagship state owned Oil Company is insolvent so is the Stock Exchange. Sounding like a broken record is it any wonder we call ourselves a giant but what we are really is an empty giant, a toothless bulldog that cannot bite.
The gap between the first and third world is widening everyday and what we are doing is playing catch up. We may shout from the rooftops but our infrastructures are failing and isn't ironic that this is what we have been saying since the 1980s. It is quite revealing that government at all levels do not seem the capacity to feel the pulse on the main challenge confronting our Nation. It is not Power, Niger Delta, Corruption or Electricity and it is not Roads. It is Education, Education, and Education to borrow the words of a former British Prime Minister. The so called Asian tiger economies that have made the transition from third world to first world have done that on the back of high literacy rates and investment in Education. In fact if we crack Education we will solve at a stroke all our other challenges. This is not an academic paper and I would not quote statistics from the usual suspects vis-à-vis the World Bank or International Monetary Fund – it is not necessary. It is blatantly quite obvious that our Nation is in dire straits on the threshold of witnessing a grave crisis. This also is our future, our greater tomorrow. Our Nation at the present time sits on a time bomb ready to explode because of the complacency of our leadership in not realising that that there exists a conspicuous lack of opportunity available to our young people who are leaders of tomorrow.
The recent examination results released by the West African Examinations Council makes for pitiful reading. We delude ourselves if we think we can make the transition from third to first world without refocusing and rethinking our educational strategy. This is not done through big speeches, launching or spending money by establishing expensive schools. It is much more than that as even the so called expensive schools contribution to producing bright products are very negligible. At best this can be described as a mismatch and scatter gun approach. Our rich are not usually known for their common sense and the belief that throwing money at something solves our problems is living in a fool's paradise. If we want to achieve the success rates of the Asia Tiger economies then am afraid we have to go there, study their policies and ask them how they have done it. In other words we have to change our mindsets. I have to refer back to the question of leadership and it is no coincidence that the successful Asian tiger economies have had good leaders who whatever their faults led their countries successful transition from largely agrarian economies to first world economies. This same region it has been reported lately in China and India are two countries positioned to be the two leading economies in the next decade. The citizens in those countries are by and large multi-lingual, speaking their different regional languages as well as English. On the other hand we are handicapped because of our reliance on what I call old English. I say old English because that is the nature of our grammar. For a country surrounded by Francophone countries it says a lot that of late that our elites delight and often say with pride that they are mono lingual which in essence means they speak only English. English which when they go abroad they still speak like a foreigner. Of what advantage is the latest fad particularly the children of our elites who attend over priced schools and cannot communicate with the man on street in their parent's native language? This is the height of colonial mentality. This again exposes our flawed educational policy. The government does not seem to get it because if they did they will insist that learning one's native language is compulsory as well English, French and other widely spoken Nigerian languages to ensure that we remain competitive in today's world.
A refrain we reiterate all the time particularly in certain sections of our overtly and zealous religious society is 'God willing' or 'it is not our portion'. Or the common refrain on buses which people also proclaim in, 'God dey', 'when there is life there is hope', 'No condition is permanent!' Why dwell on sound bites like fatalists who believe that our Nation is pre-determined and predisposed to fail. We should move from despair and hope but plan for a better tomorrow, a better future. The rot can be allowed to continue forever. A society that dwells too much on sound bites lacking action is one that continues to stumble walking like someone perpetually drunk knocking down in the process all that he has laboured to build. It is akin to getting the dogs out, turning the taps off and burning the house down! It is my belief that God has not created our Nation like this and in fact I do not subscribe to the school of thought that God is responsible for our predicament. We are responsible and we get the leaders we deserve. Our leaders take our support for granted and we do nothing about it but complain. When once leadership was about decorum, a sense of duty and integrity we elect leaders who are reckless in thought and in their deeds. A leadership that does not appreciate the need for restraint in appropriating to themselves excess levels of pay far removed from the average man who can only but dream about such levels of pay. Similarly our leadership appropriates in excess valuable public funds to grandiose white elephant projects and needless festivities to celebrate failures. We currently have very low standards in public office and in governance. Hence the use of duels abolished in most countries since the 18th Century but still very much alive in Nigeria in settling scores and big egos between our elected and appointed politicians. And which is why in our Nation governance is all about elected politicians and a cult of hero worship on billboards, the opening and commissioning of a ½ kilometre raised road, culverts, drainages, a small sized community centre building or primary health care centre with pomp and pengantry, garlands, ribbons and all!
We lack effective state institutions and as we watch the news of the plight of people in Pakistan from the floods there, one cannot imagine the magnitude of a challenge it would be if such a disaster occurred in Nigeria. And before we say it 'is not our portion' why not say 'it is our portion' to have effective infrastructures and to have good governments.
Our challenges as a Nation are not complex and there are other countries in Asia, South America and Southern Europe that have similar challenges. A sea change in state institutions of government, police, environmental sustainability, the civil service is required to achieve a transition to the second world let alone first world. Nigeria's challenge is from the top. The trust of Nigerians can be gained through the dominance of strong leader leading strong institutions of state. We cannot address challenges of corruption eroding our nation's fabric without tackling it from the top. This added with the transparency of leaders in their conduct will restore the trust of Nigerians in them. To empower its citizens our leaders should empower and involve them in governance. A simple town hall meeting by elected politicians or surgery meetings by elected parliamentarians goes a long way. Access to government and its information is imperative for the governed as they have an inherent obligation to hold the government to account.
Our elected politicians should no longer behave with the arrogant, pompous attitude and grandeur as if we owe them. No we do not owe them they owe us a duty to perform and they should be open and accessible to the electorate. Elected politicians should feel the pulse to read the nation's heartbeat understand the issues affecting their constituents. Elected politicians should not only be making efforts to doing this but must also be able to show visible and constructive initiatives, changes and programs attributed to them evidenced in their constituencies. As citizens we should not be complacent, we should ensure that our voice is heard and our vote counts. We should contribute as much as we can through the fourth estate, civil societies, Non Governmental Groups, religious groups to ensure that those who do not deserve the trust of holding public office on our behalf should never again be allowed to govern our great Nation. As a Nation we should realise that all areas cannot have incremental growth and development at the same time and pace. If this means that changes are revolutionary and incrementally then only certain areas, regions, localities and zones can achieve these changes. As a Nation we only need to achieve the desired quality of moving from the third world to second world in a number of areas showcased to attract quality and distinction in their development and growth. Lessons from the Asian tiger economies have shown that this is the way and approach to achieve sustainable growth and development, which impacts on the lives of the citizens. Our country's engine room of growth and development can only be achieved in manageable areas so we do not spread ourselves thin. I have the unshaken belief and pride in Nigeria, we are a resilient Nation; industrious which is why Nigerians have excelled and indeed continue to excel in professions in most of the leading countries of Western Europe and Northern Nigeria. There is no reason why we cannot replicate the same levels of success in Nigeria. We should in aiming for greater heights as a Nation to use the automatic transmission vehicle gear as an analogy be driving the country forward using its 'D – Drive' not its 'N – Neutral' and definitely not its 'R – Reverse'. This way we drive our country's future forward. As Nigerians we love our country. So for those pessimists who say we cannot do it, I say we can. This is not a manifesto but an agenda to change our Nation. Our nation is at the dawn of a new era, a new renaissance and this is what we truly deserve as a Nation to rediscover and recapture our Nation's treasured and invaluable soul.
Omoba Oladele Osinuga Esq. Solicitor and Advocate Supreme Court of Nigeria, International Criminal Lawyer works in the Mission of a leading International Governmental Organisation in Europe and writes from Dagenham, Essex UK.