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The priest versus the legislator


As immoral as the Nigerian ruling elite are, I have for long wondered why men of God are not publicly berating them for their transgressions and urging them to repent of their evil ways. I was therefore very impressed with the priest, Rev. Father George Ehusani. Speaking at Abuja , in a gathering that included legislators, he incisively analyzed the problems of Nigeria and blamed them on the failure of leadership. Irked by his forthrightness, the chairman of the occasion, Hajia Saudatu Sani, chairman of the House of Representatives' Committee on Millennium Development Goals (whatever that means), shouted him down.

  Evidently, Hajia Saudatu Sani like the generality of the power elite prefer not to be reminded of the mess they are making of this country. They want to remain condescendingly indifferent to a palpable reality: life is unbearably hard, just a cruel grind for the generality of Nigerians. They are feigning ignorance of the fact that their greed and cupidity feed on the strangulation of the Nigerian masses. They choose not to realize that their stealing, sharing and salting away of millions, even billions of dollars, reduce millions of Nigerians to vegetate in poverty and ignorance, fear and insecurity, sickness and disease, wretched housing and homelessness, etc.

  She justified her hushing up the priest by saying that our situation is not as bad as the priest portrayed it. Our situation is worse than the priest can ever portray it. It is ineffably awful, just too much to be accurately captured in words. She needs to snap out of her denial, and behold a disorderly, anarchic country, probably, one of the most unlivable places on earth; an oil rich nation that ranks with the poorest countries of the world in terms of life expectancy, child mortality, incidence of poverty and other social indexes; and a dispirited, demoralized and disenfranchised masses of people wrenched by hardship and consumed by the endless drudgery for daily existence.

  All over Nigeria, in the heat of the blazing sun, children that should be in school and young mothers with babies strapped to their backs dart through slow moving traffic selling bananas and groundnuts to motorists. These people are not in this arduous and hazardous trade for the fun of it. For the hope of earning a pittance, they are in the sun for hours on end and subject to the risk of being seriously hurt or killed by moving vehicles. They are struggling to survive in an unconscionable system that panders to the extravagance and selfishness of a privileged few and reduces the rest of the people to wasting away in shackling poverty and stupefacient ignorance.

  About 70% of Nigerians live below the poverty level. Many, especially, in urban areas, are homeless: living in open air and under the bridges. For millions of the supposedly lucky ones, who can afford housing, their habitation can be heart-rending: decrepit, dilapidated and disheveled structures - just plain pigsties. In them people are crowded, sometimes up to 10 persons in one room. Their neighbourhoods are festering squalors: dusty, filthy and trash-strewn with gutters clogged with filth and debris. These gutters stink and provide breeding grounds for mosquitoes and all forms of vermin. Not surprisingly, dirt-borne diseases, like malaria and typhoid fever are very rampant all over Nigeria .

  The national health system is in a dreadful state. The hospitals, especially public hospitals are substandard and inefficient. The doctors and nurses that run them can be mean-spirited, bad-mannered and hardhearted. The hospitals are overcrowded, teeming with patients suffering and dying from variegated diseases, including readily preventable and treatable ones. In the last 10 years, the average life expectancy in Nigeria has decreased from 51 for men and 52 for women to 44 for men and 45 for women. Nigeria has one of the highest pregnancy-related deaths in the world. With 2% of the world's population, it accounts for 11% of the world's maternal mortality and 12% of the world's under-five mortality.

  The public schools are ramshackle quarters tended by lethargic teachers indifferent to the education of their wards. They are not motivated or adequately remunerated; and they are dejected and totally disinclined to do their work. Sometimes, they are not paid regularly because the money for their salaries are stolen by governors, ministers, commissioners, etc., For similar reasons, Nigerian universities, once citadels of erudition and intellectual distinction, have deteriorated to appalling centres of mediocrity, cult violence, intellectual lassitude and sexual harassment.

  Due to an ineffective police force and the social dislocation wrought by years of irresponsible governance, the crime rate in Nigeria is mind-bogglingly high. Criminals can operate with impunity, usually with the police not in sight or on the run. Prodded by the police hierarchy and egged on by the Divisional Police Officers, the average Nigerian policeman has been reduced to an incurably corrupt individual.

  They mount road blocks, not as a crime fighting strategy, but essentially to extort money from motorists. There have been instances of the police shooting and killing commercial drivers for refusing to pay them 20 naira at these road blocks. They raid busy places, ostensibly to arrest criminals, but intentionally round up the innocent, lock them up and torture them, purposely to extract money from them. Routinely, innocent people die in police custody. The list of this country's woes is endless. Our troubles are glaring, palpable, blatant. To insinuate the contrary is either a flight into fantasy or disgusting sophistry.

  My only qualm with the priest is that he shut up when the legislator shouted him down. He should have continued, at least, to tell her that he reserves an incontestable right to express himself irrespective of what anybody thinks about his views. That he, as a priest, has neither stolen the people's mandate nor money. That as most Nigerian legislators are usurpers that rigged their way into power and steal public funds, she lacks the moral authority to tell a man of God what to do. That she, instead, should shut up. By Tochukwu Ezukanma