Nigeria: A Nation on a Path to Self-destruct
By: Deji Yesufu
Ngozi (not real name) was born in Eastern Nigeria but at a tender age her family migrated to the United States of America – seeking a good life within the American dream. Ngozi’s family regarded themselves as below middle class and at some point lived off the social support the state provides citizens that are unable to feed well. Today Ngozi has completed medical school and is in a Residency program with the hope of becoming a Consultant in a field of medicine. Ngozi says her family no longer need the state’s social support. Instead they are now in a position to give back to society. “So I’ll gladly give the American government the taxes they will exact on my income. I understand some people think government does not use these taxes well… my family and I survived on government support at a time and so I cannot resent their taxing me…,” she told me in a recent conversation.
Due to a deep sense of gratitude to the society within which she grew up, Ngozi today sees her mission in life as an opportunity to give back to society. In fact my encounter with her was as a result of a research endeavor she is carrying out within Nigeria to bring better health care to the Nigerian people. When she visited Nigeria in 2016, she had sought to find out what we might be lacking in health services and after collating her report, she made strenuous effort to get big Pharmas, wealthy organizations and individuals to support medical care in Nigeria. Her efforts were fruitless. It was not because the individuals she met were unwilling to help; it was because every one of these persons had had the same experience with Nigeria. It goes something like this: Nigeria is a country where it is practically impossible to do anything worthwhile. Foreign donor agencies make efforts to help various sectors of Nigerian life and the response they get is that one highly placed government official somewhere, who should sign up on the deal, is demanding a bribe before he allows the process to sail through. When he is told that the project is for charity, he still appears unconvinced. Ngozi said that even if this official is eventually prevailed on, donors meet with the same beggarly and demanding attitude throughout the Nigerian system. On the other hand, when the same donors approach countries like Ghana or Kenya, they are received with open arms. Listening to her I became convinced on a thought I have been ruminating on for a while: Nigeria is a nation that has set itself on a path to self-destruct.
When the oil boom hit the Nigerian nation in the early 1970s, some observers felt that the nation’s sudden plunge into wealth portended evil for her. A country just emerging from a needless civil war, led by a weak and vision-less military government, and populated by people who were mostly illiterates was not likely to use the resources that will emerge from the oil well. Unfortunately not too many people were sounding this note of warning; most Nigerians were too busy groveling in their new found wealth. University graduates were treated like kings and queens. Money was everywhere. The Naira was strong and was sort after everywhere in the world. I heard a commentary from a sitting Ghanaian president who said that Nigerians were so wealthy, they were forgetting wads of cash in London taxis. The nation thought she had reached El Dorado. Unfortunately, and in a space of ten years, all of that wealth was gone. By 1982, the Shehu Shagari government had begun to introduce austerity measures into Nigeria. All of these was happening within rising corruption in the system. By the time the Ibrahim Babangida government reached power, corruption had become our national insignia. It is this corrupt tendency that is dragging the nation to its depth.
Yesterday I sat at dinner with my secondary school friend. I had not seen him since 2005. My friend is now a “big boy” in Abuja. While we were struggling to graduate from 5-year Engineering school, my friend did a four year course in Anatomy and entered the labor market immediately after graduating. He quickly discovered the potential behind data management and health care within Nigeria. He keyed into this sector and has since reaped something of a fortune working with international health/aid agencies seeking to bring help to health challenges in Nigeria. He told me that Nigeria could enjoy a lot more but for this very corruption eating out the life of the nation. “There is big money in world health care but there are very few Nigerians that can be entrusted with such resources. Nigeria has almost been blacklisted in the comity of nation because of this corruption matter…” he told me.
And just when we thought we had had enough within the country to bring it to its knees, a new wave of terrorism was unleashed on the nation beginning from 2009. The Boko Haram insurgency has cost the nation tens of thousands of human lives and billions in resources – monies that could have been better channeled to other issues for national development. Boko Haram has today divided itself into a number of warring factions, independent of each other but with Nigeria as a common enemy. And just when we thought we had enough of that, banditry is the new word in Nigeria national lexicon. Thousands of children in northern Nigeria can no longer go to school for fear of being kidnapped. Northern Nigeria, which is already behind the south in almost every aspect of life, is further set back by jeopardizing the future of its young people. All of these worsened by a government system weighed down by a bloated and inefficient civil service and a government that is only reactive and almost never proactive.
When discussing Nigeria, my essay these days narrow down more and more on the average Nigerian person. While government’s incompetence is well documented, very few people realize that the Nigerian government is made up of Nigerians and if the character of the Nigerian government will change it must begin with its people. It is Nigerians, not Togolese, that make up our political parties and that produce politicians other Nigerians vote for. If there is a problem with Nigeria, the root cause is more than leadership (with all due respect to Chinua Achebe who said Nigeria’s problem is a leadership problem); the root cause must be Nigerians themselves! And if we must stem the tide of the self destruct button we are unwittingly pressing forward at, the average Nigerian must develop a different outlook to national life, to living, to his neighbor, to our commonwealth and to the future of the nation.
I ended my dinner with my friend at Ring Road, Ibadan, at about 8pm. It was late and my friend thought that taking public transport back to my abode, which is at the other side of town, was not safe at that time of the night. So he checked his Bolt app and saw that they had services in Ibadan. Promptly he dialed and in less than a minute, we were in touch with a bolt driver. The gentleman drove to the hotel we were at and I got in to his car. My friend paid the N1,800 that was meant for the trip via the app. I also promised the driver that I will add something for his efforts – he was a little reluctant to go to my side of town at that hour of the day. We began the journey and I noticed that Mr. Bolt did not use air conditioning. I said nothing: shebi I am the one enjoying free ride, I said to myself. Then we rammed into a hold up close to my home. Mr. Bolt began to fume. I said nothing. He even said if it was a younger person, he would have dropped me right on the road. I said nothing. He kept calling his wife on phone, complaining of the hold up. I said nothing. Then it began to threaten to rain and the wind was blowing dust all over. “Oga, wind up and put on AC now…”, I begged him. He ignored me. I said nothing.
We finally eased out of the traffic and I was dropped in front of my house. I gave Mr. Bolt N200 to kuku add to the N1,800 my friend paid, making 2k. He thanked me, reluctantly. As I reached into the house, I called my friend to thank him. He told me that Bolt had further deducted N1,000 from his account because of the hold up we experienced. It is normal practice that if a trip turn out to be longer than envisioned, the app could remove more money. Here’s the twist to the story: Mr. Bolt knew that his company will charge us more for the hold up. Yet he continued to complain because new-bee like me to Bolt will know no better. I would be guilt tripped and be forced to give him something. We paid N3,000 for a trip Bolt had said will cost N1,800. It is Edmund Obilo that uses the phrase “the character of the state”; in other words, the character of the state is the character of the average Nigeria person: fraud. And it is this fraud that continues to eat into our national life, threatening our collective existence.
Well written tragic summary of the Nigerian state.