TOMORROW is October 1. The airwaves have been unusually quiet. The Federal Government has not been doing the normal talking concerning the country’s 52nd Independence Day anniversary. Descriptions such as “low key celebrations,” “time to reflect,” “taking stock” and so on, which usually precede the day to give Nigerians an insight to the character of the celebration have been lacking. And so, it is uncertain how it will look when tomorrow comes.
Maybe, there is practically nothing to talk about; hence, the official enthusiasm has waned. That is, after 51 years of branding, government has run out of sellable phrases with which to present the 52nd edition. But talking in Nigeria is very good even if it amounts to nothing, because talking is about the only elixir without side effects in a country where official inaction is a norm.
The people talk to ease tension. There are bad roads to talk about, there is insecurity to talk about, the collapse of social services such as health and education, and more recently, the ravaging floods, which have made millions homeless, constitute excellent topics for talk. There are just too many ugly things to talk about and the only challenge is searching for something beautiful to highlight, to spice up the mood during tomorrow’s celebration.
But who knows, President Goodluck Jonathan may invent a palatable story to tell tomorrow. He can, at least, say that for the first time in more than half a century, Nigeria has run uninterrupted on the wheels of democracy for 13 years. And there will be a standing ovation. It is no mean feat. Only the military, running on armoured tanks, have been able to stay that long, from 1966 to 1979 and 1984 to 1999. The President should be allowed to crow about this. And then what more will he talk about? Okay, the near over-orchestrated improvement in power generation and distribution. He can also gratuitously add the yet-to-be perfected transparency in the electoral process. The good news is exhausted, leaving the rest of the narration without high points.
The real story, perhaps, will be told by the opposition. A good narrator may choose to make the story more vivid by loading in it, frightening statistics like the one that says Nigerian parents spend about N300 billion annually sending their children to Ghana, Togo, Republic of Benin, Europe, America, Canada and the rest of the world for primary, secondary and tertiary education. This is almost twice as high as what Nigeria spends on the educational sector yearly.Reports say there are about 75, 000 Nigerian students studying in Ghana alone and the Nigeria is third on the list of countries with the highest students studying overseas. Parents and guardians are looking elsewhere for solution because the Nigerian school system has stopped working. In the public universities for instance, a four-year programme could extend for as long as 7 years due to incessant strike actions by university teachers under the aegis of Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU).
It has not always been this bad. In 1975, four Nigerian universities were rated among the top 20 in Africa and 43 years later, instead of ascending, the country has plunged down the ladder. Today, none of the country’s universities is among Africa’s best 10 and the world’s 150. In all, university education in Nigeria is defined, more by the things that detract, than otherwise. ASUU has consistently maintained the line that for things to turnaround, government must move up education funding to at least a level close to 26 per cent of the national budget as recommended by UNESCO. The union insists that the current spending of between 8 and 12 per cent has not translated to value.
Health care has also been technically out sourced to India, where Nigerians go for even primary health issues. One estimate says N81bn is spent by Nigerians annually, in what is described as medical tourism to India and other countries. Yet, there is nothing in the horizon that is indicative of a better tomorrow in the Nigerian health sector. Like teachers, doctors in public hospitals respond more to strike call than they do to duty call. There is always a bone to grind between government and the doctors.
What is more, it is only three years away from the 2015 deadline set for the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The country is painfully lagging behind on all counts. Poverty and hunger are still prevalent while universal education, gender equality and child health are as distant as they were at the turn of the century. Gains in maternal health, HIV/AIDS prevention, environmental sustainability and strategic global partnerships are still very minimal. This is the unfortunate scorecard even as the nation adds one more year to its political age tomorrow.
The deficiencies in infrastructure are more mind-boggling. The nation’s roads are in very bad state and moving on them literally amounts to meandering through a minefield. This, more than any other factor accounts for the rising road carnage in the country. One record says Nigeria ranks second among 193 countries with the highest rate of road accidents. It is estimated that an average of 5, 000 people are killed and a lot more injured annually through road accidents.
In the matrix, almost everybody is a loser. The corporate operators as individuals move against the suffocating odds of poor infrastructure and social services to make ends meet. It is only in politics that returns on investment are assured. The turnaround time is good too. It explains why politicians are the richest and why many more people are quitting the businesses and professions to play in the political sector. Politicians are the highest paid. The Central Bank Governor, Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi said at one forum that 25 per cent of recurrent expenditure goes into servicing the National Assembly alone.
Still, good chunk of the capital expenditure, which is an abysmal 22 per cent of the national budget is lost in the bureaucratic chain and never trickles down to the purpose for which it is appropriated. Thus, corruption is at once a far bigger problem in the onerous task of building the Nigerian nation. This is the heart of the matter.
A section believes that the blocks in the nation-building project are not adding up because the foundation is faulty. They say the leaders only created elaborate institutions for nation building but forgot to include a nation in the building design. A logical starting point, they argue, is to return to the drawing board and rework the design to include a nation that can bear the building blocks.
This is otherwise known as restructuring of Nigeria along lines that will engender justice and therefore peace. Some call it true federalism. It sounds so simple, yet its implementation or non-implementation has constituted the so-called national question since the replacement of the original federal structure with a unitary arrangement by the military in 1966. Others say nothing as such is wrong with the nation and the institutions but the operators who have always proved insincere. Either way, there is a problem underscoring the need for more meaningful talk to save Nigeria for the second time after the 30-month bloody civil war to keep it going as one country.
Some people actually say the civil war was premature because it neither taught good lessons nor settled beyond reproach the great questions of identity within the supra frame work.
Now, another chance at peaceful resolution of the contradictions is beckoning. It is the ongoing attempt by the National Assembly to rework the 1999 Constitution and bring it as close as possible to the aspirations of all Nigerians. Everybody is talking, some at cross purposes actually, but in the end, the real task of the legislators is to synthesize the discordant tunes into a beautiful Nigerian song, so that Nigeria, contrary to horrendous predictions of its disintegration in or before 2015, can survive beyond that year and forever. This is the lesson for tomorrow’s October 1, and Nigeria’s 52nd Independence Day anniversary. Happy celebrations!
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