Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Independence? What Independence?

Image: Shutterstock
As Nigeria celebrates her 54th year as an independent nation, ordinary Nigerians are left wondering if they’re truly independent. Nigeria, like most countries, is a multi-stratified nation composed of the haves and the have-nots, the educated and the illiterate, the ruling class and well…the rest. But in countries where the ruling class is competent, structures are put in place to ensure those at the bottom rung of the social ladder can move up, or at least benefit somewhat from the state’s wealth. Also, those in the latter categories are made to believe they aren’t being ignored, that they matter, and that all citizens have the same rights regardless of their position on the social ladder.

In Nigeria, however, that isn’t the case as inequality keeps rising under the watch of the inept ruling class. This reality has many Nigerians feeling they are second class citizens at best and a people merely occupying a land mass called Nigeria at worst. Take, for instance, the case of the Chibok school girls who were kidnapped by Boko Haram in April, and still remain in captivity. If these girls were daughters of those in the ruling class, we can safely assume they would have been found within a week of their abduction – even a week is too generous a time frame. Unfortunately, since the girls’ parents aren’t part of the ruling elite, they’ve been subjected to months of silence and anxious uncertainty.

How can a country consider itself liberated when the governor of a state can brazenly demand state lawmakers to pass a bill that would allow him earn an outrageous pension to the tune of 200 million naira ($1.2 million) per year, for life, at the expense of Nigerians? In a country where more than half the population lives on less than a dollar a day, such an act should be viewed as obscene, crude and selfish.

How can a country call itself independent when civil servants overtly misappropriate public funds without any fear of imprisonment or prosecution? Case in point: The former aviation minister, Stella Oduah, ordered the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) to procure 2 armored BMW cars, ostensibly for her protection, at the inflated cost of 255 million naira ($1.6 million). While intense public backlash led to her being relieved of her duties, the setback didn’t stop her from bagging a chieftaincy title or prevent her from declaring her senatorial aspiration in next year’s election cycle.

Evidently, Nigeria is a country where politicians, for the most part, think it’s their right to gorge on public funds.

This year marked the 100th anniversary of the amalgamation of Northern and Southern Nigeria, and the Federal Government thought it wise to throw a party in Abuja and honor, amongst others, Sani Abacha, the military dictator who ruled and looted Nigeria blind from 1993 until his mysterious death in 1998. It’s been reported that during his regime, he embezzled approximately 5 billion dollars from the nation’s coffers. Why would anyone honor a dictator and a crook?

For what it’s worth, in marking the amalgamation, the Federal Government should have commissioned a series of documentaries showcasing Nigeria’s history and cultural heritage prior and subsequent to the amalgamation rather than hand out dubious awards.

In a country where corruption is the order of the day and venal politicians are being celebrated in the papers and on the streets, Nigerians have become inured to news of huge sums of public monies vanishing. Earlier this year, reports surfaced that 20 billion dollars realized from crude oil sales between 2012 and 2013 hadn’t been remitted to the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), and up till now NNPC hasn't explained to Nigerians the whereabouts of said funds.

Following the disclosure of the missing funds, the then CBN governor, Lamido Sanusi, was suspended for whistle blowing, which wasn't a surprise to Nigerians since gross mismanagement of public funds and duplicity are par for the course for politicians and public officials.

As Africa’s biggest economy and largest producer of oil thumps its chest like an alpha male gorilla, roads remain in disrepair; power supply is mercurial, security iffy, while education and healthcare infrastructures are in shambles. It’s been over 50 years since the discovery of oil in Nigeria, yet she remains something of a paradox. How can a country sitting on enormous oil reserves be entrenched in poverty?

The reason the political status quo persists is because Nigerians have collectively and quietly accepted the corruption and thievery perpetrated by public officials. This tacit acquiescence arises from a deeply flawed notion that Nigerians nurse, which is that one day they’ll assume the mantle of power, and when that happens, they, too, will loot more than enough money to satisfy their greed.

This kind of thinking leads to nowhere. It’s this kind of thinking that keeps us in the abyss and blots out any chance for improvement and progress. This reasoning is a form of mental slavery, and until we expunge our minds of such base and selfish thoughts and act conscientiously, we can never claim to be truly independent.