Thursday, October 1, 2015

What We Need To Do As Nigeria Turns 55

Zuma Rock
Photo: Jeff Attaway/Wikimedia Commons 
Last year, I published an Independence Day post criticizing the government for Nigeria’s deplorable state of affairs. However this year, because I’m an equal opportunist, I flipped the coin and decided to focus my attention on tails. In other words, I’m turning the mirror on us—the citizens of Nigeria—and the role we play in maintaining the status quo.

We Nigerians enjoy berating government officials, calling them corrupt and morally bankrupt, but lest we forget three fingers point right back at us. Over cold bottles of Star and fiery suya, discussions abound about how to remove the speck in the eyes of elected officials, but seldom is there talk of how to deal with the log in our eyes.

For instance, car owners in Nigeria can attest to the fact that leaving your car at a mechanic’s workshop is a risky undertaking. So to ensure nothing is stolen from the engine, or a damaged fuel filter with another damaged or old one, precious Saturdays are spent keeping an eye on the mechanic. But don’t get too cocky about guarding against cunning mechanics, because chances are you overpaid for that new fuel filter your mechanic just bought. In essence, he’s pocketed more money than he should have, and that, my friend, is corruption.

Another baneful phenomenon car owners can attest to are the wicked and ubiquitous potholes that pepper Nigerian roads. Granted, some—I mean most—of our roads are badly constructed that all it takes is one heavy rainfall to wreck them, but sometimes we hasten the destruction. Throwing trash out of car windows and dumping refuse indiscriminately clogs gutters, causing water to accumulate on the road. As a result, what started out as an innocuous, tiny pothole becomes the Grand Canyon by the end of the rainy season.

Corruption, the disease that has long been the preserve of the public sector, has also infiltrated the private sector. Consider the following scenarios: A private company deducts taxes and pension from employees’ salaries but doesn’t remit said funds into their respective accounts. In another company, an employee forges their hotel bill when completing their reimbursement slips. Excuses and justifications aside, the company and employee are guilty of thievery, and by definition both are corrupt.

Similarly, unscrupulous doctors have been known to purloin medical equipment and medication from government hospitals, for sale or use in their own private clinics. Not only does the misappropriation deprive the poor from accessing affordable healthcare, it cheapens the Hippocratic Oath.

Any country wishing to get ahead of the curve must prioritize education. Sadly, this is one area Nigeria continues to ignore at its own peril. Nigerian universities not only suffer from lack of funds, but also from cultism, examination malpractice, truancy and lazy lecturers that threaten students with failure if they don’t buy their poorly written handouts. How can we expect students to blaze new trails and think critically when their knowledge is limited to what’s in their lecturers’ handouts?

To be certain, Nigeria can’t create a brighter future when quality education is absent; when lecturers care more about lining their pockets than imparting knowledge and students care less about studying and more about cult membership and partying.

Nigeria is what it is today because of our collective actions and inaction. We risk sticking our heads in the sand when we blame the government for all our pain without acknowledging our role in aggravating it. Therefore, if we are serious about improving our lot, changing our negative behaviors is a step in the right direction, as it would go a long way to easing our lives and those of fellow Nigerians. Granted, countries require the rule of law and good governance to thrive, but let’s also remember that good people do not need laws to act responsibly.