Saturday, October 1, 2016

Which Way Nigeria?

Photo: Shayera Dark
The British pulled out of Nigeria fifty-six years ago today to wild euphoria and jubilation. Finally, Nigerians were in control of their destiny and resources, and could now stir the ship they had been forced to board in whatever direction they wanted.

Fifty-six years of statehood is a relatively short one in comparison to countries that have existed for over two centuries. Still, for any country that has experienced coups, a bitter civil war and years of military dictatorship, it feels like a very long history that deserves to be commemorated.

Hence, in honour of Independence Day, here are five achievements worth celebrating.

Divide and Rule: We’ve been told there’s unity in diversity, yet Nigerians don’t see anything but distrust for anyone outside their own circle. It’s easier giving English, Hebrew and Arabic names to our children than choosing a name from a neighbouring tribe. We’re so good at pointing our differences than our unifying qualities, which is why the slightest variation must be highlighted.

A typical Nigerian doesn’t see Nigeria as one, indivisible entity. No. In their mind, Nigeria comprises separate entities: the North and the South, and as such, Southerners couldn’t care less about Boko Haram and Northerners about the environmental degradation of the Niger-Delta.

Northern and Southern Nigeria can also be further split into six different geopolitical zones: North East, North Central, North West, South East, South West and the South South. These zones contain the nation’s thirty-six states, ostensibly created to end the bullying relationship that existed between minority tribes and the offending majority tribes. Still, these ‘minority’ states and their governors have done nothing but prove they are just as good at oppressing other minority tribes and looting state coffers like the majority tribes. In essence, the ‘difference’ between minority and majority tribes is nothing more than a tool politicians use every four years to trick their blind supporters into getting them into office and the state’s treasury.       

Another way Nigerians love to differentiate themselves is with religion. The two biggest religions view each other with the evil eye, a fact that influences politics as the president and their vice cannot belong to the same faith. This mistrust exists within the same religion, where marriage between Protestants and Catholics is frowned upon and Sunni and Shiites view each other with suspicion.

Mind-boggling Corruption: Thievery by ministers, governors and presidents is as normal as sunlight and, hence, no longer shocks the average Nigerian.

When Colonel Sambo Dasuki, the former National Security Adviser, was detained over his involvement in a 2.2 billion dollars (that’s million with a ‘B’) deal fraud, people barely batted an eyelid. What was even more alarming about the affair was that the misappropriated funds were meant for military hardware for soldiers who were engaging Boko Haram in a mortal combat.   

The good news is Dasuki remains in custody for his alleged crime, but what about the others who’ve looted the country blind? What about Stella Oduah, who was fired from her position as Aviation Minister under a cloud of misusing 255 million naira to purchase armoured cars? She’s a senator now. And the ex-presidents, military heads of state, and former governors who dipped their crooked hands in the cookie jar? They’re still flying high and free. Why? Because only scapegoats get caught.

Heedless Leadership: Remember the Chibok girls? Well, since the new government still hasn’t staged a rescue operation, they remain captive along with some boys and women who were/are excluded from the #BringBackOurGirls hashtag.

Imagine for a second, being away from family and friends, going hungry for days on end, possibly being raped every week and not knowing if today would be your last day alive. Imagine being the parent of one of those kids, and having to hear for 29 months from government officials that they’re doing their best to bring your child home. No one seems to understand that every day is one day too long, twenty-nine months a lifetime.

Imagine if those girls were the daughters of the president, vice-president, Dangote and any of the governors, do you think we would still be talking about Boko Haram? Or that the government would have waited for Michelle Obama to carry a #BringBackOurGirls sign to spring into action?

Decaying Infrastructure: During the recent presidential debate, Donald Trump deplored the state of American airports, erroneously comparing them to those in third world countries. Now, if The Donald were to visit Port-Harcourt’s so-called international airport, he’d retract his words, apologise to the American people and be grateful.

I can’t even begin to describe the dilapidated state of the world’s worst airport, where passengers have to walk the runway to the arrival hall—a makeshift cubicle, and wait for their luggage to be physically lugged to them. There are no carousels, escalators or elevators. There’s nothing at all indicating the 21st century.

The same could be said of our roads, seaports, railways, bridges and power grids, which are either insufficient or decrepit.

Eternal Recession: The great recession that began in 2008 had little to no effect Nigerians as we were already accustomed to living with a bad economy and mass unemployment. But with the dollar now exchanging for 478 naira, thanks to the fall in oil prices, our eternal recession may soon become a depression.

Meanwhile, whatever happened to President Buhari’s campaign promise of making one naira exchange for a dollar? Is his magic stick not working, or is he waiting to pull the cow from his hat just before his term runs out in 2019?

Once upon a time, Nigerians abroad rarely stayed back, preferring instead to return on completion of their education to build the country. Today, they overstay their visas and are either deported or go underground.

At the time of independence, kidnapping was unheard of, graduates were guaranteed employment and education, though not top notch, was still better than what’s on offer by some of these private schools today.

While countries less wealthy improve economically, politically and otherwise, Africa's largest economy is moonwalking into a pit of despair because our lawmakers care only about their bank accounts and the masses their stomachs.

This begs the question: Which way Nigeria?