High-Priced Mediocrities

I wonder how many Nigerians read a report in the online edition of Next newspaper titled “Four African Countries Will Achieve MDGs by 2015”. One suspects that some Nigerians who didn’t see the report must wonder whether their country made the list of four.

Perish the thought!

Next’s account cited a World Bank report issued at the annual general meeting of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. It revealed that, of the fifty odd countries in Africa, only “Cape Verde, Ethiopia, Ghana, and Malawi will likely achieve most of the Millennium Development Goals by 2015 or soon thereafter.” The document also gave credit to three African countries – Cape Verde, Rwanda and Zambia – for being among the 10 economies in the world that most improved the ease of doing business in 2010.

The Millennium Development Goals – for that’s what MDG stands for – are a set of objectives adopted by world leaders in 2000 with the aim of achieving significant improvements in socio-economic indices. The eight goals include the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger; the achievement of universal primary education; the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women; the reduction of child mortality and improvement of maternal health. In other words, the MDGs were conceived as a global tool for combating the scourge of disease and poverty. Each country had fifteen years to meet the goals.

Some countries went to work, determined to meet – or even surpass – the targets. These committed nations, with Brazil as a leading example, were fueled by the desire to transform their citizens as well as environments. Other countries – predictably Nigeria and the majority of African states – seem to have gone to sleep, determined to show up, not on the success lists, but on the rolls of the nations that can’t, won’t – or don’t care.

The difference is clear. On any score, the World Bank’s report is sobering, and shameful. The four success stories – the exception that proves the rule that African nations are still deeply mired in excruciating poverty – are products of “accelerated growth and progress on social indicators.” Four success stories in the midst of close to fifty failures is a portrait of abject failure. It’s no surprise that the World Bank implied that the four countries’ impressive showing served to highlight “serious development challenges [that] remain in Africa.”

It’s true, the report contained (the faintest) signs of progress. It found that the maternal mortality rate in Africa had declined by 26 percent between 1990 and 2009; even so, as many as 645 women per 100,000 still die during pregnancy and childbirth. It also noted a slight dip in child mortality and stabilization of HIV infection rates. The most dramatic positive showing is in the area of direct investment flows. In 2010, African nations – with estimated receipts of $21.5 billion – surpassed such investments that went to India.

Nigerians (as well as other Africans) ought to be outraged that their country did not make enough progress to earn a spot on the list of the few African nations that stayed awake to their responsibilities. Imagine the salutary impact that Nigeria would make in West Africa (and beyond) if it were to discover and embrace its mission – rather than persist in the prodigal habit of betraying it. Many Nigerians are jealous of Ghana’s steady, discernable progress. If Nigeria were in Ghana’s position, then its strides would have energized not only its 150 million citizens but also millions from neighboring countries.

The Nigerian president, governors, legislators, ministers, commissioners and local government councilors are in the top tier of the most highly paid officials in the world. The president, governors and some ministers stow away hundreds of millions of naira each month in the scam called security votes – funds that are frequently and easily pocketed because, as a rule, they are never to be accounted for. Members of the National Assembly – senators as well as representatives – cart await millions of dollars each year in the name of “constituency allowances,” another entrenched scam. And one hasn’t counted the billions of naira embezzled through such schemes as fraudulent or over-inflated contracts.

Yet, for all that they are paid and all that they steal, most Nigerian officials won’t even spare a decent hour in a day to spend thinking about their dispossessed fellows and to figure out how to solve the nation’s manifold crises. It is as if the country wastes its scarce resources on certified mediocrities, men and women so bereft of vision that they don’t realize how ridiculous they look in the eyes of the world – and for all their loot.

A Nigeria run by its least visionary and enlightened elements – men and women whose imagination is fixed on the size of their bank accounts – is in no shape to achieve the Millennium Development Goals. How is the country to reduce its health woes when hospitals are not just ill equipped, they are often not equipped at all? With Nigerian officials (and their families) skipping off to Europe, Asia or North America for medical treatment, who is left to think about the hapless condition of Nigerians beset by all manner of diseases?

I must illustrate with my home state of Anambra, a place where one man has instituted propaganda as the substitute for governance. A few weeks ago, former Commonwealth Secretary General Emeka Anyaoku and a few others gathered to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the creation of Anambra State. Mr. Anyaoku, who chaired the event, was content to cheer Governor Peter Obi, describing him in superlative terms. Yet, Mr. Anyaoku knows – he must know – that doctors in the state have been on strike for more than six months in a dispute over modest increments in their pay. Is it not a scandal that any government would treat its people so callously, indifferent to something as critical as their health?

One wondered whether Mr. Anyaoku would be satisfied with the state of affairs in Anambra were he compelled to seek medical attention in the state? If enlightened Nigerians would not raise their expectations of those who govern; if they would not advocate for decent healthcare, better education and improved lives for all citizens; if they would not voice their outrage at a situation where the lowliest citizens are denied access to affordable medical care, then it is no surprise that Nigeria now lags far behind Ghana, Cape Verde, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Zambia and Malawi – and many more African countries – in measurements of quality of life.

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