Nigeria @ 49: Still in the state of nature

by Joel Nwokeoma

In the part of the world where this writer hails from, the worth of a woman/man is measured, mainly, by how she/he is able to solve her/his foundational existential problems. Many, indeed, they are! As a matter of fact, her/his value in society appreciates or depreciates in relation to how this is clinically accomplished.

This partly explains why, for instance, Okonkwo, that iconic character in Chinua Achebe’s classic, Things Fall Apart, worked his socks out to ensure that he did not inherit the odious reputation of his father, Unoka, who could rarely address his many existential challenges.

As it is with humans, so it is with nations, assuming Nigeria can be classified as one in all its definitional ramifications. Nations all over the world tend be assessed and measured by how far they are able, essentially, to confront and address the existential challenges of their citizens. The tendency becomes more apt, therefore, to assume, and necessarily expect too, that with the passage of time, nations could, labouriously, if need be, though accentuated, not attenuated, by such an element as purposeful and sincere leadership, transit from the Hobbesian state of nature, where life is predominantly “short, nasty, cruel and brutish”, to one in which, to borrow a product’s payoff line, life can be lived in its full crush, by the citizens!

Interestingly, as Nigeria yet again marked a leadership-imposed low-key, or “no key” national day celebrations the other day, one’s thoughts revolved on the assertions of members of the political elite on how much progress the country has made and/or the many achievements it has recorded since attaining political independence in 1960 vis-à-vis the extant social realities confronting the citizenry, which are often overlooked.

It is startling that almost half a century after independence, Nigerians from Aba to Yaba, Uyo to Oyo, Ariaria to Zaria, not those infinitesimally privileged ones holed up in the many government houses across the country, still subsist in human, and at times dehumanizing, conditions that approximate the state of nature, daily contending with the cruelty and brutishness of life defined more by needless deprivations in the midst of suffusing wealth.

Or, how more can life be cruel and brutish as evidenced in the daily reports of deaths of countless helpless Nigerians from preventable diseases such as cholera decades after shouting “Away with the colonialists, we can rule ourselves”? Those who are even fortunate to live, do so under harsh and rash conditions defined by collapsed infrastructure, ignorance and penury.

On the eve of the country’s 49th independence anniversary, while public officials at all levels had primed themselves for celebration of our political sovereignty, the media was awash with reports of deaths of hapless and helpless Nigerians from cholera outbreaks in a number of states in Northern Nigeria. In one particular report, no fewer than 20 people, the majority of them children aged between one and 10 years, were confirmed dead while over 400 others were admitted to hospitals in Bashuri village of Dutse Local Government Area of Jigawa State. Instructively, the report quoted the representative of the village head, Alhaji Sabo Sale, as saying that the absence of clean drinking water, a hospital and good roads had contributed to the massive spread of the disease.

As he put it : “Despite the size of our population, which is about 5,000, we have only one (water) hand pump, which was constructed over 20 years ago while other sources of our drinking water remain the local wells. Also, despite being close to Dutse, the state capital, in case of emergency, we still have to go to Gaya Local Government in neighboring Kano State due to the inaccessibility of the road that links to Dutse”. The situation is worse in nearby states of Adamawa and Borno where the disease has since spread to. There are reports that about “80 lives have been lost in the epidemic that have swept through seven of the 21 local councils in Adamawa”. According to the state commissioner for information, Musa Bubakari Kamale, the outbreak of the disease has also affected 934 persons, with Mubi North Local Council-where 22 persons were confirmed dead- Fufore, Hong, Mubi South, Michika and Madagali the worst hit.

As I write this piece, the disease has since berthed in the sleepy village of Madube in Gwoza Local Government Area of Borno State, leaving in its trail four people dead and 24 others receiving treatment in various in clinics across. Now, if the picture is not gory enough, then consider this: In August this year alone, nine out of over 300 patients admitted for snake bites, yes snake bites, at the Kaltungo General Hospital Snake Bite Treatment Centre in Gombe State have lost their lives as a result of lack of drugs to treat them!. According to the Chief Medical Officer of the hospital, Dr. Abubakar Saidu Balla, the centre has received over 1,600 patients from Adamawa, Borno, Bauchi, Jigawa, Gombe, Taraba, Plateau and Nassarawa states as well as Abuja, out of which 30 have died.

It bears noting that people dying from snake bites and sundry preventable diseases in Nigeria 49 years after political independence is simply shameful, to put it mildly, and says much about the failure of our healthcare delivery services and governance at all levels. And, to think more that Nigerians, with all the wealth at our disposal, still cannot access common basics of life such as water and sanitation is unconscionable.

There is, however, a thin line separating ignorance and crudity, and at no time is this reality evident in Nigeria than now when the country’s educational sector is lying prostrate owing to sundry industrial actions engendered by government’s lack of commitment to the sector. It is as though the motive is to ensure ignorance so that the people could subsist in crude ways of life. In fact, Nigeria has never had it so bad in the sector since independence, with all the stakeholders at daggers drawn with the government over issues that ought to have been addressed long before now.

Essentially, 49 years might not be enough for a country to address all its numerous challenges, but it suffices for it to set the necessary mechanism in motion towards accomplishing these in order to transit to a functional state. Unfortunately, ours has been an experience defined more by insincere and halfhearted predisposition.

If Nigeria must navigate its way out of the woods, and fulfil its manifest promise and dream at independence, which President Yar’Adua admits has been “long deferred”, Nigerians must rise up to demand an end to this nightmarish subsistence in the extant state of nature.

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