Nigeria and the lottery of life

by Bolaji Aregbeshola

A recent report by the Economist Intelligence Unit, a sister company of The Economist, stated that Nigeria is the worst place for a baby to enter the world in 2013. This report needs to be taken seriously by every well-meaning Nigerian regardless of what scepticism some people might have towards the report. Obviously, the health status of Nigerians cannot be said to be the best among all nations of the world. The Nigerian government needs to do more to ensure that life expectancy at birth is increased.

Nigeria may be regarded as the giant of Africa. That does not translate into increased life expectancy and reduced mortality. The health and well-being of the Nigerian people is not considered a national priority because of the high rate of corruption which President Jonathan in a recent statement said was not the major problem facing Nigeria but rather the attitude of Nigerians.

The World Health Organization has been at the forefront of ensuring health equity among all countries of the world. But there still exist disparities in life expectancy and mortality rates among many countries with African countries such as Nigeria, Ethiopia, Uganda, Malawi, Mali, Sierra-Leone and Zambia having the lowest life expectancy and high mortality rates.

Improved health sector funding has been attributed to an increase in life expectancy and a reduction in mortality rates but the 15 percent budgetary allocation to health agreed upon by the African Health Ministers in the Abuja Declaration of 2001 is still a mirage.

If the Nigerian government had improved the material well-being, life expectancy at birth, rate of unemployment, rate of corruption and security of the citizens; Nigeria may not have come last among the 80 countries covered in the study by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU). Paying proper attention to these indicators would have placed the country in a favourable position. What the leaders of government have succeeded in doing is to disregard these indicators as a measure of good health, safety and prosperity for the citizens. The aftermath is a situation where a baby born in Nigeria today does not stand a chance of living as long as her contemporaries in countries like Switzerland, Australia, Norway etcetera thereby encouraging the emigration of expectant parents to these countries.

Unfortunately, Nigeria is still struggling economically despite injecting trillions of Naira on a yearly basis into the economy. Issues such as unemployment, debt management, economic and fiscal policy remains unaddressed. Though, the appointment of Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as the Finance Minister and the Coordinating Minister of the Economy bring a ray of hope. Nigeria and its citizens are certainly not lucky in the lottery of life. A lot of effort needs to be made in providing the best opportunities for a healthy, safe and prosperous life for every Nigerian citizen in the years ahead. The EIU report is instructive. Nigerian leaders of government cannot afford to disregard the outcome of a study that was meant to awaken governments to their responsibility of improving the survival of their citizens.

Ensuring security, welfare and provision of basic amenities of life is a major responsibility of leaders around the world but many leaders have deviated from this basic responsibility which is often time their campaign talking points during election period. Effectively dealing with problems facing the country has been a major issue for most African leaders.

As Nigeria faces the stark reality of being the worst place to be born in 2013, the first step in reversing this trend is to pay proper attention to issues of good governance, job security, life expectancy at birth, material well-being, personal security and gender equality. Nigerians deserve to live a prosperous life just like their counterparts in Australia, Sweden, Canada, Switzerland, Germany etcetera. Being born in Nigeria should not be a disadvantage to the citizens besides Nigeria is not a wrong country to be born.

Nigerian leaders of government must be fully alive to their responsibilities. They should not wait for reports like this before they can reduce the rate of unemployment, improve health sector funding and curb corruption. Government must make a commitment to saving, protecting and preserving the lives of Nigerians. Enough of paying lips service to ensuring security, welfare and provision of basic amenities of life to the citizens. Nigerians are not unfortunate citizens. They deserve to live long. They deserve to survive just like every other human being in Switzerland. The people of this country were not born differently neither were they specially created but rather, they were born in a country with a stable and prosperous economy that is private sector driven.

Nigeria is blessed with both human and natural resources. The country has produced notable men and women in all areas of human endeavour. But this is yet to translate into a stable economy. Countries like China, Japan, USA, Russia, Brazil, India and Indonesia are capitalising on their manpower to improve their economies.

Nigeria is not just a geographical expression. It is a land filled with milk and honey and everyone can testify to this. This shows that the onus lies on the leaders to make the best use of this God-given wealth for the benefit of all the citizens.

The citizens also have a role to play in ensuring the equitable distribution of the resources. They must not be laid-back and allow the people in government decide their fate and/or destinies. Everyone cannot obviously be at the helms of affairs but the citizens must get involved in the governance process. Nigeria is a great country. The citizens are the ones to bring out its greatness. The people of Nigeria must not give up on this great country – a country flowing with milk and honey.

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