Nigeria Clocks 49: Everything Looks like Eyewash!

After 49 years of self-rule, Nigeria becomes a very disorderly place where no plan works and no vision is materialized in a substantive way. There is nothing like Left corruption or Right corruption. Politicians of all hues and their collaborators covet oil-money and love to make a fast buck. The nexus between big money and the corrupt at the helm has been practically formalized. Even the fig-leaf has been removed in such operations. The question here is not of the quantum of the payoff in a non-existent deal but of the larger issue of allowing a corrupt system to thrive.

But what shall one say if the country deviates from the fundamentals on which its independence was based? Four fundamental principles were laid down. Of these, two were jettisoned within a few years. Failed policies were discarded or held in abeyance. Democracy too was knifed and kneaded out of shape by constitutional amendment, and assassinations and martial laws. When an amendment changes the character of the constitution or touches on basic principle of a state, a referendum becomes necessary.

It is no secret that politicians and government officials are involved in oil bunkering and maneuver, they hire and pay hoodlums to facilitate the clinching of a deal that often runs the country backward. “Kickbacks”, for that matter, are part of the international business scene. Agents and sub-agents operate globally and they create their own islands of influence for kickbacks and commissions. Halliburton seemed swept into the carpet. What comes as a shock is that things have not changed in the Ministry of works even 7 years after the National Highway dualization controversy. Everything looks eyewash. Lessons are not learnt.

The rate of change facing economic breakthrough has never been greater and we must absorb and manage change at a much faster rate than in the past. In order to implement a successful governance strategy to face this challenge, this administration, large or small, must ensure that they have the right people (in the three tiers of government) capable of delivering the strategic goal.

It is a matter of great regret and sorrow that 49 years after the independence of Nigeria, the people of this country remain captives in their own land – captives politically, economically as well as culturally. Although the struggle for liberation was embarked upon by the people of Niger Delta to give effect to the collective aspirations for a representative democracy, equality of economic opportunity for all irrespective of gender, ethnicity and religion, and to establish a state based on secular ideals which would value and thrive on its ethnic and cultural plurality and diversity, the opportunities to make those dreams a reality in liberated Nigeria have been wasted time and again.

Today, as we commemorate Independence Day, we find ourselves restrained by a repressive national state of failure that has suspended democratic and political rights of the people. The economy is stagnating because of dwindling investments and sluggish business activity owing to the pervasive sense of fear that has been created by the poor leadership. Inflation has hit record levels and prices of essentials, which had gone out of the reach of average-income households some time ago, have now reached a point where even the upper-middle-class is feeling the pinch. Culturally, we have witnessed increasing intolerance for diversity and dissent, and sadly, it is only the obscurantist who opposed the birth of our nation who is enjoying the liberty that so many millions sacrificed so much for.

For this political, economic and cultural degeneration, we blame the political class in general and the political groups – the PDP and their rival Parties – which have been in government at one time or another in the last 49 years in particular. The political parties have dealt in rhetoric instead of action and as a result, slogan-mongering and petty partisanship have always taken precedence over sincere efforts to achieve the objectives of the liberation struggle. The failure of the political class is now being used by the ruling-party bureaucratic ruling coterie to suspend democracy and confiscate the people’s democratic rights in the name of strengthening democracy. This has taken us further away from a truly democratic course and is a further insult to the core values for which we fought all those years ago.

In order to arrest this slide, the people’s will must be lifted, rule of this undemocratic and anti-people regime must be brought to an end and power handed back to the rightful elected representatives as basic prerequisites. Also, a regeneration of a pervasive political and culture movement is required that will be aimed at ensuring unrestrained democratic rights, equal economic opportunities and tolerance for differing views, faiths and cultures. If we are able to do so, we will be able to one day commemorate Independence Day as truly free citizens of a free nation.

Successive government failure to develop problem-solving skills and to address issues of poverty, has kept Nigeria toddling from 1960; the day she assumed self-governance. The situation now is even more difficult than it was then. Because the price of fuel, food, etc. has gone up, Nigerians have not been able to survive very well. Farmers who used to be able to sell on the open market the rice and beans they’d grown, now find that they cannot make ends meet: imported Asian rice is cheaper to buy than local rice. An adverse of the much “celebrated” 7-point Agenda! Sad, but a reality! The Nigerian people are saying that this is their most difficult time and if it were not for the service that philanthropists can provide in the community, more people would be going hungry. The medications and the development projects are the emergency measure that is keeping some of these communities halfway viable.

Yet, the truth for Nigeria is that our people remain under valued, under trained, under utilized, poorly motivated, and consequently performs well below their true capability. Colonial education thought it proper to provide African students with a sense of their past appropriate to colonial subjects, but the lesson has denied us. During my primary school days, I enjoyed free education within 1980’s under Rivers State Free Education policy, but today, the little we eke-out goes into funding siblings education at private schools. Our fore-fathers sacrificed their lives in pursuit of self-rule. Realization of those ideals would be the greatest honour to them, a point which will be platitudinous to emphasize. If creation of promising Nigeria is nowhere in sight, no one should lament. Next year we approach 50! Promise of a golden age always remains a promise; no revolution achieved that in full measure.

After Nigeria attained independence from British Colonial rule on October 1, 1960 education became a high priority on the government’s agenda. There were policies on free compulsory basic education, free textbooks for all students and, the creation of local education authorities with responsibilities for buildings, equipment and maintenance grants for primary schools.

It is a known fact that the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has been on strike since 22 June 2009. During this period, appeals have been made by well-meaning Nigerians and organizations to both government and ASUU to reach an amicable resolution of the dispute in the interest of the nation. Members of the press may recall that after two and a half years of negotiation, government has been delaying the signing of the agreement for various reasons.

Nigerians may also recall the fact that the re-negotiation of the ASUU-FGN Agreement of 2001, which was due in 2004, did not commence until December, 2006. In spite of repeated efforts in writing, including a warning strike, the process took two years and having commenced, took another two years to conclude. ASUU remained patient throughout this period due to p

atriotism. When the negotiation teams finally reached an agreement, which was subsequently initialed, the Minister of Education invited the Union for a series of bogus signing ceremonies. On 12th May, 2009, it became clear to our union that government was unwilling to sign the agreement.
The series of events that led us to this quagmire is now history.

However, ASUU considered the intervention by the President and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, on the 27th July as a welcome development. Mr. President stated that the monetary aspect of the agreement is not of concern to government, but that the Federal Government would not sign an agreement that will be binding on state governments. On this basis, he directed the Vice President to meet with ASUU with a view to finding a window out of this impasse.

The Cookey Commission (1981) noted that the existing Collective Bargaining arrangements did not give the Governing Councils the power to negotiate conditions of service with their employers and recommended machinery for Collective Bargaining. Though a new education committee under Professor Gamelliel Onosode was appointed immediately negotiate with ASUU and to fix the weakness in Nigeria’s education, at the close of the recent meeting, Nigeria’s education could only be described as “decayed” and needed organic rejuvenation. The decay was a result of political instability with its resulting poor management, corruption, and general macroeconomic turmoil.

But by 1990s, Nigeria’s education system had become dysfunctional. Serious challenges confronted it. In 1991, the military government of Ibrahim Babangida implemented broad reforms that touched all levels of the education system (except early childhood education) and attempted to address the recurring issues affecting the system. The reforms reduced pre-university education in the country from 17 years to 12 years (six years of primary, three years of junior secondary-JSS and three years of senior secondary-SSS education). There was also national literacy campaign through non-formal education for school dropouts and adult learners.

The civilian government of Nigeria under President Olusegun Obasanjo in 2004 implemented the Free Compulsory Universal Basic Education (fcUBE). This was specially designed to focus on basic education access and quality through improving the quality of teaching and learning, efficiency in management and, increasing access and local participation.The aim is becoming defeated as a result of uncertainty in the system

At present the country, long noted for religious moderation, is witnessing a new surge of bigotry. Personal bigotry may not be of concern to others but if a very large section of society chooses bigotry, collective progress will naturally be held back. And from bigotry to intolerance, from intolerance to militancy, is a short step. Religion has always been made subject of various interpretations and misinterpretations. Since there are different religious schools and some of these schools are even in mutually antagonistic relationships, the state which has a state religion will not be seen as fair and impartial even by all the schools of the majority religious community, what to speak of the minority religious community. The rift may not be very perceptible or troubling at the initial stage but the seeds of a chasm are often laid quietly.

Democracy with all its flaws can more easily ensure equality and infuse the sense of equality among all citizens when it is reinforced by secularism. We cannot entirely blame those who rendered inoperative the constitutional provisions of secularism or got them superseded because the concept of secularism was not properly understood at people’s level. Secularism proved to be a misunderstood word. Some think that secularism is one of those concepts which should not be called by name but allowed to remain implicit in the collective unconscious of the people. For hundreds of years the two main religious communities have lived in this country side by side in peace and harmony without bothering whether there is secularism in the constitution. In the sense of tolerance and harmony secularism was ingrained in the natural ethos of the people. Instead of using the word secularism, if the constitution enshrined with due emphasis provisions for religious impartiality on the part of the state and communal harmony, better result might have been achieved. Clauses relating to secularism can be deleted by an unsympathetic government, but which government would go to delete from the constitution clauses guaranteeing social harmony?

Though tempting, it would be futile to yield to partisan pressure and ascribe the failure of the state to any particular government. What becomes obvious is that we must stop trying to patch up the crumbling political edifice, and rather, examine the foundations that were laid at independence for the success of the state. To paraphrase the Soledad Brothers, the trials and tribulations that have plagued our existence as a nation, began right there in the womb, in the events that led to the birth of the nation.

As a result, the birth of Nigeria and its continued existence have been founded on the twin props of a parasitic central state and a customary mode of production, both of which are the very antithesis of modern socio-economic development. Much like its antecedent the colonial state, the neo-colonialist state is not designed to meet the development aspirations of the nation.

Today, as we labour under the central state’s platitudes of an imminent giant economic take-off, of presidential 7-point agenda that plod grudgingly against sustenance and longevity that smugly drops all pretence of responsibility to the people. Now the state has declared our hapless private sector the engine of growth, making herself merely a facilitator, but fortunately unfulling promises have become an effective sobering factor to undermine the much awaited vision 20 2020. For example, it is quite comforting to note that when the Information Minister, Dora Akunyili says this government hopes to create 170,000 jobs, and has no idea why youth in Nigeria are unemployed. The light bulbs go on and I realize she meant that government hopes to create 17 jobs. Fine tuning this rebranding can be a veritable barometer.

At least the colonial state had the interests of the mother country, Britain, to protect, whereas the post-independent central state, unfettered by this responsibility, and with only mere pretensions to the development process, is really capable of little more than protecting its own self interests. That is why 51 percent of the meager government revenue goes into paying itself. And that is why, the central state, unable to raise indigenous capital, has atrophied into an unsavory display of development wish lists, a fantastic inflation of its efforts, helped along, in fact concealed, by the inconsistent economic managers. Hopefully our 49th anniversary will not be a lamentation of the failure of the state but rather a time to ponder the removal of the parasites in power and those of them that underpin our underdevelopment.

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