Please, could somebody just walk across to President Olusegun Obasanjo’s cozy castle in Aso Rock and ask him how he felt when he saw the report that the two survivors ofthe December 10 crash of the Sosoliso Flight 1145 in Port Harcourt were flown to South Africafor medical treatment? So, Mr. President, does it make you feel good that after nearly seven years of encumbering the ground as Nigeria’s ruler, and at a period the nation earned an unprecedented, jumbo windfall from oil, your hapless country cannot boast of a single hospital anyone can confidently send such accident victims to and people would not think he is making a costly gamble with their lives? If this does not make you to recoil with shame, Mr. President, then you must be a strange specie, from some very distant planet, far removed from this our own! Dear reader, who has ever heard that huge earnings in a country translates to unspeakable suffering and deprivation for the people?
Sosoliso Flight 1145 had crashed in the afternoon of December 10, within the premises of the Port Harcourt “International” Airport, and caught fire. About sixty young, hapless school children, who may not be aware that their country has since become an abandoned project were aboard the ill-fated aircraft. Their parents who had waited patiently to hug and caress these their precious gifts from Loyal Jesuit College, Abuja, as soon as they emerged with wide grins from the belly of the aircraft, were suddenly startled by a very loud bang and fire alarm somewhere within the premises. Somehow, they were able to break through security barricades and rushed to the scene of the crash. Behold, the aircraft was on fire, and their loved ones were trapped in there, screaming for help!
“So, why is no one attempting to put out the fire and rescue our precious, tender children?”
“Sorry, Sir, sorry Ma, a couple of our manageable fire-fighting trucks arrived here almost immediately the crash occurred, but you see, we have no water or any functional equipment to fight the fire. Let’s just hope some of them would be able to jump out from the raging inferno, like one or two gallant ones have already done.Nigerians must, however, appreciate our prompt response to this tragedy. We arrived here almost immediately the plane fell!”
Dear reader, we are still stuck with this gloom-filled imagery of scarcity in the midst of plenty; or else, how can anyone complain of lack of water to fight a fatal fire in a state called “Rivers”? Now, I am not joking here. Indeed, how can any sane person explain that a country that could squander billions to host COJA, CHOGM and a meaningless carnival cannot afford a few millions to acquire ordinary fire-fighting machines, to save the lives of its citizens? And if you think that you have been reading an extract from a novella set in some stone age community, you better wake up and face the benumbing reality that Nigeria is a perfect example of an abandoned project, a vehicle with neither a driver nor conductor. The December 10 tragedy is just one of the high costs of this cruel abandonment.
Did you watch the presidential farce captioned, “Aviation Stakeholders Meeting,” which played out in Abuja the other day? I suppose the president expects us to take all those barking and raining of insults on the other members of the cast in the hall to mean that he is “doing something” about the rot in the aviation industry? Exactly the same way he was, reportedly, “personally directing rescue operations” at the October 22 Bellview Airlines crash site when his officials were yet to locate the site of the crash! The truth we all know is that after all this body language, aimed at capturing the headlines and knocking off this temporary distraction from public consciousness, the president, will simply heave a sigh relief, and go back to what he considers the real meaningful work – the one that really animates him, namely, the 2007 Project (including tackling the MRD/MDD challenge, and, of course, the Atiku question). But what I would want to ask some of my colleagues who were naively casting such ambitious, but laughable, headlines like “Obasanja Vows to Sanitize the Aviation Sector,” and all such crap is: what has this Obasanjo done in the past six years he has been on the throne to ensure that the aviation sector did not degenerate to its present sorry state? Must one wait for one’s child to die of neglect before rushing in to revive him with emergency care and attention? Must governance remain a fire-brigade affair? Whatever happened to vision and foresight with which great, achieving leaders are known? Shouldn’t a responsible ruler, instead flying around the globe, sit down to articulate a blueprint for every sector in the country he claims to govern, and then monitor the pace of development to be sure that his vision for every sector is being thoroughly implemented? How then does Obasanjo distinguish between a performing minister and a non-performing one, if there is no goal he has set for them within a specific timeframe? Are we to take it that Obasanjo is simply overwhelmed by the enormity and complexity of the task before him? If yes, is it not better to be open and sincere about it, than abandon the country to rot and die?
It is cheap to arbitrarily ground airlines and sack permanent secretaries just to show that you are “sanitizing” the aviation sector. What credible mechanisms are being put in place to ensure no one cuts corners among airline operators to make more profits and more tragedies? If, as you have told us, Mr. President, the Ministry of Aviation is corrupt from top to bottom, what are our laws there for? How many people have you docked already? Is the anti-corruption General already battle-weary? Why is the Aviation Minister, the head of that rotten body, the “professor” who not only failed woefully in the Education ministry, but whose nomination was rejected several times by the Senate, still retaining a job he has sufficiently proved himself unfit for? The mere fact that his “professorship” is still a subject of intense contention in enlightened quarters is sufficient evidence that he is incapable of reliable outputs. Is it not a big shame that in this twenty-first century, we are still talking about thunder bolts destroying planes when the installation of deflectors can simply save us the agony of further tragedies? Is Nigeria the only country that experience thunder storms? Why is there so much despair and helplessness in a country whose leaders, their family members and cronies flaunt unimaginable wealth?
The truth is that this nation has been cursed with leaders who do not care a hoot whether the people lived or died. Why, in this world, would anyone banish Slock Airlines, a credible outfit that would have made a lot of difference in our aviation industry? Now, Slock Airline is the national carrier of Gambia and servicing many countries in Africa. The other time they were talking of going to Europe and America. Maybe, this is really the time to ask the president to put aside politics and think Nigeria first. Even if you do not like the face of the man who is behind Slock Airlines, must you cruelly render unemployed those hundreds of innocent Nigerians employed by the company? Now that Sosoliso is grounded, Slock banished, and the roads to the East still very scary, going to the Eastern part of Nigeria has become an extended nightmare.
Nigeria is an abandoned project, and there is always a price to pay for everyabandonment. The rot has been there, invisible, but it has now begun to announce itself in the form of these avoidable tragedies. What does President Obasanjo discuss with President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa each time they meet? Do they at all compare notes? What does he learn from his countless overseas trips? Has he ever asked himself why South Africa and even several other small African countries are able to offer quality education to their people? Is there any sign in the last six years that the present administration has any noble vision for Nigeria? What is Obasanjo’s blueprint for the education sector, and what percentage of it has already been achieved? If there were quality schools like Loyola Jesuit College in Port Harcourt or even anywhere in the East, why would all these parents take their children all the way to Abujato study? Why is this nation cursed with visionless leaders who do not bother about development, progress and advancement? What indeed does the Federal Executive Council even discuss when they gather every week?
The rot is spreading fast, and very soon, everyone would feel the touch. Third term or no third term, Obasanjo cannot be rule Nigeria forever. Ditto for all other categories of rulers. They will soon come down to meet us down here. The schools have virtually collapsed and producing substandard professionals, including doctors. Those who have accumulated enough loot for medical treatments abroad, may one of these days, in an emergency situation, be attended to by these “doctors” and possibly get the same guess-work therapy and concussions that have sent several poor people to their early graves. Talk of one being consumed by the evil he helped to breed! What about our future pilots? Won’t they still be products of this totally grounded system?
The speculation now is that, maybe, very soon, Nigerians may start going to Liberia for quality education and medical treatment. You can dismiss this as a huge joke, but if the gaggle of Harvard and MIT rookies who are Obasanjo’s advisers continue to drum it into his ears that government has no business doing several vital things for the people,the extent of decay the country will experience, before he quits the stage in 2007 (assuming he will agree to leave peacefully) would take a longer time to rectify. And that is, if his successor is not intimidated into carrying on with the soulless, fatally flawed reforms.
What no one has told me is the person that made this law of Medes and Persians “that changeth not,” about what government should do and what it should not do, and which cannot be adjusted to suit the peculiar circumstances of individual countries. In other countries, when governments withdraw from some things, it is to stimulate healthy competition and allow more space for private hands, already doing well, to flourish. It is not another name for abdication of responsibility towards the citizenry, or a way of providing pernicious justification for non-performance. In fact, the government is still actively involved in the area of monitoring and provision of enabling environment to ensure the success of these private initiatives. It can even intervene from time to time, to save situations. For instance, right now, in Britain, from where some of these ill-digested theories are plagiarized, there is a serious debate and move to return rail transportation to exclusive government management because it is has become evident that since that sector is capital intensive, private operators, in attempt to make profits, may want to cut corners and risk people’s lives. That is what I call responsible governance, not the heartless variety we have here that encourages irrelevance of government.
This does not mean that I am against reforms. No, I am not. What I am against are anti-people, impoverising and soulless reforms, that add no value to the lives of the people. Well, today, credible studies have shown that about 99% of the nation’s resources are in the hands of just 1% of the population. Any reforms that will change this will get the full support of people like me