I’m often taken aback when some of my Nigerian readers respond to my column by noting a failure to offer solutions. These fairly frequent responses are stated as complaints. It’s as if everything would turn out just fine, the country’s myriad crises would evaporate, once I stipulated what the solutions ought to be. One is amazed by that line of response.
The role of a column like mine is, in part, to illuminate the issues I care about by sharing my lens. I don’t presume to think for my readers or for Nigeria, much less to function as a factory of solutions. If I describe a problem well enough, I consider my job mostly done. That job is to ginger Nigerians into a deeper awareness of their condition, and to nudge them to break out of the complacency that enables Nigeria’s so-called leaders to get away with grave crimes committed daily against their own people.
I do know that Nigeria’s judiciary is a shadow of what it ought to be, that many judges lack the moral spine to resist bribes, and that a society that does not have a strong, independent judiciary can count, sooner than later, on the descent of anarchy. I also know that part of the reason the judiciary is in a shambles has to do with the broader tearing of Nigeria’s moral fabric, the cynical elevation to the bench of candidates whose grasp of the law is as weak as their moral acumen is wretched. I happen to know that, in fifteen years of “democratic” governance, Nigeria has spent enough funds in the power sector to produce a noticeable improvement in electric power supply. Yet, the expected improvement has eluded the country. Why is that so? I believe there’s an absence of political will to tackle the power woes. And that is compounded by the unchecked culture of pocketing public funds. Again, I’m aware that Nigeria doesn’t have a healthcare system worthy of the name. That’s why the country’s top officials and their families are flown abroad for all manner of medical issues.
Must I—or any other columnist, for that matter—figure out specific proposals for revitalizing the Nigerian judiciary, how to generate and distribute more wattage of power, and the nitty-gritty of a healthcare system fit for humans before I am deemed qualified to comment on them? My answer: I don’t think so.
Two, as far as I am concerned, the answer is often implicit, embedded in my description of any particular problem. If I focus on any issue, say office holders’ mindless theft of public resources, linking the malaise to Nigeria’s high misery index, I already hint at a set of answers. One is to offer a caution to voters be more discriminating in their choice of candidates for elective offices. Another is a summons to the victims, especially the enlightened and professionally organized among them, to insist on higher standards of accountability.
There’s a third—and most important—reason why, week after week, I don’t make it my place to unfurl a roll of solutions. It is my conviction that Nigeria is deliberately organized to operate as a dysfunctional entity. Nigeria is in reverse gear, presuming to be going forward. The contemptible elements who ran and run it are profiteers from chaos.
Nigeria has a rich endowment of experts in the fields where the country lags critically. If any Nigerian governor wished to revamp education in his state, odds are that he can find talented scholars and policy wonks to devise a sound system. There are Nigerian experts, at home and abroad, who know how to fix the electric power crisis. There are many who can take on the challenge of creating a sustainable healthcare system. There are those versed in tackling urban blight, including waste disposal. A Nigerian president who wished to revolutionize the transport grid, to modernize and equip the police for crime-fighting, to revolutionize the country’s higher education, to create conditions that would spur an explosion in jobs, to modernize the tax code in order to raise and invest more funds, to enthrone true respect for democratic values as well as the rule of law—a president with this lofty, ambitious agenda can find help from among Nigerians to turn his dream into reality.
The trouble is not with columnists who describe the problem but proffer no answer. The problem lies, instead, with those whose agenda are both hostile and antithetical to the kind of answers that the real experts in various areas can offer. Nigeria is a puny, disheveled address because most of its “leaders” are puny men and women who devote their waking hours to schemes of ever-insatiable accumulation of lucre.
If Nigerian officials and their families were unable to fly away to such places as Germany, France, Saudi Arabia and the US for medical treatment, they would long have seen to it that their country had an effective healthcare. If the children of Nigerian presidents, governors, ministers, legislators and other officials were compelled to attend Nigerian schools, rather than the expensive private schools they haunt in Europe and North America, the crises bedeviling Nigerian education would not exist. If the Nigerian judiciary had a spine, independence and believed that the law ought not to be a respecter of any criminal, whatever his or her office, then there would be a steady traffic of current and past occupants of high political office headed for jail. In that event, those that Fela Anikulapo-Kuti would have described as “animals in human skin” would not be trooping out in quite the same number, desperate to grab one political post or another.
So, here’s one modest proposal for the week. Henceforth, no Nigerian official or their family member may travel abroad for health-related reasons.