I have a couple of friends in the Diaspora but there is one of them I am constantly in touch with through the internet; we chat every other day. A couple of weeks ago, we were chatting again about happenings in our country, Nigeria, when he popped a representative question at me: ‘One issue that has been bothering us here is how you have been surviving in a dysfunctional society like Nigeria?’ My spontaneous response was: How did Africans survive slavery? That reaction stopped my friend from further probe but it opened up a flood of disturbing reasoning in me. As I drove my jalopy home, the nagging interpretation that continued to reverberate in my system was whether I have been living a dysfunctional life in the last forty something years I have lived in Nigeria. As I maneuvered my way from one gaping pothole to another, I asked what the dictionary meaning of dysfunctional was. From experience, I knew the prefix, dys, denotes negativity so, if functional is added to dys, then the meaning cannot be far removed from something that is not operating as it should. To abate my curiosity, I approached my dictionary and it confirmed my suspicion: it says the word is an adjective used to describe ‘something that is not behaving or working normally.’ Does it then imply that the Nigerian system has not been working or behaving normally?
For the knowledge of those Nigerians in the Diaspora who have been curious about how we have been surviving in a debilitating environment, a typical day since I became conscious of life and its susceptibilities has been akin to what Prince Bola Ajibola described as ‘backward progress.’ When I was growing up in Ilaro, a town in the western part of Nigeria in the ‘60s, electricity was constant. It never occurred to me that the generation and supply of the commodity will become a luxury. The availability of electricity has become so erratic and epileptic in Nigeria today that the current President has listed it as one of the basic foci of his administration. Yet, it is on record that the immediate past president, Mr Obasanjo, spent a screaming 1.3 trillion naira on electricity between 1999 and 2007 when he was forced out of office. It may interest my Nigerian brothers and sisters that part of this article was written at about with candle light placed beside my laptop; occasionally I had to stop typing and wade off an oppressing heat by fanning myself with a folded old newspaper! I had a depressingly funny experience about a couple of weeks ago. I came home from work to see two block-manufacturing industries being established not quite a hundred meters from my bedroom window. Approval should not have been given for the erection of the industry in the location but it is our country where anything goes. Those of us who are familiar with the deafening noise that accompanies the rickety machines should know that no meaningful writing can be done when the industries are operating. Unfortunately, I had imposed a deadline on myself to complete writing the information required on a residency I was planning to apply for in the USA and since electricity had been utterly unreliable coupled with the menace of the block industry, I booked a night at my club.
I had expected a constant supply of electricity because there was a standby electricity generating set at the club but when I checked in, I met a dark and hot room. It was then I remembered that I did not hear the humming of the gen. set as I entered the premises of the club. I had to rush to the administrative office to demand the reasons for the blackout. I wastold that NEPA had embarked on rationing the supply of electricity for some time because Egbin Power Station had been shut down. Reason: gas was in short supply.
Now, for those my brothers and sisters in the Diaspora, let me explain certain terms as used in the preceding paragraph. NEPA is the acronym for National Electric Power Authority. It is the body responsible for managing the generation and supply of electricity to Nigerians before the second coming of Mr Obasanjo. One of the irrational decisions Mr Obasanjo and his cronies took was to change NEPA to PHCN, Power Holding Company of Nigeria as if what Nigerians needed was a name to make power constantly available. Egbin on the other hand was established to supply gas that should ensure an effective power of current. The gas latent of Nigeria has been established as bigger than its petroleum potentials. Why then is it that gas was in short supply to Egbin?Needless to say, I had to return to my stuffy room, head bowed as the surging inspiration evaporated with the rolling heaving it had come. A week or so after the incident, I am still waiting for the Muse to bite me.
A visit to any location where Nigerians are susceptible to converge– beer joints, internet café, bus stop, road side restaurant, motor mechanic workshop and the likes will reveal the nature of their aversion, discomfort and agony, the revulsion which they express in form of curses and expletives rained on those who had refused to manage the resources and wealth of the nation for the benefit of Nigerians, each time power is interrupted. For instance, in my Lafenwa area of Abeokuta, the OgunState capital, electricity was interrupted and restored at irregular intervals, five times, yesterday, in about three and a half hours.
Education, that system that ensures continuity of development in a polity, is at a crisis point. Everybody has agreed that decay has set in and an urgent surgery is required to restore confidence and hope in the system. The nature of remedy has left me reeling with laughter. There is a body charged with the responsibility of recruiting students into the public tertiary schools, the acronym is JAMB, the full meaning is Joint Admissions and Matriculations Board. About a year ago JAMB was found guilty of incompetence by the abracadabra bureaucracy which has become the signature tune of Nigeria. The next step was for tertiary schools to conduct what Nigerians now called POST-JAMB or POST-UME assessment of candidates already approved for admission by JAMB. As to be expected, the POST-JAMB or POST-UME has become a veritable means of duping prospective Nigerian students by the tertiary schools.
Then in stepped Mr Obasanjo, the former vice president, the churches, setting up private universities all in the name of salvaging the sinking quality of education in our dear country. The modus operandi of the charade they called remedy, establishment of private university, is so ludicrous that one of the major actors in the drama, Covenant University, established by The Living Spring Church aka Winners Chapel, has forbidden its products from discussing their sexuality! From every indication, the philosophy of the private tertiary schools is to act as models for the public tertiary schools so that when the proprietors of the public schools see the academic and character excellence of the products of the private schools, they will adjust their system of administering the public schools.
Good thinking, one should affirm. But how effectively has the intention of the champions of the sanctity of the model-private university been realized? In the first instance the laxity and deficiency in the quality of education does not start at the tertiary level; it begins from the home. How Bishop Oyedepo of CovenantUniversity, Pastor Adeboye of RedeemerUniversity, the people of BabcockUniversity, Mr Obasanjo of Bell University of Technology, Prince Bola Ajibola of CrescentUniversity, Igbinedion and others hope to sanitize the educational system with their private university is still a bafflement to me? Are these proprietors going to create different establishments to employ the products of these ‘model’ universities? Is it possible to stop an undergraduate from say Moshood Abiola Polytechnic, a public school, from interacting with his colleague from BabcockUniversity, a private university? Can’t these Nigerian money bags realize that something more fundamental is responsible for the dwindling quality of education in Nigeria? The owners of the private universities and polytechnics are part and parcel of the decision making process, are they indirectly affirming that they have failed? This is the kind of illogicality and skullduggery we have been coping with in Nigeria. I have been wondering how the American society would react if a sitting president establishes a private school?
Water supply? That is a luxury. The best candidate to narrate the state of generation and supply of this fluid of life is the Nigerian who has to wake up as early as , load the booth of his car with as many jerry cans as it can contain and go in search of the commodity. If he does not own a car he is at the mercy of taxi drivers who are likely to catch on his desperation and charge him exorbitant fare. Take the time to ask an average Nigerian student what he goes through daily in the course of procuring water for his domestic use.
Security? Nigeria is at the mercy of all shades of crooks and miscreants. I was in a discussion with a colleague the other day about the state of security in my beloved country. His view was that crime is all over the world and he presented statistics to support his view. He concluded that we should not condemn Nigeria because of the level of crime it has to contend with because criminality is a human susceptibility. While agreeing with him that crime is related to human nature, I made him realize that, in Nigeria, the criminal is always a step ahead of the law enforcer. That is why a patrol team will take to its heels when faced with the well equipped armed robbers. Cases of robbers sacking police stations are common news in our Nigeria. In other climates we are familiar with and which my colleague cited, the law enforcers are steps ahead of the criminals. It is a sad reality that our Nigerian system instead of repelling crime encourages it. It will not be out of tune for Nigeria to have a social security system, make our prisons truly reformative, make our education functional, and entrench a consciousness that should make Nigerians honest and upright in their regard of Nigeria. What obtains is that the resources that should cement these ideas have developed wings and flown into the pockets of our so called leaders. Or are they rulers?
It is ridiculously funny that the monthly take home of a constable in the Nigeria Police Force is less than 10,000 naira (ten thousand naira) about eighty dollars! Yet, it this same hapless policeman who will be armed with a rifle and asked to patrol a beat. It is the same underpaid officer who will be asked to investigate a crime. The quality of policing expected from such officers is better left to imagination. Right now the police force of the federal republic is sagging under a serious financial fraud. AFund or is it a Foundation, one is not so sure of the name, was set up to manage some fund for the welfare of members of the force butmoney running to several billion of naira must have walked away. My brothers and sisters in the Diaspora may ask Festus Keyamo at firstname.lastname@example.org about the police scandal.
Just last Wednesday, 14th November, 2007, I witnessed the stark reality of the hopelessness of the ability of the police force of our country to control and prevent crime. For more than forty-five minutes, armed robbers had a field day robbing Union Bank, Panseke Branch in Abeokuta, the capital city of Ogun State. The case was pathetic because both that radio and the television announced the progress of the incident but the police did not show up until the robbers had conveniently carried out their deed and left in peace. On reflection, I concluded that the men of the force could not have acted otherwise given the defective looking rifles they were armed with. The car, a Peugeot 504, which brought the policemen to the scene of the robbery after the robbers had left, had seen better days. The tires were twisted and it belched heavy smoke all over the place. I pity the men because if they had come when the robbers were about, they would all have been roasted in a hail of bullets. It is not definitely a case of bad police offices but a systemic decay.
Segun, a three-pronged oscillator, moves from his bedsitter to the office, then a cool spot. He lives near Mr Obasanjo's Abeokuta home. He is currently a teacher in the General Studies Department, Moshood Abiola Polytechnic.