Nigeria Matters

When ‘development’ is not enough…

The April 2015 elections are just around the corner. Without a shade of doubt, one of the issues that would form and inform the choice of who to vote for, and who not to vote for, would be the question of development – those who are trying to get elected and are trying to replace a political opponent would be making demands on the elected, wanting to know what has been done in three years with the gargantuan amounts that these elected officials usually come to Abuja cap in hand to collect. But those already in office have a way of fobbing them off and fighting back – they start by celebrating their one year in office as government officials by hard evidences of their achievements by taking several slots on newspapers and television to show how many dilapidating schools they had renovated and how many of the roads built in the colonial period which have fissures that they have patched up. The assumption is that when we see these nice buildings and the trendy new coatings on these roads, our bloods would congeal and we would be convinced that yes in a hundred days, the governor or president or minister has actually hit the ground running and indeed has earned the mandate of the people. I saw one of these celebrations recently of a governor in the South-East who is desperate to justify his mandate and to convince his my-people-my-people to return him to office. The documentary of his achievements focused mostly on the state of health care – he had just imported state of the art body scanners and allied equipment from Europe but because there were no my-people-my-people qualified to man such state of the art medical equipment, he also had to import the foreign personnel who he pays over and above his my-people-my-people as expatriates to man these machines. Is this really development?

Development has many aspects – the physical, the human, the economic, the social and etcetera. All of them are interwoven and are symbiotic. You do not build a school without having qualified teachers who are well paid to teach, and call that development. You do not build a hospital with state of the art equipment and call it a hospital if you do not have common paracetamol and the instruments to produce common paracetamol in that hospital. You do not build roads with the manpower and equipment that you have imported from Germany and call that development. The one parametre I know that people in the developed world use as litmus for development is when that development is sustainable – you want to build a house on a land where there are 20-30year old trees. What you do in that circumstance is you go ahead and fell the trees but you make sure that you plant other trees within that ecosystem that you have disrupted with your ‘development’ as replacement for the ones that you felled for your development.

But our kind of development is usually not like that. To build the school, we fell the trees, erect a building and go to radio and television and expect applause. Background to such antics of the Nigerian political elite cannot be anywhere too far to find if not that this is the ego of these elite and their need for that ego to be massaged regularly. Take for instance a Nigerian who runs into certain funds even before he or she becomes governor or president or a local government chairman. Rather than spend half of N30million with the empowerment of people with potential around him or her, he would prefer to use all of that money to buy a state-of-the-art car, for which he expects those he has not empowered to be like him to regularly bow down to him because he wants them to see him as a rich man or a person of influence. Now tell me, wouldn’t that same person buy regular airtime on television and newspapers to tell my-people-my-people that he has built a hospital that the poor man cannot afford and schools that have no qualified teachers and roads that are often blocked to allow the big man traverse first of all before the rest of us?

There is a certain scenario playing itself out in one of the states in the South-South, Edo, that helps us better see the direction all of this is going. Before the previous governor of that state left power after eight years, the state was worse than he met it. Therefore when the present one got there, he managed not to steal but used a lot of the monies he got from Abuja to construct roads abandoned since the military, renovate existing infrastructure and pay staff salaries. In no time, his fame as one governor who had surpassed all other governors in the development of that state spread far and farther than that of Amalinze the Cat. But all of this border on the more-you-look-the-less-you see kind of wuruwuru antics of our political elite. The state in question, Edo State, is one of the most endowed in Nigeria, with palm oil, rubber, rich soil and a people waiting to be harnessed to become the economic engine house of the nation. It has a street, Textile Mill Road, so named because when you were looking for quality textiles anywhere on the West Coast of Africa, you would be finding your way to Textile Mill Road in Benin City. In the pre-colonial epoch, even the Portuguese were shocked to find roads and streets that compared with the ones they had even in the days of Oba Ovonramwen. That Oba did not collect monies from Abuja to construct the roads that have outlived him and it is these same roads that our politicians still struggle to maintain and for which they are being hailed as champions of development.

Therefore, as we approach the time to activate our civic responsibility, we must up the ante and ask very hard questions of the people who want our votes. The people we must vote for are not the ones using our money to lord it over us. The people we must vote for are not the ones who have erected some buildings and called them schools and hospitals and government houses. The people we must vote for are the ones who have helped us create wealth so that we can stand at par with them. What this means is that if we have people in power who have focused more on building houses, without the concomitant development of the people who would occupy those houses, we must vote them out and put people with the likelihood of developing us as a people. Development of human beings is by far better to be desired more than the development of houses that cannot qualify to be called institutions.

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