7 November 2012

Nigeria: Are We Really Moving Forward?


I was still contemplating the gruesome murder of some innocent students in Mubi by some yet-to-be-identified gunmen when a friend sent the picture of the four University of Port Harcourt students who were stripped naked, beaten thoroughly and burnt alive in Aluu community, Rivers State, over unproven allegation that they - wait for it - stole a BlackBerry handset! Is human life that worthless in Nigeria? Of course, there was also the massacre of 22 people in Dogon Dawa, Kaduna State, by armed robbers who went to rescue their arrested colleagues.

Since then, there have been many more killings, the most recent one being the tragic murder of one of Nigeria's greatest generals and civil war hero, Gen. Mamman Shuwa. How can anyone blame the whites for describing us as barbaric when, with all the enlightenment in this 21st century, people would stand watching while fellow human beings were being wasted? Every day we hear of conferences, seminars and workshops on "the way forward". But, are we really moving forward?

Our religious scriptures tell us to treat even animals with kindness, since they are God's creatures like us, talk less of fellow human beings. Our rich African culture is based on humanity and communality so much that, in some areas in Africa, even wives are shared with guests! Terrorism is so alien to our cultures that, here in Nigeria, I do not know of any local language that has a word for it.

In Hausa, it is called ta'addanci (from the word ta'adi, being naughty) which in turn was got from Arabic. We were all our brother's keepers for centuries and, if there is anarchy now such that human life has lost value, we have to ask: are we really moving forward?

One evening last week, I stood by the street and was watching school children closing from schools and rushing to go back home. I took pity on them because I actually do not know what life holds for them. All the schools I have attended were public schools.

Education was almost free: textbooks for every subject and notebooks for writing were given adequately; teachers were prompt for classes; uniforms were given every term; transport money was given to every student, and the quality of education was such that it was comparable to any in the world. Except for a few cases, what can one say about today's public schools? Are we really moving forward?

The education gap between the north and the south of Nigeria used to be 63 years. That was even before the advent of private universities-- six in the north and about 40 in the south now. I am sure the gap is almost 100 years now. And without education, a society is doomed. Education is on the concurrent list in the 1999 constitution.

By this, federal, state and local governments as well as private individuals can engage in education. When last has any elite in the north visited the primary or secondary schools he or she had attended to see the state of decay there not to talk of trying to help? Are we really moving forward?

As parents, we take all our hard-earned money and even savings to pay for the education of our younger ones. If a student is lucky to finish school without joining cults, being raped, becoming addicted to drugs or marking time as a result of strikes and riots, he or she goes for the youth service and, after that, in most cases, comes back home again.

This is because there is no job: the public sector is shrinking; the private sector is comatose! There are over 10 million graduates out there that are unemployed and the number is increasing almost by the day. Are we really moving forward?

The number of schools and hospitals 25 years ago are virtually the same now except in a few places where there are marginal increases. Meanwhile, the population of the country has doubled within the past 25 years: as proof, check out how many you are even in your household now as compared to 25 years ago.

The dilapidated, low quality and inadequate infrastructure is further overstretched every year. There is further movement from rural to urban areas. Pollution is increasing. Food is getting scarcer because farming is not attractive to the younger ones while the old subsistence farmers are getting tired or even dying. Thus, the country relies substantially on imports to feed its population. Are we really moving forward?

Moreover, crime gets more sophisticated and more complex. There are more broken homes, more prostitution, more unwanted pregnancies and greater insecurity. Of course, because this is a supposedly very religious society, there will be proliferation of churches and mosques but the more places of worship are erected the further we are from spirituality, because even the religious leaders are part of the pervasive corruption: either taking sides with the oppressors or helping to spread hate ideologies thus destroying good neighbourliness, love and tolerance that all divine religions enjoin us to do. Are we really moving forward?

Agriculture contributes 42 per cent of our GDP. There is virtually no local government in Nigeria that does not have agricultural potential - crop production, animal husbandry, fishery, apiary, aviary, market gardening, horticulture etc. It goes without saying, therefore, that this is the sector that has the greatest potential for reducing poverty and increasing prosperity.

There is large, rich arable land scattered all over the country. But, instead of establishing viable farms and agric businesses, what we have are fuel stations that are erected all over the highways and which are almost always empty.

Petroleum has become a real curse instead of the blessing it is supposed to be because it has destroyed agriculture; is at the centre of the cut- throat competition for power; is at the root of the whole web of corruption (recall the subsidy scam); and is destroying otherwise bright youth even at the micro level as they leave school to go into smuggling and black marketeering. And, you begin to wonder: are we really moving forward? God save Nigeria.

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