8 December 2012

Nigeria: The Where-to-Be-Born Index 2013 - Re-Visiting a Distressing Verdict


I am deeply saddened by the content of 2013 Where-to-be-born Index which was recently released by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), a subsidiary of the famed The Economist Magazine. Nigeria, according to this unflattering report, is the worst country to be born.

Eighty countries were assessed by EIU but Nigeria came at the bottom. This survey is shattering because real people were actually sampled and all the respondents agreed that Nigeria is the least or the last place they would want to be born based on ten criteria.

From the figures, Nigeria scored 4.74 points which placed her on the 80th position, the foot of the table while Switzerland came out with 8.22 points as the best country to be born in.

I am intensely worried by these negative rankings. I remember sometime in October, African Insurance Organisation, another watchdog described Nigeria as kidnap/ransom capital of the world. The October ranking was particularly distressing because the thought of kidnap and ransom had set my mind racing to Somalia but I was wrong.

According to the report, Nigeria accounted for 25 per cent of global kidnappings. Earlier, in June, the Global Peace Index had also ranked Nigeria as the sixth most dangerous African country to live in. These rankings leave an impression and calls for deep reflection.

For me, this latest EIU verdict may not be a true representation of our situation really, but it still manages to remind us of how terribly bad we have drifted as a country. The survey, I understand, "earnestly attempts to measure which country will provide the best opportunities for a healthy, safe and prosperous life in the years ahead" but that is not all that led to this regrettable verdict.

There was also the issue of security, the standard of family life and trust in public institutions which were all considered. But if we are to sincerely consider these criteria, how far have we fared?

How can Nigeria which was once the black man's pride suddenly become the worst place to be born? We have played significant roles in the African continent and our brothers and sisters within and outside our sub region can attest to that. It may not be auspicious here to cite an example of our support but the truth is that we had at various times intervened both with resources and militarily to save fellow Africans in their moments of grave challenges.

But if really Nigeria is so terrifyingly bad and we are truly the worst country to be born in, then we must all begin the process of saving our country. It is a collective responsibility that demands utmost urgency.

Agreed that President Goodluck Jonathan is desirous of transforming Nigeria but we must speedily move beyond the comfort and soothing effect of this philosophy and rhetoric. Change only comes to those who are truly prepared and this country will really not experience the desired transformation if she continues at this pace. The leaders and the led both have a responsibility in this direction, especially in the area of arresting the current security challenge.

This urgent need to address security came in focus earlier in the week. Professor Ibrahim Gambari, frontline diplomat and former Nigerian permanent representative at the United Nations shared his thoughts with Nigerians on our dear nation's worsening security problems at the first annual Sir Ahmadu Bello Memorial lecture on leadership and good governance in Abuja. May be I should quote him. Speaking on Boko Haram, Gambari had warned "in this regard, I do not want to sound alarmist and wish to speak with the highest sense of responsibility.

As a diplomat with two and half decades experience you know that it is not in my nature to raise the alarm where none is needed. However, as we sit here today is there anyone among us who has an absolute assurance that a bomb will not explode anywhere in the North of Nigeria today or, in this city or that innocent lives will not be violently terminated? If you feel any immediate unease, or even suppressed panic about this possibility, then imagine the terrifying experience of our compatriots who have lived everyday in the last few years under the fear of imminent terror."

This is a timely warning from a respected diplomat and I want to believe that we must all heed this wise counsel. We cannot accuse the leadership for ever because as far as I know, we are all going to sink together if our worst fears happen, but God forbid! This is therefore an auspicious moment to think. Our leaders must come together and reject this path to perdition because it will do no good. They should act and speak out irrespective of political affiliations, after all there must be a Nigeria before the political elite can aspire.

Peterside, a member of the House of Representatives is Chairman, House Committee on Petroleum Resources (Downstream).

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