Daily Trust (Abuja)

14 February 2013

Nigeria: Ten Things That Amaze Me About Modern Nigeria (I)

As little kids growing up in the village, anything or situations or happenings that looked exotic, out of this world, difficult to comprehend by our childish imagination or amazing to the point of stupefaction, we kids used to call awonder or America Wonder. When we got to the primary school, we were taught of the then Seven Wonders of the Ancient World among which included the Hanging Garden of Babylon and the Pyramids of Egypt.

In our country Nigeria, we have not yet succeeded in building for ourselves or inheriting from our ancestors, structures that can be considered wondrous. There are however some things or learned behaviour or acquired traits (all of them negative) which have proved so ruinous to the growth of our economy and which have seemingly learnt to live with because they have so persisted for so long in our country without any serious efforts to provide solutions to them, that I have now elevated them to the same pedestal as those things that can be considered amazing wonders. They may not be man-made inventions of great genius or natural occurrences that stagger the imagination, but they are destructive human foolishness of incomprehensible proportion. No rational mind can understand some of what we have allowed as a part of our national character especially in our governance and administration. I have tried to identify them here in no particular order or degree of foolishness.

Open taking of bribe by policemen: Everybody in Nigeria, from the least person to the highest, knows that bribery and corruption is what has kept the country where she is today- at the very bottom. One manifestation of this national ill is the open taking of bribe by policemen at checkpoints and in their stations. Each time I see this open sore, I feel so ashamed of myself and my country. Yet no one has thought it necessary to do something decisive to stop this open national shame.

Whenever a new Inspector General of Police is appointed, he will make some pious declaration about how he will flush out "the few bad eggs in the force who have soiled the image of the police". He will proceed to announce the disbandment of road blocks across the country "with immediate effect".

Days after that announcement with fanfare, several of the road blocks will remain in place with the police still doing 'their thing' in open defiance of the IG. You will wonder whether they police are trying to test the will of their new boss. And yes that is precisely what they are doing. But no form of sanction will be visited on those who defied a lawful order of the chief of law enforcement officer in the country. After a while the road block police will reluctantly abandon the logs of wood, tyres and other unsightly odds and ends they have improvised as road blocks to engage in their seemingly officially sanctioned open extortion of innocent and hapless Nigerians of their hard earned money. Some fooled newspaper editorialists will write editorial and some op-ed page stuff hailing the new man and his 'anti-corruption' stance.

A few days later, roadblocks will come back with a vengeance. Where they were two within five kilometres before, they will now become three or four. More policemen will be deployed to mount the road blocks and collect their usual toll with a new commitment and ferociousness as if to compensate for the few days loss of "business" they suffered when their boss was trying to prove that a new broom sweeps cleaner.

It is also an open secret known even to children that many innocent citizens languish in police detention cells across the country because they or their family members are unable to raise money to obtain bail. Every IG says that bail is free but even fools know that this is not true. Anything that gets you entangled with the Nigerian police will cost you money to free yourself. Some unfortunate citizens have spent more than a quarter of their lives in unjust detention or deprivation of their freedom because of inability to bribe the police. Heaven weeps every day for the kind of oppression the system visits on some of its citizens.

Nigeria may be one of the most corrupt countries on earth which is bad enough. But to exhibit the ill of taking bribe in so open and flagrant a manner without even any hypocritical official revulsion is indeed a great wonder to me. If we have chosen to live a life of reproach can there not be some finesse or sophistication to our own bad conduct? Can we not try at least to be dignified even in doing a shameful thing? What is responsible for this paralysis of will to do something about the police open bribe taking?

Open urination by Nigerian men: All across my country, many Nigerians, especially men, stand and urinate in full view of the public. Some even go further than that- they defecate. I feel even more ashamed and angry at this national shame than I feel at the open taking of bribe by policemen. Why is no one doing something about this reproach which portrays us as uncivilised, uncultured and indecent people who lack respect for their sense of dignity or personhood?

Many times when I see men engage in this act, I wish a mysterious, invisible cane with venomous stings would descend from the sky and start caning such persons who demean my sex and bring to shame my country. Why, I ask again, is nothing done to stop this type of barbaric act? Are there no people of decent sensibility wielding power in this country?

Too much concentration of power at the centre: Among the elite, it is fairly well known that one of the reasons why Nigeria is not developing fast enough is the lack of true federalism in the running of our affairs. Too much power and resources are concentrated in the Central government. Everyone who speaks on this issue says that the thing is bad, very bad and that there is the urgent need to devolve power and resources to the federating units. For once, the Hausa-Fulani elite, the Ibo elite and the Yoruba elite who 'own' this country appear to have a consensus on this issue.

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