So much noise has been made by so many people about Nigeria turning 50. Yes, turning 50 is golden, it is Jubilee, and it is a thing of great significance in the life of a man, a nation, or even business. In Christianity, Jubilee is a year of Passover, a year of redemption. As recorded in the book of Leviticus in the Holy Bible, Jubilee occurs every 50 years and it is when slaves and prisoners are set free, debts are forgiven, and the mercies of God revealed unto His people.
But where are we heading today? The country appears more confused than ever! Here today, as they celebrate Nigeria’s Golden Jubilee, I am sad. Although I do not share the views of my colleague Karl Meier that “This House has Fallen”, my sadness with Nigeria is not with the country but its leadership; both past and present, and I have every reason to be.
Why should we celebrate when Boko Haram has left a fingerprint of blood in every hamlet across the country? Why on earth should I celebrate when I cannot drive to my village for fear of kidnappers or armed robbers? Why should I celebrate when the only road that leads to my village was awarded to “a friend of government” and this “friend of government” abandoned the contract and ran away with the money yet the government did nothing to arrest him? Why should I celebrate a country in which through the machinations and contrivance of its leadership, all I see around me is misery?
I am at the twilight of my career, sitting at the apex of my profession but I do not own a house. The only car I have on earth has gone rickety and I cannot replace it, I struggle with rabble rousers for a seat. I am a tenant in my village and a tenant in town. They tell me I do not deserve a house of my own because I am neither a politician nor a kidnapper. As a journalist, I have worked hard enough to make a living but I cannot afford the money to send my children to good schools or hospitals when they fall sick, it’s only the politicians and those with itchy fingers who can dip their hands deep into the public till that can do so.
Today is 1st October, Nigeria’s independence day. I am supposed to rejoice and clink glasses of champagne with friends but when I look back through the shadows of the past all I see around me is ruin. Our hospitals are worse than what they were before the British left. If statistics are to be relied upon, one out of every ten pregnant women in Nigeria die while giving life. Even as I write this piece on my laptop tonight, I am pained that I have to wake up by midnight to turn on the generator while PHCN (Power Holding Company of Nigeria) is now on active standby. I thank Mr. President that the price of fuel has gone over the roof, and I also thank the Asian Tigers for their ingenuity; almost every household now owns “I pass my neighbour”. PHCN can go to blazes if there is no place hotter for it!
How can I celebrate when our educational system is in tatters? How can I roll out the drums and dance when the love of learning and intellectual adventure have left our youth? Our children are on a binge, they go to school but they do not go for knowledge, they want cheap certificates. That is why we cannot curb examination malpractice.
I recall the day my nine year-old son went to sit for a Common Entrance examination into Junior Secondary School. When he returned from the examination, I asked him, “How was your exam?” He smiled saying, “It was okay.” Then I asked again, “Did anybody help you?” His reply was, “My teacher”. I was mad, not with my son who tender as he is, does not understand the implication, but with his teacher.
What are we doing to our children? What are we doing to our educational system? How can a teacher who is supposed to show good example to her pupils be the instrument of the devil for “expo”? If our children are taught the art of cheating in primary schools, what will they do in secondary and tertiary institutions? Can you begin to imagine the implication of this to our development as a nation and people? Two weeks ago I was at Uyo for the yearly All Nigerian Editors Conference. In one of the lectures, a professor from the University of Jos told us that 70 percent of those who find their way into our universities are not fit to be there!
That is why we breed cultists in schools because the arc of our moral compass is distorted. That is why there is a maddening rush for university education because our children have been taught from the onset that they can get by if only they can play the correct card. Nowadays parents go with bags of naira to bribe authorities for the admission of their children. It did no use to be so in my days. Admission had to be earned; it was not decided on the strength of one’s pocket but strictly on merit. You are in Medicine or Geography but you read Shakespeare, Milton, T.S Elliot, Lord Tennyson, Thomas Paine, John Locke or the metaphysical writers like John Donne, Dante, etc. It was fun being wedded to books!
Today there is a 360-degree turn. Our students can go through secondary and university education without knowing the author of “Things Fall Apart” but they will readily reel out the names of all the Nollywood actors and actress and even the latest movies in the market. To tell you how current they are in world affairs, they will tell you the highest scorer in the English Premier League or the highest paid footballer in the world. Expo has replaced intellectual curiosity; it is the fad in our universities now!
Do you know what they call “sorting”? Sorting is a euphemism for cheating; even a dunce now can go through the university system and come out with first class through this bizarre system. Sorting is of many colours, girls sort in kind and boys in cash. The other day, I was drenched in tears as a girl in one of the universities told me a story that was wacky and uncanny. She told me how she failed one of her courses and was asked by her lecturer to choose the grade she wanted even when she could not turn up for the re-sit exam. She ended there and left me suspended to piece together the tapestry of her life on campus. But it would have been foolish of me to ask what transpired between her and the teacher, it was understandable: she paid in kind!
I am pained by what is happening in our universities today, and this makes me reflect with nostalgia my university days in the ‘80s. I went through the university system without knowing what a handout was, or even sorting. A lecturer would come to class and say “Hey guys,I’m only here to guide you, the rest you have to make up in the library.” We would pour ourselves into the expansive library, scanning through every available book on each course to know the views of authors on a topic. It was interesting. But today, our lecturers, many of whom are also products of the handout system, insist on sorting. Our students grope for inspiration and get disappointment in place and end up with a handout certificate. Many of them pass through the university without knowing where the library is, all they depend upon is a plagiarized handout from the lecturer. All these happen because the system is rotten, and someone says I should roll out the drums and play “kokoma”. No, I will not.
I am also golden, but when I walk through the path of history I sigh and hiss and blame the day I was brought forth into this country. There is no order, there is no value system here; there is total disenchantment among the populace apart from the political class. The people have been conquered and subjugated psychologically and emotionally to the point that they lack the liver to inveigh against the enslavement by the leadership.
Two years ago I was going through my collections of Newsweek magazine. I read the August 23rd and 30th editions with an interesting cover title: “The Best Country in the World Is….” It was a ranking of what the editors considered to be the best 100 countries in the world, using different parameters. Curiously enough, I was interested to know where my country stood at the ladder and I leafed through it with palpitation. But I was underwhelmed when I saw Nigeria at the bottom, the giant of Africa took 99th position out of 100, coming before famished, poverty-stricken, and pinch-sized Burkina Faso! Draught-ravaged Ethiopia overtook it, battered and beaten down Zambia is ahead of us, and so also was Idi Amin’s Uganda!
What one is in life is a concatenation of many variables: where he was born, his family and society, etc. Warren Buffet, an American contrarian investor and once the second richest man on earth after Bill Gates, says that he owes what he is in life to the country of his birth which made the environment conducive for him to achieve. In this 21st century, if you were to ask me where I would have wished to be born, Nigeria certainly would not have been in my universe.
Our electoral system is in shambles. For instance, in 2003, I was in my ward to monitor the general election. Everything went well at the polling unit but when we took the result to the collation centre where the result was to be entered, we were told that the result we had was fake, another instead had been entered in place by the Lord of the Manor!
The masses are looking for dedicated and visionary leaders to lift them from their bootstraps, from these gates of brass they have been caged in, but all they see around them are self-centred politicians who are ready to maim and kill because the stakes are high. Politics in Nigeria is a goldmine, our politicians rig and pervert the system to power because the people have been caged; they are docile and therefore cannot protest against the system. They do less but insist on the highest perks in the world. A Nigerian senator who hardly makes a contribution on the floor of the senate earns over N250 million in a year which is more than the salary of the American president. Under such a system, why should they not kill, why should they not fight naked even in the hallowed chambers of the Assembly?
Yes, Nigeria is 50, but I look at the wasted years. A country like Malaysia which got her Independence from Britain in 1957 is without oil, without most of the natural resources which the Almighty God in His benevolence has endowed us with, but it has, because of its dedicated leadership, broken from the shackles of poverty. Malaysia took its palm seedlings from Nigeria after Independence and today it is the greatest exporter of palm oil in the world. It is the 37th best country in the world according to Newsweek’s ranking and Nigeria is 99th. Our farm settlements which constituted the bulk of oil exports in the eastern region before crude oil was discovered are now moribund. No state government is thinking of bringing them back, all they do is troop to Abuja every 30 days for a handout that is frittered in irrelevancies.
As a student at the University of Calabar, I applied to the University of London for admission into its law programme in 1982. The university requested I should send £10 for admission form. I went to First Bank, University of Calabar branch to remit the money. I paid a total sum of N12.00 including bank charges. But today, I weep when I see what that figure exchanges in our currency. In 1994, I travelled to Zimbabwe and South Africa, the return ticket was N5000.00. But today you pay in excess of N150,000 when you want to travel to that place. In 1983, my brother bought a brand new Volkswagen Beetle for N1582.00 but today that brand goes for over N2.5 million. All these happened as a result of SAP (Structural Adjustment Programme) which one mad ruler imposed on the people, and somebody is telling me to celebrate Nigeria and its leadership for 52 wasted years.
Our industries are closing down as many are relocating to Ghana; new ones are not springing up because the leadership is not interested in creating enabling environment for private initiative to flourish. That is why government looks the other way as the banks milk our businessmen dry. Today it is difficult to do business in Nigeria because of the stifling interest rates. Whereas interest rates in Japan is 0.02 percent, United States 2 percent and Germany 3, that of Nigeria is 26 percent with so many conditionalities and hidden charges. Under such situation, how can the economy grow, how can I sing the praises of a nation that has left its people in the lurch?
I am mad at Nigeria. I am mad at our leaders. I am mad at myself too because I have fallen where I needed to stand. I am mad at everybody including the clergy who promise the people deliverance and lead them to hell fire. I am up in arms against our prosperity preachers who promise wealth without work, who pervert the Bible and say “thus saith the Lord” when the Lord has not spoken. In 1517, Martin Luther revolted against the Catholic Church for sale of Indulgences for remission of sin. He posted his 95 Theses on the doors of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany and led the way for the Protestant Reformation. But today, our churches do the same thing Luther fought against. Our churches are overflowing with new adherents not because there is a sudden outburst of spiritual fervour but because our pastors promise us if you name it you will have it. In our churches today desperate miracle seekers pay for virtually everything, from prayers to things profane. All these happen because the masses, who no longer trust their leaders, are now seeking for deliverance from every unknown face.
Nigeria is 52 today. We have to project into the future, into the next 50 years and prepare for it. To be great, we must work toward greatness. We must have a new birth of values. We do not need great men; we need great institutions as Obama said in Ghana. We must strengthen our institutions so that the peoples’ vote can count in an election. We must strengthen our institutions so that our courts can decide cases not on the strength of how big one’s pocket is but on the facts before it. We must work at greatness by re-appraising our educational system, justice system and the economy if we are to make a quantum leap from our 99th position in the ladder of progress.
Over 3000 years ago, when God was fed up with the incongruities of his people and wanted to punish them, He asked that they be robbed of the capacity to see and understand. “Make the heart of his people fat”, Isaiah cried, “and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and be healed”.
As Nigeria turns 52 today, I will not pray as Isaiah did. Rather, I pray that God will open the hearts and ears and eyes of our leaders to know that our strength and progress does not lie in our oil but in our people, in honesty and purposeful leadership. But as long as our leaders are not ready for this, at least in the foreseeable future, I will not celebrate Nigeria.
It is like singing the Lord’s song in a dark and darkling plain!