Is Nigeria a Nation of Whiners?
Mustapha Shet Shehu
Nigerians, especially the educated elite complain a lot. We complain about how things don’t work. If it is not about electricity, it is about education or corruption or rigging and so on. In some cases, even our leaders complain too, of the same things we, the led, complain about, and in the process, we make nonsense of our education. Why must we perpetually channel our energies towards complains rather that towards finding solutions to our problems? Are we cursed to be a nation of whiners? Are we any different, intellectually, from the citizens of the so called developed world?
The vogue now in our litany of complains is about President Umaru Musa Yar’adua. He is sick, he is too slow, he is purposeless, he is incompetent, he is this and that. These are the kinds of complains one often reads or hears about him on the pages of newspapers, in group discussions, on television and radio and even in our discussions with our wives. To say it is not fair on Yar’adua to castigate him for all our woes, you would be challenged to show one thing he has done. But then ask the complainer what he himself has done towards finding a solution to our series of woes; he cannot give you a satisfactory response. One of the things he would tell you is that he is not in position of authority to do anything about them. You will then wonder, at least if you are any different from him, what ‘authority’ is better than education and enlightenment in this world.
Last week I was with a group of ‘well informed’ Nigerians from a particular state of the country. None of them is below the age of 45 and the least ‘educationally qualified’ amongst them is a HND holder. Others amongst them have postgraduate degrees and some have even taught in our universities. One of them, knowing I am a journalist, asked my opinion of how Yar’adua is faring. I told him that Yar’adua hasn’t particularly been impressive since he became president. I attributed his seeming lack of performance to his ill-health, the moral and electoral legitimacy he faced after the more than flawed 2007 elections, but concluded that now that the court has dealt with the electoral legitimacy crisis; let’s give him a chance to see how he would fare. Taking the power sector as an example, I said let’s give him until December when he promised to double our national power generating capacity to 6000 megawatts. My friend, backed by the rest, would not have that, and wondered how I could believe that Yar’adua’s government can do anything positive with the power sector before the end of his tenure. They then listed a cocktail of problems encapsulating education, water, health services and capping it with corruption in public office, all without agreeing that we the led are equally guilty, or even more, in watching while our leaders load is over us. This is my problem with the average Nigerian educated elite.
To him, our power problem can be solved by buying a generating set and complaining about the cost of diesel. Our education problem, at least at the tertiary level can be solved by sending your child to Ghana or Malaysia, pay the fees by hook or by crook and complain about how our system of education in the last few decades was better. Our water problem can be solved by drilling a borehole in your house then forgetting that a town or municipal water supply system has been provided funds in the annual fiscal budget and complain about how we don’t have common drinking water. To cap it all, he will complain ceaselessly of our ‘corrupt leaders’.
If you listen to our educated elite, you will wonder whether the common uneducated masses have any hope at all. We are so shallow intellectually that at times I feel we should arrange compulsory induction courses on development, for our elected leaders and their appointees, from the local government level to the presidency. Teams of international consultants who are conversant with basic development and have also studied our developmental needs more that we have, should be invited to put them through before inauguration. That way, they will be different from us and possibly know what to do to bring about development since we cannot guide them right and cannot bring pressure to bear on them to do what is right because we ourselves do not know what the right things are.
Take the case of some states for example. The idea the governors and their cheerleaders have about development is to build housing estates for civil servants, pave the capital city roads, buy cars for civil servants, increase salaries, and renovate some school and hospital buildings. But are these really development? Our elite who lambaste the federal government for its inability to revamp the power sector allude that we cannot develop without electricity. But is this wholly true? Isn’t there a difference between basic development and industrial development? Have we attained a level of basic development that will catapult us to industrial development whose backbone is electricity when no city or town or village in the country has adequate potable drinking water? Should we be talking about industrial development with an infant mortality rate of about 10 percent of live births, or with about a quarter of children hardly reaching the age of 5 due to malnutrition and diseases like malaria, or when two-fifth of our pregnant women die while producing life, or when an average primary school leaver can hardly write his name and the attendance rate for secondary education is only 29 percent? How can we hope to optimally reap the benefits of industrial development and the service sector, when our farmers cannot increase their farm yield through scientific and technological methods? Can we jump from one of the poorest poor countries in the world to an industrialized nation?
At our stage of nationhood, the course of development we should be pursuing is industrial. But we have regressed so much that this course is not realistic anymore. We are sinking billions of dollars into the power sector as represented by the PHCN as if our development would be made or marred by this singular effort. What we fail to address adequately is what development is. In our context, development should be an improvement in the quality of life of the citizenry. Development must be basic and must involve concerted reforms from bottoms up in health, agriculture, education and water supply that will cater for the greater populace who live mostly in our rural and semi-urban areas and whose need for basic development, in terms of numbers, far outweighs any other need. The role of the educated elite in this is to organize at various tiers of government and bring pressure to bear on our leaders to do the right things with the funds at their disposal.
A group of educated elite from a local government can, for example, constitute itself into a pressure group to monitor developmental trends in their local government area, ensure that leaders at that level give value for money earmarked for that area. They can do that by taking recourse in using the instruments of the EFCC and ICPC. Where state governors become recalcitrant in cornering budgeted local government funds through the joint account, the pressure groups can take recourse in the law courts through mass action suits since the local government council officials cannot challenge the governors for fear of being removed by the ever ‘dictatorial’ state governors. This is the essence of democracy. We must not sit idly and watch our leaders at the local government and state levels feed fat on our commonwealth and do nothing but complain. We must not be content with providing our own boreholes or generating sets or sending our children to schools abroad. If some of us can, many others cannot and it is common knowledge that social inequality brings about social insecurity.
Recently the federal government announced its intention to withdraw subsidies on petroleum products and fertilizer. In spite of the federal government’s exposé that only few oil importers and marketers whom have formed a cartel benefit from the federal government’s subsidy on petroleum, various sectors of the Nigerian elite have condemned the petroleum subsidy removal. So far I have not read or heard of any sector of our elite condemn the removal of subsidy on fertilizer even as 60 percent of Nigerians work in the agricultural sector, and Nigeria has vast areas of underutilized arable land. Those who oppose the petroleum subsidy removal argue that it will lead to increased price of petroleum products and consequently to inflation. They do not mind the fact that the amount government spends in subsidizing oil importers who smile to the bank will go into investments for the good of all Nigerians. They do not also mind that rather than borrow, given the economic meltdown, government will do better to balance the national budget, by cutting down on unnecessary spending such as it incurs in subsidizing importers of petroleum products.
What we the educated elite should do rather than complain, is to ensure that our leaders at the different tiers of government invest to uplift the quality of lives of our compatriots from grassroots upwards. We must ensure that government invests heavily on education, primary health, potable water, agricultural infrastructures and services. We must ensure that primary and secondary educations are free and compulsory. We must ensure that no Nigerian, wherever he lives, is denied access to affordable or free medical care. We must ensure that farmers are provided fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides at subsidized rates and improved seeds varieties in good time to increase yield. They must be provided agricultural extension services both in food and cash crops farming, feeder roads to the market for their products and we must review some of our trade policies that are detrimental to the farmers. This, unfortunately is, our current stage of development from whence we can begin to aspire for industrial development. We must not continue to complain incessantly about things that are not beyond us, for if we choose to do so, rather than become a developed nation, we would be just a nation of whiners.