By Kunle Oyatomi
Several normal Nigerians would have been totally crestfallen when they read on Tuesday the story of how the Venezuelan Ambassador to this country, at a moment of truth, brushed aside protocol to pass a vital message to Nigeria about how the countryâ€™s failures in multiple dimensions is troubling the developing world.
Even the developed world is worried about Nigeriaâ€™s failure to manage its affairs in spite of the numerous talents and internationally recognised experts which this country can boast of.
However, it is the Venezuelan Ambassador, Enerique Fernando Arrundell who has put Nigeriaâ€™s tragedy in unprecedented focus when he told our Chief Brandâ€™s Manager, the Minister of Information, ProfÂ Dora Akunyili, that Nigeria is not in control of its affairs.
The minister, as it were, was â€œcap-in-handâ€ asking Venezuela to come and take advantage of Nigeriaâ€™sÂ deregulation policy to invest in building refineries in Nigeria so our people can have â€œless costlyâ€ access to fuel. I believe that disgust and anger at that request made the Ambassador drop his diplomatic garb to bring some home truth to Nigeria like no other foreign government has done in recent times. And the message was stark.
â€œIn Venezuelaâ€, the Ambassador was reported to have told Akunyili, â€œsince 1999, we have never had a raise in fuel price…. â€œRemember?, the current President of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, cameÂ to power in 1998, while our democratic government was elected in 1999.
In Nigeria we have had about four increases in fuel prices since then and as at this moment, the devastating effect on our people is unimaginable. You may not get the enormity of the evil inherent in this exercise until you read the next statement of the Ambassador. He said, â€œWe only pay $1.02 to fill the tank. What I pay for with N12,000 here (Nigeria), in Venezuela Iâ€™ll pay N400.â€
For a country that is about three steps below in world ranking as an oil producing country, to be able to produce and provide its citizens with fuel three time cheaper than Nigeria, tells not just a sad story about our failure as a country and people, but also about the hopeless quality of leadership at the helm of affairs. The Ambassador was so perplexed about failure in governance that he continued;
â€œHow come Nigeria that has more technical manpower than Venezuela, with 150 million people, and very intellectual people all around, not been able to get it right?â€
Simple: Wickedness in high places!!
Nigeria has people who can rule this country excellently and efficiently, but they have been programmed never to have access to governance so that the vampires would be in full charge bleeding, the nation and impoverishing its citizens.
The statement of the Ambassador was so loaded, he made it all so clear to Akunyili that the model of development which the country is adopting would lead us nowhere. Until our people learn from Venezuelaâ€™s experience, we may not get it right.
He made a beautiful case about how the current president of Venezuela decided to take control of the countryâ€™s resources, and in the process was able, within the same period as Nigeriaâ€™s latest democratic experiment, to build 17 Universities, and make education free at all levels to its citizens. Perhaps, sensing the ministerâ€™s incredulity, the Ambassador further stated that;
â€œWe have no illiterate people,â€ (nearly half of Nigeriaâ€™s 150 million people are illiterates!!) â€œWe have over 17 new Universities totally free. I graduated from the university without paying one cent and take three meals every day, because we have the resources.
We want the resources of the Nigerian people for the Nigerians. It is enough! It is enough, minister!â€ That man must have spoken from the depth of his soul, and the deepest of frustration at watching a bunch of people messing around with the lives of 150 million citizens of a country that has no business being as wretchedly poor as majority of Nigerians have become, in spite of its wealth.
Talking about the model of development (apparently sold to Nigerian ruling elite, and the hyper selfish business and political class by the IMF/World Bank) the Venezuelan Ambassador said; â€œIf you donâ€™t control the (oil) industry, your development will be in the hands of foreigners. You have to have your own country. The oil is your country. The question is, if you are not handling your resources, how are you going to handle the country?â€
For the government sold to a bogus brand of capitalism, the sense in privatisation and deregulation is that it gives the citizen greater opportunity to develop. The Nigerian experience however is a complete nuisance as the direct oppositeÂ is what is happening ever since the deregulation mania set in from 1999.
The Venezuelan experience contrasts the Nigerian ugly reality: Education has completely collapsed over the same period.
We have deteriorated so badly that private schools which provide something close to standard education is affordable only to less than a fifth of number of children seeking good education in the country. Even the standard of living in Nigeria is now less than a dollar a day, while that of Venezuela is $2 per day and the highest in the whole of Latin America.
Mrs Minister of Information, what the Ambassador is telling you and your government is that there is no way a developing (or is it rather an under-developed country like Nigeria) can make progress if it is not efficiently managed and CONTROLLED by the countryâ€™s government. And the contrasted situation between Nigeria and Venezuela proves that conclusively.
Ten, eleven years into democratic rule by two countries in similar circumstance but operating different models of development economics, and the results so starkly different: Venezuela leaping ahead in the content of life index, while Nigeria is a pathetic failure in contrast; not because we cannot get it right, but because we have deliberately handed the country over to predators who are not only intellectually deficient, but also humanly too selfish to seek the public good.
President Barak Obama told us when the US President visited Ghana the other day, that we can engineer change only from within, but we did not understand.
Now the Venezuelan Abassador has skipped all protocol to tell a similar truth that we should look within to take charge of our lives and economy. It is sad, but it would appear that the ruling elite would prefer a situation where foreigners take over our resources leaving us the poorer, all in the privatization and deregulation.
Whether they like to hear it or not, the truth is, Nigerians are suffering so much, patience is running out. Something could snap. It is only natural.