By Okachi N. Kpalukwu
I know sometimes some of us ask ourselves: Does Nigeria have a future? Terrorism, 419, missing-in-action president, incompetent lawmakers, bad roads, lack of electricity, fraudulent elections, rogue (now demoted) Attorney General, Boko Haran, lack of good drinking water, kidnappings, lack of security of people and properties, poverty, corruption, greed, selfish politicians, backward educational system, nepotism, and the list goes on.
These, and perhaps more, are unfortunately what Nigeria , our country, is now known for all over the world. Yet, despite these labels, despite these unfortunate truthsâ€”truths that can mare the progress of any nationâ€”I still believe that Nigeria has a future. However, I also believe that what shape that future will take depends on youâ€”the citizens of Nigeria .
Today, our country is rotten from the topâ€”there is no doubt about thatâ€”because no one wants to obey the law of the land, not even the president. Otherwise, why would our president leave the country he is governing to attend to his illness without properly handing over power to the vice president, if for nothing then for peace and continuity, as clearly stated in the 1999 Constitution? Otherwise, why did our lawmakers not act swiftly for nearly three months to remedy an ugly and shameful situation but instead played politics?
Otherwise, why did our lawyers and judges sit on their hands for months knowing our country is at the brink of collapse if no action is urgently taken; instead, they were wheeling and dealing to see who will outfox the other? Otherwise, why did our elders continue to preach caution in the face of imminent disaster?
In case Nigerians have forgotten about the June 12 betrayal of our democratic rights, here is a reminder, as outlined by Omo Omoruyi in The Tales of June 12: â€œThe country did not know that Nigeria had no effective government as of this time. What was sad in this situation was that Nigerians and the international community had no way of knowing that unnamed persons (the military clique) had marginalized the president, or put in another way, that the president had surrendered to an unnamed military clique which completely frustrated the democratic transition set in motion in 1986.â€ Does this ring a bell? Now, can anyone tell me the difference between this passage and what Nigerians had been subjected in the past few months. You see, they are at it again.
This can only happen in a country where one person can rise up and think he is so important that he can put the running of a country on hold to attend to his illness because without him there is no Nigeria . What about the rest of us?
Now, while all these were going on, you, Nigerians were idly waiting but surely wasting, while other countries around the world are planning feverishly for their future. In other words, Nigerians were joining in putting the future of Nigeria on hold. What were we waiting for? Were we waiting for change to come from the top?
From our so-called leaders? which may never happen. Were we waiting for the old-dogs to change their age-formed habits? Or were we just being complacent? And by so doing, were we not being part of the problem that has been plaguing Nigeria and impeding her progress?
Indeed, I ask, what, really, were we waiting for? And what are we afraid of? Are we afraid that God has finally given us a way out of our misery? Are we afraid that God has finally heard our prayers and has decided to lead us out of our leadership nightmares? Out of the canopy of backwardness and underdevelopment? Or, are we afraid that we might now be closer to getting it right for once in our tumultuous history?
Someone, a pessimistic Nigerian I might add, told me the other day that all these were happening because we Nigerians â€œdo not have it in our blood to protest.â€ My reply to him was: â€œIf it is not in our blood to protest, then it must be in our blood to suffer unnecessarily and to no end,â€ to which he had no reply. I do not sanction such ignoble proposition, and why any Nigerian would even contemplate it is beyond me.
Whatever was our reason for waiting, for sitting on our breeches for so long while our country rotted from within? I am afraid to say it, but the waiting time is over. I say this with all seriousness and with good intentions and because I care about Nigeria and the future of our country. I say this because I am a Nigeria and it hurts me that our countryâ€”a country abundant in both human and natural resourcesâ€”is still looked down upon around the world. I say this because I want change in Nigeria and I want it now. And so should every Nigerian who means well for that country.
Acting President Goodluck Jonathan has not even been in office for long, yet people are going around shopping for a vice-president, why? Instead of letting him do his job, some miscreants are making mockery of Nigeria once again. Where in the constitution does it say that an acting president must have a deputy to function?
If we are to go by what rumor is telling us, since we no long have right to our president, the president is still alive. If this is the case, why does the acting president need a deputy to go about running the business of the country? Why do we Nigerians like to make caricature of ourselves?
Not long ago, the former senate president, Ken Nnamani stated categorically: â€œThe acting president does not need a deputy. As long as the president is still alive, only absent, the acting president does not need a deputy. But if he takes over substantively, then he can appoint a deputy; if the president reemerges, then he can take back his position.â€ Now, what is not clear about this statement? Where has our morals of right and wrong gone? Isnâ€™t it time we grow above the stranglehold of nepotism and tribalism?
In the words of Henry David Thoreau, â€œmust the citizens ever for a moment, or in the least degree, resign his conscience to the legislature? Why has every man a conscience, then? I think that we should be men first, and subjects afterwards. It is not desirable to cultivate a respect for the law, not so much as for the right.
The only obligation which I have a right to assume is to do at any time what I think is right.â€ What Nigerians need to do at time is what is right for the country. Because the president is ill does not mean that the country cannot move forward. Because the president is out of the country does not mean we should wait for him; after all, he has violated the constitution and therefore should not be allowed, under normal circumstances, to resume his position if ever he returns to the country in good health, which we all wish.
It is time, therefore, fellow Nigerians, to ignore the pessimistic footprints of naysayers and carve our own path on this sand of life. Therefore, I urge you, in the name of brotherhood and sisterhood, to make demands of our leaders now. Demand that the Acting President be given what he needs to run the country, instead of forever looking backward as if we are enemies of our own progress.
Demand that future elections be organized properly under democratic principles and with the rule of law in mind; that the stipulation of the 1999 constitution be adhered to strictly; that the best candidatesâ€”people qualified both morally and intellectuallyâ€”be chosen to serve our country; that transparency during elections be practiced at all levels of government; that candidates declare their platform to the nation and not hide under the cloak of their various political parties and king makers; that rigging elections be outlawed and whoever is caught be prosecuted fully under the law; and once chosen elected candidates should pledge allegiance to the nation and not to their political parties and godfathers.
Demand that elections be free and fair at all levels of government; and that money should not be a deterrent to anyone, who has good intention for the country, from running for public office. After all, public service is a career and not necessary a venue for looting public treasury, and one does not have to be rich to serve his or her country; hence, we must demand integrity and accountability of all our elected officials.
Realize now, fellow Nigerians, before it is too late, that if this lack of accountability trends continues, your future is in jeopardy. Therefore, demand now, not later, that our government balance our budget yearly, pay up all the loans they borrowed while in office, and make all worthwhile financial transactions transparent by publishing them on online or in a special government gazette for all Nigerians to see. These include the activities of the Central Bank of Nigeria and its affiliate banks and financial houses.
Demand a total overhaul and renovation of our countryâ€™s infrastructures and transportation networks, including roads, bridges, railway systems, waterways, airports, sewage systems, irrigation systems, factories, and refineries.
Demand full and gainful employment for all citizens in all areas of the economy by insisting that it is the right of every Nigerian to have something to do to earn a living. Refuse the governmentâ€™s snail-walk approach to solving Nigeria â€™s problems, for there are bolder and more expedient ways of doing things, and I donâ€™t think Nigeria is lacking of people with bold initiatives.
Demand that the educational system be transformed from inside out, and that it be made free for all citizens up to the bachelorâ€™s degree level at the least. Nigerians do not have to travel overseas for anythingâ€”at least not for things we can provide for ourselves at home. Demand the provision of current and state-of-the art libraries in all schools, universities, and localities throughout the federation.
Demand clean environment everywhere in the country. This is especially true in the Niger Delta area where foreign oil companies are still burning gases and polluting the environment and making the peopleâ€™s lives miserable and unhealthy. Demand that garbage be disposed off properly in all Nigerian cities and that recycling companies be formed and supported by the government to clean up Nigeria .
Although a digression but nonetheless relevant here, demand that sportsâ€”professional sportsâ€”be privatized and profit-oriented so that stake holders would consciously choose the best players to represent Nigeria always and give Nigeria a better chance of winning international competitions. If you share my views as a Nigerian, I am sure you are tired of seeing Nigeria lose game after game for no reason other than nepotism, ill-planning, and the small-mindedness of its caretakers. We have the players and the resources and yet we keep losing winnable games, why? It pains me to see us lose when we should be winning.
While at it, demand that sports be revived to its old glory in all universities, secondary schools, and primary schools across the nation. After all, we do not go to school to learn books a lone. This is especially true for young people. This is the place where you grow and make your career choices and decisions. And here, every young Nigerian should be given a chance to choose his or her career path.
The last and perhaps the most important demand I want you to make our leaders is security. No country can progress without securing its citizens and properties, and no country can survive without creating an enabling and secure environment for investors, both foreign and homegrown. I have known Nigerians and foreigners who have money and would want to invest in Nigeria but are deterred by the threat of insecurity that is looming large in the country today. These are things that can be remedied by active policing and good intelligence. And in this area we need leadership, not a foreign coach!
Above all, I want you to demand of our leaders RESPECT for Nigeria at home and around the world. You do this by flooding their mail boxes with letters to make your grievances known or by protesting peacefully on the streets of every city in the country until all your demands are met. Otherwise, you can kiss your future and that of our dear country goodbye.
Dr. Okachi Nyeche Kpalukwu is a native of Rumuji, Odegu, in the Emohua Local Government Area of Rivers State . He is also a lecturer at Howard University and the University of Maryland University College , respectively.