By Bisi Lawrence
“Andrew” eventually checked out, after all. In the TV commercial which captivated the imagination of the entire nation, he looked dapper, self-assured and fully determined to quit the country of his birth where nothing worked— the electricity supply, the telephone system, the public water supply, the health system, the roads … the lot.
He had got his fill, and he was leaving for greener pastures: that was what “checking out” meant or, in other words, he was going abroad. It was the “in thing” to do at the time. Anyone who was able to do it was doing it, or trying to do it.
It was considered even valiant, in some way. But the subtle message was in the fact that the country was his—ours —the only one we had, and when things were rough we should not jump overboard like scared rats. The message went home but the vehicle was commendable all the same, because the presentation reflected the true frustrated feelings of the people.
And “Andrew” became a hero of some sorts. That also became the nickname by which Enebeli Elebuwa, who acted the role so admirably, became known. In spite of the import of the message, most people identified with his sentiments. From a highly appreciated actor of feature films, he indeed rose to become a star.
The TV commercial was produced to assure Nigerians that the insufficiencies mentioned by Andrew would “soon be a thing of the past”. (Please pardon the cliche —we live in a world of cliches since we are compelled to repeat excuses until the words are drained of the pristine quality of their meaning). Well, that was quite some time ago. But what has changed in the way we wished or hoped things would change?
Perhaps the nearest thing to an ameliorated situation is our telephone system. It was fair at the start when we adopted the technology of satellite communication and had our heads constantly bent towards one shoulder or the other, as we ceaselessly enjoyed the novel luxury of conversing over cellphone handsets.
But the service has deteriorated in the grip of a force we now accept and refer to tersely as “networ/C’. It is a graphic way of describing a congestion of the circuit.·1t used to be experienced in those dark days of the land line that was in operation as “no tone”.
It was most inadequate. It still could be much better these days, even with the more acceptable services of the satellite system” especially with regard to costs. No West African nation comes even close to Nigeria in cost, when it comes to making a telephone call. The land line that should have cost a fraction of what we are paying is now virtually non-existent.
The near-extinction ofNiTEL is a ready reference point to our lamentable standard of the management of our resources. In the meantime, the telephone companies have literally gone adrift on a spree of mindless promotions that do not have slightest impact on the quality of service provision. But maybe that is not worth “checking out” for, though a taste of what it is like in other countries, e en within Africa, may make one wince. And yet that is on the palatable side.
On the other side, what would you have? Power? Well, you still don’t have it. Even when it was said to be improving with the former Minister in the saddle, it was unsteady and unreliable. In abject frustration, I went to look into this thing called “Inverter” and quickly dashed out of the showroom. The costs, both purchasing and operational, were the stuff out of which cardiac arrests are made.
In a modest bungalow, I now spend upwards of twenty thousand naira a month for running a 2.5 kva generator in the Oke-Oja area of Apapa in Lagos. Last month, I paid out an additional three to four thousand naira to the PHCN for days without a wink of power supply. Now, that is enough to make anyone feel like “checking out”
Then look over the roads. Frankly, they are a disgrace even in some urban areas. Some states even seem to have given up. The streets are full of “trenches” that fairly break the hearts of motorists and the rear axles of their vehicles. As for the inter-state highroads, they often leave travelers stranded for hours where they are passable, or are hardly pliable at all. As Chinua Achebe, the renowned author, once remarked, Nigerian highroads “are full of surprises.” That was true but perhaps not any more.
One now knows what to expect— the worst, even if you dare hope for anything better. What is perhaps the most busy road system in the country has been languishing in dismal disrepair for nearly a decade. And yet there is news of quite a pile of money already spent on it.
And talking about money, well, maybe we shouldn’t, really. But we must since that is the lifeblood of the economy. To put it in a layman’s language (which is what I am) we are now said to be shackled by the ball-chain of a system that is mainly dependent on only one product— oil.
So what is wrong with that? Many countries are dependent on more fragile sources of revenue and they are thriving —like Singapore which relied mostly on tourism at the start. We know, of course, that all this talk about “diversification of the economy” is mere diversion, mere distraction. How well have we managed the revenue from our petroleum resources? The money from our oil revenue is enough to sustain our economy, and boost our development.
But it is being stolen, right before our eyes. And the very people from whom the money is being stolen are being contrived to bear the cost of the deficit caused by what has been stolen from them.
We conduct “Punch-and-Judy” theatricals to simulate the necessary action for putting a stop to the heinous transactions that keep depleting the proceeds from our God-given natural wealth.
But we then discredit the reports that appear to come close to the facts; some of those who are appointed to find out about the thievery, were also appointed to function within the operational precincts of those who could not but be involved with the robbery.
So the appointees are positioned to hunt with hounds and run with the hare. Classical! Then at the end of it all, we do not know whether the evil called “subsidy’ is at the bottom of it all; some knowledgeable people agree that it does not even actually exist. Our President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, says it one way, and then the other: it must totally go, he says, and then it cannot really go. We don’t know whether it’s Tuesday or snowing. And that naturally takes us into the area of corruption.
It is spread all over the place, of course. Nigeria is being turned into a metaphor for wholesale corruption. Corrupt practices are in all the branches of government. They have become the taproots of the important branches of business enterprises. Rather than devise any measure that might control, if not eradicate them, we seem set on bequeathing them as a way of life to the next generation.
And those coming behind us are going to be good at it, believe me, because they learn computer—fast. Which brings us to education.
Nigerians are brilliant by nature, but see the ragged nature of our educational system. To put it simply, we have allowed it to be commercialized.
The successful teachers are now civil servants with the working ethics of the Nigerian public service. Unlike teachers who slaved and strove years ago to produce great minds from the classrooms, no civil servant is going to ordinarily lose much sleep over his job— after all, it is a job— these days.
The vocational aspect of teaching flew out of the window when the civil service mentality stepped in. So we could not boast of one of our former universities among the best thirty in Africa, and yet we were still building more.
And so, private enterprises came to the rescue —at a price. In the meantime, so many young minds are daily streaming out to foreign universities, not just in the traditional destinations of the US and Europe, but also to various parts of Asia and even Africa. They, on their part, have really checked out, or what are we talking about? Even those who stay and qualify cannot find gainful employment anyway.
Or shall we consider our health delivery? The dynamic Governor of Lagos State, Babatunde Raji Fashola, is scheduled to personally start off the anti-polo campaign in the state today. That should be said upfront in this manner to avoid giving the impression that little is being done in the health sector.
But the running battle between the government and the medical practitioners employed in the state hospitals has reduced the value of the service available to a pitiful scale.
That is in a state where the vigour of governance even tries to make a difference. There have been industrial issues all over the states of the nation with a mammoth negative effect on our health system.
And so, those who could afford it, have really been “checking out”. It used to make news, but it is now almost routine. No one need know about it, if it is successfully treated. If you are bothered by any ailment that needs special medical attention, you simply “check out”
And, you know, that is what “Andrew” eventually did. May God rest the soul of Enebeli Elebuwa, the actor who depicted the pathetic ineptitude of our circumstances as a nation and opted for the total rejection of the country as the panacea for our woes. He then actually went abroad because he could find no treatment for his ailment here at home, and there he truly checked out.
honour to our dead
I cannot but here mention the passing away of Olakunle Oyeshiku. He was buried yesterday. He lived a distinctively decent life which was much appreciated by all who knew him. An old boy of the CMS Grammar School, Lagos, he distinguished himself as a cricketer, a game he loved and wrote about under the pen-name of “Slip”.
He went on to become the Secretary of the Nigerian Cricket Association, and held that position creditably to the development of the game. He was my boyhood friend and was the best man at my wedding.
But this is not all written because of my personal connection.
It is a shame that we no longer give due honour to those who have served this nation in their own peculiar way when they die especially in sports organization.
Jimi Omagbemi, also an “Old Grammarian”, for instance, recently passed on totally ignored by the track-and-field officials of this nation. He was one of the earliest Olympians and a Commonwealth Games medalist.
Again, Sunny Badru, one out of the only two West African Referees awarded the FIFA Golden Whistle died earlier and there was not even one member to the NFF to pay tribute at his funeral.
The cricketers who were at Oyeshiku’s funeral came out of their personal connection, although the NCA did publish an obituary for him, which is commendable.
But “Slip” should have left the church under an arch of crossed two bats two days ago as a mark of merited honour. It is time the sports associations woke up to their duty in this regard.
God grant his beautiful soul eternal rest… .