Dysfunctional social spaces, thieving rulers

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By Is’haq Modibbo Kawu

A LINGERING memory from my early child in Ilorin is the shortage of potable water in many homes in the city. During the 60s, there was a standing pipe which served hundreds of families, in a depression where what was then Oyo. Bypass (today’s Ibrahim Taiwo Road), meets the Emir’s Road. People will form long lines of buckets with regular outbreaks of fights as each one desperately attempts to get water for their family use.

Often, those lines were kept for days, since water was not running each day. The old Ilorin waterworks had been built during colonialism and had become inadequate for the expanding population of what was a provincial capital that was to become a state capital by 1967. I grew up learning to fetch water into the nights early in life and for the city the respite about water was only to come during the military administration of the late General George Innih. For the first time, water became more readily available in Ilorin, for a couple of years.

But populations have kept growing and so is the demand for water. A succession of military and civilian administrations has used this need for water to fleece the state of billions of naira. Water contracts have remained the ultimate bonanza in Kwara. Especially from 2003, the administrations have awarded all kinds of contracts that gave us a lot of food for thought but no water to drink.

All over Ilorin, there are pipes stored away in various corners of the city; the story that is popular in the city is that whenever there is the need to scam the community, contracts are awarded, the stored away pipes are brought out as if recently purchased and after a show of their “arrival” has been made, they are returned to their places of hiding until the next round of contracts.

It is incredible that I came into consciousness finding inadequate water supply as one of the first social problems of life and in my fifth decade of life, that problem has persisted! This story of water illustrates a major aspect of the deepening levels of dysfunctional living in our social space today. What I said about Ilorin can be extrapolated into other urban settings in our country. There is a collapse of municipal governance and the depth of rot in the social space makes decent living almost impossible.

Those who rule us are merciless predators. They make a show of attempting to solve problems when in truth those problems are seen as an opportunity to fleece the community. As it was with water, so it is with the traffic situation, in a city like Ilorin again. We will have to go back to the Innih period still, for some of the most far-reaching efforts at opening up new roads within the city.

But the roads might have been adequate to serve the needs of three decades ago, but because there is no sustained thinking in the governance structures about the use of road infrastructure or any organised study of patterns of purchases of vehicles in the society, logjams became a major aspect of daily existence. One of the steps that Bukola Srarki took in ostensibly trying to solve the problem, was the construction of an overhead bridge. A local engineering firm was sure it could be constructed for N700million, but Bukola Saraki expended N3.5billion on the project.

Overhead bridge of Nightmares

Unfortunately, it has done far more to worsen the traffic situation than solve it, apart from the incredible sum used to construct it, on flat land and not in the swamps of the Niger Delta! It is one of the worst nightmares of movement within the city of Ilorin now, attempting to get from the GRA where I reside to go into the traditional areas of the city, where my extended family resides, especially under Bukola Saraki’s bridge, by the post office.

And on Sunday mornings, the road around the old Midland Stores is completely clogged up, as a result of a weekly market in secondhand goods, from jeans trousers and T-shirts, shoes and sandals through to used bras and pants! Secondhand goods were popular and indicative of the relative poverty of the 1960s. But with the oil boom of the 70s, the market almost disappeared and people tended to dress far more decently in new clothing. But the ages of SAP and neoliberal capitalism as well as a rapacious thieving elite of rulers who steal everything in sight, has seen the deepened immiseration of the Nigerian people.

Secondhand goods are back in vogue; and in the 60s, people hid behind walls to make their choices, but today, I see young and old alike, openly haggling to choose those expressions of humiliation and poverty. And a frightening adjunct to this is the way that urban poverty is being expressed in the levels of begging in a place like Ilorin today.

Whenever I return home, it frightens me to see how elderly women beg all around the city. These are the old women that are the canon fodders of Bukola Saraki’s politics. They are the faithful supporters who have been dying in front of his house and campaign office in the past few years, unsung! Their daughters are part of a ring of clandestine prostitution while the sons are the thugs running after the jeeps of the political nomenclatura, at social events in the city.

Those who follow the social trends in Nigerian society today must be particularly worried about the new phenomenon which emerged after the 1999 transition to civil rule. We now have ex-governors who have become richer than the states they ruled for eight years. Pastor Tunde Bakare made the same allusion early this week.

He even pointed out, especially in respect of the new APC party, that many of the so-called “progressives” within have not only looted their states but are in fact bandits! Having been ensconced in the trappings of power for eight years, during which they mercilessly fleeced those states, especially using the dubious platform of Public-Private-Partnerships (PPP), to transfer state assets into their own private pockets using front companies and individuals, they often then workout unconscionable pensions for themselves out of power.

Those states in their views have transformed into sole proprietorships that they own and can do as they please with. Puppets are installed as governors; they own all or most projects in their states and carry on as if all life depends on their whims and caprices. This is the nature of the dysfunctional social space in Nigeria today especially as it manifests in my home city, Ilorin and my state, Kwara; and the despair this is leaving in its wake, is threatening to consume the nation in the long run. In truth, dysfunctional social spaces cannot be sustained just as we cannot continue to sustain the level of thieving amongst the ruling elite in Nigeria. Something has to give in the long run!


Politicised religion, obscurantism and underdevelopment

AT the weekend, I spoke with Tunde Fagbenle, the PUNCH newspaper columnist, apropos of his last column. It had been titled “Let us kill religion before it kills us”. He had expressed misgivings about the recent crisis within the school system in Osun state, occasioned by reforms being carried out by Governor Rauf Aregbesola.

Fagbenle had illustrated his story with the conflicts between Muslim students dressed in Hijab in confrontation with Christian students dressed as choiristers. The following day, another group emerged dressed as Egugun worshippers.

These took place within the schools structures of Osun state! I will not comment on the rights and wrongs of the reforms in Osun state, because I have not studied them. I have very serious reservations about Rauf Aregbesola, but even he is not the issue here today.

What is worrisome, is the way that politicised religion has become a very important element of the inter-elite rivalry for power and advantages in our country today. There is a deepening of identity politics and the more negative manifestations have been more central within the nation’s social space.

Nigeria is already divided down the middle with each group claiming and attempting to secure advantages over the other, as competition for accesses to power and lucre becomes ever more fierce in our society.

There is hardly any social institution that is not bifurcated along religious lines. So it is no longer a surprise to see Muslim and Christian versions of professional organisations of doctors, lawyers or journalists. Even the NYSC that was ostensibly established to unite young Nigerian graduates has its fair share of these divisions.

There is a deepening of obscurantism and a deliberate attack on rationality and logic in our national space. Religious identity and ethnic chauvinism are weapons of choice in the irresponsible politics which facilitates the fleecing of our society. Top government officials who are caught in these elaborate heists quickly retreat into religious and ethnic laagers to fend off prosecution just as their co-religionists vacate all rationality in defense of the indefensible!

Defeat of underdevelopment

But the most damage is being done to the nation’s ability to defeat underdevelopment, since rational thinking, scientific inquiry and discourse have beaten a retreat in school systems that have become some of the worst in Africa today. Children passing through schools often have no training in logical thinking or rational scientific questioning of phenomena.

A show is being made of how religious members of the elite are and more often than not, if members of the middle class elite are ever found to be reading books, they are likely to be religious scripts, motivational literature or how to become rich books, often of American origin! We are really making a success of creating a country of religious bigots, tearing at each other’s throat to prove the superiority of each one’s confession.

Nigeria is increasingly becoming a huge country of philistines and badly educated people who have very little knowledge even of their own country and history and are therefore unable to make a serious dent on the pervasive underdevelopment that is swamping us all.

What I am sure of, is that we will not conquer underdevelopment with how religious we are or how many religious battles we can fight against and among ourselves. We have to rise to levels of rational scientific inquiry which can equip us to understand the phenomena of nature to be able to harness nature to serve the needs of our humanity.

What is being done now is to exploit politicised religion to deepen division so as to make exploitation of the people easier by unscrupulous groups of the ruling class!

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