By Tabia Princewill
The United Nations recently released a report pointing to the divided nature of the Nigerian society while also commenting on the alarmingly low social and developmental indices recorded. Anyone unfamiliar with the way things are done in Nigeria, where incompetence, or failure, are either brushed away or rewarded, might be wondering why the same people who were not able to help us meet the UN prescribed targets for development under other administrations, find themselves, yet again, in similar roles.
It is this repetition of the same, old, familiar faces which has accounted for our lack of real progress over the years. Parties recycle aides and candidates, enabling ‘group-think’, archaic ways and policies, rather than new ideas from fresh minds. Beyond pushing paper, wearing agbadas, looking important or ceremonial, state and federal appointees in Nigeria have failed to deliver: this is the unspoken, undiplomatic truth behind the UN report. Every issue recorded in this country periodically repeats itself, bolstering a feeling of hopelessness which the current economic recession fuels.
The report features these words which read almost like a warning: “Nigeria’s population will be approximately 200 million by 2019 and over 400 million by 2050, becoming one of the top five most populous countries in the world”. What will we do with all these people? How are we preparing for them? Is our educational system ready? Are our health services ready? Or have we accepted, that even before they are born, most will grow up poor and disenfranchised, becoming unproductive burdens rather than potential assets?
The report couldn’t have said a lot more than what is already known across diplomatic and charitable circles, within our government and amongst some of our own people. In a nation where everything is imported, where we never capitalise on opportunities for real growth, our current economic situation is hardly surprising: when the United Arab Emirates used oil rents to build infrastructure and social services which provided the foundation they continue to build on today, we held parties, sprayed money and flew wives and girlfriends to London.
We delight in buying “aso ebi” which enriches the economies of Austria and Switzerland, etc(we don’t even produce the fabrics we wear yet we call these fabrics, prints or styles African!); spending billions each year on items whose profits pay the mortgages and school fees of foreign nationals—I won’t bore you with more examples of our collective small mindedness.
Or perhaps we should discuss just one more example: Our rich and famous finance their lifestyles through bank debts, running from one bank to the other to get loans to buy houses, buy private jets rather than start businesses to employ Nigerians and grow our economy. They are rich on paper alone. Eventually, when the Ponzi scheme collapses like the house of cards it was, the debt is written off, they are free to further offend by giving business tips on the pages of magazines, or to run for governor, clearly or dare I say, curiously, because in Nigeria, mismanaging a personal fortune is a pre-requisite to gaining notoriety and of course, to public office.
I’m surprised no one has trademarked or gone into manufacturing using the phrase “only in Nigeria”—it could be our own catch phrase appearing on T-shirts, mugs, etc. like the British: “keep calm”. At the same time, we should be fed up of making fun of our country’s sad penchant for disorganisation, wastefulness and lack of planning.
So, we’re in a recession, what next? It would be great if every ministry could share its strategic plans. I don’t mean in a lecture attended only by political insiders, sycophants and their public mouthpieces. Rather, on websites and in the media (both new and traditional). We need to know where we are going: not to criticise government plans but simply because it is our right to know and a plan is more easily implemented when people buy into it; and anyway, the only reason one would have to worry about a plan is if it isn’t a priority, or a good one. Indeed, some Nigerians are professional critics. AGIP—Any Government In Power—has a wing of critics which belongs to everyone and to no one, hates all Nigerians and secretly wishes they’d checked out before the British government stopped handing out passports or work visas to immigrants.
What is our plan for Nigerian technology? Information Technology, IT, is a global force which employs millions of young people. Nigeria is yet to harness its inherent possibilities. I would have loved to be a fly on the wall during the President’s meeting with Facebook’s founder, Mark Zuckerberg. Our professional celebrities, who love nothing more than photo-ops, contribute little else and seem almost paidto sell to Nigerians the same fake lifestyle which contributes to us accepting deception and delusion, must have confused Mr Zuckerberg, whose simplicity stunned Nigerians, so used to “big men” demeaning them, giving them a complex and encouraging them by their example, to seek wealth through illegal ways.
Zuckerberg started out as an ordinary young man—he had shoes but those were not his true wealth—ideas were his main currency. A young man with ideas in Nigeria is as good as dead in a country where policymakers themselves, despite decades of speeches claiming the contrary, care very little for young people or any ideas that don’t involve their own fortunes.
Speaking of our members of state and federal assemblies who should be creating the laws which facilitate everything from business to our most basic comfort—reports about their huge salaries and entitlements have once again surfaced. If every one of them relinquished just 10% of their state sponsored income, Nigeria might afford to recruit graduates into the police system, making them detectives or agents entrusted with special, more sophisticated duties than the very many unqualified individuals wielding guns.
Gradually, the later could be weeded out of the system. We can’t afford to keep employing mediocre people, be it in public office or any related government service. What’ll happen to those who’ll be rendered irrelevant by the changing times is the crux of our inability to reform. Politicians are afraid of “new blood” because of its game-changing potential. If from a rent-seeking society we progress to a productive society, virtually half of our business and political elite would disappear. But “every dog has its day”: it is the very nature of the universe to have a season for everything; so Nigeria’s Zuckerbergs, etc. will undoubtedly rise no matter what is done to stop them.