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That we may reverse the slide

By Francis Ewherido

In June this year, there was a report where Nigeria replaced India as the country with the largest number of extremely poor people in the world, that is, 87 million Nigerians living on less than $1.90 a day. Last week the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation released a report reinforcing the earlier report. It said that more than 40 percent of the world’s extremely poor people will be living in Nigeria and DR Congo by the year 2050.

Nigerian youths

There are currently 197 countries in the world and the report is saying that in 32 years two countries alone, Nigeria and war-torn DR Congo, will account for 40 per cent the world’s extremely poor. With Nigeria projected to be third most populous country in the world by 2050 with a population of over 400 million (only India and China will have higher populations), Nigeria will not only continue to be the number one home for the extremely poor, but the number of people living in extreme poverty will spiral.

Anybody, who disputes this projection, is a miserable student of history. I started following current affairs in 1979, that is 39 years, so I know enough not to dismiss this projection. Year 2050 is not eternity; it is only 32 years away. Yes, that is enough time to turn things around, but not when we continue to do things the same way that has not taken us anywhere. Unless we do things differently, individually and collectively, the prediction will come to pass. But while we all need to do things differently, leadership is very important, because once the head of the fish is good, the rest of the fish will take its cue.

Since the 80s and especially the 90s, many critical aspects of our national life have been in reverse gear. When I was growing up, there were no privately-owned primary schools in my area. The few privately-owned secondary schools died because they become economically unviable or died for some other reasons. Today, privately-owned nursery, primary and secondary schools dot every corner of our space.

The major reason for this is the failure of the public school system. When the clamour for privately-owned universities started, it was mainly to accommodate those who could not get admission into government-owned universities. Today, many people who can afford it send their children to privately-owned universities. Like public primary and secondary schools, government-owned universities are being left for only children of parents who either cannot afford the fees of privately-owned universities, or want to be spared the heavy financial burden of privately-owned university education.

The problem with our educational system is not just about the falling standard, but much of the knowledge that is impacted is unsuitable for our environment and circumstances. Somebody made an observation that jolted me to reality recently.

He counted over 10 universities and other higher institutions in Delta State alone. These schools churn out thousands of graduates every year. But Delta State is currently a waste land; it cannot provide employment for even 10 per cent of these graduates and the knowledge the graduates acquired cannot make them self-employed and self-sustaining. Any surprise why the state has become a massive crime zone and a hostile environment for investors?

Meanwhile, neighbouring Rivers State is now the favourite investment destination in Nigeria, ahead of even Lagos State. Wetin Rivers get when Delta no get? No be the same oil? Why our matter different? And elections are here and all you see and hear across board are parochial interests, virulent personal attacks on inter and intra party opponents, not critical analysis of issues of common good.  Unfortunately, Delta State is not alone in this parochialism; it is a national tragedy. That is just by the side.

Look at Nigeria’s power sector, what has changed in the last 30 years or more. Officially, we now generate more megawatts of electricity, but Nigerians still spend much of the time in darkness or rely on alternative sources of power supply. Since the so-called privatization of the power sector, Nigerian consumers have been fighting for self-determination. We want pre-paid meters so that we can be in control of what we consume. Last month, I got a bill of over N30,000 for less than two weeks of cumulative electricity.

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Has my residential accommodation become a factory? Like many electricity consumers, who have become increasingly helpless, I was forced to pay for what I did not consume. September bill will not be different. DISCOS have become one of the groups exploiting and economically annihilating Nigerians. And I ask what is government doing to help Nigerians fight for self determination in electricity consumption, or is Nero fiddling while Rome is burning?

The robust middle class I grew up to meet in the 70s is gasping for breath. At a time, it disappeared from the Nigerian space before resurfacing and has been very sick for a long time now and the situation is not about to change any time soon if we continue to do things the same way. When I was growing up, your middle-class status was guaranteed once you graduated from the university. Since the 80s, that has changed. In fact, many graduates now graduate into the group of extremely poor and some remain there all their lives.

We are in trouble. Step out of the country and you will find out the rest of humankind has left us behind. When you travel to Europe and America, even South America and Asia, no matter your education and exposure in Nigeria, you struggle to adapt to all aspects of modern everyday living.

Everybody, who loves Nigeria, must take the Bill and Melinga Gates report serious. We have recorded more regression than progress since the 80. The old narrative has failed us. Elections are here. We need a new paradigm. Politicians are first Nigerians before membership of political parties. They must begin to look beyond party loyalty to national loyalty. If political parties want loyalty from their members, they should first show loyalty to Nigeria, the (con)federating units and the local councils by putting forward visionary and transformational candidates, who know their right from their left. Nigeria has regressed enough.

What I find most troubling though is that selfishness has eaten deep into the average Nigerian. He accepts that he, like most Nigerians, is suffering, but he is only interested in himself. Once he gets the opportunity or position, he steals primitively so that he can exit the camp of sufferers. He is not interested in the common good or general progress. We should go and study the history of societies that focused on parochial interests to the detriment of the common good.

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