By Tabia Princewill
ISN’T it interesting that those whose stock in trade for the greater part of our history has been to nurture and encourage the conditions favourable to poverty, illiteracy and violence, act as if the killings and insecurity in Nigeria appeared overnight? (State governors)
To score cheap political points, various actors bemoan insecurity in Nigeria while ignoring the part their combined inaction has played, thus enabling the current situation. Over the past 30 years, Nigerians generally watched the destruction of the public institutions which are supposed to guarantee every citizen a certain standard or quality of life.
Without healthcare, education, running water and other services, combined with the mismanagement and outright looting of the ecological funds meant to combat desertification, what exactly did we think would happen when an entire generation came of age without access to the services today’s politicians received for free as children?
Today’s crop of leaders attended free or subsidized schools, yet the states they govern offer little to the poorest amongst us.
The chickens have finally come home to roost. In Nigeria, everyone always focuses on the President, forgetting the state governors who are allowed to wring their hands and offer their condolences while proffering no meaningful solutions.
If every governor made it a point of honour to restore social amenities in local governments in Nigeria, by devoting more resources to community facilities from public housing to waste and water treatment or management, community grievances would reduce and it would be more difficult to recruit young people into gangs of bandits, terrorists, etc. Without focusing on education and health especially, we can’t fight insecurity in Nigeria.
Ideally, every local government should have a functioning youth centre and the means to engage young Nigerians, to offer them access to new ideas, recreation and entertainment options. But the fact remains that many states exist only to pay salaries: we cannot pretend insecurity happens in a vacuum, or that inequality, or many state governors’ refusal to make social justice their mission, isn’t connected to violence in local communities.
What are the options available to young people in the far North? Why are life expectancy and infant mortality still such pressing issues across the federation? And most of all, why are state governments yet to adopt the fight against corruption?
If we continue to misallocate and waste resources, the resentments and anger at the heart of violence and communal clashes will engulf this country. Suddenly, commentators seem to be awake to the mistakes of the past: we keep opening new universities yet there are no jobs for students once they graduate and most of them have not been trained to see opportunities in the things their communities lack.
Even if they do, there is no support or enabling the environment to encourage their efforts. Our deindustrialized nation, without a textile industry, without factories, was ripe for the current crisis. When the factories in Lagos, Ikeja shut down and were replaced by churches, we showed neither surprise nor outrage.
Virtually everything we import was once produced locally: governors must ask themselves what their states’ comparative advantage could be, and focus on that. We must refuse the fatalistic attitude many politicians have towards extreme poverty. It is neither natural nor acceptable. We continue to lament the state of insecurity, while simultaneously refusing to uplift the poor, and to restore forgotten communities’ dignity and pride, or to engage them constructively so they can contribute to society, and take the lead in designing community improvement projects.
The average Nigerian has no means of reaching his or her elected representative and when he or she does happen to be in the same room with a governor, senator or minister, the power dynamic and asymmetrical relationship between them disallow any real dialogue.
Around the world, policymakers agree that communities should be involved in all efforts to solve local problems. After all, who better than them to say what exactly is needed and why certain plans or proposals don’t work? But we look down on the poor and do not believe they are capable of self-management. The middle class especially is too patronizing and shows a keen disinterest in the issues and concerns of people who aren’t so different: the result is an imbalanced, cruel and violent society.