By Tabia Princewill
THE Nigerian situation is an extreme case of class warfare whereby so long as rich or well-off individuals believe they can continue to escape discomfort, they are perfectly fine watching poverty (and insecurity) rise.
We buy into the “Africa rising” narrative not because it promises progress for the majority but because it offers comfort and entertainment to a minority with disposable income. So, we congratulate ourselves over successful concerts and fashion events, enjoy whatever entertainment is currently available but we never stop to think how much better organised and, therefore, more pleasurable (and also more profitable) these events could be if we fixed the structural issues affecting Nigerian industries and the society at large.
For people so concerned with profit, the consumer or customer experience means little to us. African capitalism is perhaps even more predatory than its Western counterpart due to the lack of regulation and enforcement of consumer protection laws. Similarly, we have a crop of elite women who attend conferences parading whatever First Lady makes herself available but who completely ignore the fundamental issues affecting women and girls.
We have business men claiming to mentor and train young people while engineering a greedy financial or banking system that makes passive income from overcharging and exploiting businesses, therefore, making it virtually impossible for these same “mentees” to survive longer than two or three years. The best part of this, from the perspective of the class warfare winners, is that Nigerians applaud and encourage their oppressors, lavishing them with attention and accolades.
Each of us, lost in our personal, individual struggles fails to truly connect the dots between the collapse of public administration in Nigeria and the hardship we all encounter at various levels. This journey to self-destruction only intensifies with time: the stakes get higher and higher, poverty, violence and suffering are exploding all around us and we choose to pretend there is nothing we can do.
We normalise injustice, blaming so-called culture and traditions, weak institutions, etc., as if people like you and I weren’t responsible for upholding those practices or for corrupting those structures. If we do some soul searching, we are sure to find that from top to bottom each one of us is guilty of encouraging some corrupt practice or the other, some form of injustice and chaos.
According to UNICEF the majority of out of school children in Africa can be found in Nigeria, particularly in the North where almajiri children are victims of all manner of abuse and deprivation. Zainab Ahmad, the Minister of Finance, once mentioned the idea of religious leaders talking to their congregations about family planning; it was precisely because population pressure is a danger to Nigeria’s already overstretched and underfunded public services.
We have turned religion and tradition into weapons, refusing rational thought and creativity, while, ironically, the “smaller” African countries we look down on continue to leave us behind. Senegal, a majority Muslim country passed a number of laws protecting women in polygamous marriages: upon marriage Senegalese men are required by law to “tick” a box identifying whether they choose a monogamous marriage, or a polygamous marriage with several sub-options (one wife, two wives or a maximum of four wives). A man who marries a woman and states he intends to be monogamous can be sued by his wife if he tries to introduce the notion of a second wife without her consent. He risks a six month jail term and 500, 000 CFA fine.
A woman who finds out her “co-wives” and their children receive greater care or financial benefits than she does can also seek redress from the courts. The Senegalese constitution recognizes male and female equality: so what is it about Nigerian politics that makes our politicians so resistant to change? Islam practiced in Senegal is the same as in Nigeria where Sunni Muslims are the majority, so nothing more than habit and choice stops Nigerian leaders from installing progressive laws.
As for Nigerian women, some of the most vibrant and well-educated on the continent, it is stunning to find a number of us are still so politically passive.
What stops Nigeria from boasting of as many female parliamentarians as Rwanda or even Senegal? Nothing more than elite selfishness: most of the Nigerian women who are allowed into the boys club are those who seek political power with no pro-people ideology to justify their quest.
In short, we are all responsible for Nigeria’s dysfunction, because we are co-opted, at various levels, into supporting predatory practices both in the public and private sector. A number of people have ceased to imagine another way of doing things, convinced as they are that this is it for Nigeria. The majority of government functionaries and politicians are originally from extremely humble backgrounds, they have first-hand experience of poverty and deprivation.
Yet, many do not come to revolutionize government services on behalf of those they left behind, they simply come for their own share, believing “it’s their time” to partake in Nigeria’s largesse. This scarcity mindset makes us all each others’ competitors with devastating results; we greedily focus on wasteful frivolity and shy away from impact. Therefore, one can drive through areas like Ikoyi in Lagos, or Maitama in Abuja and find hundreds of empty, unaffordable, exclusive apartments while the nation simultaneously faces a housing crisis.
THE Governor of Rivers State once again said “Rivers is a Christian state” which goes against constitutional provisions clearly stating Nigeria is a secular country and, therefore, none of the states can claim to have a state religion.
We waste so much time calling attention to each other’s ethnicity and religion and spend so little time on the real business of governance. It’s divisive but not a new form of distraction and it works because our people see each other as competitors for a share in the national cake which is delivered based on one’s identity.
So far as access to political opportunity or even government services, is still connected to explicit proclamations of our ethno-religious identity, statements such as these will serve as a rallying call, replacing debates on policy or ideas to uplift us all irrespective of ethno-religious appurtenance.
Exclusionary language and policies are the bedrock of our politics in Nigeria, where states continue to spend on religious activities to feign piety while ignoring the economic causes of national discord.
The Council of Foreign Relations recorded 2,037 deaths from sectarian violence in 2018, higher than the number recorded in 2017, which was 1,041. The political elite continues to use religion as a tool to stop the poor and ordinary Nigerians from realizing their common aims and aspirations.
For as long as Nigerians don’t realise the shoe pinches in about the same way in Maiduguri as it does in Port Harcourt, cynical elites will continue to hold Nigeria hostage.
THE Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission (ICPC) said it would investigate the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Justice over their decision to include N5.6bn worth of constituency projects in their budgets. What “constituency” could the Ministry of Foreign Affairs possibly represent?
The ICPC in a statement revealed that only 60 per cent of constituency projects in Nigeria are completed. Most are either abandoned or poorly executed and reaffirmed the commission’s willingness to track projects. However, without community involvement and ownership, such projects won’t meet their stated objectives.
Communities are rarely a part of the process: governance is done through a top-down approach, so projects aren’t sustainable or effective because without community buy in no one advocates for maintenance etc.
Mr. Owasanoye, the head of the ICPC said: “communities need to understand that public funds are used. They need to take ownership. We recommend that projects need to be handed over to the local government for the community to take over.”
Tabia Princewill is a strategic communications consultant and public policy analyst. She is also the co-host and executive producer of a talk show, WALK THE TALK which airs on Channels TV.