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And Now That We’ve Hit Rock Bottom…

27 Nov 2012

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The Wig & Skirt, By Funke Aboyade, Email: Olufunke.aboyade@thisdaylive.com


Last week, the EIU (Economist Intelligence Unit) released its 2013 Where-to-be-born index (http://www.thisdaylive.com/articles/eiu-rates-nigeria-worst-country-to-be-born-in/131476/). Out of 80 countries surveyed, Nigeria ranked 80th. Accordingly, Nigeria is presently the worst place for a baby to enter the world – assuming of course that baby actually makes it into Nigeria or having made it, survives its first year. Let’s not forget, after all, that Nigeria’s infant mortality rate, (the number of infants dying before age 1) is an unacceptably high 74.36 deaths per 1,000 live births.  That makes us 16th (from the bottom) out of 221 countries. The best being Monaco, Japan and Bermuda with an average of 1.8, 2.21 and 2.47 per 1,000 live births, ahead even of Western nations which in any event are in the 3-4 average. Even a basket case country like Zimbabwe is well ahead at 28.23!

That EIU report listing Nigeria as the worst country to be born should surprise no one. The real surprise is if anyone were to be surprised. Not to mention, why it took so long for us to fail the Quality of Life index hands down.

The good news is: now that we’ve hit rock bottom the only way to go (surely) is up; we can’t fall any further (or can we?). And, there’s really not much else to be daunted about since he who is down needs fear no fall.

The bad news is: there could be still more bad news after that report. Officialdom may decide to attack the messenger, not the message. It might be given the Ribadu Report treatment such that at the end of the day we’re all so confused and unsure of what the real issues are, having successfully had the waters muddied and the issues obfuscated for us by the very government which should be trying to get us out of the hole they dug for us in the first place. If we’re lucky, perhaps a Committee or two (or three or four) may be set up (at great cost let’s not forget) to look into the findings of the EIU report. Just to assuage our (scandalised, indignant) feelings or perhaps until we move on to the next big scandal or grouse with government. If we’re luckier still, a White Paper may follow. If favour shines upon us, the White Paper may actually be implemented, rather than be forgotten on some dusty shelf alongside many others like it.
Pardon my cynicism, but I’m not alone in this line of thought.
Here’s an excerpt from an email I received from my brother, Ojekunle, who has lived more than half his life abroad and now resides in the United States though frequently visiting home:  ‘I can see the pundits lining up already to attack and discredit the survey. Yes, the survey is not absolute - maybe we're really 77th, not 80th! Yes, the survey is not necessarily scientific. Yes, there's institutional racism, survey bias, statistical significance, margin of error, etc. The point though is when are we going to wake up and realise how f*%^ed up we really are?

‘The difference in perspective between many of us in Diaspora and those in country is staggering. I've become absolutely convinced that our false pride is getting in our way - almost as much as incompetence and corruption - because it blinds us. Forget the ranking - every single point made about Nigeria in the survey is absolute fact. People in Nigeria complain about how bad things are, but I'm not sure they really see how far we're regressing compared to the rest of the world. Everybody else is moving on, yet we're surprised by such surveys.’

In response to comments I made, he sent another email still on the point, ‘Better believe it. And when I say everyone is moving on, I don’t just mean the so-called Western world. I mean Latin America, Southeast Asia, and the rest of Africa. I obviously traveled all over Africa and many of the former “Banana Republics”, etc. when I was still with Cummins. You yourself saw Argentina with your own eyes? Let’s not even talk about that level, or Brazil or even Mexico. See how places like Colombia, Peru, Chile, etc. have left us far, far, behind. Angola (I used to think Luanda made Lagos look like London), to whom the South Africans and Americans most like to compare us, is also moving on. Even Kinshasa - the only African capital possibly more dystopian than Luanda and Lagos – will probably get it together before we do. Kai!

‘When she was here last, mom was talking about how she and dad used to look down with pity on the Beninoise about their abject poverty in the 70’s because they used okadas for taxis. Ha!’

And this one from a good friend of mine (name withheld) who lives in Lagos, still on the EIU Report: ‘In terms of government response to this unequivocally damning verdict one would find the odd hand-wringing and perhaps even a mea culpa (likely from GEJ himself who will make his, by now, standard promise to "dutifully study the report and see how we can make one or two corrections here and there"). Of course knowing the nature of our callous leadership the preponderance of responses, the ones you can bet your hard earned money on, will be howls of indignant refutation supported by ridiculous counter-claims about the immense progress we are making; these in turn supported by banal anecdotal evidence that would have been laughable if matter weren't so tragic. The sort that makes you want to shed hot tears of frustration. But quite honestly that is largely beside the point.

‘If we stopped to reflect we quickly realise that this sums up sadly but eloquently our report card as a nation. It starkly shows that the billions appropriated every year are not spent for the betterment of Nigerians' lives. It gives lie to all the rubbish that we hear about the hospitals built, kilometres of roads tarred and bags of fertilizer supplied.

‘Look again and you realise that the report cards are published every day, as they say, 'in real time'. How? A few snapshots that reflect our failing grade in the governance school: the road crashes that tell us how well the works budget is being spent, the illiterate school leavers who have 'benefited' from the education budget and the abysmal crop harvests thanks to money voted for fertilizer supply. Yes, every day we are confronted with the report card.

‘Any surprise therefore that, as ordinary citizens of a richly endowed country sink deeper into despair and penury, the most prosperous people in the land are public officials and government contractors?

‘So the next time we see a government budget, whether at federal, state or local government level the most important questions should be: To what end? How does this improve the quality of our people's lives? How many lives will thus be saved? '
And those are just the views of two different persons on two different continents who did not compare notes.
Hello. Is anyone listening?

Last week too, a KPMG report rated Nigeria the most fraudulent country in Africa (http://www.thisdaylive.com/articles/kpmg-nigeria-most-fraudulent-country-in-africa/131466/). Cost of fraud to Nigeria was $1.5bn in the first half of 2012, according to the report. Presumably, one can conclude that by the end of the year it will be $3bn and counting.

The KPMG report found that fraud and corruption in oil sector had worsened our already abysmal level of fraud. It also identified bribery in the private and public sector, misappropriation and contract inflation as the most common forms of fraud in Nigeria. No surprises there.

And only last month, we were ranked the Kidnap-for-Ransom capital of the world, accounting for 25 % of global kidnappings, with the dubious distinction of overtaking Somalia.

The Global Peace Index, released in June, 2012, ranks Nigeria the 6th most dangerous African country to live in.
Are all those rankings orchestrated lies? An international campaign of calumny and spite against the dear motherland? Player hatin’ perhaps? The latter of course assumes we are ‘playas’. Ha. Or perhaps sponsored by ‘disgruntled opposition elements’ still bitter over their election loss and eager to topple government by any means?

Is anyone in government connecting the dots? The fact that we’re a country steeped in corruption and therefore little or no budgeted funds filter down for capital expenditure? The fact that we’re the worst country to be born in -because the quality of life is so poor, because there’s no money to initiate or complete capital projects that will impact the lives of the people?

The fact that we’re one of the most dangerous countries to live in in Africa – because of unprecedented insecurity and a breakdown in law and order with people or groups maiming and killing with impunity and never being caught talk less of brought to justice, because corruption has ensured significant chunks of the money budgeted for law and order end up in private pockets, because armed robbers and violent criminals have seen how corrupt public officials live large with impunity and so hasten to be like them, because terrorist groups are so disillusioned with the Nigerian state and faced with nothing but their hopeless state of penury and backwardness in the midst of plenty they figure they have nothing to lose by waging war against the state? The fact that we’re Kidnap-for-Ransom capital of the world because of rampant corruption which has people going to bed poor and waking up as rich as Bill Gates, which in turn makes them ‘role models’ for kidnappers who aspire to be like them and who in any event are in their warped logic merely stealing or taking by force what has already been stolen? Because, because…I could go on.

In my recent column, Death Penalty: Oshimhole’s Quandry (http://www.thisdaylive.com/articles/death-penalty-oshiomhole-s-quandry-/128492/) October 23, 2012 I suggested that if we decide to keep the death penalty in our statute books - and my view is that we should – it should be reserved for serious crimes like egregious acts of corruption.

I stand by that viewpoint. Corruption clearly has brought us these undesirable and damning ratings – worst country to be born in, most fraudulent in Africa, Kidnap-for-Ransom capital of the world, 6th most dangerous African country to live in, et cetera.

Unfortunately, it appears President Goodluck Jonathan has his head buried in the sand - that is if one wants to put it charitably. Declaring every so often (Presidential broadcast October 1, 2012, Presidential Media Chat November 18 2012, for example) and trumpeting his government’s anti-corruption performance in the face of glaring evidence to the contrary, is most unhelpful.

Now that we’ve officially hit rock bottom now’s as good a time as any for government to damn the consequences (which shouldn’t be hard choice to make, given that the President  after all does not ‘give a damn’ about one or two things and has no qualms in expressing himself on that score) and confront corruption head on. A good start would be taking the Nuhu Ribadu Petroleum Revenue Special Task Force Report seriously - as imperfect as it may be. And to put an immediate end to the voices of Babel (emanating from government) competing to rubbish it.

Another way is for us to actually start seeing and feeling the result of the trillions of Naira budgeted for every year. In other words, the evidence of good governance - especially at federal level. Government will then not need any media propaganda nor will it need to stridently deny the various damning rankings if indeed the citizens are truly reaping the fruits of good governance.

It can be done. At state level Lagos, Akwa Ibom and a few others, as imperfect as they may be and with the constraints they may contend with, are making serious headway in improving the quality of lives of their residents.

It was interesting to note that some of the indices used in the Where-to-be Born rankings were law and order related: crime and trust in public institutions. One may not be too surprised, were the rankings to be done on a state by state level, to discover that those few states which are delivering the dividends of democracy to their people are the ones which have recorded modest to tremendous successes in law and order related issues. So. As gloomy as the rankings are, there still is a glimmer of hope here and there.

As I write this column and go to press, I note that there’s been no response by government to these rankings. Just silence.
Is anyone connecting the dots?...

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