As the nation confronts the spectre of insecurity with bomb blasts and heavy death tolls frequently reported, the focus should still be kept on another central issue of governance at all levels. Here we are not talking of monumental distractions such as the matters of legislating against same sex marriage and kicking against the institution of Islamic banking. A lot of heat is generated by the controversy trailing these other topics. The time and energy so dissipated on the distractions should have been better concentrated on the issue of how to manage the economy effectively such that a good mix of policies would lead to improvement in the quality of life of the people.
Perhaps, if the same passion demonstrated on the sentimental issues had been invested in anti-poverty politics the content of governance would have been richer to the benefit of the people. Incidentally, most of the informed analyses of the increasingly worrisome security situation seek to establish an interplay of factors between insecurity and the depreciation in the quality of life in the land.
Whether all the bombings are done by Boko Haram alone or some other criminal groups are hiding under the canopy of Boko Haram to commit mass murders, the issue of worsening poverty is a factor to consider in drawing up a broad strategy of national security. It is important to keep the matter of the quality of life in sharp focus so that those responsible for governance would be constantly reminded that their primary responsibility is to give leadership in the collective efforts to improve the poor condition of the people.
For instance, the 2011 Mo Ibrahim Index of Governance released recently is no good news in Nigeria. The country is ranked 41st out of 53 African countries. Even within the West African sub-region, Nigeria is in the 13th position of the 16 countries under review. Among the indicators considered by the Mo Ibrahim Foundation in the exercise were access to potable water, sanitation, completion of primary education, student-teacher ratio, immunisation and maternal mortality.
Understandably, ranking has been dismissed in some respected quarters as not being truly reflective of the Nigerian condition. Not a few were particularly piqued by the better ratings of some countries that on the face of it would be regarded as less developed than Nigeria. In fact, some of them only recently recovered from wars and crisis. The population of this country was also cited as a huge challenge.
It is, therefore, intriguing that this year’s Human Development Index (HDI) released last Wednesday appears to be a confirmation of the Mo Ibrahim Index in the assessment of the quality of life in Nigeria in a global context. It is also interesting that some African countries such as Mauritius, South Africa and Libya ranked higher than Nigeria in the Mo Ibrahim Index are also well above Nigeria in the UNDP’s index of human development
Now, HDI is released yearly by the United Nations Development Programme, while the Mo Ibrahim Index is strictly an African initiative solely financed by a businessman, Mo Ibrahim, of Sudanese origins. In computing this year’s global index, countries were ranked on the basis of life expectance, income and education. The indicators used were similar to the ones employed by the yearly Mo Ibrahim Index.
Out of the 187 countries assessed, Nigeria is ranked 156th. This country is ranked low particularly in education and income. For instance, on the average it is estimated that the highest number of years for schooling by the Nigerian child is only 8.9. It is hardly debatable that health, education and national wealth are central to development efforts aimed at improving the quality of life of the people. The import of the latest global index is that these issues associated with quality of life should be top most on development agenda.
On a larger note, the 2011 Human Development Report entitled “Sustainability and Equity: A better Life For All” bears a special relevance to the Nigerian situation. The issues of sustainability and equity are separately at the centre of this nation’s developmental debacle. The important thing about this year’s report is that a link is established between the two issues in a manner that is worth pondering by the policymakers and other forces in the society alike. In the report, a case is made for synergy of environmental sustainability with equity like this :
“This year we explore the intersections between environmental sustainability and equity, which are fundamentally similar in their concern for distributive justice. We value sustainability because future generations should have at least the same possibilities as people today. Similarly, all inequitable processes are unjust: people’s chances at better lives should not be constrained by factors outside their control. Inequalities are especially unjust when particular groups, whether because of gender, race or birthplace, are systematically disadvantaged”.
A lot is instructive about the global index for the purpose of policy. Norway, Netherland and Australia are ranked to be leaders in human development. Yet, they cannot be said to be the leading capitalist nations using other indices of economic growth. However, in this case, the verdict is simply that the mix of policies in those countries ensures a more equitable wealth distribution, quality education and better healthcare delivery.
With an index like, the job of the economic management team coordinated by the Finance Minister, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, is doubtless a crucial one in the circumstance. The potency of the strategy that the team is putting together will ultimately be measured by how much quality of life is improved by the policies implemented. The issue of quality of life is also eminently suitable as a distillation of the various themes of the Economic Summit, which kicks off tomorrow in Abuja.
Views From Abroad
The indiscriminate slaughter of over 100 innocent people on Friday in the northern Nigerian town of Damaturu by a group claiming to be Muslim was barbaric.
The group that has claimed responsibility, Boko Haram, appears intent on becoming the new Al-Qaeda. It stands for a total rejection of the West in any form and is becoming both increasingly ambitious in its objectives and successful in its targets. It has already carried out many atrocities including the Aug. 26 suicide attack at the UN offices in the capital Abuja which killed 24. It is now said by the US Embassy in Nigeria to be planning to attack hotels in the city.
Boko Haram means, “Western education is haram.” But the Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “Go in search on knowledge, even to China.” That means anywhere and everywhere. Boko Haram's philosophy is fundamentally at odds with the Prophet's teachings and therefore with Islam.
The West is part of the world. Where there is knowledge to be gained from it (and from anywhere else), it must be grasped with enthusiasm. Muslims are proud of the role the world of Islam has played in the development of mankind's knowledge and science. But where would we be today without all the inventions that have come from the West in the last hundred years — cars, aircraft, television, radio, computers, the Internet, agricultural technology, medical advances and so much more? It is, moreover noticeable that those who so adamantly reject the West do not reject its inventions and ideas. That is hypocrisy. They forget too that in the West, and in Western education, Muslims play a growing role.
We could, then, respond to the repulsive actions of Boko Haram by fulminating against its ignorance of Islam and of reality. It is easy to point out errors, easy to condemn, especially from afar. The far more important issue is this: Why are there people so alienated in northern Nigeria that they are prepared to attack police stations and kill their neighbors? In Afghanistan and Pakistan, the Taleban are held responsible for the murderous militancy that has resulted in suicide bombings and attacks that have killed thousands of people. But the Taleban are primarily a vehicle that channels local and tribal resentment of the presence of Western troops and a central government aligned with them.
Is it the same in northern Nigeria? There is certainly alienation and militancy in the oil fields of the main Christian Niger delta region in the south over the lack of jobs and investment. If alienation in the north has been hijacked by militants preaching a warped version of Islam, that can be rectified in part by sound teaching. But that will not deal with the fundamental issues of economic deprivation.
There is already reason to believe it is at the root of Nigeria's bloody rivalries between Muslims and Christians.
The Nigerian government says it intends to crack down on Boko Haram. It will have to — so far it has totally failed to face up to the threat from the movement. But doing so is unlikely to end the discontent in the far north without also doing something to improve the lives of the people there.