By Ekerete Udoh
As many of you dear readers are pretty much aware, for almost two months, I was in Nigeria on an extended visit-the longest I had ever stayed since I moved base to New York a little over a decade ago. The trip was an eye opener on many fronts: I saw the prospects that abound in the country and the frustrations that our compatriots endure as they grind out their daily existence. Nigeria is a study in paradox: on one hand, it is an exceedingly rich country-incredibly blessed - one that should have no pressure at all, in fulfilling its social obligations to its citizens- a nation where the principle of common good should long have been an abiding article of faith.
While there appears to be a consolidation of what is referred to as ‘Negative Rights’- the right of government to safeguard civil liberties, freedom of speech and other associated liberties, those that are called ‘Positive Rights”-the right for government to provide a minimum standard of living, right to healthcare, affordable housing, education, employment among others appear to have been sacrificed at the altar of greed, of mind-boggling mendacity and venality, selfishness and a lack of love for the collective well-being of the generality of the people.
It should, by now be a well known fact based on what I have written in this column for the past two years, that I am an eternal optimist- a keen believer in Nigeria’s capacity to fulfill the mission of its founding father and to reclaim its proper place as the true giant of Africa and a beacon of hope for the black race. I have expressed this sentiment time and time again so much that it may begin to sound like a broken record, but I do sincerely believe in my heart that Nigeria will attain those lofty ideals in my lifetime. But optimistic as I am, I am troubled and concerned about a number of profound issues that shouldn’t have been a part of our national discourse at this stage of our development, and those issues center around those I mentioned above as they pertain to ‘Positive Rights’.
In my almost two months sojourn and this frequency will increase soon, I had the opportunity to have traversed the length and crannies of all the Nigerian regions-from East to West and South to North. I saw opportunities, hopelessness and despair; sunny disposition and sullen demeanor. I saw a people who appeared to have internalized the idea that government has failed them, and have thus inured their collective psyche in not expecting much from those who should look out for their interests and fight to bring home the beacon. I saw young men and women who daily congregate on street corners, discussing and dissecting the nation and the passion they brought to bear and the level of erudition and intellectual depth and curiosity animated one, yet they don’t have jobs and the prospects of having one fades with the clouds in the sky.
I saw a nation that has forced its female population-especially those in colleges and those who graduated to debase the sanctity of their womanhood and pride. I saw young men engage in nefarious tendencies that may either lead them to jail or sudden death as the rules that govern those enterprises are exacting and unforgiving. I saw the dislocation and total absence of parental control as the young women are forced due to circumstances beyond their control to do all they can, to take care of themselves and by extension their families. I saw hopelessness walk on four legs and poverty rampaging the socio-political space and my optimism gave way to anger.
While in Nigeria, I travelled on roads that are nothing but national shame-roads that are death traps ( and we are seeing this manifest weekly with the spate of ghastly auto-crash that involve high profile Nigerians) and I wonder what is happening in my country-why there is so much disconnect between government and the people. I saw cities that are permanently in darkness and the damp and putrid air that assault one’s nostril and I cringe in horror because such, should not happen at this state of our development. How can a responsible government go to sleep knowing full well that the majority of its citizens are living an inconvenient life? How can we ensure productivity when the citizenry may not be able to have sound sleep? Should we be a society that tolerates the use of generators with its attendant health hazards? Why is it so difficult to improve the power generation in the country with all the billions of dollars that have been sunk into that ministry?
I am angry, because Nigeria is not a poor country. The resources available to this nation are huge and can take care of its citizens adequately. Why then is there a disconnect in this area? My answer to this puzzle is a lack of love and the principle of the common good. Before I go on with my analysis, let me state here that as bad as what I saw in terms of democratic dividends, there are a number of governors who have shown by the deft manner they have applied the resources available to them, that the people whom they lead come first in everything they do. It is a known fact that Governors Godswill Akpabio of Akwa Ibom, Fashola of Lagos, Oshiomole of Edo state, Yuguda of Bauchi state Okorocha of Imo state, Amaechi, and Uduaghan of Rivers and Delta respectively and Anambra’s Obi and by extension, Dr. Mimiko of Ondo have done very well for their people, and thus constitute bright spots in an otherwise darkened alley of service delivery, others should step up their acts.
Most of the governors who have done very well, have been propelled by the need and desire to leave lasting legacies for their people and that abiding love- to improve ether the physical layers of their states through massive infrastructural upgrade and thus help spur economic growth and change age-old deeply internalized perception of a people as in Akwa Ibom or to change the way people see and regard government- the application of social contract- the people obeying laws and adopting the best practices and government providing corresponding services as Fashola has done. The one constant in all this, has been the love that these governors have for their people. If this were to be translated across the layers of government- federal, states and municipal, I think we would have reached a tipping point where these elected and entrusted with the task of superintending the affairs of the people are expected to provide at least a minimum level of improvement of the people’ material circumstance.
If we had love for our people, there is no reason why a contractor would collect huge sums of money as mobilization to perform a certain task that will benefit the majority of the people, yet would use the bulk of that money for personal excesses that bear no relevance to the task he was expected to have fulfilled and there are no punitive measures or sanctions imposed on that individual. All over the socio-political space, we see these flagrant and brazen sacrifice of trust on the part of officials and agents of government, and the coercive instruments of government are not applied on such people, every one appears to be in on the deal. It should be!
Let me state here that corruption is not an exclusive preserve of Nigeria- it exists everywhere-even in mature democracies. But what those societies have perfected is that positive rights are enforced, and where people have roofs over their heads, clean water, good roads, great health care services, employment for those who desire to work, education that is heavily subsidized- just basic things that make life worth living, the politicians are not as heavily scrutinized and those who abuse their positions of trust are made to face the full wrath of the law. We can replicate same in Nigeria. All that is needed is the political will. I have always maintained that Nigerians are the easiest people to rule. We are intrinsically law abiding people-all that needs to be done is for the top to reflect such discipline and it would trickle down. If those entrusted with doing the people’s work realize that there would be heavy sanction for sacrificing such a trust, there would a change of orientation.
For a country that is so rich- where the private sector is getting very dynamic, we deserve better from our government and as the new year unfolds, I believe the Jonathan administration would show a zero-tolerance for those who abuse their positions and gradually insert best practices in the mechanics of governance. I love Nigeria and I desire for her to be like all the countries I have been privileged to visit. As President Obama’s 2008 campaign slogan so eloquently stated “Yes, we can” and I believe with Nigeria, we will. Let us show love for our fellow citizens and use the levers of government to lift them up instead of using the same instrument of government to oppress and depress.
Diasporans in the National Assembly
Once in a while, I will highlight the activities of former Diasporans who returned home and are contributing to the growth and deepening of the democratic culture in Nigeria. Today, I train my focus on Senator (Dr.) Patrick Ayo Akinyelure (Labour- Ondo Central.)
Senator Akinyelure a chartered accountant, who has written several books on the subject, lived in New York while studying for his graduate degrees in Managerial Psychology Administration. Since being elected a senator representing Ondo Central, he has worked closely with the Iroko of Ondo politics-Dr. Olusgeun Mimiko to provide excellent representation to his people and the attendant democratic dividends.
As a politician who has keenly observed how politics is played in mature democracies, he seems to live by the philosophy of doing the people’s work and earning their trust “My people gave me the mandate to represent them and to fight for them both in the state and at the national level, and that’s exactly what I have and will continue to do. I will continue to embark on projects that will empower them economically and to continue to work with our able governor-Dr. Mimiko to advance the interest of our people”. Senator Akinyelure represents the face of a former Diaspora who remains optimistic about the Nigerian project.