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Why Nigeria Remains Backward

01 Apr 2012

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Simon Kolawole Live!: Email: simonkolawole@thisdayonline.com


Even if crude oil sells for $2000 per barrel for the next 10 years, you are not likely to see any significant difference in the quality of life and standard of living of ordinary Nigerians. I mean it. The healthcare system would remain largely the same – and our rulers would continue to fly to Germany to treat stomach upset; the potholes would still have a field day on our roads – and our rulers would keep acquiring 4WDs to escape the discomfort; the schools would still be producing illiterates – and the children of our rulers would continue to invade British and American schools to study; electricity would still be on and off, mostly off – and long live the generator merchants! Nigeria’s underdevelopment is, without any doubt, built into the nature of our politics.

Why is this so? Let’s be honest with ourselves and stop playing pranks: how many people are genuinely interested in the progress of Nigeria? How many people go into politics because they are really interested in our progress? Maybe everyone should do more soul-searching. Take a look around. Examine the society. Listen to the said and the unsaid words. Read the newspapers. Watch the TV. Listen to the radio. There is something inside the minds of those who rule us that tells them the progress of Nigeria should never be a priority. And so, year in, year out, we get the same results from the different characters ruling the country at different levels – federal, state and local.

Sometimes when I look at Nigeria, I wonder how things would change for the better. Most of us agree that the major obstruction to our progress is the quality of leadership, but then we have had some good quality personnel in government they still failed us. We have tried all kinds of people. We have tried illiterates and semi-literates. We have tried graduates and PhDs. We have tried third-class, second-class and first-class degree holders. We have tried home-based and foreign-based. We have tried men and women. We have tried the old and the young. Yet we keep getting the same results: abject greed and crass incompetence. If symptoms persist after 51 years, I don’t know the doctor we would consult now.

For a while, I have been thinking about this perpetual state of bankruptcy, and I have been asking myself quietly: why are we like this? How can we get out of this rot? What makes this rot possible in the first place? What feeds it? What makes it possible for us to be locked up in a vicious cycle? Is there any visible way out of this mess? Many a times I whisper to myself: “We are finished!” But then another part of me says: “No, it is because wrong people are in authority over us. The day we get the right guys to control the affairs of this society, Nigeria will change like magic!” As this war rages on in my mind everyday, I never fail to ask: so how will the good guys get into government? The very nature of our politics forms a barricade against these guys, and even if they manage to skip over the barricade, the very system they want to change is too entrenched, too powerful for them to overcome. So they, too, surrender and decide to join in the destruction of Nigeria. It’s a tough call, let’s be honest.

Today, I have chosen to highlight five obstacles obstructing our progress. Of course, there are a thousand others, but these five have been agitating my mind recently.

1. Too Many “Checkpoints”
When you hear that N500 billion has been budgeted for hospitals, for instance, we would be lucky if 10 per cent of that gets to them at the end of the day. There are too many checkpoints where the money will pass, and everybody must take his or her own share: from the ministries and agencies involved in releasing the money, to the health ministry itself, to the permanent secretaries, to the directors, to the hospital boards, to the chief medical directors, to the senior management of the hospitals… Fellow Nigerians, if N1 billion gets spent on the hospitals, that would be a record! (NB: I only used health as an example. You can multiply that by the number of federal ministries – and, please, don’t forget the 36 states and 774 local governments). How can we make progress with such institutionalised corruption? How can we make progress with the across-the-counter stealing, as witnessed in the pension scam?

2.  “Your Turn to Eat”
In the last few years, I have turned down a number of “very lucrative” political appointments because of my belief that I can be useful to my country without serving in government. But many of my friends who heard about it called me and said: “Simon, are you crazy? How can you turn it down?”; “Such opportunities don’t come always. This is a rare opportunity for you to help yourself and do whatever you want to do thereafter”; “You may regret this later in life.” In 2008, I wrote an article a reader did not like. He sent me a few insults. The most amazing one was to taunt me. He wrote: “Segun Adeniyi, presidential adviser. Eziuche Ubani, member of the House of Representatives. Simon Kolawole, ordinary editor.” Did you get the point? Somehow, Nigerians have come to think the only mark of success or fulfilment in life is to be in government. The moot point is about “cool money” as a sign of success. For as long as we see serving in government as a meal ticket, Nigeria will continue to remain like this.

3. Too much politicking
Nigeria is confronted with major challenges that, ordinarily, should elicit the concern of anyone who wishes this country well. But we are so consumed by politicking that the interest of Nigeria is hardly the motivating factor for many politicians, commentators and analysts. I will cite the Niger Delta militancy and Boko Haram insurgency to illustrate my point here. Faced with such enormous security challenges, you would expect everyone to rally round and help salvage the situation. But, no, politicking must take the centre stage. When the militants were bombing oil installations and killing soldiers, Niger Delta leaders kept quiet. When the soldiers started destroying villages and killing innocent citizens, Borno elders said nothing. With Boko Haram, Niger Delta leaders started calling for state of emergency in Borno, while Borno elders asked that soldiers being withdrawn because they were killing innocent citizens. Tell me how we can make progress like this. We are too narrow-minded to think of the national interest.

4. Incompetence
Countries that have managed to develop across the world were ruled, and are still being ruled, by competent hands. This is because there is a common goal in mind. Can we say the same thing about our dear country? The criteria for selecting public officers here are usually woven around anything but competence. Those who helped you to win elections will hand over a long list of loyalists to be appointed ministers, advisers and commissioners. Let’s say there is nothing wrong with that. The issue really is: what is the quality of the brains of these nominees? Only very few appointments are based on merit in Nigeria. So the country keeps going down…

5. Crime, No Punishment
We’ve heard about so many scandals, probes, investigations and trials. What is the outcome? How many former ministers, commissioners, governors, permanent secretaries and such like have gone to jail for destroying this country? It’s either the prosecution is not diligent or the judges are compromised. More so, with a cacophony of voices from the media, pressure groups and so-called statesmen, ethnic, political and religious sentiments are introduced into issues and muddled up. It works all the time. The moment you know that if you steal, your people are there to protect you from facing the full wrath of the law, you know you are fully protected. Bad behaviour is, therefore, encouraged across board. And Nigeria keeps going down…

And Four Other Things...


Pension Pain
A report in The Nation yesterday said a total of N151.6 billion in cash, allegedly, stolen from pension funds had been recovered by the Pension Reform Task Force. Forty-seven bank accounts used to stash away over N100 billion of the funds by a cartel have also been uncovered, the newspaper reported. Is there no boundary to wickedness in our land? Every time, we read stories of pensioners collapsing and dying while queuing up endlessly for their entitlements. All that most of them need to live through the month is perhaps N10,000 or a little more. Yet, it is hell for them to get it. Some wicked souls in government stash the funds away, turning themselves into billionaires at the expense of old people who laboured all their lives for this country. Is there no limit to greed and wickedness?

13% vs 50%
Recently, the Coalition of Northern Leaders, Academics, Professionals and Businessmen, led by Dr. Junaid Mohammed (the new Adamu Ciroma?), issued a statement saying the 13 per cent derivation on oil had brought too much money to the governors of the Niger Delta “who do not have the capacity to manage it”. Last Friday, the South-South Speakers Conference countered, asking that derivation should actually be 50 per cent, given what it was before the discovery of crude oil. I think the battle is fully on now! Of course, there is a sense in which you can say Junaid is right – the Niger Delta would have been a far better place by now if all the resources allocated to it since 1999 had been judiciously utilised. But then, come on, so also can we argue that if all the resources that have gone to the North since 1999 were well spent, the region would be a better place by now. So maybe the hot air from the protagonists and antagonists will not help matters but only heat up the polity – something we enjoy a lot in Nigeria.

Signals from Senegal
Anytime something good happens to democracy in neighbouring countries, I always have mixed feelings. I’m like: if it can happen in Ghana, it can happen in Nigeria. But another part of me says: when? How? The defeat of President Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal by Macky Sall is one of those occasions. Wade, who has been president for 12 years, has enjoyed the dining room of the Presidential Palace so much that he had refused to let go, doing everything possible to twist the laws to keep him in office perpetually. At almost 86 years, he still refused to acknowledge that the market had closed; he was stubbornly shopping for another term in office. But the opposition rallied round Sall in the run-off. With defeat staring him in the face – and most importantly, being unable to manipulate the process – Wade belatedly threw in the towel. O God, when will the opposition play the right politics in Nigeria?

Tinubu at 60
In 1999, the Alliance for Democracy controlled the six states of the South-west of Nigeria. It was a big embarrassment to President Olusegun Obasanjo that his party, Peoples Democratic Party, had no foothold in his own domain. Obasanjo went to work, persuading the AD governors to work with him in return for some favours. The AD kept faith, failing to field a presidential candidate in the 2003 election and asking its supporters to vote for Obasanjo. By the time the elections held, PDP swept out five of the six AD governors in very controversial circumstances. It was a bitter experience for the AD governors. Only one person survived – Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu, who was governor of Lagos State. I don’t know how he survived. Then he created a new party called Action Congress of Nigeria and has chased the PDP out of the South-west. He deserves some credit. That he is a solid politician is not in question at all. And I say happy birthday (in arrears) to him!

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  • Simon, everyone knows that you are not driven by material resources (vanity). A good name is better than gold and silver. I came to your office some four years ago & I told you that Nigeria, is FINISHED, but you were optimistic about Nigeria. Simon, again, Nigeria is FINISHED! Who is a Nigerian? If there was/is a Nigerian, the country would not have been destroyed. Let's go back to the drawing board and stop playing the OSTRICH.

    From: Uche

    Posted: 2 years ago

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  • There’s also an important fifth obstacle - Ourselves i.e. Nigerians. There are people who would like to contribute their own quota to developing the country but do not come forward because of the attacks they will get from the populace.

    For example, if someone like you decides to go into government service, the media will be awash with comments from Nigerians who will abuse you and say you have gone to 'chop money'. If you acquire a property tomorrow through genuine hardwork, it will be because of the money you chopped. If you block a loophole through which people steal money, those persons will publish just one story in the paper alleging you're corrupt (without any form of proof) and the public will crucify you. Not just crucify you, a lot of the comments are QUITE HATEFUL AND VIOLENCE INCITING. I'm not saying Nigerians have no right to critique the actions of their leaders but we are so quick to crucify any and everybody in government (WITHOUT PROOF OR EVEN AN IOTA OF LOGIC) that you wonder why anyone would want to come forward and subject himself and his family to such.

    What then happens is that good people don’t come forward and corrupt people remain in government, and we wonder why we don’t make progress.

    From: Ifeanyi

    Posted: 2 years ago

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  • simon,our problem is that our politics is too attractive,official cars,jeeps,chieftancy titles,and of course access to public funds.until i left nigeria to work abroad,if someone had ever told me govt ministers in some countries drive themselves,i could have slapped him ir her for telling me a lie,but isnt that what obtains in some countries far better off than nigeria?money that can be used to better the lives of the masses is wasted on a few blockheads who do no do the populace any good...

    From: fabfemizi

    Posted: 2 years ago

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  • I was wondering as you did weather it will ever get better because when never I had a talk with so called youths the common statement has been I will wait for my turn or probably if you too is there you will do worse thing. How on earth would someone had such a statement in his/her subconscious. I cried for the this country because self interest has override nation interest, it is very painful and I pray vehemently every day God to give our leaders change of mind which I know for sure that it is very possible. I never loose hope in God for His intervention into our affairs in this nation. It is possible, we will get it right by God grace very soon.

    From: Dada, A. Olamiji

    Posted: 2 years ago

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