By olusegun Adeniyi
During the COVID-19 lockdown earlier in the year, entertaining WhatsApp videos played a critical role in helping many of us to maintain our sanity. I remember a particular clip by comedian Frank Donga on what it takes to be a successful public official in Nigeria today. Donga (whose real name is Kunle Idowu) taught a class of politicians nine statements to deploy whenever they want to play the masses. After the nine lessons, Donga then added what he said was the real joker that Nigerians would always swallow if all previous ones failed: “Let’s continue to pray!”
On the same day that I received the skit, there was a trending video in which residents of Ikota, a Lagos suburb on the Lekki-Epe expressway, gathered around a ‘troublesome’ transformer to cast away the ‘powers of darkness’. Reportedly the fourth in a series of faulty transformers brought by the Eko Electricity Distribution Company (EKEDP), you would expect someone to be rational enough to ask the management of the company serious questions. But the people would rather put the blame for their woes on ‘spiritual attacks’ on the transformer which necessitated the ‘crusade’. Since Nigerians have long resigned themselves to the ‘God is in control’ fate in practically all aspects of our national life, those who should be held to account (in both the public and private sectors) get a free pass.
Take the issue of security. While Boko Haram and other terror networks have taken over the North-east, bandits and kidnappers have laid siege to the North-west and North-central. Last Saturday night, the Nasarawa State chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Philip Shekwo, was kidnapped by unknown gunmen. His dead body was found the next day. And in broad daylight on Monday afternoon, gunmen invaded Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) Zaria to abduct a lecturer, just 24 hours after nine students of the same institution were freed from six-day captivity following payment of ransom by their parents. The pathetic story speaks to our helplessness. Traveling on the Kaduna-Abuja highway is now a suicide mission, even for security personnel.
I wrote last year how a discernible gangster ethos now defines living and livelihoods in Zamfara State. The crisis has since spread to Katsina, Kaduna and Sokoto as sundry cartels of criminals carve out empires for themselves. That explains why bandits could invade a mosque in Dutsen Gari community, Maru local government of Zamfara, last Friday to abduct worshippers during Juma’at prayers. Apparently reacting to sensational social media reports on the number of victims, spokesman of the Zamfara Police Command, SP Muhammad Shehu, confirmed that “the bandits killed five worshippers and kidnapped 18 others, including the Imam.” Prior to that tragedy, the same Zamfara bandits had violated and beaten no fewer than 26 married women and girls they abducted from Katsina State. The hapless ladies were only released after their families begged and borrowed to pay hefty ransom.
At a period you expect the national security architecture to be defined in a manner that takes into account peculiarities of criminal tendencies in various parts of the country, there is no sign of any fresh thinking. Authorities continue doing the same things yet expecting different results while the service chiefs who have since reached professional menopause continue in office. “If any governor tells you that he will do anything about insecurity, such a governor is lying,” Darius Ishiaku of Taraba State lamented recently. “As governors, we don’t have control over the police or army and virtually there is nothing we can do over security. We have been calling for the establishment of state police, but nobody seems to consider our position.”
Darius is right about the seeming incapacity of governors because security is the exclusive preserve of the federal government under the current constitutional order. But the governor’s prescription is to leave everything in the hands of God: “I am praying myself for peace and I have also asked the people of the state to pray for peace in the state.” His Katsina counterpart, whose state has practically been hijacked by bandits, is also not looking towards his kinsman in Aso Rock for reprieve. During the last Eid-el-Kabir celebration, Governor Aminu Bello Masari appealed to Katsina residents to intercede in “prayers for Allah’s intervention to enable the state overcome banditry and kidnapping.”
Despite years of prayers, ungoverned spaces continue to widen across the country, especially in the North. Last Sunday in Zaria, the Northern Elders Forum (NEF) accused President Muhammadu Buhari of working against the interest of the North by not addressing the security challenge in the region. “It is shocking that in spite of unprecedented consensus among Nigerians that the administration requires a new resolve, approach and leadership in the fight against the nation’s multiple security challenges, President Buhari appears either totally isolated or in deep denial over the result of his failures to secure Nigerians,” they said.
Incidentally, NEF spokesman and former federal permanent secretary, Dr. Hakeem Baba Ahmed, had in his personal capacity x-rayed the security situation in the North as far back as 2014. Buhari was of course not in power then. That NEF is saying the same thing today is an indication that nothing has changed. “For almost 400 square kilometers, from Abuja to Kaduna, Zaria and Birnin Gwari, there is hardly any farm with cattle [left]. It is the same in most parts of Katsina and Zamfara states”, Baba-Ahmed lamented six years ago before he added: “The backbone of the northern economy is farming and husbandry. Cattle breeding and processing was a major business in these areas. Not anymore. Slowly but surely, the heart of the northern economy is being snuffed out. We cannot keep cattle on our farms. Large scale farming is becoming less and less attractive. A huge swathe of the north is now bandit territory. Most of us know where our cattle are, but we cannot retrieve them. Abducted women and young girls hardly ever return.”
The nexus between security and the welfare of the people is all too-clear not only in the North but across the country. But our challenges are far deeper. Following the shrinking price of oil as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, Nigeria has been thrown into another round of economic recession. This is the second in less than five years. According to figures from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) contracted by 3.6 per cent in the third quarter (from July to September) of this year after shrinking by 6.1 per cent in the previous quarter. Sadly, even if we get out of this recession in the first or second quarter of next year as many experts predict, our economic predicament remains enormous. The World Bank Country Director in Nigeria, Mr. Shubham Chaudhuri, summed it up on Monday. “For Nigeria, this is a critical juncture. With the contraction in GDP that could happen this year, Nigeria’s per capita income could be around what it was four decades ago,” said Chaudhuri at the 26th Nigeria Economic Summit in Abuja.
Nigeria’s deepening economic crisis arises because in the years of plenty, our Pharaohs had no Joseph with foresight to prepare for tomorrow. Now, with the collapse of the oil price, the exchange rate is approaching N500 to a dollar, the pump price of petrol is about N170 to a litre and there is no buffer. Despite this dire situation, latest data from the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) reveals that a whooping sum of N81.41 billion was expended on dormant refineries between January and August this year which means we are still wasting scarce resources. With a revenue of N6.54 billion, these refineries have ended up with a deficit of N78.87 billion without producing a single litre of fuel. Despite the best efforts of the new NNPC management that has made transparency its hallmark–which is why we have the figures in the first place–Nigeria has been reduced to seeking fuel importation from Niger Republic. And the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Mr. Timipre Sylva, says we should all roll out the drums for that!
When the Governor of Delta State, Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa recently dissected our economic predicament, he made a valid point. “When you have poverty combined with high population, you are running into a very big problem because you are giving room to families that would continue to breed more and more poverty. So, it is important that we look into the entire foundation to ascertain where we have gone wrong,” Okowa explained in an admission that some of the choices we make can only further compound our problems. But after that brilliant summation, here is Okowa’s solution: “As a nation, we need prayers particularly at this time where we are facing a lot of challenges especially insecurity. As a people, we need to call on God to help us tackle these challenges because once there is insecurity in the land, it becomes very challenging to attract investors, and if investors are not coming the possibilities of providing jobs for our children become low.”
In his 1998 book, ‘The Wealth and Poverty of Nations: Why Some Are So Rich and Some So Poor’, the late David Saul Landes, a former emeritus professor of economics and history at Harvard University, x-rayed the development trajectory of many countries. Quite naturally, Landes had something to say about our continent generally and Nigeria in particular. “Of all the so-called developing regions, Africa has done worst: gross domestic product per head increasing; statistical tables sprinkled with minus signs; many countries with lower income today than before independence. The failure is the more poignant when one makes the comparison with other parts: in 1965, Nigeria (oil exporter) had higher GDP per capita than Indonesia (another oil exporter); twenty-five years later, Indonesia had three times the Nigerian level,” he wrote.
While Landes got some of his figures wrong because in 1965 the GDP per capita of Indonesia was $667 and that of (pre-oil) Nigeria was $117, his comparison of the two countries is apt. Like Nigeria, religion is also very important in Indonesia where 87 percent of the population are Muslims with the remaining 13 percent shared by adherents of Christianity, Hinduism and Buddhism. In fact, Indonesians are among the most religious people in the world, going by a survey released in July this year by the Pew Research Center titled ‘the Global God Divide.’ Like Nigeria in Africa, Indonesia has the largest economy in Southeast Asia and was until 2008 the only Asian member of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). Similarly, Indonesia has a young demography with more than 40 percent of the population below the age of 25.
However, that is probably where the similarities end. Rated as the 15th economy in the world, Indonesia is not only a member of G-20, it is also classified as a newly industrialized country. What perhaps makes all the difference is visionary leadership which had compelled Indonesia to invest heavily in capacity building and the social sector, especially education and health. Life expectancy in Nigeria is 55 years while in Indonesia it is 72 years. The automotive industry in Indonesia which started like ours (remember Peugeot in Kaduna and Volkswagen in Lagos?) can now produce vehicles with 90 percent local content. In 2018, the country produced 1.34 million vehicles of which 346,000 were exported. As of 2019, the Indonesia Stock Exchange had 656 listed companies with a combined market capitalisation of $523 Billion. In contrast, the total listed companies on the Nigeria Stock Exchange is 328 with a market capitalization of less than $60 billion, whichever exchange rates you use.
What the foregoing shows quite clearly is that “being religious” as a nation is not the problem. After all, Indonesians (at 96 percent) are deemed to be more religious than Nigerians (at 93 percent) according to Pew Research. The main challenge in Nigeria is that religion has become a ready excuse for shirking responsibility and a perfect alibi for what ails us. Senate President Ahmad Lawan said last year in Jos that “Prayers can do a lot of things” and I agree. Where I differ is where he says, “Prayers can make leaders to perform” and that “Nigerian leaders need prayers so that we remain focused on ensuring that we discharge our obligations and mandates to create the kind of country that all of us desire.”
Prior to the economic crisis of 1997, several experts attempted to explain the rapid progress of the Asian Tigers: South Korea, Hong-Kong, Taiwan and Singapore. One important factor cited is the religion of Confucianism, especially its values of hard work, discipline, loyalty and stability. This is similar to the thesis promoted by Max Weber in his book, ‘The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism’ to explain the development of the Western world. I am waiting for the ‘experts’ who will also tell us that the phenomenal development of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is due to Islam!
The point here is that all religions contain universal values to achieve progress. Therefore, explaining development in terms of culture and religion is lazy. The Asian Tigers with their Confucianism, the Western countries with Christianity, and the pacesetting UAE with Islam, did not just pray. They had visionary leaders who mobilised the people to achieve results. That is the difference between our own use of religion and theirs. They deploy religion as the ethical and philosophical basis for everything they do for their country. In Nigeria, we use religion for manipulation, including asking imaginary angels to go to America to “change the votes of Bedeen (Joe Biden) to that of ‘the anointed son of God’, President Donald Trump.”
To rewrite our story as a nation, we must understand that there are roles assigned for individuals as well as a place for God in the affairs of men. As a starting point, we need to examine the serious governance deficit in the country and fix the structure that is creaking beneath all of us. I am delighted that many critical staleholders are finally coming to terms with that reality. Bottomline: We cannot pray our way out of the mess that we have created and continue to create in Nigeria.
‘Charity Cup ’86! Maradona versus the rest of the world’. That was how the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) anchor announced the post-FIFA World Cup match featuring the victorious Argentina and selected players from other national teams that participated at the tournament. Only a few would argue with the headline. The late Diego Maradona dominated the 1986 World Cup in Mexico the way no football player has ever dominated a tournament. And perhaps never will, again. He was the proverbial tree that approximated to a forest. Ask England!
Aside Jorge Burruchaga, Daniel Passarella and Jorge Valdano, the players around him were not exceptional. Yet Maradona propelled his country to win the World Cup by his sheer genius as a footballer. A year later, Maradona also took the Italian Serie A team, SSC Napoli, to beat giants like Juventus and AC Milan and win their first league title 61 years after the club was established. Such was the jubilation in Naples after that famous feat in May 1987 that a fan reportedly inscribed on the wall of a local cemetery, apparently for the attention of the dead: ‘You don’t know what you’re missing!’ And following Maradona’s death yesterday, SSC Napoli tweeted: “The world awaits our words but there are no words to describe the pain we’re going through. Now is the time to grieve. Diego.” Almost every home in Naples was adorned with Maradona’s image last night.
Whatever may have been the contradictions in his personal life, in Diego Armando Maradona the world witnessed one of the finest and most gifted to have played the beautiful game. His death is a sad loss not only for football but indeed the world of sports. May God comfort his family.
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