By Jerome-Mario Chijioke Utomi
Acting on the strength of the current political tempo (or is it temperature?) in the country, which encourages all to obtain their permanent voter’s card (PVC), I took a trip to one of the government buildings in Lagos, venue of the programme.
The venue was filled to capacity and dotted with all manner of Nigerians of the major ethnic groups. I met with courageous Nigerians and came across Nigerian youths, mostly boys, with a sprinkle of girls, who have met resistance from their own government in the past but refused to give up in their quest to build a better Nigeria.
But of all that I heard/observed, the ‘gathering’ acknowledged what has been on the mind of Nigerians. They explained that their decision to actively participate in this electoral process was not taken hastily or rashly but because there is little hope for us until they become tough-minded enough to break loose from the shackles of prejudice, half-truth, and downright ignorance. Any nation that produces soft-minded men purchases its own spiritual and socio-economic death at ‘installment plan’. They essentially demonstrated a strong conviction that non-discrimination, justice and fairness are the foundations for peace, unity, stability and economic prosperity of any nation, and further asserted that building a nation where all citizens of the country shall not be discriminated against on the basis of ethnicity, sex, language, religion, political or other opinions, birth or other status is possible.
As I listened to these youthful Nigerians paint a gory picture of the situation in the country, I recalled how the Justice Development and Peace Centre (JDPC), Catholic Archdiocese of Lagos, a while ago, during a press briefing, gave a similar account about our nation.
On that day, at that time and in that place, the group, among other concerns, noted that the greatest and immediate danger to the survival of the Nigerian state today is the unwarranted, senseless, premeditated, well organized and orchestrated killings across the country, from Benue to the Plateau, Taraba to Zamfara, Enugu to Ebonyi, Kogi to Edo and Ekiti to Ondo, where Nigerians are cut down at will, babies ripped from their mothers’ wombs, houses destroyed and burnt down, particularly when all the time the killers are never apprehended, even when they make self-implicating statements about such killings.
The country’s economy, the group added, has shown its inability to sustain any kind of meaningful growth that promotes the social welfare of the people. The result can be seen in the grinding poverty in the land (80 per cent of Nigerians are living on less than $2 per day, according to the African Development Bank’s 2018 Nigeria Economic Outlook). Nigeria is ranked among the poorest countries in the world. Sadly, according to a report from the Brookings Institute, Nigeria has already overtaken India as the country with the largest number of extremely poor in early 2018 in the world. At the end of May 2018, Brookings Institute’s trajectories suggest that Nigeria had about 87 million people in extreme poverty, compared with India’s 73 million. What is more, extreme poverty in Nigeria is growing by six people every minute.
In education, 10.5 million children are out of school in Nigeria, the highest in the world. Our industries continue to bear the brunt of a negative economic environment. As a result, job losses and unemployment continue to skyrocket, creating a serious case of social dislocation for the vast majority of our people.
The running of our country’s economy continues to go against the provisions of our Constitution, which stipulates forcefully that the commanding heights of the economy must not be concentrated in the hands of a few people. The continous takeover of national assets through dubious (privatization) programmes by politicians and their collaborators is deplorable and clearly against the people of Nigeria. The attempt to disengage governance from public sector control of the economy has only played into the hands of private profiteers of goods and services, to the detriment of the Nigerian people.
On social issues, let us listen to the group: Life in Nigeria, quoting Thomas Hobbes, has become nasty, brutish and short. Nigerians have never had it so bad. Indeed, while Nigerians diminish socially and economically, the privileged political class continues to flourish in obscene splendor as they pillage and ravage the resources of our country at will. This malfeasance at all levels of governance has led to the destruction of social infrastructure relevant to a meaningful and acceptable level of social existence for our people. Adequate investment in this area, it has been shown, is clearly not the priority of those in power.
As a result, our hospitals, whether state-owned or federal-owned, have become veritable death centres where people go to die rather than to be healed. The absence of basic items such as hand gloves and masks are indicative of the level of decadence and rot in the country’s health national budget recommended by the United Nations.
With regard to the criminal justice system, our people, especially the poor and vulnerable, continue to suffer unprecedented acts of intimidation and violation of rights at the hands of security agencies across the country. Extrajudicial killings, lack of scientific investigation of crimes and corruption in the judiciary contribute to acts of injustice against the innocent. Our prisons have become places where prisoners are hardened rather than places of reformation of prisoners for reintegration into society.
Also, Nigerian workers have faced unprecedented hardship over the years as government continues to deprive them of legitimately earned salaries and pensions. It is quite unfortunate that, as a nation, we are still debating minimum wage, and not even living wage, especially in a country where every commodity has skyrocketed save the monthly take-home pay of workers. And we supposedly have “leaders” who claim to have the interest of the masses at heart. Tell me another lie!!!
As to solutions to these challenges, JDPC succulently puts it this way: Surely, leadership holds the key to unlocking the transformation question in Nigeria, but to sustain these drive, leaders must carry certain genes and attributes that are representative of this order. They expressed the belief that only a sincere and selfless leader and a politically and economically restructured polity brought about by national consensus can unleash the social and economic forces that can ensure the total transformation of the country and propel it to true greatness.
This will help to ensure that there is provision of adequate social infrastructure such as genuine poverty alleviation programmes and policies, healthcare, education, job provision, massive industrialisation and electricity, to mention a few. It is critical to jettison this present socio-economic system that has bred corruption, inefficiency, primitive capital accumulation and socially excluded the vast majority of our people. The only way this can be done is to work to build a new social and political order that can mobilize the people around common interests, with visionary leadership to drive this venture. Only then can we truly begin to resolve some of the socio-economic contradictions afflicting the nation. This is the pathway to true, genuine and lasting peace.
For us to achieve this as a nation, this piece holds the opinion that the first step to take is for all Nigerians to cap themselves with permanent voters card.
•Utomi is programme
coordinator (media and policy), Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), Lagos;