In the last two parts of this series, we have looked at the travails of our ancient arts, as well as our pitiable attempts to maintain and manage the monuments that were handed down to us, or built by ourselves. I have chosen arts and monuments to portray this national malaise because these objects can be seen and are easily relatable. Nigerians are artistic in nature. Just listen to us talk, gesticulate, sing and dance.
In central Lagos today, as well as in Badagry, you would find vestiges of Brazilian and Portuguese architecture. In the North, you would find the influence of Islamic or Arabian architecture. Do we have a Nigerian architecture? I do not know. But we do have Nigerian art. Can we incorporate these in our architectural designs? Perhaps. It is important to leave our marks and history in our designs and the things we build; these would be our footprints. For a little more money, we can easily leave indelible forms in our iconic buildings and bridges. Today, the Lekki-Ikoyi bridge in Lagos is a must-shoot scene in every Nollywood movie, simply because of its design, a cable bridge, the first in Nigeria. We missed making such a statement with the Third Mainland Bridge, arguably the longest bridge in Africa. Shall we fail this time with the Second Niger Bridge in Onitsha? You bet.
Holding on to what a people have and building new ones are great testaments of a civilised people. If we cannot do this, then what kind of future are we going to have? It is said that there is no difference between the person that cannot read and the one that refuses to read. Both will remain ignorant. If we just build to replace, we have no future and no history to tell. The state of the power sector illustrates this very well. If we didn’t have the foreign investment in the telecommunications sector in 2000, we would still be battling with NITEL, its 200,000 land lines, and naught-nine-naught today.
Why are we like this? The answers are staring us in the face: corruption, poor education, near zero patriotism, little or no manpower development, poor judiciary and accountability, stunted vision.
Corruption in the minds of many denotes fund embezzlement. Even our present Federal Government operates on that premise. Corruption is far worse than that. Corruption is in nepotism, tribalism, justice denied, poor wages, projects implementation, billing, service provision, etc. When we employ the wrong candidate for a job, that is corruption.
During my primary school days, one of the subjects we were taught from primary five to primary six was Civics. This core subject teaches one about nationality, citizenship, responsibility of a good citizen, responsibility of the state to you, law agencies and cooperation with the law, taxation, and patriotism. I understand that Civics was replaced with Social Studies or something of dubious name and contents. What do they teach our children now? And how about Nigerian history? What truth is told to our students about our journey from Independence, apart from names of governors and presidents? When you give the wrong education, you end up with poorly prepared workforce.
In spite of the colossal amounts spent on education, there has been more or less an assault on our education system from various fronts, from government ministers who think that the South is unnecessarily preoccupied with paper qualification, to poorly-paid lecturers, and ill-equipped universities. The Federal Government, with its unity schools in every state, has also been in the business of establishing tertiary institutions in all 36 states of the federation. Though it is true that school enrollment figures are on the rise, building more schools and universities is not always the solution. One can expand the existing universities and faculties to accommodate upwards of 30,000 to 50,000 graduations per university per session. The real problem is that government still sees education as a social service. Education cannot be a social service.
If a country has to develop, it must invest in the development of citizens from youth. We are not doing that. In real values, the budget allocation to education has not kept pace with technological growth and the requirements of the education sector in 21st century. The Federal Government has to realise it does not have the resources to continue this way, and must look at allowing the universities, especially, to charge commercial fees adjusted with the level of subsidies they get from government.
The Nigerian perception and attitude to public service work is that of “Government work no be my papa work.” What this means is that employees are not committed to producing results that they can be proud of; there is no zeal for excellence. A concoction of poorly educated workforce lacking the drive for excellence is a recipe for abject failure. And that is what we have.
Our public servants do not understand that the only difference between public service and the private sector lies in the fact that the former is funded by taxpayers and the later by private financing from investing individuals that founded each company. Beyond these differences in their genesis, they both need to have good corporate governance, operate profitably to remain viable, develop human resources, provide value to the macroeconomy, and take care of their employees. In other words, even social services are not meant to lose money or be wasteful. If we understand this, we just might be able to reverse our current destructive course.
Democracy can only thrive where and when the rule of law exists. By rule of law, I mean all citizens must be equal in the eyes of the law and everyone is entitled to obtaining justice as a right. It is only under such social justice that everyone can be held accountable for their actions. In such a land, you can sue and be sued to redress infractions of the law. So too must be entities, institutions, and anyone or any business that provides any service. If there is no accountability, there will be no excellence in service. Since the advent of the military in our politics, the slogan has always been to clean up the polity, or fight against corruption. The first step in doing this is to establish the rule of law.
I have indulged you, my readers, in this treatise so that we can see and appreciate how we do harm to our institutions, monuments, infrastructure, our arts and, ultimately, our history. Without history, we have no future. If we continue on the path of revisionism, we will have no future. We are not teaching our grandchildren right at the moment, and we have already misled our children. Being a storyteller, I would like to end with one.
In the mid-1990s, I took a trip to the Iponri Telephone Exchange of NITEL in Lagos to inquire on the reason we in Costain (West Africa) Plc were having no dial tones on our over 10 landlines then. I was first given a tour of the installations, where I was shown the telephone circuits for all areas served by the exchange. In the process, they showed to me the battery banks that were meant to power these circuits. The voltage meter on the monitoring console was reading zero. My guide then took me to their power room. Of course, there was no power from PHCN then, and the 500KVA generator there was quiet. Why? There was no diesel to power the emergency generator. Why was this, I asked again. My guide then took me to his office and showed me his revenue report for the last month. The exchange generated N84m in that month, and remitted all to Abuja. So, why would you not have diesel to power your generator? I asked incredulously. The poor director replied that every month he had to apply for money for things like that and it would take a while before he received the funds or a response of another kind. While he was waiting, businesses were unable to run efficiently, and he was losing revenue, which the same people in Abuja expected him to improve upon.
The story in the last paragraph illustrates the need for decentralisation. This is true of our national discourse today. Happy, hopeful future to us all. But know you this, we are the ones to make it happen.