Many times, we have heard those in government claiming that through their efforts and policies, the country is making progress. Just the other day, President Muhammadu Buhari said his government would consolidate on the successes of the first term in office. He pointedly said: “We are committed to consolidating the successes of the first term and creating an avenue such that the nation’s investments and resources are geared towards sustainable development.”
Good claim by President Buhari, I must say. However, the question remains: Is Nigeria really making progress and recording successes? While the answer to this question would be “yes” and “no,” depending on who is making the assessment, there are global parameters on which progress and success are measured. There is also what could be termed as “local” or simple parameter to measure this, which we will look at here.
The simple definition of “progress” is thus: “Forward or onward movement towards a destination; development towards an improved or more advanced condition.” Success is defined: “The accomplishment of an aim or purpose; the attainment of fame, wealth or social status.”
With these definitions of progress and success, the claims by governments, past and present, that Nigerian is making progress rankle. From the common man’s definition of national progress and success, which is based on welfare and well-being, it is hard to believe that there is progress in the country or in our situation. What we see is progressive retrogression or decline. Owing to failure of government and leadership, things are getting worse, instead of improving. The condition of Nigerians is getting worse, as we are ranked as a country with the poorest people globally.
This observation is not a journey in lamentation or crying wolf, where there is none. Examples suffice. In the 1970 and up to the 1980s, Nigerian children grew up to see pipe-borne water in our various homes. In cities across the country, sinking boreholes in homes were alien. Public water works provided clean drinking water, which we took from the tap at home. As I could remember, whenever there was going to be repairs, notice was served. Nigerians did not rely on water vendors or “mai ruas” for their water need. The public water works did their job.
Today, public water is a luxury. Only a few cities in the country now boast of supply of public water, which is not even widespread. In states, where there is public water, it could just be in a fragment of one city or about 10-20 per cent of the state. In majority of the states, there is no action in provision of public water. The public water that was functioning when we were growing up has been mismanagement and destroyed by successive governments. Now governments –state and federal – cannot provide simple clean water, which is taken for granted in most nations, even the least ones.
We are celebrating the revolution in the Global System of Mobile (GSM) telephone, with high tele-density and millions of subscribers. Adults, children, the educated and illiterates carry mobile telephones. However, as children we grew up to know about fixed-line telephone or landlines. Homes, offices and schools had fixed-lines, even at a time we cried about NITEL’s inefficiency. There were even public telephone booths or centres, where people paid with coins and made telephone calls.
Now, fixed-lines are technically dead, as offices, schools and homes are devoid of them. We are celebrating GSM and making it look like fixed-lines are telephone system of the past. Incidentally, countries from where we imported the GSM have functional landline telephone system. People use them in these countries despite having access to GSM.
When, these days, people in government celebrate the little they have done about rail transport, it provokes laughter. There is high expectation that before the end of the year, the Lagos-Ibadan rail transportation would be in place. We talk about Abuja-Kaduna rail transport already functional. We celebrate these and others as if government has done something extraordinary. We seem to forget, or just deliberately refuse to acknowledge, that a time was in Nigeria when trains were crisscrossing the length and bread of the country, from East to North; North to West, without stress. Train services were available during colonial rule, after independence, before the civil war and after the civil war. The destruction of train transport started gradually but progressively. The situation is so bad that even Abuja, the country’s newest modern city, does not have functional train services.
A comparison of roads and bridges built by the British colonialists, government of the First Republic and up to the Second Republic shows that things are getting worse. Roads built then in Nigeria were better and stronger than those being constructed today. We still see the vestiges of those old roads, while most modern ones fail after a couple of months, even with the advancement of technology in road construction, owing to corruption in government. Indeed, we have a bad situation, with more bad roads nationwide than before.
Previous governments in Nigeria built refineries. After the end of their call to duty, other governments have come and gone. The refineries are not in good shape now. Despite countless Turn Around Maintenances (TAMs), the refineries cannot meet its capacities. Successive governments cannot make refineries to work well and have not built new ones. To make matters worse, an oil producing country as Nigeria is a major importer of refined fuel, with government blowing millions on subsidy payment.
Aside infrastructure, there is retrogression in relationship in Nigeria currently. The country is obviously more divided now than it has ever been. Before we came to the sorry pass, Nigerians felt free to live and do business wherever they liked without much problem. With events leading to the civil war and subsequently, relationship has been declining. There is mutual suspicion among ethnic nationalities. Trust has gone. Cooperation is difficult. Political greed and avarice have eaten deep into the fabrics of the society. Things are got and given out based on ethnic consideration and friendship than merit. And mediocrities run government.
At independence, there was hope for Nigeria. Based on the indices then, the projection was that Nigeria would rise to be a great nation. The country had strong economy, with currency even stronger than the United States dollar. From government to government, things have been going down. Now we are a country that cannot provide basic things, like clean drinking, stable electricity, good road and other infrastructure, peace, harmony as well as good governance.
No doubt, the state of things currently is fallout of leadership ineptitude and lack of vision. The rain started beating us somewhere from the 1980s. Despite its failings, the post-independence government made some impressions, in Northern Nigeria, Eastern Nigeria and Western Nigeria, in agriculture and infrastructure. Successive years of military governments, after the Second Republic, brought about some “orishirishi” in government. From those who cancelled metro-line in Lagos and made Nigeria to pay fine running into millions of dollars, to those who ran government whose officials’ loots are still being recovered, successive military governments did set Nigeria backwards. We are paying the price.
Going forward, we must do something about recruitment of Nigerian leaders, either through elections or appointments. Voters, in time of election, and those making appointments, should make conscious effort to support as well as pick those with track record of achievement and the capacity to deliver. Sentiment buoyed by ethnicity should not play out during elections and appointments. We should know that only leaders with vision, drive, capacity and integrity will deliver Nigeria from regression.