Nigeria has a reputation for gravitating between lawlessness and order, between poverty and opulence, between peaceful settlement of disputes and disproportionate use of force to settle internal disagreements. We have seen occasional ugly exchanges between agents of the state and ordinary citizens, between the army and the police, between naval officers and an innocent female driver wedged in the notorious late afternoon Lagos traffic, between labour unions and government, and between student unions and university authorities.
It is understandable why people tend to explode at the slightest irritation. The economy is in bad shape, adamant to ill-informed government policy. Businesses are in a state of unconsciousness, waiting for that god-send that would inject the much needed stimulus to attract foreign investors that would get the economy to rebound. The manufacturing sector has collapsed, itself a victim of a poor economy. Unemployment, another outcome of an economy in poor health, has defied government rhetoric and continued to grow. Many families are struggling. Healthcare has been abandoned and thrown into a bin officially labelled “Too hard to handle.”
Here is an irony of our situation. The government says the fundamentals of the economy are sound but still the same government cannot explain why the economy has continued to stutter. If the economic ground rules are in order, the first evidence should be sustained growth over a period of time. You have to wonder why Nigeria has continued to record international trade deficits. The answer is simple. The country imports more goods than it exports to other countries. We record trade deficits with our trading partners because we import more than we export to those countries.
There was a time in European history when Turkey was generally referred to as “the sick man of Europe.” In the latter half of the 20th century and in the second decade of the 21st century, historians have dropped that reference to Turkey and replaced it with Nigeria. It might be viewed as offensive but the description of Nigeria as the “sick man of Africa” could be apt.
The underlying social, political, economic, cultural, religious, educational, and infrastructural problems that overwhelm Nigeria make it easy to see why the country has taken that unwanted continental prize. You should also throw into that basket the inability of political leaders to hold the country together, to end rampant kidnapping of citizens in various parts of the country, to break down the resilience of Boko Haram terrorists and reclaim the territories and forests in which they reside. Events in modern Nigeria have conferred on the country the dubious title of the “sick man of Africa.”
All over the country, politicians are interested in grabbing power at all costs. When they achieve that power by crooked or legal means, they simply go to sleep. The prize may have been won but the winners have been overwhelmed. They won’t know what to do with their new-found power. They won’t know how to use their authority to empower the poor and the less privileged. They won’t know how to use power positively to awaken their broken country into a continental economic giant, a country recognised as a science and technology hub of Africa, an international trade centre, and a leader in medical science, engineering and mining technology.
All that political godfathers calculate is how to entrench a politician from a certain ethnic group and religious faith to emerge President. They are so narrow-minded. They do not talk about development of the country. They do not talk about how the country can catch up with African countries that have achieved economic successes and have joined leading economies of the world.
Nigeria conducted a controversial election and the President and state governors have just been invested with power, even as the outcomes of some of the elections are still being challenged in various election petition tribunals. Last week, I wrote that Nigeria is a work-in-progress and someone responded that I was too critical and pessimistic. Fair enough.
Why should politicians focus on the next election in 2023 when the newly sworn in governors and the President have not started work, when they have not shown any evidence of performance? We are our own worst enemies. We elect people into offices but we refuse to scrutinise them or hold them to account. What messages are citizens conveying to wily politicians?
Kidnappers, acting in concert with brigands from a certain ethnic group, have become the greatest threats to the safety, security, welfare, and wellbeing of Nigerian people and yet political leaders pretend they can’t see the threat. In their dogmatic and blinkered view, everything is going on well in the country. It seems it is all right to eliminate people from other ethnic groups while the bandits are free to roam about and threaten everyone.
Nigerian political leaders have been described metaphorically as the three disingenuous monkeys that choose to see no evil, hear no evil, and speak no evil. This is a fitting description. There is a breakdown of law and order and no one seems to care. Rampant abductions have become a state-sanctioned way for some people to earn income.
Why do we pretend the country is united when there are obvious practices that demonstrate the country is a union of unequal ethnicities, a union of incongruent regions, a union of disparate states, and a union in which the sharing of national resources is weighted lopsidedly in favour of some non-oil producing states?
We cannot be a united country when economic and financial crimes committed by officials from certain parts of the country are overlooked while similar crimes committed by officials from other parts of the country are noted, magnified, and penalised forcefully. A country that operates two sets of laws to accord preferential treatment to people from a certain part and to damage people from another part can never achieve its goal of integrated national development.
A country divided against its self can never stand. How many times has the Federal Government said it has a zero tolerance policy with regard to the breakdown of law and order, growing insecurity, official corruption, and criminals who attempt deliberately to transform the country into a theatre of violence? What baloney! What has the same Federal Government done to check the excesses of the violent and inviolable herdsmen, their sponsors, and political supporters?
If government abhors violence in any form and if government wants peaceful co-existence among citizens, government should apply the law to everyone, regardless of the ethnic background, religious affiliation or political party connections of those who violate the law.
Those who perpetrate violence, those who kidnap, rape, and deprive other citizens of their rights believe they can operate as they like because the country belongs to them alone. This belief is a slap on the face of the government and its mantra of zero tolerance against the agents of violence. Preaching lawful existence and aiding herdsmen rampaging across the country are incompatible. That is the reason why Nigeria has remained a disorganised country in which nothing works.