Last week, this column was filled with reflections on my country and questions about the future of a nation 59 years independent and free to do its bidding. I wrote about the myriad of issues that have long plagued us as a nation, ranging from rigged elections to inaccurate census of the nation’s population, poor and lacking infrastructure, the fallout from the civil war, residue of a military past, insecurity and insurgency.
As we are aware, the issues are not limited to only the above listed cases but they stand out because they have left us wholly unprepared for the present and at loss for how to get ready for the future.
We can all bear witness to the fact that climate change has affected the weather pattern in Nigeria and it is evident in the quantity of rainfall we have experienced for the past few months. As predicted, we have experienced heavy rainfall that has led to the flooding of farms, streets, buildings, whole communities, the collapse of buildings, etc.
Since September 2019, rising high-water levels in rivers Niger and Benue, and heavy rainfall in Cross River, Kogi, Lagos, Niger and Taraba states have affected thousands of households in communities. States in the flood zones have experienced a high level of mortality, internal displacement, diseases and water-related illnesses. With the very poor drainage systems we have in many parts of the country, aided by pollution from plastic waste and construction of buildings without proper consideration for waterways and canals, flooding is inevitable.
Last week Saturday, we woke up to news from Magodo, a city in Lagos State about the collapse of three hilltop buildings, causing the death of a family of four and the drownings that have occurred since the flooding in Lagos. What does the government say about that? What plans have the government made to help these people sent out from their homes and forced to live in the streets and in tinier rooms because their homes have become water containers and the dirty water leaking from the damaged roofs and trapped in the streets can cause a waterborne disease?
The rains have also worsened the bad condition of the roads, especially those plied daily and at every hour by individual vehicles and company trailers with goods. People are stuck in traffic for hours, losing time that would have been better spent on their businesses and families. ‘‘Time is money’’ is a statement that cannot be properly applied here because, how can money be made when more time is spent by people tackling traffic from bad and worsened roads than in their shops and companies? Bad roads should be a thing of the past, not used as bait in election campaigns; we are more than this.
Food security is a myth presently, the average Nigerian is not privileged to own big bank accounts that can cater to their needs amid the economic crisis. Then there’s the incoming increase of the VAT on certain goods and services that the government assumes will not affect poor people. We need to tell ourselves the truth, the effect of the increase in VAT is being underrated as the assumption is that poor people would only buy directly from the markets. Let’s consider the ripple effect of this change in a country like Nigeria, where the slightest upward change in the price of one item results in the increase of almost every other item and/or service. More people will be plunged into poverty because every other thing is bound to go up from there despite the plea by government for Nigerian businesses to show a level of patriotism.
With the food insecurity issues in the country and closed borders, we also have to deal with reports of chaos in the Aso villa and the Daura family. Or maybe that is meant to keep us occupied and entertained as is the usual fashion used to distract the populace from more pressing matters.
I always caution myself against giving in to cynicism because that is not my way but many questions with no clear answers plague me: how long would we manage to survive in Nigeria? How fast can we act to fix the mess we call a system before it plunges us into a state of calamity? Do we have people who would be immune to the intoxicating nature of power? My last question stands out for me because I have often asked the question of who would lead Nigeria without succumbing to the godfathers’ influence and praise singers. I have seen in many cases how the slight resemblance of power given to an individual in any position of high or low ranking completely intoxicates the person to act out in total self-interest. From the policemen on the street brandishing guns meant to protect as a tool of intimidation to exploit both the innocent and guilty alike, in this way, they do not discriminate, to drivers of top officials riding like maniacs and blasting sirens when alone in the car only to stop on the way to buy roasted plantain – obviously the siren and reckless driving were essential for the satisfaction of his craving for ‘boli’.
As an avid student of history, one thing that has stood out over the centuries is the fact that unjust laws, policies and governments were changed by the collective will of people. Apathy of the people has never led to the rise of a booming society.
I will repeat this Latin standard legal maxim that I was quoted in an old article and was used often by St. Thomas Aquinas to remind us that ‘Lex iniusta non est lex,’ which when translated in English means ‘An unjust law is no law at all.’
The giant of Africa we call ourselves, but where is the roar of a lion when you need it? We admire and commend other countries for their discipline and development but forget that sacrifices have to be made to get to that level. Sacrifices that would include people clamouring for a revolution by refusing to settle for mediocrity in governance, people in elected offices doing their part properly and not seeking celebration when they have done their job.