Moving Nigeria Forward (II): Security and Infrastructure

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Several development experts and commentators have given wide-ranging opinions about the path to sustainable development for African countries (lumping all into one group), and most of them have focused on developing the leadership capacity of African leaders and fighting corruption. These are two very pivotal steps to the progress of the continent, but neither of them necessarily translates directly to results on the ground; they are underlying factors that would potentially minimize the wastages that African governments are notorious for and spur the growth of industries that are essential for human, social and economic development. In Nigeria, two things are absolutely non-negotiable in our quest for progress and visible development; two things that every developing country needs: security and infrastructure.

The need for adequate security of lives and property cannot possibly be stressed enough in a country with such pronounced diversity and multiplicity of interests. Both citizens and potential foreign investors need assurance of the protection of their assets in order to guarantee continued investment in the country and her citizens. The most volatile countries on earth are unsurprisingly the least developed countries; African countries and Middle-eastern countries. What investor in their right minds would commit significant financial and human resources to a country that is likely to go up in flames without a moment’s warning? What reasonable business person would devote their attention to a location where local citizens are so riled up about the inefficiency of their government that they could tear down structures to register their grievance? What serious capitalist would prefer to situate their enterprise in a locality where their workers stand the risk of being randomly kidnapped and subjected to needless hardship by some hungry folks who just need enough food to get by?

African countries, and Nigeria in particular. have attracted the attention of foreign investors for a number of reasons, none of which include security and political stability. The abundance of natural resources, the greed of political leaders and the concurrent docility of African citizens have all fortuitously meshed into an amazing opportunity for the plundering of Africa’s resources and exploitation of her citizens, in spite of the occasional threats to foreign workers. In Nigeria, our blessing has been our curse; our inability to develop local expertise capable of transforming our wealth of oil resources to economic gain has opened the floodgates for foreign oil companies (who are solely in the country for their own interests) to pillage our resources and leave us with mere scraps.

Foreign oil companies have ridden roughshod over Nigerians for decades because of their expertise, strong negotiating power (and often corrupt activities) and the hand-downs that they have given to us. When companies like Shell and Chevron hire Nigerian engineers and pay them fairly high salaries, organize soccer competitions, build a few classrooms across universities and organize a couple of scholarships, they are praised to high heavens for their creditable investments in the country; however, few people realize that those scraps that are being hiked around are mere peasantry hand-downs that keep the citizens quiet while the country is being milked dry. No comprehensive strategy is being developed to gradually replace these brutal capitalist companies with local ones so that Nigerians can own their resources and help themselves and their future generations. Nigerians have always had a clue that foreign companies have not helped as much as we have expected them to, but listening to the President during his media chat recently, we heard a leader who openly admitted that the country has no control over its own oil resources because of the stranglehold that has been imposed by foreign oil companies.

In an ideal world, Nigerian companies would request to work with foreign companies strictly in areas where strategic partnerships are required to develop the country’s resources. So much has been made of the brilliance of foreign investors, while so little investment has been made in the country’s citizens and this has created the conundrum that now characterizes Nigeria. Up until recently when citizens of the Niger-Delta came to the full realization of the need for foreign companies to contribute their quota to developing the environment which they have helped to destroy and to contribute to the education and economic empowerment of the residents of oil-producing areas, Nigerians demonstrated no intent to keep foreigners accountable for their activities. Between 2006 and now, the instability that has engulfed the country (north and south) is no less a result of the awakening of Nigerians to their rights than it is a manifestation of the growing dissatisfaction of Nigerians with the destructive activities of ‘foreign investors’. If only our government would stop being overly respectful of foreign companies and demand equal investment in the country’s economy and citizens as is being benefited from our natural resources, then peace and quiet might return to the country.

Alongside the need for adequate security to attract local and foreign (socially responsible) investors, there is an urgent and desperate need for Nigeria’s infrastructural deficiencies to be addressed. There have been several blue prints and white papers produced on strategies to improve Nigeria’s infrastructure, all of which have prominent red flags screaming at observers. Power generation has been Nigeria’s Achilles heel for decades and one would expect that visible progress will be made with each successive administration; however the tone and language of the President during the recent media chat gives no confidence that there is a solution in sight. “We are trying, but we cannot make promises” is the last thing that a country that hopes to break into the world’s top economic class needs to be saying through her President. It is quite inconceivable that a country with abundant water resources for hydro-electric power generation, abundant sunlight for solar power generation, abundant wind energy, coal, natural gas and agriculture for alternative power generation still struggles to provide stable electricity to all citizens. It is impossible for a nation’s economy to run successfully on frail power generating sets which emit so much carbon monoxide that kills the environment; it is extremely impossible for small and medium-scale enterprises to thrive in a country where half of their running costs are expended on purchasing fuel for their often-disappointing generating sets and it is impossible for education, health, transportation and other key sectors of the economy to survive on candles as the President believes is the next best alternative while we wait indefinitely for stable power supply to arrive from the skies.

Investment in educational infrastructure is another non-negotiable venture for a country that aspires to global recognition. The countries of the world which have opened their doors to hundreds of thousands of Nigerian students are providing resources that Nigeria urgently needs to guarantee in order to keep the next generation on the ground. Classrooms, laboratories, libraries, experimental equipment and massive financial investment in ongoing research in all fields will be necessary to stimulate creative thought and lead to ground-breaking discoveries that will eventually translate into the physical products that the world needs. Nigeria will have to develop a strategy for raising a generation of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics gurus who would compete with their counterparts across the world to introduce the new wave of products that the world anticipates. Nigeria will have to train the next generation of thought leaders in the field of management and business practices and develop a capacity to translate our interest for the arts into considerable expertise. All these would remain wild dreams without the necessary infrastructure that our educational institutions require; from primary to tertiary levels.

Building a sustainable future for the country also requires a very strong health industry and a well-developed strategy for environmental sanitation. Nigerians have come to accept the fact that qualitative health care delivery is only possible outside the shores of the country and therefore those who have the financial resources have resigned themselves to spending at least 10 times the expected cost of healthcare in foreign lands. We would never improve our economy or gain the respect of the world if our citizens die on our hospital beds daily while our public officials undertake medical tourism across the world. From the bottom-up, there is a need to invest in clean water initiatives, construct drainage systems nationwide to reduce the incidence of water-borne diseases, protect the quality of our oxygen to minimize the prevalence of air-borne diseases and invest in medical research to ensure that we are able to stay on track with the rest of the world in combating curable and presently incurable diseases.

As we trudge on towards the beautiful future which we foresee, it is not likely that we would be able to rely on poor road networks, inexistent rail networks, skeletal waterways and calamitous airways.  Investment in transportation is an extremely important aspect of Nigeria’s social and economic growth; local farmers need transportation to get their produce to the markets as do massive factories. The cost of producing, marketing and purchasing goods in the country would be drastically reduced if so much money weren’t wasted between the factories and the market. We can no longer condone poorly constructed roads which require patching up every other week; we can no longer manage beat-up vehicles which break down every other mile; we can no longer wait indefinitely for the speed trains which we have been promised for decades and we can definitely no longer tolerate aircraft being recycled from the world’s dumping sites. We have had enough disasters to last a lifetime with our transport industry and the time is ripe for a complete overhaul of our transportation infrastructure.

The next generation of innovators needs to come out of Nigeria, and they need to be trained and equipped in Nigeria. In order to fulfill this wild ambition, we require massive investment in upgrading our security apparatus from the nation’s top military brass to the newest constable in the police force; we need to strengthen our capacity to quell uprisings across the country and provide enough resources for citizens to get about their daily businesses. With adequate infrastructural investments in power generation, education, health and transportation, Nigeria would be able to provide the basic necessities for citizens to unleash their inner strengths and get their creative juices flowing. A new Nigeria is indeed within reach, but it will never become a reality without a guarantee of security and infrastructure.

You can follow Faith Abiodun on Twitter @FaithAbiodun

Moving Forward (1): Rethinking the Idea of Nigeria

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Nigeria, a country with an estimated population of 167 million people drawn from about 400 indigenous tribes is an idea that many argue should never have been in the first place. So much has been made of the decision of Lord Frederick Lugard and the British regime in 1914 to amalgamate three divergent groups of people; the northern and southern provinces and the Lagos colony into one distinct body and to permit his girlfriend, Flora Shaw to give them one name. Apparently, the flagrant display of disrespect for the individuality and uniqueness of each class of people did not go down well with the citizens of the day and has not been forgiven almost a century after. The country somehow survived 60 years of colonial dictatorship and 43 years of inconvenient communal dwelling, before making her case for independence in 1957; still bearing the grudges of the turn of the millennium.

The vision of the country’s independence fighters for a unified country encompassing the north and south, and amassing the individual strengths of each part was laudable, but has proven to be unsuccessful since then. The polarization of the country along religious and tribal lines appeared to be too deep a gulf to bridge and even the smartest brains of the independence era; Awolowo, Azikiwe and Bello failed to devise a unified message about the proposed new nation. The westerners had their political party, the Action Group (AG), the northerners had the Nigerian People’s Congress (NPC) while the easterners had the National Convention of Nigerian Citizens (NCNC) and thus attempted to form a government of national unity. The population and land size of northern Nigeria somehow served as key factors in convincing the politicians of the day that the northerners had a birthright to the throne of the country, as the NPC dominated the newly-constituted parliament with almost half of the members. With Tafawa Balewa’s emergence as Prime Minister and the collaboration of the easterners in the unified government, the westerners under the leadership of Obafemi Awolowo instantly became the opposition and dashed all hopes of unified governance in a country that had barely taken off.

Between 1960 and now, Nigeria has suffered the pangs of a growing nation, but the pains have been more pronounced partly because of the prominence of individual greed and preference for personal glory and partly because of the glorification of pettiness. As has been discovered over time, every venture that requires groups of people to agree to a common purpose will require patience, dedication and sacrifice. Patience has been demonstrated across board in the Nigerian case but dedication and sacrifice not so much. Forming a representative government, defining a common purpose, appointing public officials, managing scarce resources, providing social services to the needy and energizing the populace are difficult tasks for any administration around the world, and Nigeria’s soaring population has clearly not helped the cause. Every respected country in the world has come through long periods of chaos, confusion and uncertainty, but common purpose has often triumphed over conflict. Building a nation of diverse groups was never expected to be an easy task, but the question of the people’s dedication to its success arises very frequently.

The phrase ‘unity in diversity’ encapsulates the hope that Nigerians have sustained for nearly a century, but there seems to be such strong resistance to its realization in the hearts of all citizens. Laying off politicians and elected officials for once, traditional rulers and cultural thought leaders have not made significant efforts to disabuse the minds of their constituents about citizens of other tribal groups. Yorubas still view Hausas as ‘wicked’, Hausas still view Ibos as ‘greedy’ and Ibos still view Yorubas as ‘deceptive’; every tribe has its own interpretations of the character and behaviours of other tribes and these stereotypes cloud our minds in all situations. Inter-tribal marriage may not be subjected to the stigma and discrimination it once faced in Nigeria, but it is still not as widely appreciated as it can be. Our parents have placed the protection of cultural heritage above the promotion of national unity, and while this appears reasonable, it is definitely a significant factor for our lack of collective appreciation of each other. Schemes like the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) which were intended to introduce citizens to different parts of the country to foster national appreciation in the hearts of the youth have sadly been clouded by incidences of insecurity, underemployment and protracted manipulation.

On the political side, the Federal Character Principle was drafted into the country’s constitution to ensure that citizens from different parts of the country are equally represented in government positions and through political appointments, but the failure of each tribal group to put their best brains forward has led people to criticize the political appointments that the country has witnessed. Very few people would have problems with a northern Minister of Defence whose tenure witnesses peace in the country, anymore than they would have problems with an eastern Minister of Finance whose tenure witnesses large scale economic growth. The grouse of Nigerians has been the allotment of political offices to different parts of the country and then filling those offices with grossly unqualified loonies who drag the country into the same abyss from which she seeks to be rescued. It is quite a difficult task for Nigerians to continue to bear with the leadership of the country when they see a person who was instrumental in the coup that brought General Ibrahim Babangida to power in 1985 and who served as his Aide-de-Camp make a return to government as National Security Adviser almost thirty years later; or to see a person who has served in multiple offices in every single administration for the last 13 years earn a promotion as Ambassador to Canada. In the quest for equal representation, quality is often sacrificed and the resultant poorly considered choices serve to agitate the populace much more than they were before such appointments were made.

Nigeria is indeed a beautiful country whose diversity should be her strength. From the dedicated agriculturists and merchants of the north to the skillful business hands of the east; from the creative comedians of the south to the witty storytellers of the west, Nigeria’s unique conception is unrivalled. We are blessed with oil in the south, solid minerals in the mid-west, fertile soil in the north and beautiful weather all around; we are endowed with breathtaking wildlife, astonishing sceneries, amazing waterfalls, evergreen forests, and remarkable marine life which are evenly distributed across the country. While we have come agonizingly close to parting the country along her weak seams, we have held on so long for a purpose. There has never been a more opportune moment to rethink the idea of Nigeria and make a commitment to help make the country work. We might be frustrated politically, disappointed economically and disillusioned socially, but this was never going to be an easy task. The responsibility of nation-building is not reserved for the handful who are privileged enough to make it to the nation’s capital; there needs to be a burning sense of urgency in all Nigerians to face down fascism and tear down barriers in a quest for a better tomorrow. It is extremely easy to criticize false starts when one has refused to make any personal moves, but it is far nobler to take the less-traveled path and labor for future generations. Nigeria is ours, Nigeria we must serve. The revolution starts now.

This is the first in a series of commentaries on moving Nigeria forward. Subsequent pieces will focus on specific policy issues that would help to advance certain aspects of the Nigerian economy and mesh into a creditable whole in the near future.

You can follow Faith Abiodun on Twitter @FaithAbiodun

Theater of Calamities

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It feels like several millennia ago since Nigerians were touted to be the happiest people on earth. We took pride in the fact that in spite of economic hardships, we always found a way to maintain a colourful national spirit through our sports, music, festivals, local merchandise and every other source of national pleasure that we could muster. Forget the recent UN survey on national moods which ranks Nigerians as the 100th happiest people in the world, Nigerians are even less happy than people think. Yes, we smile through turmoil, we persevere through hardship and we encourage others through our own discouragements, but deep down in us, there is a huge well of frustration based on the direction in which the country is headed. We’ve been through unthinkable situations and we’ve maintained hope, but these days, hope seems to be a more painful than helpful emotion to cultivate.

Our first grouse as Nigerians is with our politics. We know that there is no perfect government in the world and we acknowledge that government cannot do everything for us, but we find it hard to believe that government cannot do ANYTHING for us either. Now more than ever, Nigerians seem to be finally giving up on the capacity of government to provide basic social needs and security for the people, which is the least a government can guarantee. Every public official who takes an oath purportedly does so in the interest of the general public, not his private concerns, but the speed with which those oaths are violated is unimaginable. We believe our politicians when they claim to be honestly touched by our conditions during campaign speeches, but when we contrast their physical sizes, wardrobe sizes and other material possessions with ours after mere months in office, we are justified to believe that we’re pursuing different interests. Nigerian politicians are clearly living in an alternate universe.

Alongside our politics, we are severely disillusioned with the state of governance in our country. We might be answerable for voting public officials based on religious, cultural and other sentiments, but we can’t find any explanations for the inhuman treatments which they mete out to us time after time. We can’t understand how our president claims to know the sponsors of terrorist activities in the north, and yet issue a tailor-made response to the loss of several lives every given Sunday. We don’t know what to think when our president, who swore to protect us, claims to be “saddened” by the avoidable slaughter of innocent citizens who harmlessly seek to worship their God. Anyone can be saddened, indeed everyone is saddened, but everyone didn’t swear the oath to preserve and protect the constitution of the country; everyone didn’t receive the overall command of the nation’s armed forces to be deployed for the safety of all citizens; and more frustratingly, everyone isn’t receiving the fat compensation for a job that is not being done.

While we express our dissatisfaction with the eggheads in Abuja for failing to convince us of their interest in our welfare, we are even more disgruntled by their inability to apply common reason to their daily activities.

English: Ojo Maduekwe, C.F.R., Minister of For...

For instance, we cannot seem to understand why for the umpteenth time, Mr Ojo Maduekwe has been appointed to a position in government. After serving as Minister of Culture and Tourism, and then Minister of Transport under President Obasanjo, he served as national secretary of the PDP, he was appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs under President Yar’Adua, was nominated for the position of Secretary to the Government of the Federation, and has now been appointed an Ambassador to Canada. How valuable is this single individual to Nigeria that he seems to be recycled for every available position in the country? We understand that Bianca Ojukwu earned her ambassadorship to Spain because of the urgent need to compensate her late husband for his grossly under-appreciated service to the country, but how about Taofeek Arapaja? What’s his claim to fame? Trusted thug of the late Lamidi Adedibu? Is that enough? What happened to foreign policy expertise? How do we send someone to be the representative of the President; the face of 150 million people in a strange land when they have no track record of achievement beyond their local government? Why do we ALWAYS get it wrong in Nigeria?

Furthermore, now that we have completely forgotten about the Dana Air crash, just like the Sosoliso, Bellview and Chanchangi crashes before it, the families of the deceased are left to suffer the effects of their losses for the rest of time. Would we ever see the report of the probe committee? Would the committee ever do anything? How much will be required for the committee to quietly delete the names of the culprits? How soon until we’re jolted to our senses again by another avoidable mishap? We quickly forget that calamities like the Dana crash are mere manifestations of a much deeper rot in our system; problems which will never go away unless firmly addressed. We have perfected the art of cutting corners and addressing only the visible symptoms of our deep-seated challenges, and this has not served us well ever and it would not suffice in the future.

Every sector of the Nigerian economy is compromised, but the average citizen has no clue. Cecilia Ibru and Ndi Okereke-Onyuike were sparkling examples of how hard work could lead any woman to success, until ‘hard work’ was redefined to mean sharp corrupt practices. Erastus Akingbola was a top role model for everyone in the country; managing a successful bank, donating a hostel block to the University of Lagos, publishing a Christian devotional, and pioneering an ‘inspiration’ radio station, until his antics were exposed.

English: Oladimeji Sabur Bankole, Speaker of t...

Dimeji Bankole was the ultimate image of the place of the young Nigerian in a failed political system; his rise to the pinnacle of legislative authority in the country seemed to prove that intelligent and articulate young Nigerians could indeed steer the country’s ship to a desirable future, but then he crumbled like a pack of cards and sent our hopes flying yet again.

Now that Farouk Lawan and Femi Otedola have chosen to embarrass themselves needlessly, our endless search for scarce role models in a crooked society suffers another setback. The straight-talking short-man-devil was regarded as one of the very few incorruptible members of the Nigerian legislature and was perceived as a shining light in our country’s dark chamber of secrets. Now, we know better: TRUST NO NIGERIAN POLITICIAN. We can safely assume that even those who invoke the Lord’s name from their sleep are harbouring very huge skeletons in their cupboards, and the best way to protect ourselves from repeated heartbreak is to assume that every Nigerian politician is a criminal waiting to be revealed. Femi Otedola has always appeared to be a slimy businessman and whether he is culpable in the fuel subsidy scam or not, he would have to do a lot to establish his credibility. But then, which Nigerian billionaire is credible? Which one of them does not dictate the play of Nigerian politics as it pleases them? Who can we trust?

The entire country seems to be a theatre of calamities; every street corner seems to have a disaster waiting to happen. The stage is set all over for increased disappointment and while it will please us all to flee the country and never turn back, we realistically cannot do that. There will always be a very large group of us who would never have the good fortune to take even a temporary trip outside the country; and most of us would live the rest of our lives on Nigerian soil. The question is “how do we insulate ourselves against everything negative that Nigeria continues to breed? And how can we help to alter the realities of our existence? Is it really possible for any form of change to come to the Nigerian government? What is required? How do we get started? Who will lead this revolution? The very sound of these questions gives a dizzying sensation; there seems no hope in sight. National morale is at an all-time low. Which way forward, Nigeria?

You can follow Faith Abiodun on Twitter @FaithAbiodun