Fellow Nigerians, let me start by saying nothing worries me more than the intractable problems of our dearly beloved country. There are times I wish I could just mind my own business but it seems I’m addicted to the issues and problems of Nigeria. Lately, I have come up with different theories about why we are where we are. One of them is to go superstitious and believe we are jinxed and we’ve been jazzed by some fiendish demons. Or how does one explain the fact that no government has been able to find a practical and workable solution to our incredible challenges.
My second theory is that we actually hate our country but just pretend to be patriotic which is best seen in our words and not, of course, in our action. An average Nigerian spends a large proportion of his time daily lamenting about Nigeria and regurgitating the same simple facts and seeming solutions that would ultimately lead to no grand denouement because nothing is done about them. We talk, talk and talk and that’s where it ends. If we truly love our country as much as we claim, we should have arrived at our Eldorado by now given the plethora of sometimes practical and workable solutions that we proffer.
My third theory is that we have a cultural problem that requires a cultural revolution. Our culture turns a once simple human being to an unrecognisable monstrosity in little or no time. One begins to wonder what suddenly caused the 360-degree transformation. Leaders in Nigeria at all levels live and act like emperors. Even the most enlightened ones among us behave like victims of hypnotism and accept whatever was in place before, and continue the madness.
One of them is the over-ceremonial nature of governments. Every leader over-dresses, over-militarises security, and over-spends on personal comfort and so on. I must commend the simplicity of the Vice-President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo as he seems to be able to buck this trend and dress simply in Kaftan and suits as he has always done. Governor Olusegun Mimiko is another leading politician who imbibes the simple culture.
The one I find most baffling is how many times Governors have to travel to Abuja, Nigeria’s Federal character for all manner of meetings and ceremonies. States keep properties at home (including guest houses, more like abattoirs) and then replicate the same in Abuja and in Lagos.
The Federal Government has properties scattered everywhere in choice locations lying fallow most times. Our Presidential fleet is competing with that of America and they must be maintained by all means. So, how can we complain about under-development when leaders are not ready to compromise on expensive lifestyles?
My fourth theory is that a society gets the type of leaders it deserves. We are largely docile and accept our leaders’ excesses. If you complain too much, they would ask “is it only you that knows how to talk?” I watched closely as Wole Soyinka, Tai Solarin, Gani Fawehinmi, Femi Falana, Balarabe Musa, and others struggled so much for a thankless nation. They were regularly harassed by government and frequently abused by the same people they were trying to protect. Their families suffered in silence without any of us asking how they fared. And as popular as they were, none except Balarabe Musa could win major elections. Gani Fawehinmi was a Presidential candidate and he lost resoundingly. Femi Falana tried to be the Governor of Ekiti State but it was an impossible mission. Our society moves on regardless of what happens to these social and welfarist gladiators.
Where then do we go from here? There are no easy solutions to these problems. None springs out as being the most practical and necessary. My suggestion however, is that we must start from somewhere. We cannot just resign ourselves to fate and do nothing.
I have received some impetus lately from my experience in Ghana. Anyone following me on social media would have noticed my romance with the old Gold Coast. The country has demonstrated that we can surmount our problems once we make up our minds to start the journey. My advice is that we should never feel too big to learn from others, even from those we feel are smaller to us. The story of Ghana should impress and not depress us.
I have had the privilege of watching President John Dramani Mahama build and transform Ghana into a modern nation state. We, therefore, don’t have to travel far to borrow examples. I know that in our usual bravado we may dismiss this innocuous call as arrant nonsense but I wish to beg our leaders, in the name of all that is good, to treat this as a clarion call. There is ample evidence that Ghana is working and there is no reason why Nigeria cannot work. Ghana has fewer resources than Nigeria but it has managed to properly harness and enhance these resources over the years. More recently, President Mahama has taken up the gauntlet and done a lot more to make Ghana a progressive, buoyant economy with significant infrastructural development.
The first reality check is to accept that no leader can do it all. No leader has the monopoly of wisdom and nobody should try to pin that on any of our leaders and seek to transform them into what they are not. Once we understand that the President is not a magician or sorcerer, we can begin to appreciate his limitations and not be overly expectant of miracles.
Nonetheless, President Muhammadu Buhari can still do much more in the under two years that he has left before he decides to seek re-election or not. His first task is to prioritise the activities of his Government having substantially dealt with his primary agenda of fighting corruption. I am sure that the President knows that the fight against corruption is just one of the foundations upon which the monument of development and progress will be based. Unfortunately, added to the traditional features of progressive development like the economy, education, health, agriculture and social welfare, Nigeria has added security and insecurity. All of these need to be given proper consideration and prioritised in order to ensure that the elusive well-being of our people is achieved.
I will never get tired of reiterating this fact; Nigeria will never make substantial progress until we upgrade our educational institutions. This is one area Ghana is doing very well.
Ghana today has about 60,000 educational institutions from primary to tertiary institutions. I know that Nigeria has many more but it is in the quality and the detail that Ghana emerges superior. Enrolment in the various levels of Ghanaian institutions is about ten million out of a population of about 26 million. I am aware that Nigeria falls far short in this regard.
In 2013, close to 32 million exercise books were distributed by Government to nearly five million pupils. About two million school uniforms have gone out to pupils since 2010. In 2013, 12.5 million Maths, English and Science text books were distributed to government basic schools. An average pupil in Ghana has access to about four textbooks. Osun State has taken a welcome lead by its controversial Tablet, called Opon Imo which features several textbooks.
School feeding Programme is approaching about two million children. 60,000 laptops have been given out to Basic School pupils while about 50,000 teachers received ICT training. 10,000 locally made sandals went to underprivileged pupils. Teacher Training institutions now have well equipped science laboratories in order to improve the teaching of Science and Maths. Massive library facilities have been undertaken even in rural areas. Technical schools are thriving where artisans are trained for performance and efficiency.
Tertiary institutions are receiving special boosts. The University of Ghana has nearly completed a 617-bed teaching hospital complex for the training of medical students and nurses. Government is providing Distance Education ICT centres for all ten regions of Ghana equipped with videoconferencing and lecture auditoriums. Kwame Nkrumah University of Technology in Kumasi has ultra-modern laboratories with latest gadgets such as “high capacity nuclear magnetic resonance spectrometers, mass spectrometers and analysers… petroleum engineering laboratories with drill simulators…” There is a new Veterinary hospital equipped to be the most advanced in West Africa. Polytechnics are being rebranded into Technical Universities. Just imagine how many billions of dollars Nigeria would save on foreign education if we can improve the quality at home drastically. Whilst it is laudable that the Nigerian Government is allowing entrepreneurs and religious organisations to invest in education, Government cannot and must not abdicate its responsibility to them. Government owes a duty to see the proper educational advancement and development of its children. It must take the lead and show the way and not wait for such private institutions to provide the foundation for our industrial development. Happily, some of these institutions like the Elizade University, Ilara-Mokin which has an Engineering Faculty that has equipment capable of producing a fire engine and race cars in the not too distant future have taken up the challenge.
Health they say is wealth. Nigeria would do extremely well if we can return to the days of old when our medical facilities were world class. Ghana has set up an ambitious plan to deliver 6,000 new hospital beds soon and some of the projects have advanced so much in the past two years because about two billion dollars has been invested by the Mahama government covering “two Teaching Hospital projects, three Institutional Hospitals, four Regional Hospitals, 14 District Hospitals, dozens of polyclinics and scores of health centres…” The beauty of it is that, the government is reaching out to many rural areas in the distribution of facilities. Looking through the Ghana Green Book containing the endless accounts of developmental projects garnished with crispy pictures one could see a country fully and gloriously at work for the improvement of the lives of its people.
On the international and tourist front, the small but efficient Kotoka International Airport Accra is being upgraded. The general ambience has improved with about 26 Immigration cubicles equipped with cameras and finger-printing machines. There are new conveyor belts, elevators, escalators, etc. The cargo section is heavenly. A new terminal is being added because of the economic expansion and development that is attracting Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) to Ghana. All this has been achieved within a very short period. On the contrary, our airports remain horrible. Where there is work in progress like the extensions at at Nnamdi Azikwe International Airport, Abuja and Murtala Mohammed International Airport, Lagos the work has been done at snail speed. This is not good enough for the giant of Africa. Something must be done urgently to stop this disgrace. The airport is always the first point of contact with most countries for visitors and investors. For whatever reasons, our airports have remained our worst PR edifices as a nation.
President Buhari has urgent work to do. It must start now by first deciding the way forward after the corruption battle.