Help, This Nigerian State Is Failing
by Ayobami Oyalowo
“One commonly hears that carping critics complain about what is wrong, but do not present solutions. There is an accurate translation for that charge: ‘They present solutions, but I don’t like them.”
― Noam Chomsky, Failed States: The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy
Nigeria is a conundrum. A country beset before and behind; besieged on every side by corruption, war of attrition, with several militia groups masquerading all over the place, full blown terrorism with an almost unchecked deadly and regular dose of bombings, mass killings, illegal abductions etc. Nigeria is a failing state. But how did we get here?
In 1999, Nigeria enthroned a new government and we started practicing a form of democracy almost unknown elsewhere. We had people who claimed to have been voted into power but who were completely above the law, not subject to the people neither were they accountable by any stretch of the imagination. What we had were men and women with absolute power, totally disconnected from reality, corrupt, undisciplined characters who didn’t understand what democracy means. Critics were roundly condemned, abused or even in some instances physically harassed. As at today, no living Nigerian can conveniently say he/she knows how much Nigeria earns in reality and how much is spent. Corruption is gleefully given a pride of place and the corrupt are highly celebrated and feted even by the people themselves.
Meanwhile nobody in government thought to improve healthcare delivery. Why do they need to do that when the privilegentsia can easily fly business class (or lately fly private jets) to Germany, Israel, UK, US or even to India for medical treatment? The Education sector was left to decay but why bother when the children of the ruling elites and those of their acolytes can all migrate to the best schools and enjoy the best education the west can provide in Canada, US, UK etc? Nigeria today is the only OPEC country that still wholly imports domestic fuel for its local consumption. But why maintain or build new refineries when we can easily give out fuel importation licenses to friends and acolytes of those in government? Standard of living has been daily deteriorating but no need to worry; we can share Okada, pepper grinding machines, sewing machines etc to the poorest as dividends of democracy. Our ruling elites had always been living in a bubble, creating an army of discontented and angry youths denied of opportunities and simple privileges that their nationality ought to confer on them.
Fast forward to the Nigeria of today. In my over four decades on earth, I never imagined I was going to witness such carnage and human suffering in a “peaceful” nation such as I have witnessed in Nigeria in the past few years. Statistics show that over 70% percent of Nigerians are under the age of 35years and of that number over 60% are under 20years old. Add that to the fact that between 50-60% of the youths are either unemployed or underemployed with cost of living rising daily and exponentially. Remember rulers like Gen. Gowon was Head of State at 32yrs. Today, most 35y-year-olds are still either living with their parents or just squatting with friends. Not many are living; the vast majority are merely surviving.
Radical and angry preachers are mushrooming; religious houses are multiplying daily without any form of control. They sell hope to the hopeless and in a land where hope is a scarce commodity like ours; the hope sellers will definitely attract an army of hopeless people in droves. People who can’t afford basic healthcare wouldl rather go to a shamanic prayer contractor who can promise them healing at little or no cost. Throw in an army of jobless and potentially unemployable youths with either little or no formal training and you have a keg of gunpowder waiting to be lit.
In one of my essays, I warned certain governors who would rather spend millions on feeding people during religious fasts than spend such sums to train citizens in formal education. But as usual our politicians will rather play to the gallery than govern those they are supposed to govern.
Our military was also affected by the unbridled corruption. While trillions were budgeted for security, until Boko Haram came, we didn’t realise how obsolete our military had become in training, equipment and hardware.
We even took our national lunacy a notch higher when, rather than equip and continuously train our navy, the federal government led by Jonathan decided to outsource the job of our naval force to his friends, ex militants and warlords. See excerpts from one of my past essay:
” In August, the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) broke some disturbing news about Nigeria. It was reported that some ex-militants in the Niger Delta had been paid about N6.32billion within the past one year by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). Yes, for the ‘noble’ service of providing security against vandals for the Corporation’s oil pipeline network. Imagine! The breakdown, as outlined by WSJ, is this:
Chief Government Ekpumopolo (alias Tompolo), Alhaji Mujahid Asari-Dokubo, ‘General’ Ebikabowei Victor Ben (Boyloaf) and ‘General’ Ateke Tom were respectively paid N5.1 billion, N1.44 billion, N608 million and N608 million yearly by the state-owned NNPC, as ‘protection money’ to guard the pipelines they once attacked.
As if that was not enough an insult on the collective intelligence of Nigerians, earlier in the year the Federal Government awarded a contract worth $103.4million (over N15billion) to the Global West Vessel Specialist Limited (GWVSL) – a firm widely believed to be owned by Tompolo to supply 20 vessels for the use of the nation’s military authorities to secure the waterways. Director-General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Ziadeke Akpobolokemi, had last year sent a memo titled, “Award of Contract for the Strategic Concessioning Partnership with NIMASA to Provide Platforms for Tracking Ships and Cargoes, Enforce Regulatory Compliance and Surveillance Of The Entire Nigerian Maritime Domain,” to President Goodluck Jonathan.
In considering the memo, President Goodluck Jonathan and Akpobolokemi chose GWVSL as the preferred company for the 10-year concession agreement, renewable for two terms of five years each. Jonathan, in a memo dated 9th November, 2011, with reference number PRES/99/MT/61, approved Akpobolokemi’s memo, which the Federal Executive Council rubber-stamped on 5th January, 2012. According to Akpobolokemi, GWVSL “will provide platforms for effective policing of Nigeria’s maritime domain and ensure compliance with international maritime conventions on vessels and ships voyaging the country’s waters”. NIMASA maintains that the concessionaire would help the Federal Government to enforce the sabotage law and collect levies on its behalf. This, in a country that still maintains a statutory Naval force, and without a track record for GWVSL?
From the above, the current occupant of the presidential villa showed where his loyalty lies…rather than train the military, he equipped criminals and vandals who had taken up arms against the state. No wonder so much arms and ammunition have found their way into Nigeria and our country has now become one gigantic human abattoir where someone is killed on an average of an hour, daily. Between January to May 2014 it has been estimated that over 1,500 people have been mindlessly cut down by terrorists and blood thirsty killers.
Our security agencies have been emasculated and politicized, used to harass perceived political opponents, soft targets etc. For instance, a gentleman, Onimisi, was abducted by the DSS for 11 days simply for tweeting photos. They will do anything but their jobs of securing the populace.
In all the calamities that have recently befallen our nations, one can see a pattern. The president either condemns and moves on, or pretends to be ignorant of happenings; while relying on our supreme and collective Short Attention Span (SAS) to quickly forget. That was the situation when about 300 girls were kidnapped in Chibok on April 14, 2014. The president feigned ignorance while his foot soldiers went to town denying that the abductions ever happened. They may have been successful as usual, just like they did when 59 boys were slaughtered at the FGC Bunin Yadi, on February 25 of the same year and over 29 girls were abducted. Till date, not a word has been spoken or heard about such bloody and shameful occurrences. But for the persistence of the Nigerian youths on social media who deployed the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls, those Chibok girls would have become another sad footnote in our beleaguered and checkered recent history.
I just finished watching the news and I discovered that 3 Chinese warships had berthed in Nigeria to help our military. This made me reflect, and I am certain the money spent on Tompolo, Dokubo etc would have been better channeled to train our military to combat terror and external aggression much earlier, instead of the sudden appeal to anybody or country who wishes, to come and help save Nigeria. It is a shame that after trillions of naira had been pumped into security over the years, we need foreigners to come and help us do what we ought to have done much earlier, if we had sincerity of purpose from the leadership.
A country that cannot provide jobs, healthcare, education, basic amenities, infrastructure and basic security for its citizens is not worthy of such appellation. Our biggest problem remains poor leadership, insincerity of purpose and unbridled corruption in high places. Boko Haram is a challenge that would have been defeated much earlier if the leadership had stood up to be counted instead of playing blame games until it had become such a huge and festering sore. While foreign help is now welcome because we have now been proven to be clearly incapable of defeating them, the truth remains that this problem is OUR problem and we are the only ones who can solve our problems by ourselves.
It is high time the government arose from its lethargy and begins to offer true leadership. The old cliche of “some people want to destabilize my government” is now quite well worn, old and bare-bone. Provide the necessary leadership or quit. If the kitchen is too hot for you and you can no longer cope, then GET OUT!!! That is what real leaders do…after-all the Korean president who tendered his resignation wasn’t the pilot of the capsized ferry….
The writer, Ayobami lives and works in Lagos and can be reached via twitter @Ayourb